Country houses for sale

Live in your choice of Victorian sea forts, from a boutique delight with helipad to a crumbling wreck that’s a blank canvas

You might get wet on your commute, but on the plus side you'd never get trouble with noisy neighbours at these utterly unique properties.

There’s something irresistible about the idea of owning your own island. Some hanker after dots on the map in mystically-beautiful locations; others see things differently, caring not for beauty and charm but instead looking for independence and an escape from the usual rules of society, as in the case of Sealand.

Without either factor at play, though, islands can still exert a powerful draw. Take the example of the three ports which have come up for sale in the Solent. There is no nature or beauty, and the city of Portsmouth is little more than a stone’s throw away; yet who can look at the images on this page without wondering in awe what life on the fort (on shore? on board? it’s hard to say) would be like.

Decommissioned after the war, the forts were sold off in the 1980s. Spitbank Fort was converted into a museum, and later hosted TV programmes and weekend raves.

Spitbank Fort, No Man’s Fort and Horse Sand Fort were bought by businessman Mike Clare’s Clarenco, which has invested an estimated £8m on restoring the properties, which are now for sale — either individually, or as a group of two or three — through Strutt & Parker.

Selling agent James Mackenzie seeks offers around £4m for Spitbank, a 33,000sq ft boutique retreat on three floors; £4.25m for No Man’s Fort, a 99,000sq ft hotel, restaurant and leisure complex on four floors, including a helipad; and £750,000 for Horse Sand Fort, a blank canvas, with 100 chambers and living quarters, plus the original gun carriages.

This type of fort has a long history. In the early 16th century, Henry VIII built an extensive set of coastal defences at either end of the Solent, part of his network of Device Forts that effectively controlled access to east and west.

In the late 1850s, a perceived threat of invasion by France led to the commissioning of a fresh series of forts in the Solent by the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston. The massive, armour-plated structures took 15 years to build, by which time the French threat had receded and they were no longer required.

During the Second World War, the forts were used to defend the Portsmouth dockyards. Life on site was grim; those serving were deliberately chosen for their inability to swim, to avoid any attempt to escape.

That’s far from the case these days. The mix of quirky boutique hotel with a nautical theme is oddly charming, particularly when you throw in some of the original Victorian details which remain to this day.

Clearly as it stands these properties are business opportunities rather than homes for sale. Yet we see no reason why Spitbank in particular couldn’t work as a private home, while the dilapidated Horse Sand Fort can be whatever you dream of. And that, above all, is probably the appeal here.

Strutt and Parker quote £4m for Spitbank, £4.25m for No Man’s Fort, and £750,000 for Horse Sand Fort. Follow the links to each for more details and pictures.