There are two ways to reach Hurst Castle, originally built for Henry VIII facing the Isle of Wight. One is by boat; the other is on foot, along a shingle spit. We chose boat there and walk back. There is of course a third way, again by boat or ship from the sea, against an enemy’s use of which the castle was built.
On arrival, modern artillery, of first and second world war vintage, shows the continuing need until recently. In every part of the castle there are signs of later use as well as the original defences. Walls are adapted; lights are installed; signal systems are developed.
Historians and technologists alike can find items of interest. Others with preferences for sport can observe the windsurfers and sailors. There are also the scheduled ferries to and from the Isle of Wight, as well as the views the Needles and chalk cliffs of the mainland.
Coronavirus has meant restrictions on numbers in enclosed areas but the castle is not the most visited of English Heritage sites. We found very little inconvenience in the rules and saw everything we hoped for.
There is a small refreshment shop, now only selling a limited range of take out food and drink. For this, or homemade meals, there are several picnic tables with benches. There are also public toilets, not greatly updated since WWII it must be said. A different kind of convenience was the tiny ENSA theatre, where the wartime garrison was entertained by stars of the period, identified in accompanying photographs. The stage has a replica entertainment on display.
Hurst Castle has also been home to the lighthouse service, and interesting displays are to be seen. These include a demonstration of the parabolic lenses than managed the flashing light programme.
Whether or not any of the defending garrisons died in post there is a fitting memorial to them all in the form of a war graves headstone inscribed with the dates of initial and final occupation.
The walk back along the shingle was of great interest too; a few vehicles – presumably belonging to staff members – use it also, conveniently flattening the surface along much of the route. The shallows provide wading places for bird: we saw three ringed plover, a little egret and a curlew.