Tuesday, 17 March 2009

St Andrews Church, Church Ope Cove, Portland

(Click photos to enlarge).

The ruins of St Andrews Church are situated halfway up the cliffside above Church Ope Cove on the eastern coast of the Isle of Portland in Dorset.

Overlooked by Rufus Castle, St Andrews was originally built between 1150 and 1470 and served as the parish church of Portland until the mid 1700s.

The church was damaged following a landslip in 1675, but it wasn't until 1756 that the church was finally closed, and when stones were taken away to help build St George's Church at Reforne.

According to local legend the graves include those of several pirates, although we were unable to make out any of the lettering on the tombstones due to weathering and so couldn't pinpoint quite where their resting places might be. Another story I have heard is that it was French pirates who, along with the landslips, helped destroy the church.

Below we see another picture of Rufus Castle, looking across Church Ope Cove. The cove is now a popular site for fishermen and is home to many beach huts, although it was quite empty when we visited. The beach, which is absolutely strewn with pleasingly round stones and boulders of the grey Portland stone, seems to be quite a tranquil place and it must be a far cry from the days of attacking pirates and the smugglers for which the beach is famous.

Date visited: 9 March 2009

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Lighthouse, Pulpit Rock & Sea Caves, Portland Bill, Dorset

(Click photos to enlarge).

Portland Bill lighthouse was built in 1906 and is 35 metres (115 ft) tall. There are two earlier lighthouses relatively nearby, one of which is now a bird observatory.

Portland Bill itself is the promontory of (the eponymously named) Portland stone at the southern tip of the Isle of Portland, off the coast of Dorset in South England. Portland isn't quite a true island in that it is connected to the mainland by the sandbank formed by the eastern end of Chesil Beach (which is itself 18 miles long).

Everywhere there is evidence of the isle's history of quarrying. There are piles of Portland stone at regular intervals, and as you follow the coastline around you encounter various abandoned quarries. Near to the lighthouse is an enormous structure jutting out into the sea, known as the Pulpit Rock (pictured above). This is in fact a man-made structure formed by the quarrying process.

It's hard to tell in some parts whether the jagged coastline of Portland has been cut away by men and machines or if it has been naturally eroded. To the east of the lighthouse and approximately half a mile away there are some huge sea caverns that have, presumably, been eroded out underneath the land above by the sea.

My guess is that they were formed by a natural process, as it looks to be a very peculiar way in which to quarry stone - but if you know differently, please let me know! One of the sea caves is viewable from above through a hole in its "roof" which has a grill laid across it formed from sections of railway line.

Date visited: 9 March 2009

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Durdle Dor, Dorset

(Click photos to enlarge).

Durdle Dor - or Durdle Door which might seem to be the more logical spelling - is a natural limestone arch on Dorset's Jurassic coast located between Lulworth to the east and Weymouth to the west.

The photo below is taken from the east and shows the Man O'War beach on the other side from the limestone arch, and you can also see quite nicely how the bands of rock continue straight through the main structure.

Note Portland on the horizon in this and the first picture.

See also: Durdle Door on Wikipedia

Visited: 9 March 2009

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Oxford Castle and Castle Mound

(Click photo to enlarge).

On the way home from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History last Sunday, I took this very moody photograph of Oxford Castle and the the Castle Mound as I walked past. Oxford Castle was built back in 1071 for William the Conqueror, has since spent half of its life as a prison, and these days is part of a tourist attraction which also comprises restaurants, bars, and a hotel.

Last year I spent a night with a group of ghost-hunters in the supposedly haunted castle. It was an interesting night and it was quite fun finding our way around by only the lights of our torches, but I can't say I found it particularly spooky or believed there was any supernatural presence there. I could quite easily have settled down in the castle vaults in a sleeping bag and had a good night's sleep. But the important thing was that we were sponsored and raised a lot of money for Cystic Fibrosis.

See also: Oxford Castle

Date visited: 1 March 2009

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Oxford University Museum of Natural History

(Click photos to enlarge).

I'm slightly ashamed to say that although I have worked in Oxford for over 20 years, I very rarely get out and about and visit its various places of interest. I think, like many others in Oxford, I tend to leave that to the tourists and end up missing out on what's there on my own doorstep.

I only visited the Oxford University Museum of Natural History for the first time last November, but I instantly fell in love with the place and wondered why on earth I'd never been before. I'm not going to give its whole history here, but to say that the museum came into being following a competition in 1854, when Deane and Woodward's design for the museum was selected, and then in 1860 the building was opened despite being unfinished in parts. (The museum sells a booklet entitled Oxford University Museum: Its architecture and art for £2.50, and which will fill in all the historical details should you want them).

The architecture of this place is incredible. Upon entering the main court, one of the very first things you notice is how very light it is. Intriguingly the main court has a glass roof which is held aloft by a system of cast and wrought ironwork. The ironwork is decorated with various botanical ornamenation, so that you almost get the impression of being inside an iron jungle.

The stonework in the museum is pretty impressive too. Each of these pillars surrounding the court (pictured above) - which are to be found both around the court on the ground floor and on the first floor galleries - is made from a different British decorative rock whilst their capitals and corbels (the stonework immediately above and below each pillar) are each intricately carved with various flora and fauna.

Those who find taxidermy repellent might want to stay away as there are various stuffed animal exhibits here. Unlike the museums I remember from my childhood, visitors are actively encouraged to touch some of these stuffed animals. Small children in particular seem to love these exhibits. Where else could they get up close to a cheetah, or a badger or fox, and get to stroke its fur and see what it feels like to the touch? Several of these exhibits that we are invited to touch have labels in braille, so the museum should be commended for taking its blind visitors into consideration.

One of the more macabre exhibits features this pair of carrion crows feeding their young with a little fluffy yellow chick. But such is nature!

Another much more legendary bird, of which the museum is very proud, is the dodo. This particular example is usually referred to as the Oxford Dodo and famously appeared in Lewis Carrol's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Supposedly, the head and foot of the dodo displayed here are the most complete remains of a single dodo anywhere in the world.

Here (above) we see the dodo again, but in a "slimline" version after research has suggested it wasn't as fat and clumsy as it has been previously portrayed.

This huge slab of sandstone caught my eye. It contains fossils of three different genera of trilobites, as well as several brittle stars. To give an idea of scale some of the larger trilobites here are each roughly the size of one of my hands (and I have reasonably large hands).

And of course there are dinosaurs in the museum. Plenty of them. As one of my favourite authors, Robert Rankin, would say: I think it's a tradition or an old charter or something.

This chap, a certain Mr Charles Darwin, is also present albeit in statue form as are a whole host of other famous scientists. Darwin's collection of crustacea, amassed from his expeditions on The Beagle, is owned by the museum, and the 1860 evolution debate which discussed Darwin's On The Origin of Species took place here.

As if you haven't gathered by now, I think this museum is absolutely fantastic, and I've not even mentioned the displays of fossils, minerals, the insects and arachnids (including a live tarantula) and very probably a whole lot more that I simply can't think of right now. The museum is very child-friendly, and it was great to see so many families out together for a visit. It doesn't cost anything to get in (although donations are welcome), so all in all I'd say the Oxford University Museum of Natural History is well worth a visit and brings together a wealth of natural history, art and architecture all under one roof.

(Casts of the footprints of the bipedal carnivorous dinosaure Megalosaurus from 168 million year-old middle Jurassic limestones of Oxfordshire - on the museum's front lawn.)

See: Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Date visited: 1 March 2009