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The Isle of Portland is a limestone tied island, long by wide, in the English Channelmarker. Portland is south of the resort of Weymouthmarker, forming the southernmost point of the county of Dorsetmarker, England. Chesil Beachmarker connects it to the mainland, and the A354 road bridge connects it to Weymouth. Portland and Weymouth together form the borough of Weymouth and Portlandmarker. The population of Portland is almost 13,000.

Portland is a central part of the Jurassic Coastmarker, a World Heritage Site on the Dorset and east Devon coast, important for its geology and landforms. Its name is used for one of the British Sea Areas, and has been exported as the name of North American and Australian towns. Portland limestone is still quarried here, and is used in British architecture, including St Paul's Cathedralmarker and Buckingham Palacemarker.

The large, deep artificial harbourmarker on Portland's northern shore was a Royal Navy base during World War I and World War II; the Navy and NATOmarker trained in its waters until the 1990s. The harbour is a small civilian port and popular recreation area; the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academymarker will host the sailing events for the 2012 Olympic Games.


Portland has been inhabited since at least the Mesolithic period (the Middle Stone Age)—there is archaeological evidence of Mesolithic inhabitants near Portland Billmarker, and of inhabitation in ages since. The Romans occupied Portland, reputedly calling it Vindelis. In 1539 King Henry VIII ordered the construction of Portland Castlemarker to defend from attacks by the French; the castle cost the king £4,964. It is one of the best preserved castles from this period, and is open to the public under the administration of English Heritage.

Sir Christopher Wren, the notable architect and Member of Parliament for nearby Weymouth, used six million tons of white Portland limestone to rebuild destroyed parts of London after the Great Fire of 1666marker. Well-known buildings in the capital, including St Paul's Cathedralmarker and the eastern front of Buckingham Palacemarker feature the stone. After World War I, a quarry was opened by the Crown to provide stone for the Whitehallmarker Cenotaphmarker and half a million gravestones for war cemeteries, and after World War II hundreds of thousands of gravestones were carved for the fallen soldiers of the Western Front. Portland cement is not manufactured on Portland; it was named such due to its similar colour to Portland stone when mixed with lime and sand.

Railway branch lines have run on Portland since the early 19th century. The Merchant's Railway was the earliest—it opened in 1826 (one year after the Stockton and Darlington railway), and ran from the quarries at the north of Tophill to the docks in Castletown, where Portland stone was shipped around the country. The Weymouth and Portland Railway was laid in 1865, and ran from a station in Melcombe Regismarker, across the Fleet and below sea level of the highest tide, behind Chesil Beach to Victoria Square station in Chiswell. The line continued as the Easton and Church Hope Railway, running through Castletown and ascending the cliffs at East Weares, to loop back north to a station in Easton. The line closed to passengers in March 1965, and the final goods train ran in April that year.

Coastal flooding has affected Portland's residents and transport for centuries—the only way off the tied island lies below the highest tide sea level on the lee of Chesil Beach, as does the village of Chiswell. In autumn and winter Chesil Beach faces severe storms and massive waves, which have a fetch across the Atlantic Oceanmarker. Following two severe flood events in the 1970s, Weymouth and Portlandmarker Borough Council and Wessex Water decided to investigate the structure of the beach, and possible coastal management schemes that could be built to protect Chiswell and the beach road. In the 1980s it was agreed that a scheme to protect against a one-in-five year storm would be practicable; it would reduce flood depth and duration in more severe storms. Hard engineering techniques were employed in the scheme, including a gabion beach crest running to the north of Chiswell, an extended sea wall in Chesil Covemarker, and a culvert running from inside the beach, underneath the beach road and into Portland Harbourmarker, to divert flood water away from low lying areas.

At the onset of World War I, HMS Hoodmarker was sunk in the passage between the southern breakwaters to protect the harbour from torpedo and submarine attack. Portland Harbour has housed Royal Navy bases since 1919, the first named HMS Serepta. During World War II Portland was the target of heavy bombing, because Navy ships were berthed in its harbour. In 1946 local playing fields were turned into a heliport, and in 1959 the station was formally commissioned as HMS Ospreymarker; the base was gradually improved with landing areas and one of England's shortest runways, at . There are still two prisons on Portland, HMP the Vernemarker and HMYOI Portland, and the harbour contains Britain's only prison ship, HMP Weare, still berthed in the port after its closure in 2005.

The naval base closed at the end of the Cold War in 1995, and the Royal Naval Air Station closed in 1999, although the runway remained in use for Her Majesty's Coastguard Search and Rescue flights as MRCC Portland. MRCC Portland's area of responsibility extends midway across the English Channelmarker, and from Start Pointmarker in Devonmarker to the Dorset/Hampshire border, covering an area of around . The 12 Search and Rescue teams in the Portland area dealt with almost 1000 incidents in 2005;


Portland is an ancient Royal Manor, and until the 19th century remained a separate liberty within Dorset for administration. It was an urban district from 1894 to 1974, until the borough of Weymouth and Portlandmarker formed on April 1, 1974, under the Local Government Act 1972. This merged the borough of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis and the Portland urban district. For local elections the borough is divided into 15 wards, and three of them cover Portland. Elections take place in a four-year cycle; one third of the councillors in all but three wards retire or seek re-election in years one, two and three, and county council elections are held in year four.

The Mayor of Weymouth and Portland is Tim Munro (Conservative), and Anne Kenwood (Labour) is Deputy Mayor. Munro is also head of Portland Town Council. Weymouth, Portland and the Purbeck district are in the South Dorsetmarker parliamentary constituency, created in 1885. The constituency elects one Member of Parliament; the current MP is Jim Knight (Labour), the Minister of State for Schools. South Dorset, the rest of the South West England, and Gibraltarmarker are in the South West England constituency of the European Parliamentmarker.

Weymouth and Portland have been twinned with the town of Holzwickedemarker in North Rhine-Westphaliamarker, Germany since 1986, and the French town of Louviersmarker, in the department of Euremarker in Normandy, since 1959. The borough and nearby Chickerellmarker have been a Fairtrade Zone for three years.


The Isle of Portland lies in the English Channelmarker, south of Wyke Regismarker, and west-southwest of Londonmarker, at (50.55, −2.44). Portland is situated approximately half-way along the UNESCOmarker Jurassic Coastmarker World Heritage Site; the site includes of the Dorset and east Devon coast that is important for its geology and landforms. The South West Coast Path runs around the coast; it is the United Kingdom's longest national trail at . Portland is unusual as it is connected to the mainland at Abbotsburymarker by Chesil Beachmarker, a tombolo which runs north-west to West Baymarker. Portland is sometimes defined incorrectly as a tombolo—in fact Portland is a tied island, and Chesil Beach is the tombolo (a spit joined to land at both ends).

There are eight settlements on Portland, the largest being Fortuneswell in Underhill and Easton in Tophill. Castletown and Chiswell are the other villages in Underhill, and Weston, Southwell, Wakeham and the Grove occupy Tophill. Older buildings are built out of Portland Stone; houses have walls thick, and a similar layout governed by the culture and living standards at the time they were built. Most houses have not been painted and retain the yellow-grey colour of the stone, giving Portland's settlements a different character to the mainland.


Geologically, Portland is separated into two areas; the steeply sloping land at its north end called Underhillmarker, and the larger, gently sloping land to the south, called Tophill. Portland stone lies under Tophill; the strata decline at a shallow angle of around 1.5 degrees, from a height of near the Verne in the north, to just above sea level at Portland Billmarker. The geology of Underhill is different to Tophill; Underhill lies on a steep escarpment composed of Portland Sand, lying above a thicker layer of Kimmeridge Clay, which extends to Chesil Beach and Portland Harbour. This Kimmeridge Clay has resulted in a series of landslides, forming West Weares and East Weares.

 underneath south Dorset lies a layer of Triassic rock salt, and Portland is one of four locations in the United Kingdom where the salt is thick enough to create stable cavities. Portland Gas has applied to excavate 14 caverns to store   of natural gas, which is 1 % of the UK’s total annual demand. The caverns will be connected to the National gas grid at Mappowdermarker via a   pipeline, which will be laid in 2009. The surface facilities will be complete to store the first gas in winter 2010, and the entire cavern space will be available for storage in winter 2013. As part of the £350 million scheme, a Grade II listed former engine shed is planned to be converted into an £1.5 million educational centre with a café and an exhibition space about the geology of Portland.

Portland Bill

Portland Billmarker should not be confused with the Isle of Portland — Portland Bill is a narrow promontory of Portland stone which forms the most southerly part of Tophill. The Bill has three lighthouses; it is an important way-point for ships passing the headland and its tidal race. The current lighthouse was refurbished in 1996 and became computer-controlled; a visitor's centre giving information and guided tours of the lighthouse was built nearby. As of June 2009, the lighthouse uses a 1 kW metal-halide US-made lamp with an operational life of about 4,000 hours which is 14 months. Two earlier lighthouses stand further inland; one is an important observatory used by ornithologists, providing records of bird migration and accommodation for visitors.

Portland Ledge (the Shambles) is an underwater extension of Portland Stone into the English Channel at a place where the depth of Channel is . Tidal flow is disrupted by the feature; at deep and long, it causes a tidal race to the south of Portland Bill, the so-called Portland Race. The current only stops for brief periods during the twelve and half hour tidal cycle and can reach at the spring tide of .


Due to its isolated coastal location, the Isle of Portland has an extensive range of flora and fauna; the coastline and disused quarries are designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Sea and migratory birds occupy the cliffs in different seasons, sometimes these include rare species which draw ornithologists from around the country. Rare visitors to the surrounding seas include dolphins, seals and basking sharks. Chesil Beach is one of only two sites in Britain where the Scaly Cricket can be found; unlike any other cricket it is wingless and does not sing or hop. A number of British primitive goats have recently been introduced to the East Weares part of the island.

The comparatively warm and sunny climate allows species of plants to thrive which do not on the mainland. The limestone soil has low nutrient levels; hence smaller species of wild flowers and grasses are able to grow in the absence of larger species. Portland Sea Lavender can be found on the higher sea cliffs—unique to Portland it is one of the United Kingdom's rarest plants. The wild flowers and plants make an excellent habitat for butterflies; over half of the British Isles' 57 butterfly species can be seen on Portland, including varieties that migrate from mainland Europe. Species live on Portland that are rare in the United Kingdom, including the unique Silver Studded Blue.


The mild seas which almost surround the tied island produce a temperate climate (Koppen climate classification Cfb) with a small variation in daily and annual temperatures. The average annual mean temperature from 1971 to 2000 was 10.2 to 12 °C (50.4 to 53.6 °F). The warmest month is August, which has an average temperature range of , and the coolest is February, which has a range of . Maximum and minimum temperatures throughout the year are above England's average, and Portland is in AHS Heat zone 1. Mean sea surface temperatures range from in February to in August; the annual mean is .

The mild seas that surround Portland act to keep night-time temperatures above freezing, making winter frost rare: on average eight times per year—this is far below the United Kingdom's average annual total of 55.6 days of frost. Days with snow lying are equally rare: on average zero to six days per year; almost all winters have one day or less with snow lying. It may snow or sleet in winter, yet it almost never settles on the ground—coastal areas in South West England such as Portland experience the mildest winters in the UK. Portland is less affected by the Atlantic storms that Devonmarker and Cornwallmarker experience. The growing season in Weymouth and Portland lasts from nine to twelve months per year, and the borough is in Hardiness zone 9.

Climatic graph for Weymouth and Portland
Weymouth and Portland, and the rest of the south coast, has the sunniest climate in the United Kingdom. The borough averaged 1768.4 hours of sunshine annually between 1971 and 2000, which is over 40 % of the maximum possible, and 32 % above the United Kingdom average of 1339.7 hours. Four of the last nine years have had more than 2000 hours of sunshine. December is the cloudiest and wettest month (55.7 hours of sunshine, of rain) and July is the sunniest and driest (235.1 hours of sunshine, of rain). Sunshine totals in all months are well above the United Kingdom average, and monthly rainfall totals throughout the year are less than the UK average, particularly in summer; this summer minimum of rainfall is not experienced away from the south coast of England. The average annual rainfall of is well below the UK average of .


Religion %
Buddhist 0.21
Christian 74.67
Hindu 0.03
Jewish 0.12
Muslim 0.30
No religion 15.89
Other 0.32
Sikh 0.03
Not stated 8.43

Age Percentage
0–15 19.4
16–17 3.1
18–44 38.3
45–59 20.6
60–84 17.2
85+ 1.5

Year Population
1971 12,330
1981 12,410
1991 13,190
2001 12,800
2005 12,710

The mid-year population of Portland in 2005 was 12,710; this figure has remained around twelve to thirteen thousand since the 1970s. In 2005 there were 5,474 dwellings in an area of , giving an approximate population density of 1100 people per km2 (4.5 per acre). The population is almost entirely native to England—96.8 % of residents are of white ethnicity. House prices in Weymouth and Portland are relatively high by UK standards, yet around average for most of the south of England—the average price of a detached house in 2007 was £327,569; semi-detached and terraced houses were cheaper, at £230,932 and £190,073 respectively, and an apartment or maisonette cost £168,727.

Crime rates are below that of Weymouth and the United Kingdom—there were 9.1 burglaries per 1000 households in 2005 and 2006; which is higher than South West England (8.9 per 1000) but lower than England and Wales (13.5 per 1000). Unemployment levels are lower in summer than the winter—1.8 % of the economically active population in July 2006 were not employed, and 5.3 % were unemployed year-round, the same as the United Kingdom average. The largest religion in Weymouth and Portland is Christianity, at almost 74.7 %, which is slightly above the UK average of 71.6 %. The next-largest sector is those with no religion, at almost 15.9 %, also slightly above the UK average of 15.5 %.


The A354 road is the only way off of the tied island, connecting to Weymouthmarker and the A35 trunk road in Dorchestermarker. The road runs from Easton, splitting into a northbound section through Chiswell and a southbound section through Fortuneswell, then along Chesil Beachmarker and across a bridge to the mainland in Wyke Regismarker.

To relieve congestion between Weymouth and Portland, Jurassic Coast Railways proposed constructing a light railway along the route of the former Weymouth and Portland Railway in time for the 2012 Olympic Games. Local councillors and MPs support the scheme; however Jim Knight MP and the SWRDA expressed concern that preparations for the £60 million scheme may not be ready in time for the railway to be integrated into the Osprey Quay development, which could block the proposed route.

Local buses are run by FirstGroup, which has services from Portland to Weymouth town centre. Weymouth serves as the hub for south Dorset bus routes; providing services to Dorchester and local villages. Weymouth is connected to towns and villages along the Jurassic Coastmarker by the Jurassic Coast Bus service, which runs along the route of from Exetermarker to Poolemarker, through Sidfordmarker, Beermarker, Seatonmarker, Lyme Regismarker, Charmouthmarker, Bridportmarker, Abbotsburymarker, Weymouth, Woolmarker, and Warehammarker. Travellers can catch trains from Weymouth to Londonmarker and Bristolmarker, and ferries to the French port of St Malomarker, and the Channel Islands of Guernseymarker and Jerseymarker.


The Chesil Education Partnership pyramid area operates in south Dorset, and includes five infant schools, four junior schools, twelve primary schools, four secondary schools and two special schools. 69.8 % of Portland residents have qualifications, which is slightly below the Dorset average of 73.8 %. 10.2% of residents have higher qualifications (Level 4+), less than the Dorset average of 18.3 %.

There are two infant schools on Portland—Brackenbury Infant School in Fortuneswell and Grove Infant School. Portland has two junior schools (Underhill Community Junior School in Fortuneswell and tophill junior school) and two primary schools (St George's Primary School in Weston and Southwell Primary School). Royal Manor Arts College in Weston is Portland's only secondary school, however it has no sixth form centre. In 2007, 57 % of RMAC students gained five or more grade A* to C GCSEs.

Some students commute to Weymouthmarker to study A-Levels, or to attend the other three secondary schools in the Chesil Education Partnership. Budmouth College in Chickerellmarker has a sixth form centre which had 296 students in 2006. Weymouth Collegemarker in Melcombe Regismarker is a further education college which has around 7,500 students from south west England and overseas, about 1500 studying A-Level courses. In 2006, Budmouth students received an average of 647.6 UCAS points, and Weymouth College students gained 614.1. Some secondary and A-Level students commute to Dorchestermarker to attend The Thomas Hardye Schoolmarker; in 2007, 79% of Hardye school students received five or more A* to C GCSEs, and 78 % of all A-Level results were A to C grades.


Sport and recreation

In 2000, the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academymarker was built in Osprey Quay in Underhill as a centre for sailing in the United Kingdom. Weymouth and Portland's watersmarker were credited by the Royal Yachting Association as the best in Northern Europe. Weymouth and Portland regularly host local, national and international sailing events in their waters; these include the J/24 World Championships in 2005, trials for the 2004 Athens Olympics, the ISAF World Championship 2006, the BUSA Fleet Racing Championships, and the RYA Youth National Championships.

In 2005, the WPNSA was selected to host sailing events at the 2012 Olympic Games—mainly because the Academy had recently been built, so no new venue would have to be provided. However, as part of the South West of England Regional Development Agency's plans to redevelop Osprey Quay, a new 600-berth marina and an extension with more on-site facilities will be built. Construction is scheduled between October 2007 and the end of 2008, therefore Weymouth and Portland will be the first in the United Kingdom to finish building a venue for the Olympic Games.

On 11 June 2009 Her Majesty The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh visited the W&P National Sailing Academy at Portland — the first 2012 London Olympics venue to be completed. In blazing sunshine and a gentle breeze the royal couple boarded a Sunseeker super yacht at the new Portland Marina and headed for Weymouth. The world-famous luxury Sunseeker boats are made at Portland, and at Poole, Dorset. A video of the Queen's visit can be seen at

Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour are used for other water sports—the reliable wind is favourable for wind and kite-surfing. Chesil beach and Portland Harbour are used regularly for angling, diving to shipwrecks, snorkelling, canoeing, and swimming. The limestone cliffs and quarries are used for rock climbing; Portland has areas for bouldering and deep water soloing, however sport climbing with bolt protection is the most common style. Since June 2003 the South West Coast Path National Trail has included of coastal walking around the Isle of Portland, including following the A354 Portland Beach Road twice.


Accidents in Portland's quarries led to a fear of the word rabbit.
Rabbits have been associated with bad luck for centuries on Portland; use of the name is still taboo—the creatures are often referred to as "Underground Mutton", "Long-Eared Furry Things" or just "bunnies". The fear of the word is believed to derive from quarry workers; they would see rabbits emerging from their burrows immediately before a rock fall and blame them for increasing the risk of dangerous, sometimes deadly, landslides. There have been cave-ins, and in one instance a crane operator died when his crane toppled on weak ground above the burrows. If a rabbit was seen in a quarry, the workers would pack up and go home for the day, until the safety of the area had been assured.

Even today older Portland residents are offended or go quiet at the mention of rabbits; this superstition came to national attention in October 2005 when a special batch of advertisement posters were made for the Wallace and Gromit film, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. In respect of local beliefs the adverts omitted the word 'rabbit' and replaced the film's title with the phrase "Something bunny is going on".


In The Warlord Chronicles, Bernard Cornwell suggests that Portland was the Isle of the Dead, a place of internal exile, where the causeway was guarded to keep the 'dead' (people suffering insanity) from crossing the Fleet and returning back to the mainland. However, there is no archaeological evidence of such occurrences.

Thomas Hardy called Portland the Isle of Slingers in his novels; the isle was the main setting of The Well-Beloved, and was featured in The Trumpet-Major. The cottage that now houses Portland Museummarker was the inspiration for the heroine's house in The Well-Beloved. Portlanders were expert stone-throwers in the defence of their land, and Hardy's Isle of Slingers is heavily based on Portland; the Street of Wells representing Fortuneswell and The Beal as Portland Bill. Hardy named Portland the Gibraltar of the North, with reference to its similarities with Gibraltarmarker; its physical geography, isolation, comparatively mild climate, and Underhillmarker's winding streets.

References and notes

This figure is an estimate for mid 2005. The most recent exact figure is 12,800, from the 2001 census.
Areas in American Horticultural Society Heat Zone 1 experience less than one day per year with maximum temperatures above .
The maximum hours of sunshine possible in one year is approximately 4383 hours (12 hours/day × 365.25 days).
The growing season in the United Kingdom is defined as starting on the day after five consecutive days with mean temperatures above . The season finishes the day after mean temperatures are below for five consecutive days.
Areas in Hardiness zone 9 experience an average lowest recorded temperature each year between .
Figures are for Weymouth and Portland as a whole.
These figures are for July to September in 2007.

  1. Portland Grazing Goat Trial

Further reading

  • Stuart Morris, 1985 Portland, an Illustrated History The Dovecote Press, Wimbornemarker, Dorsetmarker: ISBN 0-946159-34-3
  • Stuart Morris, 1998 Portland (Discover Dorset Series) The Dovecote Press, Wimborne, Dorset: ISBN 1-874336-49-0.
  • Jackson, Brian L. 1999. Isle of Portland railways. ISBN 0853615403
  • Palmer, Susann. 1999. Ancient Portland: Archaeology of the Isle. Portland: S. Palmer. ISBN 0953281108
  • Stuart Morris, 2002 Portland: A Portrait in Colour The Dovecote Press, Wimborne, Dorset: ISBN 1-874336-91-1.
  • Stuart Morris, 2006 Portland, Then and Now The Dovecote Press, Wimborne, Dorset: ISBN 1-904349-48-X.

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