Portland is a ‘tied island’ at the southernmost point of Dorset, linked to the mainland by a 5 mile strip of steeply banked stones and pebbles called the Chesil Beach (or to the older among us, Chesil Bank) that runs northwest towards Abbotsbury and West Bay. There is now a road, of course. The bank’s formation is known as a ‘tombolo’, where a spit joins to land at both ends, creating a tied island and often a lagoon (here known as the Fleet).
I’ll be posting about Chesil Beach and other aspects of Portland in due course. Meanwhile, I’ll focus on the southern tip of Portland, known as Portland Bill. There are 3 lighthouses there. Two were operationally replaced in 1906 by a classic red-and-white striped edifice, and are now, respectively, holiday apartments; and a bird observatory. The ‘new’ lighthouse stands guard over a strong tidal race caused by the underwater continuation of the Portland rock ‘shelf’ and the Shambles sandbank further offshore.
Portland is one of the ‘Sea Areas’ familiar from UK shipping forecasts, located between Wight and Plymouth. The lighthouse, 115 ft high, is a prominent navigational landmark for the English Channel.
Since 1514, Trinity House has been the organisation with responsibility for lighthouses and the safety of UK shipping generally since the grant of a Royal Charter by Henry VIII. The Portland light bears the Trinity House arms.
It also bears a substantial foghorn, essential to warn of the coastal rocks as well as the strong current from the tidal race
At the cliff edge is a stout obelisk of portland stone erected by Trinity House in 1844 (before the present lighthouse existed) as a daylight warning to passing ships of the dangers of the offshore race.