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Portchester is located in hampshire not far from the town of Fareham and the city of Portsmouth. it is easy to get here by bus and train. there is a large free car park with plenty of spaces.
Portchester Castle was built by the Romans built in the third century to guard against attack. Today, the walls are the most complete remaining example of their fortifications in northern Europe. When you walk through the arch in the outside wall you are greeted with a large field and path running through it. In one corner is the magnificent keep and in the other corner is St Mary's church.
The castle is surrounded by a moat and the keep inside the grounds is also surrounded by a moat. The castle grounds are free to enter but you need to pay to visit the main part of the castle and keep.
You enter via the gift shop where they sell a range of themed toys, typical souvenirs, books etc. the staff are very friendly and helpful. There are a lot of steps inside the keep as you expect and it is very narrow areas on top of the keep. The views of Portsmouth harbour are stunning so well worth the hike to the top. Please beware that the keep may be closed in severe weather.
There are no toilets in the castle but in the car park there is a large block of public toilets. Not the most pleasent experience but needs must!
There are plenty of places for picnics and the castle sell a small selection of snacks. St Mary's church is very active and has a team that visit the local schools. It is stunning inside so well worth popping in. The staff and volunteers are very friendly and will willing talk through the interesting stories behind the features of the church.
There is a lovely walk around the walls of the church by the shore. If the you have time take a walk down Castle Street it is here that you will find many blue plaques on houses telling you about their importance in the past. Look on some houses you will see the a lion the old sign used to show that you have fire insurance. If you didn't have this in the past then the fire-brigade would not put the fire out! Look out for Phoenix house, it once burnt down and was then rebuilt. There is the old Quaker House. Up near the high street on the church walls you will find initials carved into the bricks. When the church was being built local people paid money to have their initials on the bricks. Near to this is the building that was the old clay pipe factory.
In Castle Street there is a lovely friendly pub that serves real Ale and tasty food. They are very welcoming to all visitors so well worth a visit. Portchester high street is a ten minute walk here you will find cafes, chemist, Iceland, bakery and local library.
My boyfriend and I recently decided we need to go on more days out together as sitting around the house on Sunday's really seems like a waste of time. In the past we've been to numerous 'places of interest' local to us so I got online looking for something else we'd both enjoy, which is when I came across Portchester castle...
Where is it?
Portchester castle is very close to Portsmouth, nearish the border of Hampshire with West Sussex and a short way from the A/M27 right on the coastline. Once you go past exits for Portsmouth (provided you're coming from the east) you'll soon see the brown signs giving directional hints - we found it easily enough without a satnav or a map.
Parking is fairly limited - there are two smallish car parks off two sides of the castle, we visited in February (which I'd class as off peak season) and only found a space in the car park when someone else left. Parking in the old part of Portchester itself was also limited - lots of cars and plenty of yellow lines, there were a few spaces we noticed but I imagine in summer it's very hard to find a spot for your car.
Leading up to the castle is very impressive - the old part of Portchester proceeding it is stunning with a real mix of beautiful old houses. As you approach the castle itself you're taken aback by the huge expanse of the walls, for what it mainly a ruin it's a very imposing bit of architecture.
Walking through the front gateway you see a tarmac road through the middle, a big expanse of grass, a church in the bottom right corner and the keep to the top left. Everything is free to enter and use aside from the keep/inner bailey which is owned by English Heritage and accessed via a wooden path over the old moat.
As of February 2013 (my visit) an adult ticket cost £4.90 which I thought was fairly reasonable, I also purchased a guide book for £3.50 and I didn't think this was overly costly either - I've certainly been many more places that cost far in excess of these values.
The keep and inner bailey:
Tickets are purchased inside a small shop that caters mostly to children with lots of models, wooden swords and the like for sale, but which also sells a small selection of food items - I purchased a bottle of cider, raspberry curd and fudge. A door to the back of the shop leads out to the keeps interior.
A selection of plaques around the walls tells you what the various rooms used to be and there are a small number of informational boards which were quite interesting to read, although I did feel the place could benefit from a few more of them. There was the option of audio tours, but personally I'm not a fan of these and obviously they're not much use if you're deaf.
This does lead me on nicely to my next point - the keep isn't exactly wheelchair access friendly as most parts are accessed via stairs or walking over big stone slabs into different rooms.
The area you'll spend most of your time exploring is the tower. On the bottom floor you have a sparse museum type set up with a few finds on display and some boards that show different phases of the castle through the ages. There is a large staircase giving access to some floors in the tower, but in the top left corner you have the original spiral staircase that leads all the way to the roof - it's very steep and narrow so if you do use it you should proceed with caution! Most of the floors are empty, bare yet impressive shells of what they once were and on one floor you have a viewing platform up a modern spiral staircase from which you can see the faint elaborate paint work in what used to be a theatre. Up on the roof this is mostly lead lined and there is just a thin walkway all around the edge - I imagine this is a pain when busy as there is barely enough room for two people to squeeze past each other, so not exactly somewhere you can relax and enjoy the view.
We didn't go in here as it seemed like there was some sort of service going on while we were visiting, it is however a beautiful building and has an atmospheric graveyard around it. To the rear of the church is a small tea room serving basic refreshments, but again we didn't go in here are we were looking for more substantial food.
A good day out?
We spent about 1 hour 15 minutes looking around and most of this time was spent in the keep area. We looked around all the different rooms and areas here although with the exception of the tower everything else is an elegant ruin. We didn't walk around the outer perimeter although if you were to do this I don't think it would take you much more than 2 hours to see everything even accounting for a leisurely pace. Not exactly a full day out, but certainly an entertaining morning or afternoon.
I believe these vary depending on season etc, but we went on Sunday and opening hours were 10-4 which seems to be standard for these sort of places.
There were no signs in any part of the castle prohibiting photography and I freely took photos with my SLR. As English Heritage own the site if you want to take photos or film for commercial purposes you will need permission (and I imagine a hefty payment) to do so.
Where to eat:
There are some benches in the inner bailey and the open grasslands outside that would be perfect for a picnic - I'd recommend taking one for family summer lunches as it will save money on dining out, you won't have to source out somewhere suitable to eat and the setting is perfect. If you do want to pay for food then there is a pub a couple of minutes walk from the castle - we ate here and it was delicious typical pub food.
I'd definitely recommend a visit if you're able bodied - fascinating history, beautiful architecture and stunning surroundings all make this a lovely place to visit. Entrance fees to the paying section are reasonable and it would make a great family day out, or even somewhere to relax and read a book on your own.
Portchester Castle is situated between Southampton and Portsmouth in the old part of Portchester. To get to Portchester Castle exit Junction 11 on the M27 and follow the signs, it's also only 1 mile from Portchester rail station on the Portsmouth to Southampton main rail line. It is a fort built in Roman Times with the Keep added after the Norman Conquest. There is also a church and graveyard inside the fort. The fort has a partial moat around it, and also is surrounded by the waters of Port Solent on one side.
It is free to enter the fort, and walk around the church and grounds, there are exits on all walls of the fort and you get great views of Port Solent and Portsmouth when you exit by the Watergate. The whole property is managed by English Heritage, but the only part you need to pay is to get into the Keep and Bailey. It is £4.30 for adults, £2.30 for children and £3.70 for concessions. English Heritage members and corporate members and their families get free entry.
Once in you can choose whether to use the guide to walk around the keep as you wish, or you can use the audio tour to guide you around. There is no one once you have passed the entrance and shop, the day we visited (a Monday) we were the only people inside. You start with the bailey which is mostly ruins, the information boards are good and do tell you alot of information about what the site used to be like and used for.
Once you enter the keep, which is still in amazing condition considering it almost 900 years old originally, there are exhibits on the several floors, charting the uses of the castle over the years, the finds that have been recovered in the area of Portchester and the features inside the keep, and featuring the pictures still present on the walls of the inside of the castle from when it was used as a theatre in the 18th century.
There is a wooden staircase built in the restoration up to the three main floors, but the main stairs are the original small spiral staircase that leads up the tower of the building. These I wouldn't recommend for anyone not wearing suitable footwear or anyone who struggles with steep steps. These steps lead all the way onto the roof of the keep. Once up the roof level you can walk around the looking over the Castle and grounds, Portsdown Hill to the north and you get amazing views of Portsmouth and of the Spinnaker Tower. There are also good views of the yachts in Port Solent and of the warships in Portsmouth Harbour.
Having always lived in the same area, I think I sometimes forget the sights that I have on my doorstep.
One of these is Portchester Castle...
Portchester Castle in on the South Coast, not far from the city of Portsmouth. It is easily accessible by road, just off the A27, coming off from junction 11 on the M27. Even easier, just pop the postcode PO16 9QW in the ol' Sat Nav!
Driving through Portchester Village isn't particularly interesting, but as you near the castle, the road changes to cobbles, and the houses change to thatched roofed and period properties (some dating back to the 1700's). Many of these buildings are listed, and have historical significance & plaques detailing when they were built; who for; and what purpose they initially served (if not residential).
I think this in itself is really interesting, and I think that it is worth parking the car in the castle and having a wander back to have a closer look at the properties. The historical plaques are very interesting, especially when they explain what significance particular properties may have originally had to the castle and inhabitants.
The residents also seem to take great pride in their gardens, which makes it a very pleasant walk, perhaps particularly for those with an interest in plants and gardening.
I just like doing the walk, because for me, the houses and gardens are what I'd deem to be quintessentially 'English' with their small crooked doors and colourful flowering plants. Absolutely beautiful on a sunny day.
Once you have got to the end of the cobbled roadway, there are 2 car parks right outside the entrance to the castle, which also include disabled parking bays. The best part about the car parks is that they are totally free (quite an unusual thing nowadays)!
There is also the option for disabled drivers (and others when events are on), to park inside the castle walls, on the roadway. However, this is fairly space limited.
The larger of the 2 car parks also contains a toilet block, which is always useful if you're planning to stay for a few hours!
It is also worth noting that on fair-weather days, an Ice Cream van can be found in the car park without fail! They sell all the usual lollies & 99's, etc at reasonable prices. Hooray!
The castle is set on the shore front (as it was originally built as part of the Solent's defences), but it also had the added charm of having large areas of green space around it.
This makes the castle a great place for people to walk their dogs (which you see quite frequently, but I never notice a great deal of dog mess), but also for families to have picnics, or play outdoor games such as frisbee, football etc.
Lots of little crabs get washed up on the shore and (as I did when younger), you often see children collecting the crabs - which seems to keep many amused for an absolute age!
Most castles had a moat, and Portchester in no different. However, the moat is fairly shallow, and not particularly wide now (I imagine due to earth falling in over the years). Water does still get fed in by the sea though, and ever since I can remember there has been a rope swing hanging from a large tree over a shallow part of the moat. I'm sure somebody renews this rope whenever it gives up, as there was still one there last time I visited!
This is a great thing for the slightly older children to keep them occupied (provided you don't mind the occasional soggy child)! It certainly used to be the thing I looked forward to doing down the castle when I was younger.
Taken from the English Heritage website:
"The most impressive and best- preserved of the Roman 'Saxon Shore' forts, Portchester Castle was originally built in the late 3rd century. Covering an area of nearly ten acres, it is the only Roman stronghold in northern Europe whose walls still mainly stand to their full 6 metre height, complete with most of their originally twenty towers. Subsequently housing a Saxon settlement, the huge waterside fortress became a Norman castle in the 12th century, when a formidable tower-keep was built in one corner."
As the extract mentions, the walls are pretty much intact, which makes it fantastic to wander round the entire castle. Parts of the castle have been knocked down and rebuilt many times, and you can see this with the different types of stone used in the walls.
It still has original features such as its battlements and archer slots (I used to think these were tiny windows for naughty children when I was little!), and has remnants of stairwells used to get up to the battlement towers.
The castle entrance still has some of its original structure, and walking through you will be faced with a short roadway in the centre of the site, and a large amount of grass either side.
When coming through the main entrance near the car park, you will see a small church & graveyard near the back of the castle plot, on the right hand side. This is St. Mary's Church, which is still used by worshipers, and holds weddings and other services regularly.
On the left hand side, you will find the castle Keep, of which is reached by a (static) drawbridge across the moat.
The Keep itself is open to visitors, but is the only part of the castle that is not free entry.
Concession: £3.70 (OAP & Student)
This part of the castle includes a permanent exhibition which details the history of the castle and the local area. It also includes artifacts that have been dug up from the site itself (spear heads, coins, pottery fragments etc).
You can then climb a very small, worn, and uneven spiral staircase to the top of the Keep. Obviously this is an original castle staircase, so is in an appropriate condition to the age of the castle. This makes visiting the top of the Keep completely unsuitable for those with mobility issues, and perhaps very young children.
The view from the Keep is fantastic, as you can see across the water to Portsmouth with its Spinnaker Tower, and the surrounding area.
Although it's not something I'd pay to do regularly, I think that the entrance fee is worth it just to find out a bit more about the castle and its history. It is also great to have the opportunity to still be able to go inside such an old building.
WHEN TO VISIT:
The castle itself is accessible all year round except for 24th-26th Dec, & 1st Jan.
Opening times vary seasonally:
1 Apr-30 Sep 10am-6pm Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat, & Sun.
1 Oct-31 Mar 10am-4pm Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat, & Sun.
However, I'm not sure if these opening times refer to the paid area of the castle, as I have visited at 8pm in the evening, and still have been able to gain access to the inside of the castle walls.
All in all I think Portchester Castle is a fantastic (and totally free if you wish it to be) day out.
It is a lovely place to take a family for a picnic, or just a wonder about. Admittedly, there is not a great deal to do in terms of entertainment, but there is lots of lovely green space, great views, and you have all that history to nose around!
I have been visiting the castle ever since I was a child, and think I will continue to do so for as long as I live in the area.
The fact that we have a castle on our doorstep is so often overlooked, and it would be a shame not to recognise what a great historical building it is.
A medieval castle built in the late 3rd century, impressively well preserved.