Thomas Hardy’s ‘Isle of Slingers’, juts out like a bird’s beak into the English Channel. Most visitors only know Portland for its famous stone or the lighthouse but there’s a lot more to discover, from walks along the cliffs to exploring its varied history. Be sure to put it on your list of places to visit whilst on holiday. The Isle of Portland is not really an island, though it is only joined to the mainland by a narrow strip of land and the Chesil Beach. The mass of land that juts out into the channel is formed from a block of limestone 4 1/2 miles long by 3/4 of a mile wide and rises from near sea level in the south to over 400 ft high in the north.
Portland has been inhabited since early times and traces of occupation have been dated back 7,000 years. The Romans knew it as “Vindilis’ and Thomas Hardy wrote about it as ‘The Isle of Slingers’ due to the fact that Portlanders used to throw stones to keep Kimberlins (strangers) away. It is a Royal Manor and many of the quarries dotting the landscape are owned by the crown. The breakwater, which forms one of the largest harbours in the world, some 2130 acres, was started in 1849. Prince Albert laid the foundation stone on the 25 July and Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, laid the last stone on 18 August 1872. The twenty-three years of construction had cost the lives of twenty-two men. Convicts, who had hewn 5,731,376 of stone to form the breakwater, carried out most of the construction work at a cost, in 1871, of ?1,167,852. Inigo Jones had used Portland stone before the Civil War, and Sir Christopher Wren, Weymouth’s MP, used it to rebuild London after the Great Fire of 1666. St Paul’s Cathedral and some fifty other churches and buildings were built with the famous white limestone. Over six million tons were used in the rebuilding, the stone loaded onto barges from piers on the east side of the island then transported along the coast and up the River Thames to the building sites.