Exploring Fort Nelson

the Fort Nelson is one of several forts on Portsdown Hill. These were built in the 1860s to protect Portsmouth against the threat of an enemy attack from the French. They were never needed for this as the French threat disappeared after their defeat in their war against Prussia in 1870. The forts were later adapted and used during World Wars I and II. These days, Fort Nelson is a museum and home to the Royal Armouries artillery collection.


The original Nelson's column at Fort Nelson - "Exploring Fort Nelson"

Although I grew up near Portsmouth, this was my first visit to Fort Nelson. We decided to visit having discovered it was (a) open between Christmas and New Year, (b) free and (c) had ‘treasure box’ activities aimed at preschool children.


Jessica and Sophie exploring outside Fort Nelson

Fort Nelson is home to the original Nelson’s column – the first monument built to commemorate his victory and death at the Battle of Trafalgar. The column also formed part of the “Walk the Fort” treasure trail which was running at the time of our visit. We’re big fans of treasure trails. They’re a wonderful way of encouraging the children to go for a walk and looking out for clues makes it much more interesting.


Jessica and Sophie looking for clues whilst walking the fort

Most of the walk was around the ditch surrounding the fort with the clues displayed on noticeboards along the way. The girls were mostly interested in the daisies, buttercups, sticks and stones which they found along the way. Jessica wasn’t very impressed that some of the noticeboards were a bit wonky though!


We quite enjoyed our walk around the fort, being out in the fresh air, and filling in the answers to the clues. However it was quite annoying to reach the end of the trail and find we had to turn around and retrace our steps in order to get back to the museum entrance!


Four photos showing Jessica and Sophie looking for the various clues around the outside of Fort Nelson

As a result of finishing the trail, we were entered into a prize draw. We also received a 20% discount in the café which was very handy as it was now lunchtime and the girls were very hungry after their walk!


After we’d had lunch, it was time to explore the inside of the fort. There were two treasure boxes available for preschool children to use. In order to access them, we just had to ask at the information desk. We chose the box in Sergeant Dobson’s kitchen which was aimed at 2-4 year olds. A member of staff then escorted us to that room and unlocked the box for us.

Jessica and Sophie having fun with the treasure box in Sergeant Dobson's kitchen at Fort Nelson

The box contained play food, toy cups and plates, crockery and cutlery and books about food. There were some sheets of suggested activities to help link what was in the box to the items in Sergeant Dobson’s kitchen. The girls preferred to play freely with the contents of the box rather than being guided though. Hubby and I quite enjoyed sitting on the mats on the floor while Jessica and Sophie prepared a little picnic/tea party for us!


We’d rushed through some of the other galleries on the way to the kitchen. Once the girls had finished playing, we packed up the box and retraced our steps. The areas that we had missed focused on life inside the fort, on recruitment and on medical care (an area which I found especially interesting). I was pleasantly surprised by how much there was for Jessica and Sophie to do. There were activities for children in most of the galleries. While the girls were a little young for some of the activities; others, such as the dressing up area, kept them amused for ages!


Jessica and Sophie dressing up in military uniform and Victorian outfits at Fort Nelson

The rest of the museum mostly featured the artillery collection. Hubby found this a lot more interesting than I did. I have to confess I had lost interest in all the different guns long before we reached the end! There is usually a daily gun firing which is at 1pm each day. However, a technical error at meant it didn’t happen on the day of our visit. I wasn’t too sorry about this though. Loud noises scare Jessica so I know she wouldn’t have liked it.


Heading through the tunnels and out on the ramparts was quite interesting. Sophie wasn’t too keen on the darkness of the tunnels though – “Oh no, der dark! Der dark is scary!” – and the spiral staircase to reach the rampart was a little tricky for little ones. Thankfully we managed to find a route back to the museum entrance that didn’t involve having to go back down the spiral staircase and through the tunnels again!


Sophie walking through a tunnel at Fort Nelson

By the time we were ready to go home, it was late afternoon. I’d thought initially that we’d spend a couple of hours at most at Fort Nelson. I was quite impressed at just how much there was to see and do. We all enjoyed the day out and had a nice walk in the fresh air. It’s probably not somewhere I would choose to visit again (artillery collections really don’t interest me!) but I’m glad we went once.


Fort Nelson is open daily from 10.30am – 4pm (Nov-Mar) and 10am-5pm (Apr-Oct). Entry is free.


Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

20 thoughts on “Exploring Fort Nelson

  1. Sounds like there was lots to see and do even if not something you are usually in to. Love the girls in their matching coats x

  2. You know we’ve never been to the fort and drive past it a lot on the way to my Grandparents on Hayling Island!! After reading this we must make an effort to visit! The tunnels do look a bit scary though!! #countrykids xx

    1. Definitely worth a visit if you’re passing en route to Hayling Island. I used to love Hayling Island as a kid, haven’t been there for years though. Maybe I should rectify that at some point when I’m visiting my family!

  3. I have to say this all sounds right up my boys street, we are up in Sussex at half term visiting family so might just look this one up, always handy to find somewhere with a little history and interest and free to enter too. I hand it to the girls for looking so interested throughout, I hope they never loose their interest in all things new. Thank you for sharing another lovely day out on #CountryKids

    1. I’m sure your boys would love it – it was really interesting, even for someone who isn’t particularly fascinated by military history!

  4. This sounds like the perfect mix; somewhere big with lots of running around space for LIttle Mister and enough history and heritage to allow Mademoiselle to stretch herself with the history info. I think places like Fort Nelson are so important to keep alive in our children’s minds because they are part of our history and heritage. Looks like you had a really great time, regardless of the weather we’ve had since the new year!!

    1. The history side was what interested me the most. I am sure Little Mister and Mademoiselle would love it – there is certainly plenty there to keep them both interested.

  5. This wouldn’t have been my first choice for a day out but you look like you had a really good time it has made me think about being a bit more open-minded about places to visit with my girls.

    1. It wouldn’t have been mine either to be honest but the treasure boxes sounded like something the girls would like and with the entry being free, I knew that even if we didn’t find it interesting, we wouldn’t feel like we needed to stay and explore properly. As it turned out though, I was quite impressed by how much I did enjoy the day. As you say, always good to be open-minded about these things!

  6. This is somewhere I really wanted to visit before we moved to Devon but we didn’t get round to it. I remember going there many years ago, but well before kids so I had no idea it was so child-friendly. And it’s free! I can’t believe that. We’ll have to visit next time we are visiting home x #CountryKids

    1. I was so impressed by how child-friendly it was and free entry is always good too! Hope you manage to visit next time you are visiting home 🙂

    1. There was certainly a lot to see and do, much more than I was expecting. It’s always good when there are things to keep the children interested too 🙂

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