If you think a Tudor fortress, a boat trip, and some crabbing fun sound like the perfect ingredients for a day out, then head to the seaside town of Milford-on Sea. We had a fun visit with the kids which started with a walk to Hurst Castle near Milford-on-Sea and ended up crabbing in Keyhaven.
Hurst Castle is a hidden treasure at Milford-on-Sea near Lymington in the New Forest. You can’t drive directly to Hurst Castle, but there’s a lovely walk from Milford-on-Sea or a passenger ferry from Keyhaven. We did a fantastic circular walk which included both.
Read on to find out how to have the best family day out at Milford-on-Sea in Hampshire.
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A walk to Hurst Castle
We started our day out a Milford-on-Haven at the seafront car park. From here follow the coastal path past the Lighthouse Restaurant to join Hurst Spit.
The walk to Hurst Castle is about 1.5 (2.25 km) miles from the Milford-on-Haven car park. The route is completely flat, but the shingle is not that easy to walk on. This makes it a slow walk, which may be difficult with buggies or wheelchairs.
Hurst Spit is a shingle barrier bank protecting the approach to the Solent. It is a picturesque walk with views stretching over the Solent to the Needles and Isle of Wight.
To your left, the spit has created a calm lagoon, which is ideal for kayaking or paddleboarding. The kids also enjoyed skimming stones.
A visit to Hurst Castle
At the end of the spit, you’ll come to Hurst Castle.
Hurst Castle is a Tudor fortress, built in 1544 to protect the entrance to the Solent. Originally one of Henry VIII’s chain of artillery defences, Hurst Castle remained in military use until 1956. It has a perfect defence position, which proved useful during the Napoleonic and both World Wars.
Over the years, the castle has been upgraded with artillery wings to provide better protection and today is vastly different from its early Tudor origins.
On arrival the first things you’ll spot are two artillery guns and some 38-ton guns. Impressive!
One of the best things about Hurst Castle, is that you can explore everywhere without restrictions. There is a one-way system in place, but we were free to discover the dark cellars, passageways, and stairwells at our leisure. Hurst Castle has many nooks and crannies which are ideal for children to explore.
One of the oldest parts of Hurst Castle is the North West Bastion, where the master gunner lived with his family. Although they have replaced the floors, you can still see how the room would have been partitioned to create a living room, bedrooms, and storage areas. From here you can see the portcullis room, the original main entrance to the castle.
In one of the towers there is a collection of interpretation boards with highlights from the centuries of military history at the castle. As well as a fortress, Hurst Castle was previously a prison, most notably for King Charles I.
King Charles was detained at Hurst Castle in 1648 during the English Civil, when Parliament believed he was acting unconstitutionally. They later escorted Charles to Windsor Castle for his trial and execution.
From the turrets at the top of the castle we had excellent views in all directions. There is a sheer drop, so you need to keep an eye on young children.
Unfortunately, the East and West wings collapsed last year and are currently closed for reparation work.
The English Heritage now own Hurst Castle and admission is free for members. For non-members the admission is still fairly cheap and good value. Currently there is a reduction in the admission price to allow for the closed areas.
Facilities at Hurst Castle
In front of the castle is a small refreshment van, “The Hurst Mess”, which sells hot drinks and snacks. However, there are also several good pubs along the walk. The Lighthouse is at the start of the walk in Milford-on-Sea and the Gun Inn is at Keyhaven Marshes. It’s advisable to book both in advance.
You’ll find toilets inside Hurst Castle.
Hurst Point Lighthouse
Just in front of the castle is the pretty Hurst Point Lighthouse. Trinity House built the original lighthouse in 1867 to guide ships through the dangerous Solent waters. However, the original lighthouse has since been adapted and later replaced by a more modern model.
You can walk round the lighthouse, but unfortunately can’t go in.
Passenger Ferry to Keyhaven Harbour
After our visit to Hurst Castle, we took the passenger ferry to Keyhaven Harbour. The boat is a small 12-seater ferry which weaves across Keyhaven Lake between the boats. We bought our tickets at the castle ticket booth. It costs £4 per adult and £3 for children over three.
Ferries usually run three times an hour in the summer and the trip takes about 10 minutes. You can return directly via Hurst Spit, but we thought this would be more fun.
Keyhaven is a hamlet and popular spot for boating. There is a pub, the Gun inn, but we didn’t stop.
Obviously, you could also start your visit to Hurst Castle at Keyhaven and return via the spit or by ferry.
Keyhaven to Milford-on-Sea
From Keyhaven we took a short walk back to Milford-on-Sea. There is a flat footpath, which is an easier walk than the outbound journey. The marshes around Keyhaven are part of a Nature Reserve, which attracts many birds.
The shingle barrier of Hurst Spit shelters large areas of saltmarsh and mudflats, providing an idyllic habitat for many rare species of plant and birds.
We passed the “crabbing bridge”, but headed back to The Lighthouse, saving our crabbing fun for after lunch.
The last leg of our walk took us past Sturt Pond, another nature reserve, which was full of birds and fish. There is a small public bird hide adjacent to the restaurant, but there weren’t any birds on the feeders whilst we were there.
The Lighthouse Restaurant
The Lighthouse Restaurant is a popular restaurant at the start of the spit in Milford-on-Sea. With such a desirable beachfront location, it gets very busy on a sunny day. We booked our table on the way out.
The Lighthouse has a good ambience and the staff were friendly. The kids had crab ciabatta, and felt a twinge of guilt as were were going crabbing afterwards!
Crabbing at Keyhaven
For the children, one of the highlights of our day out at Milford-on-Sea was crab fishing at Keyhaven.
The “crabbing bridge” at Keyhaven is a fantastic place for crabbing. In fact, there are two bridges, so you could use either. We used the one nearest Milford-on Sea as we’d left our equipment in the car.
We spent at least an hour crabbing and caught loads. It’s easier than other popular crabbing locations, such as Mudeford Quay, as you have less distance to bring the crabs up.
Of course, we let them all go at the end in a fantastic crab race.
Before leaving we spent some time exploring Milford-on-Sea. Milford has a long shingle beach, though some sandy patches appeared at low tide. It is a popular swimming spot, but there are no lifeguards.
The promenade has a row of pastel painted beach huts, which bear an uncanny resemblance to bunkers. However, this didn’t deter the beach lovers enjoying aperitifs as the sun went down.
If you’re visiting Milford-on-Sea with younger children, they’ll enjoy the small playground with climbing frames and zip wires. There are also toilet facilities on the seafront.
How to get to Milford-on-Sea
Milton-on-Sea is in Hampshire on the South Coast of England. You can easily get there on the M3/M27 followed by a scenic drive through the New Forest.
It is only a few miles from the market town of Lymington and takes less than 2 hours from London.
The nearest train station is New Milton, which is 4 miles away.
Parking at Milford-on-Sea
The nearest car park for the walk to Hurst Castle is at Hurst Road East Car Park. This is a pay and display car park on the sea front. The postcode is SO41 0PY.
There is also a free car park at the Lighthouse for patrons.
Accommodation in Milford-on-Sea
If you want to stay near Milford-on-Sea, you’ll find a good choice of self-catering accommodation. Coastguard Cottage is a beautiful family home with sea views. Or you could stay at The Lazy Lion Inn, which has an excellent location in the High Street.
- Click here for prices and availability at The Lazy Lion.
- Click here for prices and availability at Coastguard Cottage.
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Have you been to Milford-on-Sea, or tried the walk to Hurst Castle? We’d love to hear your comments in the box below.
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Ah wish I’d know about this the last time we visited the New Forest! Good to know for return trips in the future though!
Yes, we visited the New Forest many times without knowing about Hurst Castle. Worth a visit though.
I’ve not heard of this castle before but the idea of catching a ferry to it sounds great! Would love to visit and explore. I do love a beach hut too! #Culturedkids
It really is a good castle, as you can explore all the nooks and crannies!
what a lovely walk, interesting castle and a pretty lighthouse #culturedkids
Yes, it was a good combination for a day out