Views across the Solent from Spitbank Fort
PUBLISHED: 09:01 29 December 2014
For anyone that has ever had the pleasure of being out on the Solent around the Portsmouth harbour area, you will have come across, what are now lovingly known as, the 'Palmerston Follies'.
Built during the Victorian period under the approval of the then Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, much ridicule has since plagued the statuesque forts; partly because any threat for which they were built to defend had long since passed by the time they were completed, and partly due to the fact that the main armament was facing inland - which wouldn’t have been much use in a French attack.
Despite them being, put politely, a costly mistake. Today Lord Palmerston would be sitting smugly, glass of champagne in hand taking in the views from the rooftop hot tub in what must be one of the most unusual and exquisite hotels in the country.
What is it they say, ‘one man’s junk is another man’s treasure’? And what a treasure AmaZing Venues found in what is now known as, Spitbank Fort.
After a short boat ride from Gosport harbour, you arrive at this virtually unchanged Victorian defence wondering what all the fuss is about. A looming, black metal gangplank hardly offers a luxurious welcome, and as we made our way up the flight of stairs perching precariously over the Solent, I thanked our lucky stars that we were visiting on a calm day. As I glanced across to my partner however, I could see that I was being a wuss. Eyes alight with excitement, I suddenly realised that we were about to fulfill every small boy’s fantasy; and as I was passed a glass of champagne at the entrance, I began to see the charm of a sleepover on a sea fort.
A cup of tea and a homemade scone in the lounge hit the spot and gave us a chance to really take in our surroundings. So much of the old fort has been preserved. With officers mess still in tact and restored with full writing desk and gramophone, and metal hooks and floor tracks for cannons acting as a reminder that this was a place for military action. Even the old washrooms have been carefully turned in to the most interesting champagne bar I’ve ever seen. From boxes of telescopes to chests full of naval and military memorabilia, this is a place that indulges the urge to be nosy and investigate; there is even a room full of dressing up costumes, which you get the feeling isn’t really for their young visitors at all.
After tea we embark on a tour led by the manager on duty, it is clear that the staff enjoy the venue as much as we are. Tales of ghost hunts and grisly endings bring the place to life, and as we descend on to the lower deck where little renovation work has been done, you begin to see what life really would have been like for the soldiers stationed at the fort - which was actually run as a military base.
Lunch is served up in the crow’s nest bar, where you can enjoy a 360 degree view of the Solent across to the Isle of Wight before taking a dip in the hot pool or relaxing in the sauna, complete with window so as not to miss those views.
The gunners, as they were known, who once manned the fort may have slept in hammocks slung from the ceilings, but thankfully the middle deck has now been transformed in to nine luxurious bedroom suits each with their own bathroom. With just 18 guests staying each night, the atmosphere is intimate to say the least. Before you know it you’re huddled around a roaring fire with marshmallows and hot chocolate swapping life stories and telling jokes.
As we watched the sun set with a large gin and tonic, the smells wafting up from the kitchens and the sound of the old siren signified the start of the main event – dinner. Whether you are there for one of the fort’s infamous Sunday lunches, or on an overnight stay, there is one thing you can count on and that is the food. Beautifully presented and cooked to perfection, our evening meal was a real spectacle. Trying to dissuade my partner from taking a stroll around the inner walls of the fort, where it is said Sergeant Henry Jones wanders at night following his unfortunate accident with a loaded gun, we settled instead on a walk around the top deck and a gander at the glittering lights of Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight to let our dinner go down.
A hearty breakfast in the morning saw us shipshape and ready to disembark after what had been a truly magical night away.
Celebrate in style
Why not spend New Year’s Eve surrounded by water in the middle of the Solent with Spitbank Fort’s special NYE package from just £500 per person. The exclusive package is available for just eight couples and includes boat transfers from Portsmouth, a rum tot on arrival, champagne and a scrumptious lunch before guests can explore the fort or retire to their suites to prepare for the evening’s festivities. Dinner will be served at 8pm before guests are encouraged to enjoy the fire pit on the fort’s roof with Baileys hot chocolate and views of the fireworks in Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight. Ensuring maximum time in bed the following morning, couples can enjoy breakfast in their suites before filling their lungs with sea air on their boat transfers back. For bookings or more information visit www.amazingvenues.co.uk or call 0330 333 7222.