£9 for a 10 minute bus ride? I thought the driver had misheard me so I repeated our destination, Milford-on-Sea. Yes, the figure was correct; £2.50 per child and £4 per adult for a single fare. It would have been cheaper to get a taxi, and quicker given the bus was running 25 minutes late. With gritted teeth I paid the fare and made a mental note to avoid buses in future.
Fortunately we’d had a better experience with the train. Taking advantage of our family railcard and off peak travel I’d planned a trip to Hurst Castle, a spectacularly located castle overlooking the Solent and Isle of Wight. It’s possible to walk to Hurst Castle from Lymington railway station but I thought the short bus ride to Milford would allow a linear walk and reduce mileage.
My mood lightened a little as we left Milford-on-Sea and attempted to run up and over the shingle bank which heads out to Hurst Castle. Easier said than done as the pebbles slipped away under our feet and wind blew hair and sea spray across our faces. Across the Solent we could see The Needles, glistening white against the clouds.
It’s a 1.5 mile walk out along the shingle to Hurst Castle. It was surprisingly hard walking along the top of the spit, even with a stiff breeze blowing us along. After a few minutes we admitted defeat and dropped down to the sheltered side of the bank, away from the waves and wind. We walked beside the mud flats and salt marsh; they’re a haven for waders and wildfowl although the only bird I recognised was an egret.
As we walked Hurst Castle slowly came into focus. It’s a strange looking building, more of a fort really, with destructive gun batteries and protective lighthouses alongside each other.
The castle was built by Henry VIII to guard the western approach of the Solent and help protect the ports of Southampton and Portsmouth. Despite the threat of invasion the castle saw little action for much of its early history although it was used to imprison Charles I in 1648. Significant renovations and the addition of armaments were completed during the Napoleonic Wars but life at the castle remained uneventful. Further modifications took place throughout the Victorian era and up to the end of the Second World War.
Entering via the guard room we first explored the early part of the castle. The Tudor tower housed the garrison and marks on the floor outline the living accommodation. The roof was used as a gun tower but nowadays offers great views across the marshes and the Solent.
The original Tudor castle sits between two large wing batteries which were added between 1861 and 1874. Later in the week we visited the Isle of Wight and it’s only after seeing the castle from the seaward side that you really appreciate the positioning and structure of the building.
We continued our explorations of the remainder of the castle. We walked up and down stairs, searched nooks and crannies and balanced along old railway tracks. The two lighthouses shown above no longer work. Instead the Hurst Point lighthouse fulfils their role and there’s a small exhibition in the castle about them.
Before we left, and in the interest of research, we felt obliged to pop into the cafe for a drink. We’d already eaten our picnic but the food looked good and the cakes tempting.
Return to Lymington
I had planned to catch the ferry back from the castle through the marshes to Keyhaven but it was a busy summer day and the queue was long. In case you’re wondering, the term ‘ferry’ is probably a little optimistic. Think small boat with room for about 10 people rather than Isle of Wight Red Funnel car ferry!
There also appeared to be a drama happening in one of the channels as a boat was stuck in the mud. Our boat was called into action to rescue the passengers and take them back to Keyhaven. At this point I decided it was quicker to walk back rather than wait another 20 minutes for the next ferry. Fortunately the wind had dropped since the morning, making it a less arduous walk.
Our walk back to Lymington took us past more mudflats, the boats of Keyhaven Yacht Club and clouds of butterflies. I’d under-estimated how long it would take to walk this final stretch and we had to run to reach the railway station in time for our train. We arrived sweaty and hot with a couple of minutes to spare.
We really enjoyed Hurst Castle but if you plan to visit I would definitely suggest walking one way from Lymington or Keyhaven and using the ferry service as this looked like a fun way to travel.
- Hurst Castle is open daily from the end of March to the end of October. Check the English Heritage website for exact dates and times.
- The ferry runs every 20 minutes between Keyhaven and Hurst Castle during castle opening times. A single ticket costs £3.50 for adults, £2.50 for children.