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Nicodemus Knob Area

Portland, Dorset

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This red square encloses one of Portland's most intriguing features - Nicodemus Knob. This is a pillar of limestone left after the rest of this area had been quarried away to provide stone for the Verne Citadel and the Portland Breakwater. It can just be seen on the aerial photograph at 'A' where it casts its shadow to the north-west.

From this feature it is possible to get into the Great Moat of the Verne Prison - which is certainly illegal - and therefore good fun! More of this below.

Also in this area is a memorial to a dog "Uncle Broker" which was killed at this spot by a quarry lorry in the 1980s.

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A general view showing Nicodemus Knob, the flat rectangular areas (once used at Royal Naval Dockyard's playing fields but now a storage area for Portland Port) and the YOI on the skyline.

Nicodemus Knob is a landmark pillar left when the area around was quarried to supply stone for the Verne Citadel.

This gives an impressive indication of the huge quantities of stone removed from this area.

It is very dangerous to climb this stone pillar and only a fool would do so!

Ah, yes, that is me climbing it..... 

There are various theories as to why this pillar of stone was left. Some say as a landmark for shipping...

...others say it is a memorial to the stoneworkers who moved so much material to build the Verne Citadel and Portland Breakwater from this site.

I have my own theory which was published in the Free Portland Press in June 1990. My story goes as follows...

The Making of Nicodemus Knob

Nicodemus Knob, is to my eyes, the most impressive rock formation on our island. It dominates the skyline near the top of Incline Road as a navigation point for shipping. But how did it get its name? I have now unraveled this fascinating story.

Nick O'Demus was an Irish protestant who fled the Emerald Isle in the turbulent decades following the Battle of the Boyne and he settled in Buckland Ripers, a hamlet north of Weymouth. However, finding the pace of life there too hectic he moved to Portland in about 1735.

Unfortunately, Nicholas was one of the few (other than Weymouth men of whom no better was expected) who took advantage of the local courting practices. For, in 1745, he had three 'fiancées' pregnant at the same time. Since they lived in Chiswell, Weston and Southwell there was no way they would ever meet. Poor Nick was driven to distraction by the commuting between Underhill and Tophill. Eventually the Court Leet got wind of what was going on and took 'appropriate action'!

Stories and jokes about Nick abounded in the 18th and 19th centuries and he became a cult figure. But, because of the crudity of the stories that sprung up after his death, these were never written down or told in polite company. They were passed around the quarries and the ale houses just as the current - but entirely respectable! - stories of Dap and General have proliferated.

When the land was quarried at the top of the Incline Road to build the Verne Citadel a solitary pillar of rock was left by quarrymen as an appropriate monument to the legendary prowess of Nick O'Demus.

The Victorians, who turned Tolpiddle into Tolpuddle and allowed the Cerne Abbas Giant to grow over, changed Nick O'Demus's Knob to Nicodemus Knob with its religious and more laudable connotations"

So now you know!

Nicodemus Knob in the foreground and a diesel-electric submarine in the background. 

This boat was setting off having completed trials at Portland Navy Base in 1989.

Besides a track in this area lies a poignant memorial to a pet dog. In the spring the stone plaque is surrounded by flowers.

An appeal for information about this spot was made in the Free Portland News in the late 1980s. Within a couple of weeks the dog's owner had read the appeal in the Falkland Islands and responded.

The much-loved dog was killed by a quarry lorry at the point of this memorial and the stone plaque erected in its memory.

Starting from the east of Nicodemus Knob you will find a path that you can follow towards the north. This shown above left. The cliffs rapidly rise up on your left. This is the track of railway built to transport stone from the quarry to the Verne Citadel.

These pictures above are from 1989 but the track is now much more overgrown - but still passable.

This track is a Public Right of Way so don't be shy of walking it.  Eventually you will reach the ramparts of the Verne Prison as seen above right. In the distance, near the tree on the right of the picture,  can just be seen a brick building and, at this point, is a steel fence across the path. This was the boundary to the Royal Naval Dockyard and still carries rusting warning signs posted by the Ministry of Defence. The path beyond this fence is the property of Portland Port and one must not trespass on their land. However...

...you may find that the fence has a large hole made by vandals - this was the case in March 2002. If you trespass on this land you will see views of the East Weares Gun Battery not visible from any other viewpoint, see 696735.

At the point shown by above right-hand picture there is an earth bank. 

If you clamber over this mound you will be in the Great Verne Prison Moat.

If you ignore all my warnings and trespass into the moat you will eventually come to the secure fence shown above. The above picture was taken standing on a huge earth bank. There are two brick ventilators on this bank showing that the tunnels beneath the 'Nuclear Bunker' to the south extend under this land - a truly impressive underground construction.

On the south side of the moat wall is the entrance, shown below, to a cave system which extends - with tight squeezes - for about 60 metres.

On the cliff-edge overlooking the old Osprey Naval Base are some damaged remains from World War 2. I'm not sure what these are but they appear to be lookout posts.

Perhaps they originally looked like this World War 2 lookout which is now a preserved monument near Upton Fort near Ringstead.
This is Incline Road.

In Victorian times a cable operated railway ran from the quarries near Nicodemus Knob down to the Navy Base and Castletown.

Latterly it was the back entrance to the old Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment Sonar Department.

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