Greetings Fellow Adventurers!
Owing to the poor weather over the last few weeks that stopped us from getting out, we were all suffering from a fair bit of cabin fever. Thankfully the sunny weather last weekend allowed us to escape the house and head south to Hampshire and more specifically – Portchester Castle.
Ratty outside the Keep.
- Location: Portchester, Hampshire
- Total distance travelled: 212 Miles
- Total time at the wheel: 3 hours 50 minutes.
- Adventure rating: 3 out of 5 Crossbow Bolts.
- Packets of square crisps eaten: 8
- Website: English Heritage website
Portchester Castle is located at the northern tip of Portsmouth harbour. It was built in the 11th century just after the Norman conquest of England, by one of William the Conqueror’s cronies William Maudit. Initially made from wood, the castle was rebuilt in stone around the mid 1130’s by William Pont de L’Arche after it had come into his hands via marriage to William Maudit’s Daughter.
Portchester castle from inside the Roman walls
The castle is situated in the corner of a far older Roman fort, most likely built by Marcus Aurelius Carausius around 285AD. Built to protect the southern coast from pirates, it also helped the Saxon’s defend against the Vikings. It is said to be the largest and most complete Roman fort in Northern Europe, with the Landward gatehouse having been restored to how it would have looked during the roman occupation.
The restored Roman Landward gate tower
After William’s death, the castle changed ownership several times until it was taken over by King Henry II in 1154. It then remained a royal castle for several centuries, and witnessed several key events in English history, most notably the preparations for the invasion of France by King Henry V, that led to the battle of Agincourt in 1415.
In 1632 the Castle became a prison, a function it performed for many years right through the many wars with France and at one point held up to 7000 prisoners of war. These days it is run by English Heritage and is a grade 1 listed building and a scheduled ancient monument.
Next to the castle within the walls of the fort, there stands St Mary’s Parish Church. It was built around 1130 as part of an Augustinian priory that had been established in fort in 1128. Asides from being and active church community, it houses a lovely little tearoom that does a great cup of tea and a nice bit o’ cake – just the ticket after a long drive.
Anyway, back to the story…
Looking out through the castle gatehouse
After hammering down the A34, we reached the town and stopped off at a garage for a ‘Ahem’ pit stop. While we were there, my wife accidently dropped her gloves on the forecourt. Noticing this whilst refuelling, I knelt down beside the car behind us and picked them up, only to get some odd looks from the woman driving it – followed by a wave when she realised what I was up to. By the time we actually got to the castle, got the pushchair out, took some pictures and walked into the reception, the same woman was behind the till. Suffice to say she remembered us and was glad we found our missing gloves. It is indeed a small world and it did make us laugh. However…
…when we got there we found that the church had closed for refurbishment, so no desperately needed no cup of tea – This didn’t make us laugh!
Once through the gift shop, having avoided buying some of the nice looking booze and having procured my wife a new notebook. We ventured into the castle proper – making a reasonable beeline to the keep.
The Keep and it’s surrounding buildings
The keep is truly massive and even without access to the roof (it was closed due to high winds) it is an impressive building to walk around with several large rooms and three floors to explore. The ceilings are very high indeed and walking up the open stairs and platforms between levels always gives me that burning feet sensation, in fact I’m getting it now just thinking about it – wuss! The stonework shows how the building’s role has changed over time. You can see the myriad of holes and marks in the stones and woodwork were floors and walls etc. used to be, including some nails sticking out of the roof beams that were used to put the hammocks up in the 17th century.
The Great hall
There are a lot of information boards on the three floors that describe the wars against France and the lives of the prisoners held there. They are also some great interactive audio displays where letters written in the period by the staff and inmates have been recorded. My son spent ages listening to them. Amazingly, and for the first time ever my teenage daughter actually stood and read ALL of these boards – we were stunned!
Part of the Display on the wars with France
Once done in the keep, and after a rather windswept picnic lunch (they provide tables) we mooched around the rest of the castle’s interior, most notably the remains of King Richard II’s palace built in the 1390s. This would have been a very grand building with its imposing entrance and lavishly finished interior. The evidence of which can still be seen in what’s left of the room’s ornate stonework, especially around the windows and fireplaces. It’s beautiful and doesn’t take a lot of imagination to transport yourself back there and see what it was like when it was in its heyday – oh I do wish I had a time machine.
Exploring Richard II’s great hall
The outside of King Richard II’s palace
After the castle went for a walk around the walls of the fort. As we walked out of the gatehouse, we noticed that the moat now had water in it, which is strange as it hadn’t when we arrived. It’s obviously tidal – how cool is that! But it does beg the question though of what would happen if the castle was attacked at low tide?
By Jove! There IS a moat!
The walk around the walls is fun as they go almost right up to the sea with the path in between. There are some great views of the harbour with Portsmouth and Gosport beyond. My Daughter, who is who is a budding naval historian, loved it. The walls of the fort are truly amazing and in wonderful condition considering their age.
The Spinnaker Tower and HMS Queen Elizabeth moored in the harbour.
View across the harbour
After the walk, we decided to head over to Stokes Bay near Gosport. More pressing however was the desperate need for tea and we set off in search for it hoping to find somewhere on the way to the beach. We did see a rather interesting looking pub, but it turned out to be something else…
…not fancying a pint of bath water, we ended up in a Costa in Alverstoke instead. It was very nice but for some reason the kids chose to sit at the smallest table there. It made for some interesting juggling of teapots, cakes, trays and cup etc. and my latte very nearly fell to its death thanks to a misplaced elbow.
Suitably refreshed we set off again. It was at this moment, just because I’d followed a sign to where we were actually heading and not complying to it strict instructions, that my patented Grumpy Positioning System had a major fit, threw it’s toys out of its pram and switched itself off. No amount of gentle or not so gentle coaxing would get it to work again, so in the end we upset it further by ignoring it. I’ve no doubt that it’ll make us pay in the future – probably by taking us up some God forsaken mountain pass that happens to be a dead end.
Stokes Bay runs along the Solent opposite Ryde on the Isle of Wight. We spent a lovely hour wandering up and down the pebble beach, collecting a few stones to paint, fighting the wind and enjoying the sea air. My daughter was again in her element, staring wistfully out to sea. My son on the other hand, really enjoyed running about, skimming stones and watching the shipping – he’s a real beach boy.
The view along the beach – as you can see from the pictures it was starting to get dark when we arrived.
Ryde from across the Solent
The Hovercraft ferry from Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight – I WILL get a ride on this one day!
This is one of my favourite photos of the day, it reminds me of those old post cards about the British seaside.
As it got dark, and finally succumbing to the cold and the need to go and find a glass or three of wine, we reluctantly got back into the Ratmobile and headed home, hoping that the now awake GPS didn’t take us the wrong way in a fit of revenge.
What a brilliant day and a lovely way to spend some family adventure time!
Note: If you want a much better description of the Castle’s History, then please take a look at my wife Alli’s medieval history blog post here, or the Wikipedia page here. But most of all, go and visit yourself, it’s a wonderful place and well worth the drive.
Farewell my Friends!
Me at the beach. Just to note, all pictures were taken with my trusty Canon EOS 40D and Sigma 18-300mm f: 3.5-6.3 DC. A really great travel photography combo.