On what promised to be a cool but otherwise sunny November day we felt the need for a family trip. We didn’t want to go for the whole day, just a couple of hours and didn’t want to travel too far from our SE26 home turf? Upnor Castle might be the answer – it is situated on the west bank of the Medway, opposite Chatham and only a 45 min drive according to the TomTom.
Situated in the very twee little village of Upnor (clapboard buildings and cobbled street), Upnor Castle is an Elizabethan Gun fort, built to protect the ship yards and port at Chatham. It was enlarged and updated several times over the years, but was only seriously tested in battle once, failing rather miserably.
The Dutch ‘Raid on the Medway’ in June 1667 is (very arguably) England’s greatest naval defeat ever. Almost the entire fleet was concentrated in the Medway, alongside the major ship building centre of Chatham docks. King Charless II (and the country) was broke and literally couldn’t afford to maintain the fleet, indeed most sailors hadn’t been paid for months and in some cases years.
In what was still a highly audacious move, however, the Dutch sailed their own fleet through the difficult shoals of the Thames estuary, destroying forts as they went. In an effort to stop them the English ended up scuttling many of the own ships in order to either block the Dutch passage or stop them them being towed away. At least 13 major warships (and many others) were lost by one means or another and others destroyed on the stocks. Most humiliating though was the capture of the flagship ‘The Royal Charles’. The King immediately sued for peace with the Dutch.
Upnor castle did take part and fired it’s guns at the marauding Hollanders, however, it seems not to have been decisive. The castle itself was never captured or even seriously damaged. Afterwards it was used as a barracks and a powder store it seems.
These days it is a nicely looked after English Heritage property. The castle itself is more or less complete which means that you can go up all the towers and look out the windows. The kids had good fun just running up and down and were delighted to find a ‘dressing up box’ and try on some clothing.
There is no proper tea shop here which is a shame, but there seems to be a booth to get a hot drink and a biscuit.
A good venue to have a look around for an hour or so and would make a great double header with Chatham Historic dockyard across the river (or Rochester Castle).