Weymouth and Portland
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The whole world watched as the British Sailing team won more medals than any other at the 2012 Olympics. That it did so on home water made it all the more memorable – and for Dorset, it was even more special as the sailing regattas were held at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy.
Opened in 2000 and expanded since then, the Academy is one of the best facilities in Europe and has hosted local, national and international events in the open waters of Weymouth Bay and the man-made Portland Harbour. It has also provided a launch pad for inspiring activities such as the annual Health and Wellbeing Festival and Chesil Sustainability, which provides sailing opportunities for disabled sailors; while the Yacht Club of Weymouth’s annual Dinghy Regatta is more popular than ever.
Weymouth is every inch the modern tourist resort, with a wide and shallow sandy beach that in the summer is home to donkey rides, Punch and Judy, sand sculpture and world class local ice cream, not to mention beach sports from motocross to international handball and volleyball, as well as an annual kite festival.
Its success as a resort owes much to the patronage of King George III who made Weymouth his summer residence in the 1780s and was even known to venture into the sea – almost unheard of in polite society – in a bathing machine.
The town has a long history as a port and since 1571 has incorporated neighbouring Melcombe Regis, thought to be the point at which the Black Death came into England in June 1348. In the mid-17th century Weymouth saw heavy fighting during the Civil War and was a major point of departure for settlers bound for the New World.
Before becoming MP for Weymouth in 1702, the architect Sir Christopher Wren controlled the quarries at Portland so in the wake of the Great Fire of London it was an obvious choice to have his showpiece St Paul’s Cathedral built of Portland Stone. By coincidence, Sir James Thornbill, the artist who decorated the inside of St Paul’s was born in the White Hart pub in Melcombe Regis in 1675.
The area more more than did its bit during the two world wars of the 20th century, hosting some 120,000 convalescing ANZAC troops during World War One and seeing the embarkation of more than half a million soldiers for the invasion of France in 1944, while the famous bouncing bombs of the Dambusters were tested in the Fleet lagoon at Chesil Beach.
When Portland’s naval base and air station closed at the end of the 1990s it ended more than 500 years of association with the Royal Navy. A geologically important limestone tied island connected to the mainland by the remarkable shingle of Chesil Beach, its unique character is celebrated in the annual b-side multimedia arts festival.
Well, I Never… The famous white horse carved into the hill at Osmington dates from 1808 and is said to depict George III leaving Weymouth for the last time.