"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Holiday - The Isle of Portland - Wednesday, 3rd July

Wednesday was dry but mainly cloudy with just a few sunny intervals late afternoon. We decided to visit the Isle of Portland where Portland Limestone is still quarried and used in British architecture, for example, St Paul's Cathedral and Buckingham Palace. Due to its location it has a wide range of flora and fauna.

We drove initially to the far end of the island to Portland Bill Lighthouse in operation since 1906.

The wildflowers were beautiful - apparently the limestone soil low in nutrients allows a lot of smaller species to flourish.

Sea Pink (Thrift) - known in Dorset as Lady's Cushion, Clovers and one of the Vetch species.

Is this Sea Holly??

Edit - Many thanks to Stewart ("From the Notebook") this plant is Spear Thistle


The Lighthouse Visitor Centre had some interesting displays and we picked up a useful map showing some of the places you could visit on the island.

There were live images of nests on the cliffs

Wild Carrot?

We drove past the famous Portland Bird Observatory - I would have liked to have had a look at the Natural History bookshop there but instead we went to a viewing point at Cheyne Weares for lunch.

Again there were lots of wildflowers

Alexanders and again Valerian was everywhere

Not sure of this species

or this one.

View over the English Channel

We visited the Portland Museum which was really excellent and had displays on everything from Natural History to Geology, Fossils to Thomas Hardy, Marie Stopes to Shipwrecks, Maritime curiosities to Archaeology, Roman Coffins to Victorian items.

Part of the museum is housed in Avice's Cottage - Thomas Hardy used this as the home for Avice - one of the characters in his novel "The Well-Beloved"

Dr Marie Stopes was a regular visitor to the Island and she was a friend of Thomas Hardy and his second wife Florence. She bought and renovated the cottage and gave it to the island as a museum in 1933.

The next item is a bit gruesome - a mummified cat. Apparently 200 years ago it was the custom to "wall up" a live cat in the roof space of a new cottage to protect the house from evil spirits and bring good fortune.

St Andrew's Church was built in 1475, abandoned in 1756 and is now in ruins. Parts of the stonework have been brought to the museum.

Semi-Tropical Sea Hedgehog - only 4 have been seen off the South Coast and this one was caught off Portland Bill in 1927

Around 2000 years old this Roman stone coffin was made of Portland stone and was made using stone tools. Several of these have been found on the island and mainland

This stone sculpture looks like a mermaid to me and reminded me of the story of a mermaid that came ashore at nearby Church Ope Cove. Some suggest she was at St Andrew's church as people arrived for a service, others that she was carried to the church and died at noon.

The Septarian Nodules in the photos below formed 150 to 160 million years ago in ancient Oxford and Kimmeridge Clay beds. Muds and clay slowly accumulated round tiny particles of debris forming nodules ranging in size from a few centimetres to over a metre in diameter. Cracks appeared on the surface as the clay solidified giving the "crazed" appearance.

Cycad (fossilised tree trunks) from the Jurassic Period found in Portlands fossilised forest.

Ivy-leaved Toadflax

HMS Osprey plaque

Rufus Castle (Bow and Arrow) - the remains of this cliff-side fortress are near the museum. This ancient monument dates back to the Fifteenth Century and overlooks Church Ope Cove.

Thanks to the wildflowers, the island is an important habitat for butterflies - over half of the British Isles 57 species of butterfly can be seen here including immigrant butterflies from Europe and the rare Silver Studded Blue. We had a bit of time left and I was very keen to visit one of disused quarries on the island which are nature reserves (some run by Dorset Wildlife Trust and some by Butterfly Conservation, I believe) such as Kingbarrow Quarries or Broadcroft Butterfly Quarry Reserve. However, I had to be careful as if I had mentioned butterflies the family would refuse to go as they get rather fed up with me spending hours chasing after butterflies trying to id and get photos. I noticed on the map there was a place called Tout Quarry - a sculpture park and reserve. The hope was that the sculptures would detract the family whilst I looked for flutters!

Wild Carrot? and Viper's Bugloss

Campion (Bladder?)

Portland Spurge

Some of the sculptures

Sadly, I didn't see one butterfly after all my efforts! The only butterfly I saw all day was a Speckled Wood on the cliff top at Rufus Castle!!

As we left the island we stopped off at a viewpoint where you can see a sculpture commemorating last year's Olympics

Portland Harbour where the Olympic sailing events took place.

Chesil Beach - a tombola which runs for 29 kms (18 miles) to West Bay. Portland is a tied island and Chesil Beach is the tombola (a spit joined to land at both ends).

I would rather liked to have visited Chesil Beech and explored but it was time to return to the cottage.


Stewart said...

Hi Caroline, sorry your sea holly is just Spear Thistle ( you have a pic further down) that hasnt opened yet.

Lovely pics though, I've been there for a week once and really liked it, hope to get back again one day.

Ragged Robin said...

Stewart - Thanks so much for the id correction - your help is always so appreciated :)

Its a beautiful area - hope to go back and explore some more of the area especially the East side (Arne, Brownsea Island etc. etc.) plus I want to return to area from last week. Hope you get back soon.

Lou Mary said...

Shame about the lack of flutterbyes but it looks like you saw some other really interesting things. I love the stone sculpture of the bear head!

Ragged Robin said...

Lou Mary - thank you - yes it was a great place to visit. There were several hundred sculptures :)

Countryside Tales said...

Those nodules are incredible! The museum looks to have some lovely pieces. Chesil is fantastic and worth a visit another time. Have a lovely weekend x

Wendy said...

It looks a fascinating place with so much to see there. The history is interesting, with the stone being so valuable there and I love the variety of wildflowers. The sea hedgehog is an amazing creature!

Ragged Robin said...

Countryside Tales - Thank you. The museum is well worth a visit if you haven't been - stuffed full of curiosities and very informative :) Yes must go to Chesil one day - missed Abbotsbury Swanery and gardens too :( plus Lulworth Cove and Durdle Dor. Too much to do in a week!

Wendy - Thank you. Enough in the museum to keep you amused for ages. The wildflowers were wonderful :)

SeagullSuzie said...

Well I can see how you ran out of time-so much to see and do. We must visit Chesil beach and Abbotsbury, it's not too far from us. Love all the sculptures and the wildflowers.

Chris Rohrer said...

Gorgeous area full of cool and strange artifacts. I'm horrified by the kitty locked up in the roof!!!! Poor cat. That museum is interesting and.....well, haunting. Stuffed birds oh my! Thanks for the tour. Looks like a beautiful place....and nesting birds:) Hmmmmm

Ragged Robin said...

SeagullSuzie - Many thanks - those two places well worth a visit (I've been to the Swannery before but donkeys years ago when I was little).

Chris Rohrer - Thanks Chris :) Incredibly interesting museum - though gruesome in parts! Yes, you are right in many ways it was haunting.