Portland Bill

When you cross the causeway from Weymouth to Portland you seem to enter into a new world! The large slab of limestone rock that forms the 'island' of Portland is very different to the rest of Dorset and it shows in the character of the place. It is immediately obvious as you climb the steep hill from Fortuneswell towards Easton and this is emphasised by the stone statues of quarry men at work that you see on the right hand side of the road. This is part of Tout Quarry which is now redundant and has been turned in to a nature reserve and a sculpture trail. 

As you proceed towards 'the bill' you see a scruffy place dominated by the extraction of the Portland stone for which it is famous. Some quarries remain active, other have been worked out, abandoned by man and recovered by nature. Indeed, they are an important part of the natural environment now recolonised by a range of shallow, calcareous soil loving wild flowers some of which are quite uncommon elsewhere; Portland spurge and hawkweed oxtongue for example. In turn, the abundance of flowers means an abundance of insects and Portland is particularly known for its populations of blue butterflies, the small blue, chalkhill blue, Adonis blue and silver-studded blue.  You can find out lots more about the natural history of Portland on my nature of Dorset website if that is your particular interest (see 'My Nature' on the menu tab). 

Most visitors to the island are heading for 'the bill', made famous by the shipping forecast! It is hard to describe the bill other than it being a wild place. Its prominent position jutting out into the English Channel means it is very exposed to the weather and it can be far windier down at the bill than on the nearby mainland. The wind is often the main feature here but on a warm, still summer's day with the flowers and butterflies in full cry there are few better places to be in the whole of Dorset.

Portland is wedge-shaped, higher and wider at the north end providing wonderful views along the Jurassic coast to both the east and west. It then tapers down to the lower and more narrow bill which is is surrounded by sea on both sides; to the west are high, rocky cliffs, to the east much lower but rocky just the same. The tip of the bill itself is bare and rocky, partly due to erosion by the wind and partly due to the wear and tear of so many visitors feet trampling over it. 

There is a large car park at the bill so no worries there but what can you do when you get there? The answer is simple, enjoy the scenery, the sea and the wildlife. You can visit the lighthouse and there is the Lobster Pot where you can get a light lunch or a cream tea (see My Dining for a short review). There is an MoD communications station which is securely fenced and to which there is no access and there is the old light house which is now the Portland Bird Observatory and you can visit if that interests you (but you need to walk from the bill, there is limited parking at the Observatory).

The nature of the sea bed off Portland means the sea is always rough, even on a day with little wind; this is known locally as the races. However, to experience Portland at its wildest you need to visit when there is a strong wind blowing. The waves here smash into the rocky shore and the whole scene is quite spectacular as the huge waves roll in toward the land. Watching from the shore is best as there is no way you would want to on a small boat out there! Just standing up can be difficult and the whole experience is either exhilarating or excruciating depending on your age and your attitude! I used to love it but now I find it harder to cope with.

The tip of the bill by the lighthouse can be busy in summer but is usually quiet in winter when less coaches arrive. Most visitors walk the short distance to the lighthouse and the obelisk a little further on and then go back to the Lobster Pot and the rest of the bill can be pretty well deserted.

I think you either love or hate the bill! However any visit to Dorset would not be complete with going to see Portland Bill (whatever the weather!).


 

This is the approximate location. Click the pin for SatNav coordinates:

Here are some photographs of this location. Click any photo to see a bigger version:

The lighthouse Portland
The races Portland Bill
Eastern side of the bill
Rocks at the bill itself
More rocks at the bill
The Obelisk Portland Bill
The barren landscape of the bill point
The lighthouse Portland Bill
The lower fields at the bill
Portland Bird Observatory
MoD communications centre at Portland
The Lobster Pot Portland Bill
The Pulpit Inn Portland
Date of last visit: 
Thursday, 1 February, 2018
Location Type: 
Countryside

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