Is this the quirkiest, coolest hotel ever?
You don't get many hotels more unusual than this. Muddy sets sail for one of the most unique stays we've ever undertaken at No Man's Fort.
As far as unusual and quirky places to stay go, they really don’t get much quirkier than this.
No Man’s Fort is an 18th-century sea fort built in the middle of the Solent – located between Portsmouth on the mainland and Seaview on the Isle of Wight. It’s mysterious and isolated, requiring a trip via boat to reach it.
No Man’s is part of a group of sea forts – which also includes its sister hotel Spitbank Fort – that were built to protect England from invasion from the French – lovingly dubbed as part of Palmerston’s Follies. However, due to delays and lack of funds (they actually introduced income tax to help pay for them) by the time they were completed the threat had pretty much disappeared.
They were eventually decommissioned and, after changing hands a few times, the forts were acquired by Clarenco who opened the hotels in 2015. No Man’s Fort has 22 bedrooms, a spa, laser quest, games rooms, a number of bars, saunas, hot tubs overlooking the Solent for the ultimate escape from reality.
We hopped aboard the boat from Gunwharf Quays on the hottest day of the year having already checked in our bags at the on-site office.
The trip over to the forts was glorious, with the wind blowing through your hair you can totally channel some Grace Kelly vibes during the journey. The boat first heads over to Spitbank before making its way over to No Man’s, taking about 30/45 minutes depending on the tides.
When we arrived we docked up on the pontoon and all the staff were waiting outside to greet us, à la Downton Abbey. It was a tad tricky disembarking and I certainly would advise not wearing a floaty dress (had quite a few Marilyn Monroe moments, eeek) but the crew helped everybody across and into the fort itself. Your bags are delivered to your room ready for when you check-in.
The place itself is incredible, with lots of the original features and decor that feels plucked from a fancy Officers’ Mess. There’s a bit of an itinerary when you arrive starting off with a complimentary drink on the rooftop (it was too hot in the Atrium) before a guided tour of the fort itself.
The fort is split into different areas, with the “historic” part being down in the depths of the building. Down here there are all sorts of things that were discovered on the fort and some of them are rather unusual. Everything from ancient radio equipment, a giant cannon, diving helmets and even the odd pinball machine. It’s a little bit creepy as well but in a fun way, and while you get a bit of a tour you’re free to explore later on yourself.
Dotted around the place you’ll find secret little spots such as the smallest library I’ve ever seen, a poker room, a games room complete with full-size pool and bar billiards tables and there’s even fishing rods if you fancy casting off over the side of the fort as well.
Out on the rooftop, you can have a drink and just watch the yachts go by in one of the hot tubs or sat on one of the deckchairs.
This is strictly a grown-ups only spot for the evening as well, so you won’t need to worry about squealing kids running around as you try to relax. The staff are excellent too, really personable and Marcell the manager makes a point of having a chat with all the guests as well.
Each of the rooms comes with its very own sea view and all totally embrace the Victorian architecture of the building itself. We stayed in a Junior Suite with a fantastic view of the water.
The first thing that struck me about the room was just how large it was. It was absolutely ENORMOUS. The room benefits from a king-sized metal-framed bed, a separate day bed and a very large bathroom with two sinks and a large walk-in shower. The nick-nacks in the room are, as you can imagine, rather nautically themed and you definitely feel as if you’re at sea.
On the ceiling of the rooms, you can see the rivets of the structure (each one probably would have been put in by hand) and the only sound you could hear was the gentle lapping of the waves. The quality of sleep we had on our stay was amazing, the bed was super comfortable and the bedding soft and cosy.
Word of warning, we were on the main floor where there is a walkway around the fort (fantastic views but not for the faint-hearted) and people will walk past your room during the day time. However, there’s a blind on the window so you can get some privacy.
SCOFF & QUAFF
Given its somewhat isolated location, there isn’t a huge amount of choice when it comes to dining here. During our stay we had a lunch at The Lord Nelson Pub, where we opted for a Continental and Cured Meat Platter (£15.50). It was a very simple affair with bread, olives, Mortadella, Chorizo, Salami, Honey Roasted Ham but it was perfect for a hot day and was easy enough to eat so we could continue to explore.
Dinner was served at 8pm sharp and is included in the cost of your stay. It was a communal affair with shared tables with other guests. To start we had Juniper Smoked Duck Breast with Hampshire leaves, pomegranate and a raspberry vinegarette, it was excellently prepared though possibly a little bit too sweet with both the pomegranate and raspberry for my palette.
Main was a Seared Sirloin of Beef, mustard mash, charred little gem lettuce, pea puree, Purple Haze and a Bourbon Jus. The beef was tender and was easily cut using a regular knife, served medium rare, the Purple Haze carrot was delicious and earthy and although the portion initially looked small, I couldn’t actually finish it.
Dessert was Strawberries & Cream which was a selection of mini puddings consisting of boozy berries, strawberry ice-cream, sesame tuille with a hint of chilli. No photo, I finished them off before I remembered to snap!
There are a number of bars dotted around the hotel itself including the Lord Palmerston on the Atrium level, a Cabaret Club and a couple of rooftop bars. However, during our stay most of these were shut, but the Lord Palmerston bar was open well into the evening. Drinks-wise they had a small, but perfectly formed, selection of drinks including Mermaid Gin from the Island and Bombay Sapphire from Hampshire, plus the fort’s own bottled bitter. Be prepared to spend a little more than usual on the drinks – I paid £9 for a Kraken Rum and Coke which is probably akin to London pricing, but given the effort to ship it out, it’s fair enough I reckon.
OUT & ABOUT
Errr, there’s a lot of sea? So, you won’t be able to nip off down the shops during a stay here but there is plenty to amuse you during your visit.
The fort is full of places to explore and has its very own spa and hothouse to relax and unwind in.
For those who like a bit of adventure, the fort can also arrange things like rib rides, rum tasting and cocktail masterclasses as well. Up on the rooftop, you can try your hand at a game of boules, chill out in the hot tubs or climb to the top of the lighthouse for the most amazing 360° views.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
GOOD FOR: Those looking for a once in a lifetime experience. The forts are totally unique and steeped in history, making them prime bucket list material. The seclusion of the fort as well makes it a great place for a romantic getaway with someone special (and a great excuse to get away from the sproglets).
NOT FOR: Aquaphobics and those with limited mobility. There are a lot of stairs here and it’s water water everywhere. The set menu is a bit limited if you’re super foodie, and you’ll need to be flexible as bookings are subject to change at last minute due to weather conditions.
THE DAMAGE: You’re paying for the experience here as much as the stay. Rooms start at £479 for a Classic Room for two for one night, an Executive Suite is £879 and a Junior Suite is £929. There are also two larger suites – The Lighthouse and Presidential Suite – which are around the £1,000 a night mark.
Solent Forts, Solent Forts Port Office Canal Side, Portsmouth PO1 3TZ. Tel: 023 9280 9767
Words by Danielle Jones, Hants and Isle of Wight Muddy editor