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To Portland-Specimens of Oolite-Castletown-Chesilton-Chesil Bank
- Millions of Pebbles—The Fleet—The Portlanders— Domestic Phenomena-Fortune's Well-Imposing View - The Lighthouses—The Bill — Natural Arch-Quarries-Geological Changes — Quarrymen – Cave's Hole — Pennsylvania Castle - Convict Establishment- The Breakwater-Busy Scene - Mode of Construction – Dropping the Stone-Up the Incline-Back to Weymouth.
FROM Weymouth to the Isle of Portland, a distance of three miles by water, and you are in a place where nature, art, and industry, take you by surprise. The singular appearance of the island itself, the extraordinary works carried on within it, however familiar by description, cannot be seen without feelings of astonishment.
Two steamers, which ply frequently during the day, make the passage across in about twenty minutes, more or less smoothly, according to wind and weather. Having rounded the Mixon at the entrance of Weymouth Harbour you are in Portland Road, with a range of cliffs on the right, backed by higher ground in the distance, Sandsfoot Castle at their farther extremity, and beyond, a low, level, dark line, stretching from the island towards the main, parallel to the shore. Immediately in front, the northern end of the island rises bold and steep to a height of 458 feet; and on the left, should the wind blow from the south-west, you will see from fifty to a hundred vessels at anchor, waiting for a change to carry them round the Start and clear of the Channel; and behind them, matching the level on the other side, is the line of the Breakwater. You will scarcely have noticed these particulars ere the steamer stops at the landing-place.
Here is a little collection of houses dignified with the name of Castletown, for which there is scant room between the water and the hill; and up and down along the shore are piled huge blocks of stone in masses that rival the village itself in dimensions, and with narrow lanes and passages running between them. Before long, the powerful cranes erected here and there will have dropped them all into vessels that constantly arrive and depart. If you wish to know what oolite is, seize the opportunity, and examine the blocks. Such an objectlesson is one you will not easily forget.
Turning to the right, I took the road leading to the western side of the Island, crossing the tramways of the long inclines, down which the blocks of stone are sent from the quarries on the hill-top. How swiftly the laden trucks come rattling down, bringing more and more of the ponderous cubes to the shipping-wharfs, where the accumulation is already prodigious! Where
can it all be going to? Empty trucks go rattling up at the same time, and, if you will, you may ride up and see by what means the abundant supply of stone is maintained; or, keeping the road a few minutes more, brings you to Fortune's Well, the chief place of the island, forming with Chesilton, standing close to it at the foot of the declivity, a considerable village. It has been up-hill all the way, and now you can look across the whole breadth of the bay towards Weymouth; but what chiefly strikes the eye is Chesil Bank, that low, level line, observed from the steam-boat while crossing. You see it in all its length and width stretching with hollow curve towards the sea, from Chesilton to Abbotsbury, a distance of ten miles-a great dam formed of pebbles-nothing but pebbles. Impatient for a nearer view, I ran down the steep slope, and found a way to the bank by one of the narrow passages between the houses. It is a most extraordinary sight! The stones, smooth and water-worn, and generally of the bigness of
hen's egg, appear to be solidly packed; but no sooner do you step on them than they slip away, your feet sink in, and walking on them becomes at once tedious and laborious. “ Two steps back’ards for one step for'ards," said a stonehewer, who told me he had often trudged it from one end to the other. On the outer side the pebbles are ranged in a series of four steps or terraces, each some five or six feet lower than the other, the last sloping away beneath the sea, all so smooth and level, the edges so accurately finished, that you can
hardly believe so perfect a stair to be the unassisted work of the waves.
Such steps as these, miles in length, seem a fit landing place for giants. Descending one after the other, I sank to my knees in the avalanche of rattling pebbles that slipped away beneath me down to the lowermost terrace, where the footing was somewhat firmer. The wind blew half a gale, and the heavy breakers, tumbling in from the West Bay, offered an imposing spectacle, heightened by the thundering rush of their advance, and the angry hiss of their retreat over the millions of stones. Here is the place if you wish to pick up specimens of polished and rounded porphyry, quartz, jasper, spar, and other kinds of rock, for the retiring wave leaves them glistening in the sun, and you can choose the most brilliant-some big as turkeys' eggs. The choice is ample. You might soon load a boat with the raw material of paper-weights and seals. Here and there grow a few marine plants, and patches of weed are thrown up, a slight relief to the bare, stony surface, on which the half-dozen boats left high and dry by the tide seem altogether out of place, and you wonder that fishermen should frequent such a beach. It was troublesome work to get back to the top of the bank; I had to dig my feet as far as they could be thrust into the rise of each step, and more than once in making the last stride lost all I had gained, and slipped down again to the bottom.
To see Chesil Bank, and not feel a desire to know something about its origin, is scarcely possible. The question is one not yet answered with certainty; but the supposition is, that the set of the sea, impelled by south-westerly winds, operating from times too remote for history, has gradually swept the shore all the way from the Start, until stopped by the projecting mass of Portland, the drifting shingle has formed the present bank, resting some ten feet thick on a ridge of blue clay. The formation appears to be dependent on some law, for the largest pebbles are at high-water mark, and at the eastern end, from whence they gradually diminish in dimensions as you go towards Abbotsbury, becoming at last as small as mustard-seed. Nowhere do you see any admixture of sand; and it is said that smugglers, when landing on the bank in dark nights, know where they are by the size of the stones. With a height of from fifty to sixty feet, and varying from a hundred yards to a third of a mile in width, it is yet so narrow in comparison with its length, as to have given rise to the fanciful idea of its being a string by which Portland, representing in shape a breast of mutton, hangs to the main land. The tide rises from two to three feet higher on the outer than the inner side; but no water flows through; the pebbles, though so loosely piled, keep it out as effectually as a Dutch dyke. But in the fierce storms which at times lash the Channel, the breakers dash from one side to the other. In the gale of 1824, still remembered in the neighbourhood, a vessel of ninety-five tons' burden, laden with ordnance stores, was driven so far over the bank by the