Newest Review: ... 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 ... more
An Englishman's Castle... and Roman, and French...
Portchester Castle (Portchester)
Member Name: fruityzo
Portchester Castle (Portchester)
Advantages: Free - Lots of open space!
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.
Summary: Worth a visit if you're ever in the area.
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