4 places UK military history buffs must explore

Katie Anderson By Katie Anderson

The UK has a rich military history and over the years our armed forces have built many bases. Some remain in use to this day, while others have been re-purposed into tourist hotspots.

With a vast number of historical sites across the country, you are spoilt for choice when planning a holiday around them.

There are even opportunities to stay at some of the former military bases, some of which have been given a new lease of life. Here's a list of some of the most recognisable bases which have been restored and re-purposed to be useful in today's age.

Former RAF Hethel Air Base, Norfolk

Hethel Air Base, Norfolk

Source: aeroengland.co.uk

Built during World War II by the United States Army Air Force and the Royal Air Force, Hethel Air Base’s flat surroundings made it the perfect location for a USAF and RAF airfield.

Post-WWII the air base was closed and its buildings found a new use; accommodating families who’d lost their homes during the war and were waiting to be re-housed as part of the 1945 Labour government's housebuilding programme.

In 1966 British sports car manufacturer, Lotus, built a factory on-site and converted parts of the runways into a test track. They have used the base as their headquarters ever since.

The site is situated around half an hour from Norwich and there are many places to stay nearby, including the Dunston Hall Hotel which includes a golf course and spa to help you relax after a busy day exploring.

Palmerston Forts, Isle of Wight

Palmerston Forts, Isle of Wight

Source: geograph.org.uk

The fortifications you can see dotted around the Isle of Wight coast, are part of the Victorian Palmerston Forts initiative.

Built in the 1800s to defend the country against an invasion from Napoleon III, some of the forts were constructed on the island itself while others were built in the sea.

Some of the land forts, such as The Needles Battery and Culver Battery are owned by the National Trust, meaning that members of the public are allowed access to the sites.

Sandown Fort became Sandown Zoo in the 1950s before later being re-established as the Isle of Wight Zoo. Despite falling into disrepair in the 1970s it has since been reconstructed following a change of ownership. In 2017 it became part of The Wildheart Trust and is now one of the UK's sanctuaries for big cats and primates.

The Isle of Wight Zoo is a great place to go for those staying at Whitecliff Bay.

Palmerston Forts

Source: solentforts.com

Of the sea-built forts, Spitbank Fort is arguably the most impressive, having been converted into a luxury spa hotel in 2012. You can celebrate your birthday or anniversary on the fort and even have your wedding there!

Ashley Range, New Forest, Hampshire

Ashley Range, Hampshire

Source: geograph.org.uk

While not a military base as such, Ashley Range, was used as a bombing range by the British military during World War II. The site was used to try and build a more effective air-raid shelter and tested out the biggest bomb in Britain’s history, the ‘Grand Slam’ - at 22,000lb.

The bomb, also known as ‘Ten Ton Tess’, was designed to penetrate concrete roofs in German cities to disrupt their infrastructure, such as railways and factories. When tested at Ashley Range, it created a crater that was reportedly 70ft deep and 130ft wide.

The New Forest is now a National Park and while both the shelter and crater caused by the Grand Slam have been covered over, craters formed by the other bomb tests can still be seen today.

Martello Towers, Dymchurch, Kent

Much like the Palmerston Forts around the Isle of Wight, the Martello Towers were originally built around the coast of Great Britain between 1804 and 1812 to fend off any potential invasion from Napoleon’s France.

While the towers were never used against Napoleon, some did find use during World War II after being used to mount anti-aircraft artillery and for observation posts.

Many of the towers are now in ruins, however some have been re-purposed. One such tower is in Dymchurch, Kent, which was converted into a house. This concept has been executed with other Martello Towers along the coast, while another of the Dymchurch towers was fully restored and became a English Heritage owned museum owned.

Martello Towers, Dymchurch


Find more places to visit across Britain on the GetOutside website.

Katie Anderson By Katie Anderson


Katie and her family relocated to the Isle of Wight four years ago, where she now works as the Guest Services Manager at Whitecliff Bay Holiday Park. She enjoys sharing her loves of Whitecliff Bay and her outdoor lifestyle with visiting tourists.