SO­LENT FORTS IN HAMP­SHIRE

Amaz­ing Venues lives up to its name with these his­toric So­lent mas­ter­pieces, re­mote but just a mile off the Hamp­shire coast

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From Fortresses to 4* Ho­tels, unique desti­na­tions where sea view rooms are guar­an­teed.

WITH ALL THE IMAG­I­NA­TION, in­ge­nu­ity and wealth of Vic­to­rian Bri­tain, the pos­si­bil­ity of in­va­sion, by sea, from across the English Chan­nel was viewed not as a threat but as an op­por­tu­nity to demon­strate the re­solve of the res­i­dents of these Bri­tish Isles. Long be­fore they be­came friends and al­lies through the ‘En­tente Cor­diale’, the French and the Bri­tish had, for cen­turies, vied for Euro­pean and, through coloni­sa­tion, global su­pe­ri­or­ity. This en­mity did not cease in 1815, with the great Bat­tle of Water­loo, and, fifty years later, it ap­peared that an­other con­flict was likely. Pro­tect­ing the great naval base at Portsmouth was seen as cru­cially im­por­tant and five great fortresses were built, along the over­look­ing hills, to de­fend the city from land in­va­sion. Ac­cess from the sea could not be more than ‘dis­cour­aged’ by bat­ter­ies on the coast and the Isle of Wight and, to be cer­tain of se­cu­rity, a se­ries of ar­ti­fi­cial, heav­ily-for­ti­fied is­lands were cre­ated in the murky wa­ters of the So­lent, that lively stretch of wa­ter be­tween Hamp­shire and the Is­land. So were born the So­lent Forts, called Spit­bank, No Man’s and Horse Sand. How­ever, by the time they were com­pleted, the French ag­gres­sion had been dis­tracted by an­other Euro­pean neigh­bour and the forts were no longer re­quired. Col­lec­tively, the build­ings be­came known, un­kindly, as ‘Palmer­ston’s Fol­lies’, and never fired a shot in anger un­til the Luft­waffe threat­ened Portsmouth. Af­ter decades of ne­glect, af­ter WWII, the Forts were ac­quired by the imag­i­na­tive ho­tel chain, Amaz­ing Venues, with the in­ten­tion of cre­at­ing unique recre­ational desti­na­tions and they have achieved this – mag­nif­i­cently. Horse Sand re­mains a ‘work in progress’, cur­rently de­layed by the pres­ence of a res­i­dent fam­ily of pere­grine fal­cons, but the 9-suite Spit­bank

and its big­ger sis­ter, the 22-suite No Man’s, are spec­tac­u­larly open for busi­ness, whether overnight stays, cor­po­rate events or wed­dings. Events for up to 200 guests (60 on Spit­bank) can be ac­com­mo­dated, dur­ing the day, but most would have to leave on the last boat. While both are ac­cessed by wa­ter-taxis from Gun­wharf Quays, the larger fort also has a he­li­pad, ideal for grand ar­rivals and mak­ing a last­ing im­pres­sion. More fa­cil­i­ties, in­clud­ing a Laz­erquest in the base­ment, have been in­stalled on No Man’s as more of the orig­i­nal con­struc­tion had been lost, over the years of dere­lic­tion. Spit­bank, largely un­dam­aged, has been pro­tected from in­ap­pro­pri­ate devel­op­ment by its sta­tus, equiv­a­lent to that of Stone­henge, as a Sched­uled An­cient Mon­u­ment and the de­sign­ers have been scrupu­lously care­ful to pre­serve, in situ, all the fit­ments that demon­strate the pur­pose for which it was in­tended. The se­ries of great can­non em­bra­sures, even with­out the can­non, still have, in the vaulted, ex­posed brick­work, the stout hoops and hooks by means of which they would have been re­strained and reloaded and ham­mock-hooks for the gun­ners. In the same zone, but fac­ing to­wards the in­ner court­yard, smaller ar­eas have been sep­a­rated off by tim­ber walls and re-des­ig­nated Guards-, Comms- and Wash-rooms, all suit­ably fur­nished. The whole sec­tion is warmly and com­fort­ably pre­sented as the Nel­son Lounge, the per­fect place to meet your fel­low-guests and while away a stormy night, on the same level as the nine spa­cious, and im­mac­u­late, en-suite guest-suites and con­ve­niently close to the ‘Of­fi­cers’ Mess’ (din­ing-room) where the most sump­tu­ous din­ners and sub­stan­tial break­fasts are served. On the up­per

DE­SERVEDLY pop­u­lar for ex­clu­sive-use book­ings, the Forts are CERTAINLYNOT for­bid­ding to visit ASACOUPLE”

lev­els are the hot-tub, the sauna and all man­ner of re­lax­ation ar­eas for fish­ing, re­clin­ing or just sea- or sun­set-watch­ing. Im­por­tantly, there is also the ‘Crow’s Nest’, a fully-glazed bar for the lunchtime buf­fet and as­so­ci­ated re­fresh­ment, in­clud­ing spe­cially-brewed Spit Beer – much bet­ter-tast­ing than it sounds! Pure, fresh wa­ter is still drawn from the Vic­to­rian’ arte­sian well and power is pro­vided by the mod­ern, diesel gen­er­a­tor. In the lower reaches of Spit­bank, com­pletely un­changed and un­spoilt, are spooky re­minders of the pur­pose for which the fort was built, the great mag­a­zines for stor­ing am­mu­ni­tion, the ma­chin­ery for hoist­ing shells up to the guns, the blast cham­bers and nar­row es­cape-hatches and pas­sages – all eerily quiet, as though only re­cently evac­u­ated. De­servedly pop­u­lar for ex­clu­sive-use book­ings, the Forts are cer­tainly not for­bid­ding to visit as a cou­ple. Al­most in­evitably, you will be drawn into the con­vivial at­mos­phere cre­ated by be­ing a part of a small group, each of whose mem­bers is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the same sense of re­mote­ness, away from the real world, and com­ing to terms with the in­evitabil­ity that, once the last boat has left, this 150 yearold fortress is your se­cure sanc­tu­ary. Not only that, but the re­mote­ness, the quiet­ness (even the gulls seem sub­dued) and the abil­ity to leave the world be­hind make for a per­fect ex­er­cise in E.R.T. – En­forced Re­lax­ation Ther­apy. Even for the most jaded, and world-weary, ho­tel vis­i­tor the So­lent Forts ex­pe­ri­ence is to­tally un­like any other – and in a very good way!

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