Tag Archives: New Forest

Not a castle

I was planning a short break this week. It turned out to be a lot shorter than I expected, given that we managed only one night away.  But it was pretty good anyway, even if the castle that we saw was NOT a castle.  Since we only had a couple of days we decided to head down to the New Forest, which isn’t that far away from our neck of London. Or would have been only a short drive I hadn’t had to navigate through one of the worst thunderstorms I’ve seen in England and if Simon hadn’t confused the M4 with the M3 – but what’s a digit between friends?

They boy is now excited by fighting and knights and bows and arrows and such like, so I thought I’d hunt around for a castle to visit and Hurst Castle sounded picturesque and promising.  Not accessible by car, you can walk along a narrow shingle spit from the mainland or take a ferry from the tiny hamlet of Keyhaven.  We didn’t arrive in the New Forest in time to go to the castle on our first day, but we arrived at the ferry port bright and early the next day.  As we approached the castle, a long, low-slung thing hulking just above the water line (or so it appeared from a distance), I said to Simon “I’m not sure this is castle, I think that’s a Fort.”

Our ferry pilot was a very posh chap indeed, who dropped various tidbits of local history in our ears and waved generally in the direction of the castle and said “That’s the bit built by Henry VIII.”  But to be honest, I couldn’t see which bit he was referring to.  And then he pointed to the ferry ahead of us and said “The caretaker’s only just arrived, you might have to wait outside for a bit.”

To the lighthouse

My goodness.  I’m not sure I’ve EVER been early to any attraction – at least not with my late-rising husband in tow.  But we were happy enough to wander on the outside of Hurst Castle with its beautiful lighthouse next door and beautiful views of the Isle of Wight. We spent a long time chucking rocks into the sea. And then we paid our money and went inside.

Not a castle

I’m really really not sure why this was ever called a castle.  According to the Wikipedia entry on castles:

Scholars debate the scope of the word castle, but usually consider it to be the private fortified residence of a lord or noble.

But no lord or noble ever lived there, well…with the exception of the imprisoned Charles I, who was there for only a brief time.  The original fortification was commissioned by Henry VIII who feared invasion after he removed England’s faithful from the Church of Rome.   But the invasion never came.  The ‘castle’ was then expanded substantially during the Victorian era when apparently they had little else to do but build two vast wings of brick and stone and feared invasion from the French.  And it was occupied again in WWII as part of the coastal defenses, but never fired a shot in anger.

But castle or no castle, the boy had a fabulous time climbing up onto the parapets and touching the canon and seeing the WWII era guns.  And he loved the boat ride out to the fort.

I have to say that the display of the ‘castle’ was a little disappointing. The curators hadn’t really constructed a narrative time line through the exhibits. It would have been better if we’d been guided through the history of the castle by starting with the Henrician elements (yes, apparently Henrician is a legit adjective) – then through the Victorian era and on to the WWII bits. But instead we saw a hodge podge of exhibits explaining about the preservation of the shingle spit. (It’s a natural feature, but building of sea walls further west prevents further deposition of material so it’s always being washed away). We only found the original fortification by chance when we were about to leave and it’s probably the coolest part. But it was still a fantastic half-day out if you didn’t count the heart stopping moments when the boy was running across the roof tops and skipping up and down the steep stairs.
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