Visit and the surrounding villages and stay in bed & breakfast accommodation:
Portland, Dorset. All but an island geographically, it is certainly one in character. On the whole it is unique. About 4 miles long by l mile wide, it is almost treeless, quite densely populated in a scattering of merging austere villages, littered with the appurtenances of the military and prison services, and with the Portland stone quarries from which has come the material for so many of England's great buildings. The highest point (496 ft) at its northern centre affords immense views North West along the Chesil Bank and North East to the white cliffs of Durdle Door and far beyond. From here it slopes South till, at Portland Bill, the cliffs are only about 20 ft. It becomes relatively gentle only at Church Ope Cove, halfway along the east coast, where there is a bathing and boating beach and even a few trees. To the North is the huge naval harbour, almost as big as the “island”, enclosed by massive breakwaters built mainly by convict labour between 1849 and 1905.
In the Middle Ages Portland lived remote from the mainland, interbreeding, smuggling, fishing, using dung or the timbers of wrecked ships for fuel, and grazing an unusual breed of sheep which has since died out. The villages were clustered round wells, as their names witness. The people were famously adept with the sling, for which Chesil Bank provided the ammunition, and their origin, though unknown, is thought to differ from the mainlanders. According to Thomas Hardy in The Well-Beloved, they cherished “strange beliefs and singular customs”. Portland claims its women were the first in England to have the same property rights as men. Its fame began to grow when, in c. 1520, Henry VIII gave it one of his numerous South Coast castles, continued in the next century with the recognition, mostly by Inigo Jones (Banqueting House, Whitehall) and later by Wren (St Pauls), of the excellence of its stone, and was confirmed in 1847 by the Government decision to build the naval base and a prison to house the project's labour force. Till the early 20th century, however, it was still smuggling, and it remains a royal manor, as it has been since 1066, still paying a token rent to the Queen.
Today its former prison is a Borstal, its former army citadel a prison of milder type. In the Grove Road, near the former, St Peter's Church was built in 1872 by convicts: the pulpit by Irish Fenians (note the shamrocks), the chancel mosaics by Constance Kent. Above Church Ope Cove, the Pennsylvania Hotel was built (c. 1800) by James Wyatt as the house of the Governor at the time, John Penn, grandson of the founder of Pennsylvania state.
From the cove there are good cliff walks to the North, and undercliff walks to the South. Above it are the dangerous remains of a Norman castle, vaguely known as Rufus. At the Bill, a rather elegant red and white lighthouse (1906) can be visited. The waves breaking on Pulpit Rock are spectacular and the meeting of tides, called the Race, frenzied even on a calm day. Easily the “island's” best church is St George's (1777) in Weston Road. It is big, with box pews and with twin pulpits. The parish church in Easton village was built in 1916. Henry VIII's castle is formidably preserved by the Ministry of Public Building and Works, but is rather lost among modern naval buildings on the northern shore.
Nearby towns: Dorchester, Weymouth
Nearby villages: Abbotsbury, Bincombe, Bovington Camp, Broadmayne, Broadwey, Castletown, Chaldon Herring, Chesil, Chickerell, Fortuneswell, Grove, Little Bredy, Lulworth Camp, Melcombe Regis, Osmington, Overcombe, Owermoigne, Portesham, Poxwell, Puncknowle, Radipole, Ringstead, Rodwell, Southwell, Swyre, Upwey, West Chaldon, West Lulworth, Weston, Whitcombe, Winfrith Newburgh, Winterborne Monkton, Winterborne Steeplet, Wool, Wyke Regis
Have you decided to visit or the surrounding villages? Please look above for somewhere to stay in:
- a bed and breakfast (a B&B or b and b)
- a guesthouse
- a hotel (or motel)
- a self-catering establishment, or
- other accommodation