As soon as we stepped off the catamaran which took us from Portsmouth harbour to No Man’s Land Fort, I knew we were in for a treat at this Solent Fort Hotel. The granite stone fort was weather-beaten and forbidding from the outside. The wind whipped through the English Channel and the metal staircase to the fort’s entrance wobbled with the movement of the waves. As soon as we stepped inside the fort though, we were greeted with the warmth of central heating and a glass of champagne. My husband’s eyes gleamed like a little boy ready for an adventure. History and luxury – two of his favourite things in a hotel!
The weekend getaway we had at No Man’s Land Fort in the middle of the English Channel is hard to describe. Sometimes I felt like I was on a luxury cruise. We were stranded on the fort but with our every comfort attended to by attentive staff. Although you could hear the waves crash against the building, the fort obviously was not moving. The interior decor was shabby chic antiques and naval historical relics along the lines of a country house hotel. Inspirational quotes from Winston Churchill were scattered around the walls. You were isolated from the rest of England but had excellent WiFi.
History of the Solent Fort Hotels
The Solent Forts were built to guard Portsmouth against a possible attack from Napoleon III of France. The Prime Minister of the time, Lord Palmerston, thought it would be a good idea at the time. He came to regret his decision when the attack never came and he got stuck with the forts which got nicknamed “Palmerston’s Follies.” You win some…
No Man’s Land Fort were meant to part of the first line of defense against an attack. It’s only about a mile and a half from the Isle of Wight. It is considerably larger than Spitbank Fort which is much closer to Portsmouth.
Portsmouth has been a naval base for the British military for hundreds of years. During the 13th century, the British would use Portsmouth as a base from which to attack France. The French, in return, would regularly sack the city. By the 19th century, Portsmouth was such an important part of British Naval operations that it became the most fortified city in Europe. So Palmerston wasn’t entirely silly in building the Solent Forts.
The forts were sold off by the British Ministry of Defense in 1982 because they were not needed. No Man’s Land Fort became a luxury hotel with a pool. Unfortunately, an outbreak of legionnaire’s disease in the pool caused the hotelier’s bankruptcy. The fort was rescued by another company which has created the Solent Fort Hotels.
Facilities at the Solent Fort Hotels
Two of the forts, Spitbank Fort and No Man’s Land Fort, are luxury hotels now. The same company owns Horsebank Fort and is turning that into a living museum of how the forts would have operated. Spitbank Fort is the smaller hotel with just 9 bedrooms. No Man’s Land Fort has 22 bedrooms.
No Man’s Land Fort has been set up like a big boy playground. There is a TV room, a billiards room and a snooker room. If only I knew what the difference between billiards and snooker. Let’s not forget darts, foosball etc. There is also a floor devoted to laser tag (when the lights go out – trust me that area gets really creepy and dark).
The Mess Hall has been converted into a restaurant serving dinner and breakfast. Of course, meals are included in your stay because it’s not like you are going to nip out to the nearest gastropub. We thought the food and service was excellent.
The Cabaret Bar is another room which has a full bar, karaoke and a stripper pole. Just in case, your trophy wife decided to relive her stripper days perhaps??
The rooms are spacious with comfortable beds. The style was more country house style than design hotel. Lots of neutrals and a liberal use of the colour blue. It’s interesting being at a hotel which is so obviously trying to please the men who go there. Presumably the hotel group assumes that the men pick the hotel and their wives are along for the ride.
The top of the fort has been laid with artificial grass and set with deck chairs. It was too cold and rainy when we were there, but I’m sure it’s beautiful in the summer. It was also too windy for the evening bonfire they do when the weather is good.
There are two hot tubs on deck as well. Annoyingly, a large party of people took over the hot tubs from the time we arrived until evening. You get drinks served to you in the hot tubs so there really was no reason to leave.
My favourite part of the No Man’s Land Fort was probably the lighthouse. It has glorious views over the water and comfortable chairs for snuggling up with a book.
Staying at a Solent Fort Hotel
You can rent the whole of a Solent fort hotel for private parties which I would love to do. Perhaps for a do-over of my 40th birthday! How great would it be to have a murder mystery weekend? Think of it like a modern interpretation of Agatha Christie’s 10 Little Indians where guests are invited to a private island and then killed off individually. Ten Little Indians with actual Indians. he he.
Children are not allowed on the fort except for private events. The building is not especially child-friendly but how much fun would it be? I can just envision a giant game of hide and seek. And, probably, some child sobbing at being told ghost stories. Technically, No Man’s Land Fort has no ghosts and Spitbank Fort has only one (Henry, an army guy who died accidentally in 1910). Poor Henry is probably stuck there for eternity because he can’t swim. (The army liked to put soldiers at the forts who couldn’t swim so that they couldn’t swim the mile and a half to shore and run away.)
Although a Solent Fort Hotel experience is not cheap, the hotel rooms do get booked up. An overnight stay can run from £500-£1000 a night. I would say there were about 60 guests between the two forts the weekend we went. The price includes full board and private transfers to and from the fort. We had a special offer at the hotel booked through the members’ travel club, Secret Escapes. It was a completely unique stay unlike anything else I have ever experienced.