Friday 9 August 2019

Fort Nelson Royal Armouries Museum & Portchester Castle!

Our second outing of the summer break took us an hour or so from home and down to the south coast to visit Fort Nelson and Portchester Castle.
Portchester Castle is somewhere we had been to before but despite having driven past it so many times over the years while visiting family, we'd never stopped off to check out what Fort Nelson had to offer. This summer, we decided to change that!

Fort Nelson Royal Armouries Museum 

The Fort Nelson Royal Armouries Museum is located at the top of a hill overlooking Portsmouth harbour which makes for a pretty impressive view!

The fort is comprised of 19 acres (according to the website) of ramparts, fortifications, underground tunnels and ammunition bunkers.
If you visit, be prepared to walk lots, look at a lot of old guns and artillery pieces and discover what it was like to function in a victorian barracks, kitchen and hospital!

The little dude loved the tunnels and learning about how they handled munitions back in the days it was an active fort as well as checking out artillery pieces ranging from the 1600's to modern times and learning about military living conditions and field medicine back 'in the olden days'.

It's free entry, which is awesome, however, parking is £3 and you may have to pay an additional supplement if you want to partake of whatever special event is on at the time of your visit.
Over the summer, it's a kid's assault course and it cost £4 for unlimited access throughout the visit.
The assault course was pretty cool and the little dude never seemed to tire of running around it!

As for facilities, there is a cafe serving light food (panini's, soups, jacket potatoes) as well as drinks and cakes. The prices are reasonable and there is plenty of seating available both inside the cafe and outside on picnic tables.
There are toilets in the main entrance as well as elsewhere in the fort, like in the museum, as well as basic baby change facilities.

Second World War Graffiti made by those stationed at Ft. Nelson
I doubt you could spend an entire day at the fort.
We spent just over 3 hours there and we took in everything it had to offer as well as stopping for some lunch so I'd definitely combine it with another activity if you're looking for a full day out.
Luckily, Portchester Castle is around 5 minutes away by car! (Depending on traffic.)

Portchester Castle

Portchester Castle is a medieval castle set picturesquely next to the River Solent.
Located near Portsmouth harbour, it has had a varied and colourful history!
The first settlement on the site was Roman, and their thick settlement walls can still be seen surrounding the castle today, with the keep as we know it developed shortly after the Norman invasion.
Throughout history,  it has helped to guard against invasion and act as a staging ground for invasion.
It has been a military hospital and it has been a prison.
I absolutely love visiting castles as I'm endlessly fascinated with the tales they have to tell... If only the walls could talk!

This wasn't our first visit to Portchester. When we lived closer, it was one of our regular picnic haunts but now that we live an hour or so away we rarely visit... In fact, this was our first visit back in about four years.

The castle is in ruins in some places but you can explore them, the keep is fairly intact and you can climb all the way to the roof for an amazing view of the area!

I took this picture from the roof. 
The keep houses a small museum of artefacts they've found during various archaeological digs at the castle and, at the moment, it also houses a replica theatre as apparently during Napoleonic wars, the prisoners would perform various plays to keep themselves - and others - entertained.

There is also a fascinating exhibit about prisoners from the French Caribbean colonies (as they were back then). It told the story of how the French had abolished slavery on its islands and how the free men fought for the French against the British (during one war or another!) and were taken prisoner and shipped with their families to the UK as pows.
They had many challenges adapting to the UK climate and were given extra clothing, rations and blankets to try and keep them healthy but were unfortunately targeted by their fellow French prisoners who resented the treatment. In the end, the French Caribbean prisoners were moved from Portchester Castle to prison boats in the harbour to keep them safe and were sent to France as part of a prisoner exchange in the end.

The exhibit tracks them back to the Caribbean where the French decide to reinstate slavery, so these men who had fought for France and been imprisoned for France were now faced with the choice of submitting to slavery or rebellion and they chose rebellion.
They fought bravely but were eventually cornered and decided to ignite their own powder barrels (and die in the explosion) rather than submit.

It was a heartbreaking exhibit but an eye-opening one that sparked a lot of conversation and questions from the little dude.

After exploring the castle, we explored the outside!

Alongside the castle, but within the outer bailey walls, there an old but functioning church and graveyard, a large castle green which once upon a time would have housed buildings, market stalls and the like, and there is a museum exhibit of artefacts they've found during various archaeological digs at the castle.
You can walk around the walls and stare across the Solent towards Portsmouth with the harbour and the Spinnaker Tower in view.

The church has a little cafe to the side which is incredibly basic but is somewhere you can get a warm drink and a cake. In the castle gift shop, you can get some sweet snacks and cold drinks but there is nowhere in the immediate vicinity you could get a meal. That said, you're 5 minutes driving from Port Solent which is full of cafes and restaurants so it's a non-issue and if you want ice-creams there is a van located on-site which is well stocked.

Negative point:
The bathrooms are external to the castle walls and are gross.
Old, smelly, poorly maintained and... Well. If you can hold it, do!
They're nasty and when we were there the handwashing facilities were out of order!!
Oh, and if you have a baby and need to change them, you'll be changing them on a small, hard-tiled square that is barely fit for purpose. You'd be better putting a blanket down and sorting your kiddo out on the grass.

Entry to Portchester Castle would have cost us around £11.50 for one adult and one child's entry but I'm an English Heritage member so our entry was free.

Like Fort Nelson, there's not enough at Portchester Castle to keep you busy all day long but it is worth a visit if you're in the area and by combining the Fort and the Castle we had a really lovely day out!



  1. My husband would love the Fort Nelson museum. He loves British military history (mostly nautical history) and has tons about Admiral Nelson - both non-fiction and factionalized accounts. Maybe if we ever make it back to England one day we can visit the museum. :)

    1. Portsmouth Historic Dockyard (about 4 miles away from Fort Nelson) is where he'd love! It has a Nelson museum and you can actually go on board HMS Victory! Plus, the dockyard has lots of other museums and boats. We were there this week. :)

    2. Nicci - I just related your comment to my husband about the Nelson museum and being able to go aboard HMS Victory. He is beside himself! LOL He kept saying, "What! What!!! Are you serious??!!!" LOL I swear, he's going to plan another trip to England just for that. Haha!

  2. Wow, very cool fort and castle! I love old ruins like this. I've been to one in Puerto Rico and it was really interesting to visit and think of the history there. The tunnels and dungeons underneath the fort are cool to see.
    Fantastic pictures, thanks for sharing, glad you enjoyed!

    1. I love visiting places like this! Luckily, the UK is full of them. :)

  3. Ahh this post is so rich in history! I love history so this was a great read and I appreciate you adding facts of the places you and your son visited. Sigh. One of the things that I dislike going on trips/traveling is encountering a restroom that hasn't been maintained. Anyway, glad you and your little dude had fun! 💗

    1. It was awesome. We're having so much fun this summer.

  4. Beautiful place.

  5. I love visiting historic sites and castles! Sounds like you and your little guy had quite an education along with a lot of fun. What a great day! :)

  6. Love these pictures! I remember my parents bringing us to all the forts from NY to Canada one year. It's like a youth rite of passage. Looks like a good time was had by all.

  7. What a fun adventure. I love visiting castles and historic sites so this would be right up my alley.

  8. I've never visited a castle before, but have always wanted to! What a great way to combine fun and learning. It looks like the little dude had a great time! What wonderful pictures Nicci!

    Lindy@ A Bookish Escape

  9. Ah... thank you for this fascinating article about Fort Nelson, if grandson no 2 comes to visit, we will definitely consider taking him here, weather permitting.


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