The New Forest coastline is punctuated by a number of sea forts that are still as dominant today as they were when first built. This stretch of coast used to be one of the most fortified in the UK and there's still a heavy naval presence up the coast elsewhere in Hampshire. Southampton and Portsmouth both have deep water ports, with the latter acting as the UK's Navy HQ. At Buckler's Hard, there is a full-scale village restored from the times when Nelson had a fleet of ships made for the Battle of Trafalgar (the vessels made from New Forest trees). Some forts are situated out in the deep waters of the Solent and the English Channel and can be clearly seen from the shore.
New Forest castles
The eastern end of the New Forest skirts the Solent, which is a popular spot for yachtsmen, speed boats and jet skiers. All of these flit in between giant cargo ships, ferries, military vessels, cruise liners and the odd submarine. The Isle of Wight is in clear view across the waters and it’s a real pleasure to find a spot and marvel at the all the waterborne activity. The location of this stretch of coastline has made it a popular place to build castle strongholds and coastal defences.
A good place for panoramic views of the Solent is from the corner of Southampton Water at Calshot Castle and along the beach at nearby Calshot Spit. At the western end of the New Forest coast is Hengistbury Head and Highcliffe beach, which are well known for their walks, beaches and views of the Isle of Wight's wilder western regions.
We have selected a small handful of castles that can be visited and explored along this stretch of coastline near the boundaries of the New Forest National Park, all within very easy reach of our New Forest accommodation.
Calshot Castle is a circular sea battlement that has been employed through several wars since it was built in the 1500s. This impressive fort was built for Henry VIII to protect the mouth of Southampton Water from enemies. It is part of the former RAF and Navy base at Calshot, where TE Lawrence once served.
Nowadays, Calshot Castle is managed by English Heritage and houses a museum containing an exhibition about Calshot Spit’s combat role all the way up to the Second World War. Enjoy the nearby shingle beach too - it’s a great place to take a giant picnic to share with friends and family. It is located at the corner of Southampton Water where it flows into the Solent. Look out for the Spinaker Tower at Portsmouth further east on a clear day.
Hurst Castle is a must-see if you like nature reserves and a decent walk. The castle stands at the end of a gravel peninsula that extends out into the Solent. On the land side, there’s an expansive bird reserve and on the other are the deep Solent waters. The Isle of Wight is at its closest to the mainland here and you can marvel at the iconic Needles and the famous Needles lighthouse from the whole area. You can reach Hurst Castle on foot from Milford-on-Sea or by seasonal ferry from Keyhaven; it is not possible to drive a car to Hurst Castle.
The castle itself was built in 1544 for Henry VIII as part of a row of sea defences. Charles I was imprisoned here before his grisly execution. Hurst Castle also a museum which tells the story of the fortress throughout the centuries, and there is lighthouse at the castle with a café where you can stop for refreshments.
Highcliffe Castle and Steamer Point
Highcliffe Castle isn’t really a castle. Nowadays, it’s the ruins of a 19th century Gothic-style stately home, and is located on the outskirts of Christchurch in Dorset. It’s been partially restored and now accommodates a café/restaurant. It’s a very pleasant place to visit because there is a beach close by and a forested nature reserve too. The unusual habitat of a coniferous woodland running down a cliffside to a beach is fairly unique in England.
Built in 1835 as the realisation of a diplomat called Charles De Rothesay’s life dream, Highcliffe Castle is one of the only surviving examples of the Romantic and Picturesque-style of architecture in the world. It is now has a Grade I listed status, after being bought by the local council and restored in the 1990s, after two fires in the 1970s rendered it derelict. Today you can enjoy a gentle stroll in the restored gardens and grounds.
Steamer Point is close by through woodlands which lead down the cliff to a great sandy beach. Steamer Point got its name from a derelict boat which was towed ashore and converted into a sea lodge in the 19th century. There’s no trace of the steamer these days but the name remains. Nowadays it is 23 acres of wooded nature reserve.
The beautiful sea-salt tolerant tree species of Holm Oak were planted there to help stabilise the cliffs. Migratory birds make Steamer Point one of their last England stop-offs before heading south for the winter, so come autumn it’s a good place to bird-watch. The beach at Highcliffe is one of the best sandy beaches on the Hampshire coast. It is also reasonably secluded and away from roads and car parks. The majority of visitors arrive via the staircases that descend through the woods from Highcliffe Castle car park.
The New Forest coast
If you've been inspired to explore what the rest of the New Forest coastline has to offer, take a look at our guide to New Forest beaches and coastal spots along the Hampshire and Dorset coastline.