Working boats in Weymouth contrast charmingly with the elegant Georgian architecture. Riverboats Organic Farms are delivering veg boxes from their branded van.
“You a birder?” asks a local man by the shore
“No” I reply
“We’ve had some owls just down there”
“Supertankers come in here to have their bottoms scanned and fuel changed to meet EU regulations.”
“See that ship over there, the Sir Tristram, it was a landing ship from the Falklands war. It’s a training ship now. Every now and again they come with a chinook and thunder flashes and all sorts – impressive sight”
I thank the man and head on down the disused rail line where an elderly lady hands me a ‘Living Library’ pamphlet with a smile. It takes me a moment to realise that it’s well disguised evangelical material.
From photos I’d seen of Chesil Beach I didn’t appreciate its monumental scale rising twelve metres in height, dwarfing the buildings nearby. The pebbles are the size of potatoes here and 28km away at the end of the beach where I’ll end up tomorrow, the size of peas.
I ask a wiry man with faded tattoos and a drooping moustache where I can get breakfast. I imagine a tough life at sea. “Let me think, Sheila’s closed at the moment… go up the to Easton, you’ll get a good breakfast there.”
This is a careless landscape of smashed rocks from abandoned quarrying operations punctuated with the occasional bleeping of trucks and clanking of steel and stone. The prized milky Portland limestone is one of the primary building materials in London most famously used in the construction of St Paul’s.
Portland Young Offender Institution is especially forbidding on this overcast day, chimneys rise from the Victorian cell blocks menacingly. It’s a chillingly evocative place and I spend a while photographing the perimeter fence and CCTV cameras – half expecting to be shouted at but in the event the only sound is the wind.
I’d imagined scrambling up Pulpit rock but It’s too stormy to walk along the cliffs to get a decent view of the landmark let alone get near the rock itself. Nearby sits the MOD magnetic test facility used to calibrate compasses and other magnetic equipment as its remote location is free of magnetic interference. A furry caterpillar makes is way across the desolate windswept landscape.
The mud is particularly sticky here and I have to stop regularly to peel an inch of clay off my soles. At the cliffs of the west side of Portland I consider turning back due to wind making it hard to walk in a straight line. Adding to the sense of impending doom I come across a sign “Cliff may fall with little or no warning” referring to the path I’d just followed – apparently people only walk this path in an anticlockwise direction!
Having completed the loop around the Isle of Portland white surf of Chesil Beach curves to the west in the dusk and car lights curve to the Weymouth in the east.
I follow the path down to Chesil Beach itself and walk along the crest for a few hundred metres in the darkness. The waves rack counties pebbles back and forth in an hypnotic pulse. Existential thoughts are brought abruptly back to earth with an exceptionally British notice informing me that ‘The unauthorised removal of pebbles from the beach prohibited’.