Part of a castle wall by water
Coast & seascapes,  England,  Monday walks,  Ruins

Guarding the Solent

Hurst Castle sits at the end of a long shingle spit, jutting out into the Solent opposite the Isle of Wight. At its heart is a Tudor castle, built by Henry VIII to guard the Needles Passage, the gateway to the trading port of Southampton and his new naval base at Portsmouth.

The castle was also used as a prison and its most famous prisoner was royal no less, King Charles I. He was held in the keep, probably its first-floor room, arriving on 1st December 1648. On the night of 18th December horsemen arrived with orders to move him, and the following day he was taken from here to London for trial and execution.

In the 1850s the castle was strengthened due to concerns about French military intentions. Huge earthwork batteries were constructed, and the moat deepened. As weapons and warships evolved with technological advances, so more work was needed. In 1859 a Royal Commission was created to consider the defence of the United Kingdom. Among its recommendations was that a powerful ring of fortresses should be built to protect Portsmouth and its naval base. New forts were built (some out in the Solent) and existing ones extended.

Crest carved into stone above an arch
Above an (unused) entrance

Here at Hurst Castle the recently constructed earthwork batteries were demolished and replaced by huge, armoured wing batteries. While the fort was never called into active fighting use, during both World Wars it was an important lookout point, guarding the western entrance to the Solent against attack from sea and air.

Getting to Hurst Castle

There is no vehicle access to the castle. The only routes are a trudge along the shingle or by ferry. We chose the latter so I’m pushing my luck posting this as a Monday Walk, although we did have a good wander around the extensive buildings here.

But I’m getting ahead of myself a little. The ferry itself was a fun part of the outing. It runs from Keyhaven, a small boating community on the river of the same name. We left the car in a nearby car park and joined a handful of others in the small boat for the twenty-minute ride along the river. We passed lots of boats moored along the middle of the waterway, some rather grand-looking, others more modest.

View from a boat of yachts moored in a river
On the Keyhaven River
View from a boat of small boats moored in a river
On the Keyhaven River

To the lighthouse

Arriving at the castle we sat enjoying the views over a coffee from the little refreshment kiosk, then set off to explore. Ignoring the castle for a while we walked out along the spit to the imposing lighthouse. This is the newest of several that have stood at this point. It was built in 1867 and is still in use today.

White lighthouse on rough ground with wild flowers
The path to the lighthouse
White lighthouse and part of a castle wall on rough ground
The lighthouse, with the east Victorian wing battery

The castle

We then paid the fee to enter the castle. Our explorations took us into the Tudor keep and up on to its roof for great views across the Solent to the distant Needles.

Apart from the yacht, the view is much as Charles I would have seen it

We visited a number of rooms with exhibitions ranging from WWII artefacts to the story of the various lighthouses that have stood here.

WWII exhibits

The Victorian batteries were unfortunately largely closed-off due to major works needed following the collapse of a wall in winter storms, February 2021. The sea continuously eats away at this spit, and nothing is stable. But the grounds inside the walls had lots to interest me and keep my camera busy. In particular I was drawn to various random pieces of rusty metal left propped in one area.

Rusted panel of metal with patches of lichen
Rust and lichen
Rusted panel of metal
Eyes in the rust?

Strangely I didn’t take many photos of the castle itself, perhaps because its solid walls appealed less than these colourful details.

Bright green plants growing on a stone wall
I just liked these bright colours!

Return to Keyhaven

After a light lunch from the kiosk and more time spent soaking up the views of the lighthouse, we returned the way we had come. In Keyhaven we took a short walk by the water’s edge before following a footpath through a lovely patch of long grasses and wildflowers back to the car park.

View of low water and weathered wooden posts
On the sea wall in Keyhaven

The path to the sea wall

I visited Hurst Castle in July 2023


  • maristravels

    So, you were quite close to me this time, Sarah, and I’m glad you enjoyed your trip to Hurst Castle. I haven’t been there for years but I would normally go from this side by a different ferry. There used to be a cash prize for anyone who would spend a night alone in Hurst Castle and many years ago my husband was dared to take up the challenge and accepted but after a long ‘discussion’ decided to pay the forfeit instead. Men behaving stupidly again, thinking that sitting all night in a damp old ruin would prove something! For me it harboured fear of catching a really bad cold or picking something up from the foul interior there. Anyway, your pictures of the seashore flora are wonderful.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I hadn’t realised you could take a ferry here from the Isle of Wight – the jetty seems too small for sea-going boats? Interesting to hear about that cash prize. Is it thought to be haunted? That usually seems to be the case when such prizes are offered!

  • Mike and Kellye Hefner

    What a nice way to spend a day, Sarah. I enjoyed your photos and history lesson, but I admit I had to Google what “V R” meant, and now I know. The rusty abstracts make interesting and beautiful art, and I loved the one you said you liked for its bright colors.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Kellye – I really should have explained the meaning of VR but we’re so used to it over here that I’m afraid it didn’t occur to me! I’m pleased your detective work paid off 🙂

  • Heyjude

    We went over there on the little ferry after visiting Lynemouth on our last day on the NF back in 2012. I don’t think I have ever blogged about it though. I know we didn’t go inside the castle, just wandered around enjoying the views.

  • Image Earth Travel

    Fascinating post Sarah! Love your lighthouse photos.
    I’m not sure if I agree with your comment for the photo below the lighthouse as the exact view that Charles I would have seen as I don’t believe the marker buoy near the yacht is that old, but I could be wrong. 😉

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you, glad you like the lighthouse shots as they were among my own favourites 🙂 As to the view, note I said ‘MUCH as Charles I would have seen it’, not ‘EXACTLY as Charles I would have seen it’ 😆 The lighthouse at the end of the Needles wouldn’t have been there either!

  • ThingsHelenLoves

    I’ve been down here a few times to explore, it’s a great walk for a big dog. Must admit though, walking the shingle spit there and back is hard going. Last time I visited there was some urgent works going on as something was collapsing. Guess it’s a full time job keeping the old place together.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      They’re still working to shore things up after that collapse, and quite a large part of the castle (the Victorian wings) are closed as a result. There were a number of display boards explaining what had happened and how they were working not only to repair it but to strengthen it against future attacks from the sea.

  • Suzanne

    There’s always places around where we live that we take for granted until delving into them a bit deeper. Still interesting, Sarah, even if it is near home.

  • Wetravelhappy

    Sarah, whenever I go to London, I visit a Henry VIII castle or palace, the latest was Heaver last autumn. I’ve never been to Hurst though and so I am particularly thankful for this post of yours. I’ll keep this in mind for our next trip to London. I like the pictures that you posted, even the rusty stuff hahah. And yeah I was beginning to wonder where the picture of the castle was, until I read the reason why — I love the ‘colourful details’ anyway. – Amor

    • Sarah Wilkie

      You’d probably find this quite an awkward trip from London (unless you hire a car) and although interesting I think there are plenty of better and easier to reach castles to visit to be honest. I loved this one for its location more than its structures, which are mostly Victorian. Have you been to Leeds Castle or Arundel? I’d recommend them over this I think – more to see, more attractive and easier to get to! And if ever you’re able to get further north to Northumberland it has the biggest concentration of castles in the country and some of the most interesting and lovely 😀

      • Wetravelhappy

        Hey Sarah, yes I’ve been to Leeds Castle. It’s still may favourite. Not yet to Arundel but it’s on my list. I’ve been to Hampton Court and Heaver Castle. I want to go to Dover Castle. Thank you for the suggestion about Northumberland. My sis leaves in Kent so I try to go visit London whenever I can. If only London is not 13 hours away from Singapore, I’d go there every year.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Definitely! While we were having coffee two cyclists arrived who’d tried to cycle along the spit and clearly regretted it. We saw them trying to negotiate with the ferryman to take them and their bikes back that way but I don’t know if he agreed or not!

  • Pat

    What a delightful excursion, Sarah. I, too, am intrigued by walls of old castles and forts but don’t enjoy taking photographs of them.


    Just looking at some previous comments, it’s been open a while because I definitely remember visiting here with my children on the same holiday as the Beaulieu/Bucklers Hard outings. Would have been circa 1989. It was fascinating, particularly looking down on those spikes installed so as to make landing impossible, peeping up through the crashing waves. It’s a part of England which is full of interest of so many dimensions.

  • restlessjo

    I’d heard of Hurst Castle but couldn’t remember where it was, Sarah, but I’ve definitely never heard of the Keyhaven River. Then again, I think I was only ever in Hampshire once. Thanks for sharing!

  • Yvonne Dumsday

    A place to which I have never been in person so very many thsanks for providing me with such an interesting – and colorful – virtual trip.

  • margaret21

    I’m sure Hurst Castle wasn’t open to the public when I lived in Portsmouth some – gosh – fifty years ago. In any event we didn’t visit it. This was nevertheless a nostalgic post for me, especially the rust and lichen – wonderful!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I think back then it would have been in private ownership still perhaps? Today it belongs to English Heritage although a local company, Hurst Marine, run it and operate the ferry 🙂

    • Sarah Wilkie

      You’re welcome Anne, good to have you along 🙂 Of course to me this is relatively ordinary compared to most of the places I write about, and less than two hours from London!

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