Yesterday was an unexpectedly warm day and I had not dressed to handle the heat; I’d gone for trousers and a shirt with my walking boots, but wished I’d opted for something much lighter as my family and I crunched loudly over the shingle that stretches out from Keyhaven, on the edge of the New Forest National Park in Hampshire to Hurst Castle, which is all but stone’s throw from the Isle of Wight.
We hadn’t actually planned to go inside the castle, but were glad of our impromptu visit because it was fascinating. The castle dates back to the 16th century, but was also used during WW2 as an important line of defence against any potential invasion. As we wandered around the grounds, climbing up to 360 degree views of the Isle of Wight, the Needles, white-sailed boats gliding through the Solent and Keyhaven Marshlands; and then down into dark, cold, extremely damp store rooms, we were aware of those who had been stationed here throughout the Second World War.
Some of the guns are still on display in their original positions; frightening, yet awe-inspiring machines of warfare, which were loaded with shells that must have taken several men to lift. The netting around the hole through which they fired acting as protection from any fragments of incoming bombs is still in place. Yet even the everyday concerns have also been preserved, with the remnants of kitchens and bathrooms, such as they were, on display in all but empty rooms.
A small, circular section of grass has been given over to red poppies and a memorial to those who lost their lives defending this country, in addition to several exhibitions which detail daily life, battle plans, and bring that link closer to the present day with old weaponry, clothing and interviews with ex-soldiers.
We took our own food, but there is a small café and shop and we saw families tucking into what looked like delicious, decently-sized slices of cake. Dogs are welcome too, but they may struggle getting up and down some of the steps, which are quite large in places.
My camera loved the light and perfectly-framed views through the castle windows, and I could have spent hours wandering around chasing the light as it moved and shone through every gap in the walls. I hope to go back with my Bronica as I think the square format will work well with the natural framing of the scenery outside.
As our boots crunched back towards Keyhaven, I thought of all those who had made their way back and forth to the castle, and spent freezing winters and hot summers there in scratchy uniforms, while I was bemoaning my cotton trousers and shirt. I realised that my luxury to moan about being hot in such an outfit, and wishing I’d worn a dress, was all down to those self-same, brave individuals who had fought so I could have the freedom to amble around an old castle with my camera and my attire was of little consequence.
If you have a chance, I’d recommend a visit to Hurst Castle, preferably on a sunny day. Go early and you’ll have the place almost to yourself for a while, and can make the most of that incredible sunlight.
For more information, check out: