Portland Bill and it’s real place on Portland. Unknown to many who just refer to the Isle of Portland as Portland Bill. Portland Bill in fact situated at the very southern tip of the Isle of Portland, where the famous red and white lighthouse sits proudly warning the seafarers of the dangers. With good reason.
A huge mile long underwater ridge sticking out from the land, and the famous “Portland Race” – (tidal currents with some welly) 😉 make it a dangerous place. The word bill seems to derive from “The Beel” as it’s named on early maps.
Fond memories from childhood of the mostly now silent foghorn droning away at night, comforting in many ways, we all knew it was misty or foggy out. 🙂
But that’s not the only lighthouse at Portland Bill, not even two, but three…
Portland bill’s three lighthouses
As seen above, the majestic red and white Lighthouse sits proudly around 40-50 meters from the sea. It is the southernmost building of Portland.
The other two are smaller and both white, set a little further back from the main lighthouse and now with different purposes.
The bigger of the two white ones is known as lower lighthouse, it was always a bird observatory during our own our childhoods, as far as I know it started as a bird observatory ten years prior to the year of my birth, so that’s 1961. These were first built together, this was to ensure clearer bearings were made for ships passing, far easier to have two points of reference, day and night. This lighthouse was the first to use lenses.
The smaller of the two is very short in comparison and set alot higher up the hill, known as Branscombe hill. Hence the name higher lighthouse, I have heard that this lighthouse made history in 1907 by way of picking up Marconi’s signal from Gibraltar. This lighthouse sits with it’s four cottages inside a boundary wall, all grade II listed since the late 70’s.
Both lower and higher lighthouses were first built in 1716, and the higher one was rebuilt in 1870 odd I think, not exactly sure if it was 1870, or just before, late 1860’s. It was the first one to have a reflector. The lower one was rebuilt twice, rebuilt in 1789, as well as 1869/70, along with the higher one.
Marie Stopes lived here, from 1923. She also opened Portland Museum. Dr Marie Stopes was a famous pioneer for birth control, founding the countries first birth control clinic. A staunch opposer of abortion, arguing that conception was all that needed avoiding, leading to birth control, a lady who really did change the world.
From 1588 when the area was part of a crucial Armada invasion-warning network, it was often named “The Beacon”. Apt considering this area has been known for centuries to be one of the most dangerous parts of the English Channel. Even the Romans regularly lit fires atop the hills.
Portland Bill’s other buildings
While the area known as the Bill is not small it is remote, in comparison to the rest of the Islands “villages”. Therefor it’s not hugely populated with homes, there are a row of cottages opposite the Bill’s only pub, The Pulpit, a name associated with Portland Bill, with it’s famous stack called Pulpit Rock, as seen below.
Along with the pub and it’s cottages, a few newer homes have been situated along the way a little from the main white cottages as seen in the picture, almost behind them as you see them here, living there you need a car. 🙂
Further up behind the pub you can just see where the old higher lighthouse is situated.
There are many beach huts in several fields along the coastal part going past the cranes, one of which sadly was destroyed last winter. There a few cranes along the short coast, here is one shown below.
These huts are very popular with locals who have them, others try to snap them up when they do come up for sale, it’s a holiday from home…. albeit a close one 😉
Although some do belong to non locals, people from all over the UK come here for their little summer break, and we get good weather here.
The few huts much nearer the sea are or were usually fishermans huts. These are much hardier built, often out of thick stone blocks. Had to be to withstand that ferocious sea and it does get ferocious.
The huts create a great community in the summer months, many friends old and new get together and enjoy the sea air over a bbq and a beer.
It really isn’t hard to see why we locals love this place as much as any holiday who visits Portland Bill. 🙂