Tag Archives: quarrying

Quirky Dorset – Part 13

11 May

– – – Exploring The Countryside and Lanes of Dorset – – –

Today, we are looking at another Dorset curiosity, and one over which several theories have been put forward. It is something which is totally incongruous with its surroundings and which seemingly cannot be totally explained, which just adds to its air of mystery. This is the Agglestone.

The Agglestone

Agglestone - a Dorset curiosity

The Agglestone

The Agglestone is a massive lump of ferruginous sandstone, weighing some 500 tons and it stands on a flat topped conical hill in the middle of Black Heath near Studland. The mystery is caused by the fact that, apart from a much smaller neighbour known as the Puckstone, this rock is totally out of keeping with the boggy heathland which surrounds it.

Tradition has it that the rock was hurled by the devil one night when he stood at the Needles on the Isle of Wight and was intending to destroy Corfe Castle. He missed his target by some way, the stone landing harmlessly on the heath.

On the heathlands

Black Heath with The Agglestone

In truth, no one has been able to properly explain why the stone is there but there are several theories. One says that it was a remnant of the last ice age and that it was a ‘one-off’, deposited by a glacier on the heath and that it stands on a hilltop because the surrounding heathland has been eroded around it, much in the way that tors stand on their hilltops on moorlands. Another theory suggests that there was much more of this stone in this area but the rest has all been quarried away, theorising that this heath was once one massive quarry. This theory suggests it was the quarrymen who left the Agglestone deliberately as a relic as they sometimes did.

Either way, this stone is clearly natural and has not been put in place by man. However, there are suggestions that its shape has been modified by human intervention. This becomes more clear if you look at older pictures because at one time the rock stood higher and had a flat top, making it very much like an anvil. In addition, there were at one time quite a few smaller and neatly square blocks of similar stone surrounding it. These appeared to have been cut, but why were they left?

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The Agglestone Long Before its Collapse (Published by Climenson in 1906)

Some years ago, probably in the 1950’s, its base eroded and the rock tipped over on its side, leaving it sloping as we see it today.

It would seem that whether it was a large quarry or just a single massive stone,  some quarrying activity was carried out, modifying the shape of the Agglestone. Suggestions that the undercutting might have been natural and caused by sandblasting by the wind seem doubtful since there are no large areas of sand in the vicinity. It is possible though that the lower rock is perhaps softer and has just been eroded to its anvil shape by rain and frost damage. We will probably never know the truth!

Agglestone View

The View from the Base of the Agglestone

There are so many unanswered questions surrounding the Agglestone – why was it there in the first place, why was its anvil shape so neat, why was it surrounded by neatly squared blocks of stone, why does it sit on a flattened hilltop, and so on. There is a real air of intrigue about it!

I well remember my first visit here in my younger days, walking the heath in the last light of the day. Suddenly, this massive structure loomed out of the gloom. It was extremely imposing and it made a real impression on me. Now, I visit regularly just to revisit that mystery and to drink in the amazing views from its lofty perch.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler

If you would like to contact me, my email address is terry.yarrow@gmail.com – comments and feedback are always welcomed.

All photographs, poems and words in this blog are the copyright of The Dorset Rambler and must not be reproduced without permission.

Of an island that’s not an island, quarries and more quarries, and wind instruments with no wind!

12 Sep

I had a fabulous walk last week, a walk I have done many times but one which always provides something new and different each time.  It was a circumnavigation around an island, The Isle of Portland, which is in fact not an island at all because it is connected to the mainland by a causeway and beach.  Whether you would describe it as pretty or scenic depends on your point of view but I would describe it as rugged, probably some of the most rugged coast you will find.  It is also probably one of the windiest and wild usually except on this day when I wanted it to be – but more of that later!

There is for me an amazing variety of interesting things on this walk, and it started straight away as soon as I parked the car at the highest point on the ‘island’ with amazing views straight down the causeway back to the mainland.

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The view to the mainland

Having admired this spectacular view, I set off on my walk but within a mile I was ‘forced’ to detour off the track to take in the first of the interesting features of this rugged landscape, three of them in fact!  The first is the remains of the old quarrying industry in the form of two bridges spanning the incline that drops off the hill.  This is carved out of solid rock and as I stood looking down the rutway lines (grooves cut into the rock like railway lines), I could visualise the quarrymen working hard to get the heavy stone down to flatter ground – I wonder what modern health and safety consultants would have said about their practices!  There will be much more quarrying references throughout this post as it was a major industry here.

Continuing a short distance, I passed the old military barracks dating from the late 1800’s.  You can visit this, or at least the people who live there, but not as a tourist as it was converted to a prison in 1949!  Opposite this, and once part of it, is another military establishment built around the same time and which you can visit, and a fascinating place it is too.

This is High Angle Battery.  Built in a disused quarry in 1892, this fort once protected Portland Harbour far below, but was in the end only operational for 6 years.  Being below ground level, it gets its name from the fact that the shells were fired high into the air to drop onto the decks of any attacking ships.  I always enjoy exploring this fort with its gun posts and underground ammunition dumps and can imagine the busyness of the place when it was operational.

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Part of the High Angle Battery ammunition dump with rails still in place

Leaving the fort behind, I continued my walk along the cliff top on the east side of Portland, with views over the extensive old quarry workings that run all along the coast, passing the Young Offenders Institution on the way – this is a Dorset walk with a difference!  After a while, I dropped down into the quarry to continue my walk along a ledge part way down and that once formed the tramway for the quarry.

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Looking back along the tramway

This path eventually took me to one of my favourite places, Church Ope Cove, a place with a real air of mystery and so much of interest.  The first sight is of the old castle, one of three on Portland, known as Rufus Castle or Bow and Arrow Castle which stands proud on the cliff above the cove.  Built for William Rufus, hence its name, this is very much in ruins now.


Rufus Castle

Beyond the castle and part way down to the cove my route passed the remains of St Andrew’s Church, once the main place of worship for the islanders.  Destroyed by landslips and invasion by French pirates, the church is said to have smuggling connections and has some smugglers’ graves.

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Smugglers’ graves with the skull and crossbones

Passing through the old churchyard, I was again ‘forced’ to take a detour to look at some other remains!  Difficult to access because of erosion, this is the remains of John Penn’s Bath – a rather quirky Dorset curiosity!  John Penn, previously governor of the colonial Pennsylvania and part of the family after whom the state was named, owned Pennsylvania Castle which stands on the cliff top above the cove.  In the early 19th century, sea bathing was becoming very popular but John Penn didn’t fancy climbing all the way down to the cove so had a ‘bath’ cut out of the rock just below his castle.  The idea was that his servants would carry sea water up in buckets from the cove to fill the bath each time he felt like bathing and he would then sit and soak happily whilst looking out through the window onto the sea.  Unfortunately he made the mistake of building his bath on common land and was forced by the local community to pay to use it.  It is said that he was so outraged that he abandoned it!!

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John Penn’s Bath

A short distance away was another distraction from my walk, and one that was even more inaccessible!  This was an old underground reservoir.  It has been suggested that this might date from Roman times although this has not been proven.  It may well have served the old cafe that once existed on the beach in the early 20th century but this also is just speculation.  It is a fascinating, and dangerously fragile, place and one that is not easy to find if you did not know it was there.  I did venture through the narrow entrance into what was a pitch black and very muddy interior to grab one or two pictures using flash.

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The interior of the old underground reservoir

So, detours over, I continued to make my way down to the cove itself, and as I walked I thought about John Penn’s servants carrying hundreds of buckets of water up that path – I bet they were relieved when he abandoned the bath :)!  The cove itself is a wonderful place, and one I love to visit.  It was once a sandy beach but remains of the quarrying industry has turned the beach into a stony one.  There are remains of the fishing industry too in the form of an old winch, and some interesting old beach huts with their pebble wall surrounded ‘front gardens’.

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Church Ope Cove – the old winch and beach huts

I sat on the beach and ate my lunch listening to the gentle and relaxing sound of the surf washing over the rocks before I continued on my way, following the cliff top quarry path above the sea to eventually reach the southern most tip at Portland Bill.  Here too there are remains of quarrying with old derricks on the cliff top, once used to lower stone into the waiting barges below.

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An old cliff top derrick

And they are not all disused either – well, there is no other way to get the boats into the sea!

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A newer cliff top derrick

Strangely, despite the fact that it is almost impossible to reach the sea from this point without some serious climbing, there are still beach huts here and if you have around £20,000 in spare cash, you could buy one!  As you can see, it is basically a shed :)!

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Beach hut for sale!

Of course, Portland is not only famous for its stone but also for its lighthouse, and no walk around this area would be complete without a picture, or ten, of it :)!  I always think these old lighthouses are so attractive, this one particularly so with its red stripe.

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The Portland Bill lighthouse

It is also famous for its Pulpit Rock – named for obvious reasons.  It just begs to be climbed, and people regularly do, and in fact fish from the top too.  This is a long exposure shot, hence the blurred clouds and sea.

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Pulpit Rock, Portland

So, it was on with the return journey, this time along the west coast of the island as the cloud started to form, obscuring the sun but providing some delightful light for me to photograph.  The walk along this coast is mainly along old quarry ledges, nice and flat, and being west facing, normally watched over by the setting sun – although not on this day!  I walked along here with barely a whisper of breeze, accompanied by seagulls and butterflies, enjoying the stillness.

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Every cloud not only has a silver lining but produces interesting light too 🙂

Ah, but sadly that lack of wind was to spoil the next highlight of my walk.  This was a temporary art project called Inside Out Dorset with rather unusual events taking place throughout the county.  The event on Portland was an audio visual experience with many instruments, both wind and percussion, set out all around one of the old disused coastal quarries – except it relied on wind and there was little of that on this day.  There was though just enough to get a feel of what this project would be on a windier day and I think it would be amazing :)!

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Part of the Inside Out Dorset project 

I was nearing the end of my walk now but there was yet another interesting feature to take in, and it is such a great one – and yet another old quarry!  This was Tout Quarry which is now being put to very good use as a sculpture park with lots of different artists and even classes on sculpturing.  It is a place to take your time exploring as every corner you turn brings another surprise be it a face, a fireplace, a boat, an animal or whatever, all carved out of the solid rock.  The most famous is undoubtedly Still Falling by Anthony Gormley.

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Still Falling by Antony Gormley

Reluctantly, I had to leave the quarry as the light was fading and I completed my walk along the cliff edge accompanied by wheatear and the gentle sounds that drift across the still air.  And as I returned to my starting point, I once more stopped to take in the breathtaking view across the causeway with the famous Chesil Beach curving away to the west into the gathering evening mist.  What a delightful evening and finish to a great walk.

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The causeway and Chesil Beach from the northern edge of the Isle of Portland

Portland is beautiful in a rugged way and although it is 100% Dorset, it has impacted many places in the world through its quarrying industry – Buckingham Palace, St Paul’s Cathedral, the National Gallery in Dublin, Casino Kursaal in Belgium, and even the United Nations building in New York are some of the places to have benefited from its limestone.  There are parts of this corner of Dorset everywhere, but it is still my Dorset and I love it!

Thanks for stopping by and reading the ramblings of The Dorset Rambler.

Until next time,
Your friend
The Dorset Rambler.

All photographs, poems and words in this blog are the copyright of The Dorset Rambler and must not be reproduced without permission.