If I’m ever nervous about anything I get my husband to do it first. So I let him turn 40 in September and he said it was actually fine so I followed suit in December.
One of our presents, from some very dear friends of ours, was an experience gift voucher to visit one of the forts in the Solent. How cool is that?!
Seeing as the weather was starting to turn we decided to hold onto it until things brightened up as we didn’t really fancy going in the cold. We waited until the end of May.
Lots of nice things were scheduled for the end of May. The Chelsea Flower Show enjoyed glorious sunshine, the royal wedding had perfect blue skies, we knew we’d made the right decision. Then the day came and it rained. When I say “rained” I mean it really bucketed down. But that’s the British weather for you.
We drove down to Portsmouth which took just over an hour and parked in the shopping village at Gunwharf Quays. You come out of the underground carpark via the escalator and then it’s only a 5 minute walk, if that, to the little arrival office on the marina. From there we got the boat, which had plenty of comfy seats inside and zoomed over the waves to the forts. It probably took about 30 minutes.
The Solent Fort people own three of the four forts. Horse Sand is still dilapidated and used as a museum. The other smaller fort, Spitbank is described as a luxury island retreat. With only 8 suites, it’s popular with celebrities and hired out in its entirety for corporate events and even weddings. We were headed for the largest of the three, No Man’s Fort. Fully converted into a luxury hotel, No Man’s boasts 23 bedroom suites with a host of bars, restaurant, games rooms, hot tubs, a cabaret club and spa.
When the boat arrived at the fort we disembarked and congregated in the beautiful atrium and enjoyed a cold drink. Guests that were spending the night were taken off to check in to their rooms and the day visitors went on an escorted tour of the fort.
I won’t dish out all the details (you may wish to visit yourself!) but the fact that remained with me was that when they were originally constructed (they took 20 years to build!) by the army (you’d think the navy wouldn’t you, but no) they only manned the fort with men that couldn’t swim. This was because the conditions were so awful if they’d had the chance they would have swum away! Luxury hotel then it wasn’t.
My husband, who is a military history buff (he has a degree in War) absolutely loved every second of it. After the tour we went to the mess hall for a delicious sit down lunch. You’re seated with other people, unless you’re in a large group, so it did feel a bit like being on a cruise.
Once you’ve finished your meal you’re then free to explore the fort. It’s all slightly surreal, what with being surrounded by water on all sides but not being on a boat and there are random things dotted about, like saunas and hot tubs and helipads(!) You can also pass time in one of the games rooms with snooker, pool, darts, chess, billiards and the like. A hen party were having a great time in the spa!
We nearly missed the boat back because the time just flew by! I’d really recommend this as a special outing for someone, particularly if they like anything remotely nautical. It’s quite unlike anything else.
The fourth and final fort in the Solent is a private residence. Imagine that? “Where do you live?” “Fourth fort to the left!”
*All photos shamelessly stolen from the internet. Give me a break, it was raining!
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