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Portchester castle - a lovely historical day out
Portchester Castle (Portchester)
Member Name: Huomenna
Portchester Castle (Portchester)
Date: 17/02/13, updated on 18/02/13 (71 review reads)
Advantages: interesting architecture, romantic ruins, not too expensive, stunning views, free except keep
Disadvantages: not enough for a full day out, needs more information boards
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.
Summary: Don't travel a huge distance to go see it, but if you're within an hours drive it's well worth it