The Nothe Fort...
Fascinating and fun is the best way to describe the Nothe Fort.
Plonked on the peninsular that juts out from Weymouth harbour, it looks out towards Portland and across Weymouth Bay providing views of both that are reason enough to visit of themselves. But there is so much more.
This comparatively modern fortress is a substantial, stone edifice that towers over the harbour entrance.
Left unoccupied and, seemingly, unloved for many years the Fort has now been renovated and turned in to a museum that kids of most ages will love.
The Nothe was built between 1860 and 1872 as part of a network of defences and batteries to protect the South Coast from the French. Other local parts of this same network included the Verne Citadel on Portland - later to become one of her Majesty’s Prisons - and defences on the Portland Harbour breakwater.
At a time of rapidly moving technical, military and political developments the design and capacity of the Nothe Fort changed several times even during it construction! But what has happened to it since is a fascinating story in itself. Originally intended to protect the harbours and the bay from naval assault the Fort also played a role in protecting Weymouth and Portland from Britain’s airborne foes during the Second World War.
As a museum, the Nothe Fort covers both its own history and that of coastal defence more generally. It also contains some fascinating insights into the lives of those who lived at the Nothe and those who lived outside. The two didn’t always see eye-to-eye and there’s an almost unbelievable description of how a comedy of errors (coloured, perhaps, with some stupidity and arrogance) resulted in a pitched battle between troops of the Nothe Garrison and the public of Weymouth!
You could be forgiven for thinking that all of this sounds “interesting”, but not really likely to engage your kids. If you do you’re almost certainly wrong for several reasons and here’s why. The Nothe Fort is a museum you have to explore physically, and that in itself is lots of fun. It’s not just a few big rooms with lots of exhibits.
Yes there are lots of exhibits and they are very well presented, but the Fort itself is a maze of rooms and passages on several levels. Kids love just wandering through and seeing what’s round the next corner or in the next room. At times it can feel like you’re in a never-ending labyrinth. There’s a contrast between the open space of the “D” shaped courtyard at the Fort’s centre, and the huge seascapes beyond that can be seen from the ramparts, compared to the rabbit warren of passages and rooms beneath them. So keep an eye on which hole your little “rabbits” dart into, otherwise you could spend ages trying to dig them out again! If that’s a problem, you can always temper their enthusiasm by pointing out that parts of the Fort are said to be haunted - no really! So if they don’t want to have a ghostly encounter, they might do well to stick close by!
Even if your kids are too young to appreciate the history of the Nothe Fort, some of which fits nicely with the National Curriculum, they will still enjoy it. If nothing else, they can join in the competition to see how many mice they can spot! Not real mice fortunately, but throughout the Fort and its exhibits you’ll find little pink-nosed mice peeking out at you. Nobody seems really sure how many there are in total, but if you fill in your form and hand in your count at the entrance, you’ll get a stamped certificate to say how many mice you bagged on your visit! It really is fun however old you are!
If, after searching through the maze of rooms and tunnels, you need a cuppa and a bite to eat, there’s a 1940’s style café within the Fort complex itself.
Going back to the shape of the Fortress, the curve of the courtyard lends itself to outdoor performances. You’ll find during the summer months that you can enjoy the Nothe Fort as a museum and attraction, but also as a venue for concerts and plays.
If the weather’s right, nothing adds to the ambience of any performance like the evening sun setting slowly over the players and turning them, and the Portland stone from which the fort is built, a gentle summer gold.
So whether you’re looking for fun, history or culture the Nothe Fort is a truly fascinating place to find it.
And find it you will!
The Nothe Fort is a museum you have to explore physically, and that in itself is lots of fun. It’s not just a few big rooms with lots of exhibits."