Big Birthdays seem to come round far too often these days. And with each Big Birthday or Landmark Occasion it’s wonderful to celebrate with your nearest and dearest. Special occasions need a special place to create another special memory. Spitbank Fort is the perfect, special, place.
Offering unparalleled 360-degree views of the Solent, Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, Spitbank Fort is a unique island boutique hotel which offers an intimate venue for those special occasions exclusively for your own use! I have never stayed anywhere quite like it.
Situated 1.2 nautical miles from Portsmouth Harbour, Spitbank is one of three sea forts built between1860-1880 to protect against anticipated Napoleonic bombardment. Built on a shingle sandbank, the Fort had 15 rapid muzzle loading guns and could accommodate up to 156 sailors at the height of its operations in the 1890s. The feared bombardment never happened, though the Forts were used during the First and Second World Wars after which they were decommissioned and pretty much left to deteriorate. Following a three-year restoration (2009-12) Spitbank and No-Man’s were turned into unique luxury boutique hotels. The third Fort, Horsesands, remains in its original state.
Following a 1½ hour train journey from Waterloo to Portsmouth Harbour and a five minute walk to the Solent Forts check-in office in Gunwharf Quays, we boarded a very stylish rib for our short journey to Spitbank Fort. Bond-like, we arrived shaken not stirred after speeding down the Solent for our overnight stay at this island retreat.
With a champagne reception on arrival it was immediately obvious this was a stylish, quirky, historical destination like no other – total escapism.
Spitbank has nine huge en suite bedrooms – and I do mean huge – the Mess Dining Room, three bars, a relaxing lounge with several secluded seating areas as well as games rooms, hot tub, fire-pit, sauna and sun deck. Historical artifacts and interesting pieces abound, its original features preserved and complimented by stylish furnishings. For the musically gifted there’s a piano for a good old knees up. Unusually, there’s also a Shisha Bar where you can have a sneaky cigar or smoke other (legal) herbal substances – not something you see everyday in a hotel!
A quirky place to explore and experience living history, a historical tour is offered to all guests shortly after arrival, made all the more interesting by the enigmatic Fort Manager, Kyle, who has managed the Fort for 6 years. With a keen interest in food and wine – he’s a qualified sommelier – architectural conservation and a history buff too, his enthusiasm and knowledge really brings the Fort to life. In fact, the whole team, who are mostly local, have worked at Spitbank for several years. Like everyone who loves their job, nothing was too much trouble, the food and service was exceptional.
A loud foghorn is a novel way of announcing dinner or the start of an activity and totally in keeping with the quirky nature of Spitbank. As was the provision of water supplied by their 150-year-old artesian well, which goes through several state of the art filtration systems to provide their very own Spit water.
As well as exploring new places I love acquiring new skills. At Spitbank I learnt Champagne Sabrage – how to open a champagne bottle with a Napoleonic sword, an impressive party trick – how to make the perfect champagne cocktail and also did a rum tasting. Later, after a delicious dinner and sublime white and dark chocolate gooey soufflé with coconut ice cream, I also learnt how to toast marshmallows to perfection over the fire-pit whilst sitting under the stars on a balmy late April evening. We finished the night with a hot chocolate and, what else, a tot of Gunpowder rum. Fishing, adrenaline rib rides, treasure hunts and tailor-made activities can be arranged as well as trips over to the larger No-Mans Fort should you wish to take advantage of spa treatments, laser battles or just have a general nosey around.
As you would expect private hire of Spitbank Fort doesn’t come cheap, but for such an amazing experience based on a per person basis for 18 people it is not ridiculously expensive either. Prices start from £349 per residential guest fully inclusive of boat transfer, a champagne reception, delicious buffet lunch, four-course dinner and a full English breakfast.
A scheduled Historic England listed monument, Spitbank is challenging for anyone with walking difficulties or who can’t manage lots of steps, as there is no lift. Built on three levels (four if you count the Crow’s Nest atop) like many historic buildings it isn’t suitable for everyone and children under the age of 18 are not allowed overnight stays. Moderately fit Silver Travellers will have no problems.
If you would like to visit to explore this fabulous venue there is occasionally an option to book a Sunday or mid-week lunch experience. With prices from £125 per person (includes sea transfers, champagne reception, 4 course lunch and a historical tour over a five hour period), this is also a popular celebration package to mark a special occasion for couples or small groups. It’s also a great way to ‘try before you buy’ if you are thinking about booking Spitbank exclusively in the future.
Portsmouth Harbour is worth a visit whilst you are down there: The Historic Dockyard Museum to see HMS Victory and other famous vessels; Mary Rose Museum; D-Day Museum; Spinnaker Tower 105 metres above sea level (not quite Dubai but this is Hampshire) and Gunwharf Quays, a popular shopping outlet with restaurants and bars where you can while away a few hours using your special Fort Privilege Pass for discounts at selected retailers.
Although no shots were ever fired from Spitbank, at the height of its operation soldiers were based on the Fort for 9-month duties, without leave! Conditions were pretty appalling: open latrines on an outside gantry; high rates of infection; forced to drink half a pint of Gunpowder Pussers 109% proof rum daily – it wasn’t a posting you would volunteer for. Now soldiers would be clambering to stay at Spitbank! And so should you.
For that special Big Birthday or Landmark Occasion Spitbank is unique.
Chrissy Nason was a guest of Solent Forts on behalf of Silver Travel Advisor, April 2019.