Mike Clare hadn’t even seen his new property when he bought it. And for very good reason: you can’t get to it by car, on foot or even by helicopter.
In fact, the only way to access Spitbank Fort is by sea. The ultimate waterfront property, it forms a self-contained island built from rock and granite and sits in the Solent, a mile from Portsmouth Harbour.
And that’s exactly why Mike — who loves the challenge of refurbishing historical properties — bought it. ‘I saw it advertised and put in the asking price on a whim before it even went to auction. Within two weeks it was mine — and I hadn’t even seen the place!’
The luxury island hideaway is one of three forts with stunning 360-degree views including the Isle of Wight. It was constructed in 1860 to protect the British navy from attacking French warships. It was then utilised in World War I, and again to defend English shores from Nazi attack in WWII.
Since then, the 33,000sq ft fort has stood empty.
Mike — an entrepreneur who’s also renovated a castle, a former monastery, a lighthouse and a chateau in France — says: ‘Some people have hobbies like playing golf — I like to restore interesting old buildings and bring them back to life.’
Getting builders, heavy building materials and tools to Spitbank — a 15-minute boat ride from Portsmouth harbour — was in itself a military operation. A crane had to be shipped in just to lift heavy equipment. No easy feat when the sea was choppy.
‘When this place was built it was filled with soldiers who couldn’t swim so they wouldn’t try to escape. In contrast the builders were queuing up to get on this project. It certainly beats working on a boring office build.’
The £4.5million refurb took two and a half years and created a property with eight luxury bedrooms and a warren of stunning entertaining spaces with lofty ceilings and staggering views from every window. It is currently a luxury hotel and can be hired out for parties. But it also has residential status.
There is a working lighthouse, which offers optimum views, and for al fresco entertaining a sunken terrace with a fire pit to warm visitors and stave off the chilly sea breeze. For a touch of extra luxury, there’s also a sauna and hot tub to accommodate 16 people.
There’s also a cinema, a wine bar in the cellar and a games room with snooker table. ‘Every room has a sea view — you can even fish from some of the bedrooms,’ adds Mike.
The entrance still has the original Victorian doors and a spiral staircase leading to an impressive internal courtyard lined with life belts.
Off the hall is the dining room, sitting room and a commercial kitchen that caters for more than 50 people.
In addition there’s a library and a bar with three ante rooms, one of which has retained the original wash basins from the officers’ mess.
‘The soldiers didn’t have the luxury of cleaning facilities — they had to wash in the sea,’ says Mike.
External steps from the courtyard lead to the upper deck, which is dominated by the Crow’s Nest — a self-contained annex enjoying panoramic views of the Solent.
It has a shower room and a bar and can be used as a ninth bedroom suite. The space combines naval tradition with contemporary design as aluminium bi-fold doors open completely to bring the outside elements in.
There are turquoise velvet sofas, a hammock chair and even a telescope to take in the fabulous views, naturally. All the rooms have retained many original features including the metal tracking for the cannons and iron hooks for the hammocks.
‘We incorporated a museum into the renovation as I wanted to keep all the historical artefacts that we couldn’t use in the refurbishment, like cannonballs, kitchen equipment and old drawings of the fort,’ says Mike.
The fort is double-glazed to ensure it’s warm in the winter and sound-proofed as it sits in the middle of the Solent shipping lanes.
‘It really is a special and unique property for anyone wanting a quiet life — especially with all the troubles in the world at the moment. But it’s also a fabulous place for a party as it’s so private,’ says Mike.
‘It’s like being on a boat as you’re in the middle of the sea — but with the benefit of no movement and no motion sickness!’
Mike is selling Spitbank Fort as he and his wife are getting divorced. ‘We spent a fortune restoring it to its former glory so it could be a bargain for anyone looking for something different either as a home, holiday getaway or a business opportunity.
‘It’s safe, secure and an incredibly private sanctuary with the most magnificent sunsets. And it’s a real testament to the logistics of how things were built back then. I would challenge anyone to find a more serene and unique place to live than this.’
Credit: Original article published here.