Spitbank Fort a mile offshore in the Solent has become a yachtsman's retreat
Last week I was invited to Spitbank fort, a
Napoleonic fortress set a mile offshore in the Solent. The great stone bastion has recently
undergone a £3million renovation and is open to the public as a luxury hotel.
Surrounded by water and topped by a kitsch
red and white lighthouse, the imposing granite fort looks far removed from your
typical luxury retreat.
As one of the first journalists to stay at the hotel I didn’t quite
know what to expect. I had never
stepped foot on one of these circular
forts before (there are two others- No Man’s Land and Horse Sand). Those with
an interest in Naval history would be interested to learn the rich history of
the trio. The forts were built at vast expense in 1878 to guard Portsmouth
Harbour from a possible French invasion following Napoleon’s succession. The
attack never materialised, their canons never fired in anger and the forts
became known as ‘Palmerston’s follies’ in reference to the prime minister who
had requested their construction.
In World War I, Spitbank Fort was equipped
with roof-mounted guns to protect the harbour, whilst the fort sustained
serious damage from the air offensive of the Second World War. They were
finally decommissioned in 1956 when coastal artillery was abolished and have
since seen a string of owners after they were sold off by the MOD in 1982.
Mike Clare, a British entrepreneur bought
the Grade II listed monument in 2009 (along with No Man’s Fort and Horse Sand
Fort this year) with the aim of creating a one-of-a kind destination. The sheer
scale of the project he has undertaken is mind-boggling, as the forts were
largely in ruin when he took ownership.
Spitbank, the closest to shore of the
three forts, has become arguably Britain’s most unusual luxury hotel. A disused
concrete bastion doesn’t normally encourage thoughts of luxury retreat, but
with 8 ensuite bedrooms, sun terraces, a sauna, wine cellar and even a
plunge pool looking out to sea, it certainly fits the bill.
The journey begun at Spitbank’s own
departure lounge situated in the Royal Clarence Marina followed by a 10-minute journey from Cowes or Portsmouth Harbour by RIB. Guests of the fort are offered ‘tots of
rum’ before taking the short boat trip out to sea. As we approached the
imposing metal staircase that hugs the walls, I was thankful that we had little
swell and only a touch of breeze. Making the ascent on a heavy weather day
would require more than a tot of rum.
As Mark Watts the General Manager ushered
us through the great wooden door, I wasn’t prepared for the dramatic
transformation these ‘ruins’ have undergone. The flagstone floors and wrought
iron hooks wound into the ceiling capture the spirit of the fort wonderfully.
The Victory room, a lounge area for arriving guests, boasts leather armchairs,
discreet lighting and a vaulted brick ceiling. Light pours in through the
windows and the traditional furnishings complement the abundant original
features of this historic fortress, including pulleys for the cannons, hanging
posts for crew hammocks and an ingenious champagne bar formed from a thick
glass sheet resting over the old rusting wash basins.
Spitbank was designed to hold gun
placements right around the fortress in a circular manner and partitions have
been added to create eight unique bedrooms that each have a gun port for a
Outside there are three sunbathing decks,
a heated plunge pool and an airy bar with floor to ceiling windows looking back
towards Portsmouth Harbour. Around the sundeck are numerous telescope posts
where you can gaze back at the coastline.
The sunbathing decks have plastic green
turf that sits out boldy against the historic décor but offer a little comfort
to guests looking to catch some rays. The design team have taken care to
maximise privacy, creating ‘zones’ on the top deck where guests can relax in
comfort. I particularly liked the ‘fire pit’ where the crew (the staff are
known as crewmembers) can light a glorified campfire where you can sit and sip
your brandy of an evening.
The entire monument is self-contained, with
its own well and water purification plant, sewage treatment facility and
diesel-powered generators with enough fuel to last for four months, if it was
ever under siege. Really, it’s the perfect bunker facility rather than luxury
retreat but the slick modern touches give the game away, the Laurent
Perrier-sponsored champagne bar and white leather settees.
As I sat myself next to the lighthouse I
realised it’s the yachtsman’s dream. On one side you can look over to the Isle
of Wight, the other, over to Portsmouth and the commercial ferry channel. It is
prime ‘yacht spotting’ territory and the hours you can while away watching the
sailing community is endless, I counted Brittany ferries galore and many 40ft cruising
yachts rounding the fort on a day out sailing. Naval frigates on exercise,
passenger hovercrafts and Isle of Wight ferries round the fort like a marker
and you feel like the master of the Solent.
If you are after a slice of luxury in the
middle of a sailor’s playground, you really can’t do better.
Spitbank fort is offering a unique ‘Cowes Week Experience’ package. The offer includes 2 nights on Spitbank Fort and 3 hour’s worth of boat transfers to and from Cowes. Watch the regatta sail by whilst relaxing in the hot tub or take up position on a sun deck and watch the show!
Priced at £8,000 for exclusive use of the fort, for
up to 16 guests. To book or for more information, call the Spitbank
Fort bookings team on 01494 682 682 or visit www.clarenco.com