A Maritime Adventure For All The Family:
I had been for a work meeting on the site of The Historic Dockyard Chatham a couple of years ago and had been struck by the extraordinary space, full of beautiful vessels and intriguing looking exhibits. But I didn’t have time to explore so I was really pleased to be invited to do a review of a family day out at a dockyard from the age of sail-somewhere that deserves to be much better known.
From a logistical perspective, it’s only a 40 minute trip from London and there is plenty of free parking. The process for picking up tickets and booking the various tours is also very straightforward – and then you enter the Dockyard…
it’s a huge open space by the water dotted with sculptural maritime artefacts, framed by some stunning functionally designed buildings but dominated by the warships and submarine that were its raison d’être.
The first stop on our itinerary was a guided tour of HM Ocelot, one of 20 Submarines either built from new or refitted post-WWII.
A claustrophobic but really evocative space, it’s almost impossible to imagine the reality of being underwater in such cramped conditions for 3 months at a time. The sub is packed full of all sorts of kit which my son loved and you can even have a look up the periscope!
Our boarding party’s next mission was to get onboard HMS Gannet – A Victorian Sloop from 1878, the heyday of the British Empire that undertook dangerous missions from the Mediterranean to the Pacific Ocean under both sail and steam. It really gave you a sense of the days when Brittania really did rule the waves. I could have happily spent many hours playing Pirates of the Caribbean on board the Gannet but I would have had to be Captain as his quarters were hugely elegant.
Next up was HMS Cavalier which was a proper WWII warship. She took part in three dangerous missions off Norway in 1945 and was awarded a Battle Honour for her work accompanying convoys.
Going around gave me a real sense of the realities of being a sailor at that time of conflict – it was almost as if the crew were ashore for some R&R and we had sneaked onboard.
The highlight of our trip was a visit to the Victorian Ropery – the only original naval rope yards to remain in operation. When HMS Victory was built in 1765 at Chatham it required over 31 miles of rope. In 1792 the rope makers at Chatham made the equivalent of 1600 miles of rope in the one year.
It’s a fantastic tour of a wonderful building (1/4 of a mile long) and if you ever wondered where phrases like ‘loose cannon’ , ‘knowing the ropes’, ‘let the cat out of the bag’ (cat o’ 9 tails) or ‘Spin you a yarn’ came from then you’ve come to the right place.
The Dockyard has two child-friendly restaurants and plenty more to see including two adventure playgrounds, a D-Day train and a huge Chieftain Tank.
Our final destination was a tour of the New £9m ‘Command of the Oceans’ galleries which offer a fully immersive experience where young and old can explore the tales of the sea. At the heart of the new permanent display is an 18th Century British warship, the HMS Namur, that fought alongside Admiral Nelson and is exhibited where it has lain undisturbed for nearly two hundred years. Families can discover 400 years of history through interactive digital displays and activities.
The Dockyard has also provided locations for some of the UK’s most loved films and TV shows including Call the Midwife, Mr Selfridge, Downton Abbey, Sherlock Holmes and The Golden Compass so it’s a must visit for telly addicts who may not be so enthused by the naval stuff.
There’s so much to do at Chatham that one day probably isn’t enough. It’s a venue that tells a historical story in the most interactive way possible. We really enjoyed our day there and want to go back!
This is somewhere you’ll want to visit – why not pin this post for later
Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust,
The Historic Dockyard,
Kent ME4 4TE