‘WHO’D want to live anywhere else, eh?’ asks my friend Nick, as I drive up, up onto Portland.
I’m worrying about how to get to Tout Quarry, so I don’t have much chance to glance down, where the yellow curve of Chesil Beach spoons with Lyme Bay.
But he’s right. And I’m awestruck. It’s Mediterranean. It’s Jurassic. It’s fantastic.
We’re off to grab a piece of the Cultural Olympiad. This afternoon, some dude has dragged a piano up to the clifftop and plans to serenade islanders with strains of Schubert and Chopin.
I pull on my wellies and trot after Nick, who knows these parts of old. I vaguely remember that Tout Quarry is haunted by a circle of Dutch artists who sculpt weird and wonderful shapes out of the masonry.
I’m not prepared for how wild and beautiful it is. We walk under an archway and out onto the edge of the island. The sky’s an eye-popping blue and the sun beats down on the shimmering sea.
A skylark squeaks and zooms upwards. Heaps of fallen stone crag and jut in dangerous piles. And there, dancing on a patch of grass like dryads of old, are a group of Royal Manor Art College pupils.
They’re accompanied by concert pianist Anthony Hewitt, aka the olymPianist. He’s cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats, with his piano following in the BeethoVAN, doing 27 al fresco recitals in 21 days.
It’s a strangely sweet spectacle, here in the open air, listening to the tinkling of ivories and admiring the dancers. I move to the edge of the cliff and peer over.
The water is indigo and translucent down below, lapping at pebbles and falling rock.
Chesil Beach and the sides of the island form a sweeping ‘S’ shape, swathes of yellow and green and blue.
Cotton wool clouds scud past mossy mounds. Amazing. This could be Cyprus.
Typical Kimberlins (that’s what Portlanders call us mainlanders), we manage to get lost on the way back. Nick heroically scales a hill to see where we are, while I hang back, worried we’ll get crushed in a cliff fall.
A big rabbit – or is it a hare? – leaps and bounds up ahead. “Look! Rabbit!” I squeal. “Ssh, don’t say that!” reprimands Nick. I forgot – legend has it, back in quarrying days, that rabbits only surfaced just before a rockfall. (Considered a sign of bad luck, the R-word is still banned today. If you must mention them, say ‘bunnies’ instead).
Back in the quarry, faces loom and jut out of stone. There’s an elephant, a chair, sharks, whales, Aztec-like cairns, there’s an ammonite – is it sculpted, or is it a fossil? And what looks like a very nice pair of lady lumps.
Nick says there’s loads more to see – sculptures of a man falling down the cliff, and even the whole of somebody’s front room, with a fireplace and everything. I must come back and explore. For now, my iPhone battery has run down. No more photos. End of story.