It could be said that a visit to the Isle Of Portland is not for the faint hearted, as it can be susceptible to winds and strong seas, but by contrast it also lies in a position that gives it warm summers and frost free winters. This makes for an island of contrasts and an interesting place to visit for explorers, walkers and other outdoor types.
A limestone outcrop off the mainland of Weymouth in Dorset, the Isle of Portland was once immortalised in the children’s animated series Portland Bill. Although the place names were changed, the series had an exact copy of one of the islands famous lighthouses, at Portland Bill.
The island is also famous for the part it played in military history, in particular as a staging point for the Normandy landings. Although most of the military vessels have long gone, some can still be sighted moored in the harbour, while the busy coastguard helicopter is also a regular sight across the island.
Part of Portland is also given over to quarries, where the famous limestone has been extracted, and used in the past to construct buildings such as St Pauls Cathedral and New Scotland Yard. The quarries are just one place to spot plant and animal life on the island. There are many coastal paths, flat stone ledges, and inland paths to explore, and species of flowers, plants and birds to spot. The Isle of Portland is home to around half the native butterfly species, Mediterranean plants such as the Red Valarian and Autumn Lady Tresses, and birds like the Chiff Chaff, Terns and Wheatears. Other sites you’ll come across on your travels include the ruins of St Andrews Church, complete with real pirate graves, and small villages such as Southwell where you can immerse yourself in real community spirit.
Meanwhile more active types can head to Chesil Beach which is popular with fishermen, and divers, who enjoy exploring the local shipwrecks. With the London 2012 Olympic Sailing events being held in this area, the Isle of Portland could be the place to be in Dorset, so why not pay a visit?
The market town of Blandford in Dorset may have an evil resident in the biting ‘Blandford Fly’, but don’t let that put you off visiting this part of North Dorset. The town of Blandford sits on the River Stour, and has a good road connection to Wimbourne Minster, along with bus links to Poole, Bournemouth and Sailsbury.
Some of the earliest records on Blandford date back to Anglo-Saxon times when the town was an important Fording, or river crossing point. It made the headlines later in 1731 when much of the town was destroyed by fire, and then rebuilt by notable architects The Bastard Family.
Blandford is an ideal place to visit if you’re looking for an unspoilt Georgian town with a number of interesting attractions. There are several museums in the town, The Royal Signals Museum at Blandford Military Base, which is dedicated to the history of army communications, and the local Town Museum. This has a number of events and talks throughout the year, and permanent exhibits, including World War memorabilia and a Victorian child’s playroom.
Also worth a visit is Chettle House, a Queen Anne Manor House which is a popular filming location and wedding venue. On various dates of the year visitors are invited to tour the house and grounds, or attend events such as the Craft and Garden Fair held in August.
Blandford is also home to one of the biggest and most traditionally English events in the Dorset calendar, The Great Dorset Steam Fair. This five day event is held in a village called Tarrant Hinton near Blandford, and is great for all the family. There are classic cars, steam engines, a steam driven funfair, and music stages, all on a site, which organisers claim, is the size of a small town!
With traditional tea rooms, a mix of shops and leisure facilities, and charming rural accommodation, Blandford Forum can be an ideal place for a day trip, or as a base to explore the rest of Dorset.