Stones galore at Chesil beach and Tout Quarry, Dorset

In case it’s not obvious from my blog I’m one of life’s planners. For me, planning a holiday is half the fun; I like to know where I’m going and what I’m going to do when I’m there. I’m not so good with spontaneity. But sometimes I manage to ditch the plan.

Our trip to Chesil beach was one such occasion. My original intention was to visit Portland Bill lighthouse on the Isle of Portland then go for a walk on Chesil beach.

Portland Bill lighthouse, Dorset
Portland Bill lighthouse, Dorset

We duly arrived at the lighthouse only to find a two hour wait for the next tour. Our stomachs were already rumbling and we hadn’t bought any food with us (sometimes I forget to plan the obvious things). I knew that hanging around wouldn’t be a popular choice. Instead we settled on a quick circuit of the lighthouse before retreating to a local cafe for lunch.

Tout Quarry

But what to do after lunch? I’d seen what appeared to be a mini-Stonehenge standing in the middle of a roundabout when we’d driven through Portland Heights previously. A quick Internet search revealed the existence of Tout Quarry, a sculpture park, so we hopped in the car and headed back the way we’d come.

Olympic Rings, Portland Heights
Olympic Rings, Portland Heights

We ended up parking near the Olympic Rings viewpoint and braving the main road in our attempt to access the quarry. There is, I discovered later, dedicated parking on a nearby industrial estate but I missed any signs pointing this out. Which is rather indicative of the site in general. It’s low key approach to attracting visitors suited me just fine.

Tout quarry
Tout quarry

Tout Quarry sculpture park began in 1983 in an abandoned stone quarry. Portland stone is still quarried in other parts of the island; it’s perfect for carving and has been used in many grand buildings, including St Paul’s Cathedral and Buckingham Palace.

Although we found an information board detailing the sculptures we were either really bad at finding them or they’ve changed since the board was installed. We ended up just wandering the paths and clambering over rocks looking for works of art. There are 70+ sculptures to find, ranging from butterflies to a huge drinking bowl to a hearth; there’s even an Antony Gormley creation.

Tout Quarry
Tout Quarry

The quarry runs close to the cliff edge. ‘Tout’ actually means lookout, an understatement of the fabulous coastal views from the edge of the quarry.

Tout Quarry is also a nature reserve. The only other person we saw was a butterfly spotter who appeared oblivious to the sculptures. Fortunately it was the perfect day for butterflies.

Tout quarry
Tout quarry

If you’re visiting Tout Quarry with young children you’ll need to keep a close eye on them. There are plenty of drops and edges to keep back from. But for everyone else it’s great fun!

Tout quarry, Dorset
Tout quarry, Dorset

Chesil Beach

From the Olympic Rings viewpoint on Portland we’d had a birds-eye view of Chesil Beach. It’s a long spit of shingle stretching from Portland Island to West Bay; the saltwater Fleet Lagoon separating the beach from the mainland.

Chesil Beach, Dorset
Chesil Beach, Dorset

Chesil Beach (or tombolo, as I later found out), was exactly how I imagined. Pebbles as far as the eye can see. Eighteen miles of them.

Running up the shingle on Chesil Beach
Running up the shingle on Chesil Beach

Walking along the shingle of Chesil Beach was one of my UK bucket list challenges. At one point I’d considered walking the full distance. What a mad thought. It was hard enough walking a few hundred metres from the Visitor Centre to the beach (and some of that was on a boardwalk). I’m so glad I realised it was a tad ambitious!

View from the visitor centre, Chesil beach
View from the visitor centre, Chesil beach

Instead we just sat on the beach enjoying the sunshine and listening to the sound of pebbles being washed by the sea. It’s not advisable to swim or even paddle as the bank shelves deeply into the sea and there’s a strong undertow. Despite this the beach was busy with holidaymakers and fishermen.

We didn’t stay long. Mainly because we’d only put two hours on our car parking ticket. And we’d already spent rather a lot of that time in the visitor centre cafe!

More info

  • Tout Quarry is free to visit and always open.
  • Access to some parts of  Chesil Beach is restricted, primarily due to bird nesting sites. We parked in the Pay & Display next to the Chesil beach visitor centre and cafe (open daily).

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Taking the kids to Dismaland, Weston-super-Mare

I’ve never known the train from Bristol to Weston-super-Mare to be as busy as it was last weekend. The usual assortment of day trippers had been replaced by hip twenty-somethings and American tourists; all left standing in the aisles as there were no seats available.

Dismaland
Dismaland

The reason? Banksy’s Dismaland bemusement park on the seafront at Weston. This antithesis of a theme park has opened for 6 weeks on the site of the old Tropicana lido. We didn’t have tickets but I’d heard that on the day tickets were available for those prepared to queue. We arrived just as they were closing the morning queue so the security man suggested we came back later for the afternoon session. That was fine for us as it meant we had time for a trip to PJ’s Ice Cream Parlour, a wander around the pier and lunch.

Get your programmes here! Dismaland
Get your programmes here! Dismaland

We were back queuing at 2.30pm. At 3pm the ticket office opened and a cheer went up. At 4.30pm we got our tickets. The kids were surprisingly good about queuing for so long and I knew the minute I handed the money over that it would be worth the wait. I thanked the ticket attendant and he replied that I wouldn’t be thanking him when we got inside.

Dismaland
Seagull Lady, Banksy, Dismaland

A few minutes later we’d passed through some pretend security and were standing in Dismaland. The exhibition is a mix of fairground attractions with a twist, large model exhibits, films and an indoor art gallery. Over 50 artists have provided works, with Banksy responsible for 11 of the exhibits, including the seagull model above.

Banksy describes Dismaland as a theme park unsuitable for children. My kids loved it, as I’m sure would most teens, but I’d think twice about taking younger children. You’ll spend half of your time explaining the irony behind the exhibits, the other half trying to avoid the liberal use of swearing around the site!

Dismaland
Horse meat carousel, Dismaland

The fairground attractions, which cost extra, included a carousel where a white suited figure is making lasagne from the horses, topple the anvil with a ping pong ball (and win the anvil) and a rotating caravan ride.

I loved the ‘Hook a duck from the muck’ stall. The prizes were inflated plastic bags with a piece of orange fabric in them, modelled to look like goldfish. Not that many people won them! As soon as someone got close to hooking a duck the unsmiling attendant would pick up a duck and throw it at the target, generally resulting in a large splash of water over the person. Or alternatively she’d grab the fishing rod and throw it on the floor.

Big Rig Jig, Dismaland
Big Rig Jig, Mike Ross, Dismaland

The staff, who had responded to an advert for film extras, played their roles perfectly. Unsmiling and disinterested, generally slouching in a corner or getting in the way of photos. I bought a souvenir programme and the attendant literally threw it, and the change at me. It was hard not to laugh.

There is no getting away from the Disney aspect. The staff wear ears which bear a strong resemblance to mouse ears. The entrance wristbands, logo and online advert are unmistakably modelled on Disney. How I’d love to be a fly on the wall in their lawyer’s office!

Dismaland
Outdoor cinema, Dismaland

There’s a cinema showing short films so we bagged some deckchairs and rested our feet. Perhaps we were just watching the wrong film but I found this part the weakest of the show. Wandering off after a few minutes we discovered a giant toilet roll sculpture and a killer whale jumping out of a toilet (the former by Michael Beitz, the latter a Banksy).

Dismaland
Dismaland

I loved the way the original lido had been incorporated into the exhibition. Although I am assuming that the crumbling stonework, uneven flooring and weeds weren’t added recently for effect!

The police riot van below was built for use in Northern Ireland but now stands in the middle of a lake adorned with a slide and fountain.

Dismaland
Police van, Banksy, Dismaland

We entered the burnt out castle and found a dead Cinderella falling out of her pumpkin carriage surrounded by paparazzi. This piece is probably one of the most controversial given the obvious similarities to the death of Princess Diana. The other exhibit to stir up emotions is that of the boat pond where visitors can control the crowded boats full of migrants. Bad taste? Certainly thought provoking.

Dismaland
Mini Gulf, Dismaland

We passed on the opportunity to play Mini Gulf but enjoyed checking out the variety of obstacles. There’s a huge sandcastle and windmill next to the children’s play area and pocket money loans shop. Not many takers for the 5000% interest rate!

Dismaland
Dismaland

There was a short queue of people waiting to take selfies at the selfie hole (oh the irony). I’d read a couple of reviews slating the queues inside Dismaland, all part of the experience I’m sure, but we were lucky and whilst a couple of exhibits had queues most of them didn’t. It actually felt relatively empty which was rather surprising given the long wait outside.

Dismaland
Selfie hole, Dismaland

The three large art galleries were excellent. We watched a Banksy offering, the grim reaper riding the dodgems to the soundtrack of the Bee Gees Stayin’ Alive.

There are a couple of Damien Hirst pieces including a unicorn preserved in formaldehyde but one of my favourites was Promise by Caroline McCarthy. This consisted of plastic plant pots and ready meal packaging with garnishes cut into the cardboard to suggest freshness.

Promise, Caroline McCarthy, Dismaland
Promise, Caroline McCarthy, Dismaland

The galleries were a fascinating mix of sculptures, paintings and objects. One gallery was dominated by a mushroom cloud tree house. The Spanish artist Paco Pomet had inserted the Cookie Monster into a picture of war lords driving a jeep. Whilst Jessica Harrison had porcelain figurines with tattoos. I’d love to have such creative thoughts.

Readers of a certain age will remember Jimmy Cauty, one half of the group KLF, and the man who burnt a million dollars. His contribution to Dismaland is a huge sculpture which initially looks like a large model railway set. Look closer and you’ll find almost 3000 model police figures in a post-apocalyptic world. The strobe lighting and staff shouting ‘Move along, there’s nothing to see’ are incredibly atmospheric.

Dismaland
Dismaland

The exit sign was exactly as I’d expect of a Banksy exhibition. Dismaland delivered everything I’d hoped for and more. Given the number of people visiting Weston for the attraction I really hope it’s delivered a great boost to the late summer tourist trade too!  

More info:

  • Dismaland was only open until 27 September 2015 and has now closed.
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