During half term we took a trip to Bletchley Park. It was a special treat for Graham on his birthday as he’s always wanted to visit.
We arrived on a wet and grey day, but we were lucky that it didn’t rain while we were in-between buildings.
Bletchley Park is huge and as well as a mansion there is a visitor centre and several huts to visit. Our visit started as you may expect, with the visitor centre. We paid to get in and the prices are very reasonable. You don’t have to pay for children under 12 years and 12-17 yrs you pay £10.75. It’s £18.50 for an adult or you can pay £48.25 for a family ticket if your children are over 12. As I am in a wheelchair I have to pay but Graham doesn’t as he is classed as my carer. After paying your ticket lets you go back and visit again as many times as you like for the next year!
As a wheelchair user I have to check whether a place is okay for me to visit and I’m happy to say that Bletchley Park is very accessible. Every building has a ramp and there are no stairs to contend with. There is an upstairs at the mansion but it was closed on the day we visited anyway. I felt truly comfortable during my visit. The only place I was separated from my family was when they decided to go around the lake. I could have got around there but it was a shingle path and I use an electric wheelchair. I like to avoid places that may cause damage to my motor and as my wheelchair is mainly for indoor use I have to be careful outside. I also avoid muddy or sandy areas but I didn’t have a problem with these at Bletchley Park. There are also four accessible toilets on site.
The Visitor Centre
The visitor centre is also a museum. It starts with a movie which tells you the story of the codebreakers and how they helped to win the Second World War. The movie is short enough, and interesting enough to keep children watching, but you don’t have to watch, and the children can run around while it’s on.
After the movie you move around into an interactive centre where the children can have a go at cracking codes and learning how coding works and what machines they used. It’s very entertaining and when we went the kids didn’t have to wait long to take a turn.
Also in the Visitor Centre was a restaurant and a shop. We saved visiting the shop until we were leaving.
Each of the huts has a story to tell and this is usually done with photographs, information points and sometimes movies. You can get a tour guide video and audio gadget from the visitor centre to use on your visit. These are free to borrow and can be set up for children or adults. You wear them around your neck on a lanyard and listen through headphones. The kids loved them, but I need to concentrate more on my wheelchair navigation so I found mine a little cumbersome. Maybe it was just me. While waiting for lunch I did watch some movie clips and listen to the narration.
Not all of the huts are open to visitors yet, and some of them no longer exist. Hut 4 is now a restaurant and this is where we decided to stop for lunch. The food was nice but there was not a lot of choice for children. I think the restaurant in the visitor centre probably has more choice. Graham had a nice stew and Star had a baked potato, the rest of us had sandwiches.
The mansion was grand although it wasn’t quite like the houses we’ve visited on National Trust properties. This mansion had purpose, it was a place of work for the codebreakers during the war. They were gradually moved out into huts. The library is set up exactly how it was back then and so is the office. There is a large room where you can learn about the people who worked there. There are many recordings of interviews with them made after the war. It seems that a lot of them never really knew what their work was about as everything had to be secret. The hours were long and the work monotonous. But I still felt a thrill at how exciting it must have been to play such an important part of the war.
At the front of the mansion is a big lake with it’s regal swan residents.
We also got the chance to try on some war time head wear.
Behind the mansion was garage that is home to a 40s ambulance and a couple of old cars. One of the cars was used in the film Enigma and belonged to Mick Jagger. He donated the car, a Talbot Sunbeam, to Bletchley Park.
Next to the garage is the courtyard and cottages. The cottages are not open to visitors. There is also a Polish Memorial.
The National Museum of Computing.
We also wanted to visit the National Museum of computing, although this is on the same site as Bletchley Park, it’s not actually part of it and there is a separate entrance fee. There is an optional tour of the museum which we decided to take. When we visited, only the Colossus Gallery was open. The Colossus was the world’s first electronic computer and it’s purpose was to de-cypher codes from the Lorenz, which sent messages between Hitler and his generals during WWII.
The tour and chance to see Colossus was really interesting. I’m so glad that computers these days are a little bit smaller though 🙂
Would We Go Again?
We will definitely be making use of our free return visits. There is a lot to see and it’s a lot to get around on one visit alone. We will go back in the summer and visit places we’ve yet to see. I’m also really excited at the thought of taking the kids to see Father Christmas there. I love looking for new ways of making Christmas special and a 40’s Christmas sounds intriguing.