Quite a spooky location at night, from the path all you can see of Tilly whim quarry is two ominous holes in the cliff face, atop a crumbling ledge of Portland freestone. The sign mounted on a dissuading wall reads ‘This is an extremely dangerous area, closed to the public sine 1976’. From the other side of the dry valley comes the repetitive flash of Anvil Point Lighthouse which was built in 1881 from local stone. All the while, the moonlit waves are crashing against the rugged shoreline below.
This quarry, one of many along the Jurassic coast between Swanage and Weymouth, has been worked since Napoleonic times for the tough Portland stone, reputed to be far stronger in these beds than those on Portland itself, and the Purbeckstone that lies above it. The quarry was carved directly into the cliff face using basic tools and the stone worked into items like sinks and troughs onsite as the quarry men were also skilled stone masons. A wooden crane (called a whim) was used to lower the blocks onto a ship which then transported the cargo to the stone yards of Swanage Quay.
Many of the south’s Napoleonic fortifications were constructed from the Purbeck stone but after the end of the wars, the demand for stone dropped and the quarry became redundant, stopping work in 1812. The site was left seemingly unused until 1887 when local businessman George Burt opened the remaining ‘caves’ up as a tourist attraction within the Durlston Estate. The castle is still in use as a tea room but is currently under renovation.
Despite the collapsed adit, the site appears to have changed little since it’s early days. It was a few rock falls that had the site closed to the public in 1976. It doesn’t look all that safe and due to the police reporting my car ‘abandoned’ in the middle of the night I didn’t get to explore it as thoroughly as I would have liked.
There are obvious signs of roof collapses inside the ‘caves’, you wouldn’t want a slab of that to land on you. The majority of the debris is weathered and moss covered so does not look recent. There are a few fossils visible in the rock but the most interesting thing is the graffiti. People went to great lengths to carve their names into the walls a hundred odd years ago, it must have taken quite a while to leave their mark.
Nowadays it’s only really home to bats and birds, but many a dolphin and whale have been sighted from the cliff top. A large flock of pigeons seemed to like the place and kept waking me up in the morning, as did the odd passing walker. The site has long fascinated me as my Grandparents live less than a mile away. After a quick breakfast of barbecued sausages It was off to the next location. Plenty more sites like this to come, as soon as I can catch up editing the images!