Portland is sometimes perceived to be an island, but it is in fact a headland, jutting out into the English Channel and ‘joined’ to the mainland by Chesil Beach.
Chesil Beach is one of natures’ marvels and stretches from Portland, 18 miles westward in one, continuous pebbly stretch. There are reportedly at least 18 billion pebbles on Chesil Beach with fist sized pebbles being found at the Portland end down to peas sized stones all the way round in West Bay. At its highest point, the pebble and shingle ‘dunes’ reach 14 metres high!
On the eastern edge of Chesil Beach is the shallow, salt water lagoon known as Fleet Lagoon. This stretches alongside the beach for about 8 miles and is an important area for wildlife; both birds and marine life are protected. This type of natural ‘spit’ is also known as a tombolo.
Portland’s history is centuries old and there are many ancient fortifications and ruins that can be explored.
Portland stone is famous in its own right, having been used by Sir Christopher Wren in the re-building of London after the Great Fire of London. After the Second World War, Portland stone was used for the thousands of gravestones in the war cemeteries in France, Belgium as well as the large commonwealth cemeteries throughout northern Europe. The Whitehall Cenotaph in Whitehall is also made from Portland stone.
Portland Castle was constructed in 1543 by King Henry VIII to protect England against invasions from Spain and France and has seen many battles in its history. In fact during the Civil War it was captured and re-captured at various times by both sides!
The Verne, originally built as a citadel to accommodate up to 2000 soldiers during wartime, is now the prison. Prisoners held here during the 19th Century helped to construct the breakwaters to Portland Harbour.
The Portland Museum shows the history of Portland and exhibits include fossils found locally as well as other geological exhibits. Smuggling stories are well documented and great fun, and interesting exhibits show how treacherous the water surrounding Portland is and document the many ships known to have come to grief here over the centuries.
Because of the treacherous waters around Portland, the famous Portland Bill Lighthouse is still operational, but also a great attraction offering great views across the constant churning waters of, what is known locally, as the Races and is the point where many tides meet.
The harbour here has had strong military links over the years, and is all but closed down nowadays, but many large frigates and battleships still put into port here. Portland also houses the Coastguard Air and Sea Rescue Helicopter from here.
There has been a lot of re-generation throughout Portland, especially the harbour area to bring it all up to the 21st Century and in particular, when they prepared it for the 2012 Olympics.