Remember that time when Henry VIII 'broke' with Rome because he wanted to get a divorce and hook up with Anne-Bo etc?
Well in the fall out that ensued, Henry felt (understandably) pretty nervous that the angry catholic powers might end up invading England. In response to this threat, Henry built a number of defensive forts along the English coastline - you know.. just in case. Et VOILA! In 1541, Hurst Castle was built on the seaward end of a shingle spit 1.5 miles from the Hampshire mainland where it could guard the important western entrance to the Solent.
So first things first:
HOW TO GET THERE
1. The Crazy Out-there Adventurous Option
Walk from Milford-on-Sea along the shingle spit to the castle. According to the New Forest Website it is a "long and bracing walk" with strong winds "even on a good day". But they also promise spectacular views so I say LET'S GO FOR IT!
(Read about the walk here on the New Forest Tourist blog.)
2. The Other Maybe More Sane and Definitely More Convenient Option
Hop on a boat at Keyhaven. There are boats approximately every 20 minutes (weather permitting) for £6.00 return, with the first voyage leaving at 10am.
On a weekend excursion from uni, one of my favourite friends and I went adventuring to this little-known fort out at see and basically had a wonderful wind-swept time pottering around the battlements, peeking into rooms and climbing up towers to be rewarded with fantastic views of boats and waves and all the way to the Isle of Wight.
The castle itself is cool to snoop around in. Have a look either side of the entrance gate to the 12-sided Tudor tower. You can see the circular holes where the drawbridge chains once were, and also keep an eye out for the slots where the portcullis once hung. Peer through the gun openings and gun loops from the battlements out to sea.
Despite these defensive provisions, Hurst Castle actually saw little action. Perhaps its presence alone did the trick in keeping this key route to Southampton and Portsmouth safe. The castle did end up being used as a prison for a while though. During the Civil War, for example, King Charles I was held captive here at the end of 1648 before his trial and execution. Later in 1700, a priest called Atkinson was kept here for the final 29 years of his life!!
Extended in Victorian times, Hurst Castle did remain in military use until 1956 and in the Second World War it was manned with coastal gun batteries and big searchlights which shone out over the sea. Keep an eye out for the enormous 38 ton guns (they're pretty hard to miss). They took a squad of 12 men to operate!
Also take a peek inside the Garrison Theatre used during WW2 to keep up the spirits of the 160 soldiers stationed here. Now, 60 years later, shows are performed here once again!
There is a little tea room serving coffees, cakes and sandwiches, however, don't forget that you also have an entire beach just outside the castle gates! And, let's be real, beachy picnics are everyone's favourite things!
That might, in fact, be one of the reasons I love this trip so much! Not only do you get to nose around a Tudor fortress, but you also get beautiful views of the Solent - all the way to the Isle of Wight! So once you've had your fill of history, you can go for a seaside walk along the shingle beach surrounding the castle. For me something about being by the coast calms me like nothing else, so it's such a treat to be able to indulge my archaeological urges as well as my longing for the ocean.
Hurst Castle, Hampshire, SO41 0TP.
Castle Entry: £4.40 for students, £4.70 for adults and of course FREE for English Heritage members.
Open: During the winter it's open only at weekends until 4pm. From April-September it is open everyday until 5.30pm.
Bring: A waterproof (just in case), a bottle of water (Stay hydrated kids!), a picnic if the weather is good. A camera.
English Heritage Website or the Hurst Castle Website.
@thehurstcastle or try this bizarre camera Hurst Castle twitter
What's your verdict? Let me know in the comments if you would be brave enough to endure the shingle-spit walk. Plus, if you accepted the Beach Challenge and were successful please send word and photos as proof and I will reward you with a handwritten Haiku.
P.s. For more coastal posts click here and for more castly ones click here.
P.p.s Julian Humphrys does some really engaging and refreshingly humourous tours of this castle. Follow him on @Generaljules or check out Brookland Travel for more information.