At the end of our French canal boat trip last week, we had one more nautical adventure lined up before everyone headed back to work and school, a trip to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
The historic ships in Portsmouth feel like they have been a part of my life since I was born and certainly long before we moved to this area. I was 6 when the Mary Rose was raised and I remember watching it on TV (the adults saying how terribly important it was and me thinking it looked quite bizarre in its huge metal cradle) and many years later I was taken on school trips to tour HMS Victory.
The thing that has really changed about PHD over the years is how much there is to see. There are now 12 individual attractions, all of which take an hour or two to explore, so it is actually impossible to get round the whole site in just one day. Being a recent convert to annual passes (see here and here) I was pleased to see that Portsmouth has gone down this route too and you can buy a family ticket that allows you repeated visits throughout the year.
The team at PHD recently gave us a complimentary family pass and invited us along to explore the attractions. I couldn’t resist going back on board Victory and exploring it for the umpteenth time. Every time I go on board I learn something different about the ship. Did you know that despite the tiny entrance on the side, the tallest crew member (the carpenter) was actually 6ft 7in!
From Victory we went to Warrior a vast steel hulled warship which despite its imposing cannons never actually fired a single shot and was obsolete almost as soon as it was built. It was interesting to see the difference between the punishments on board these two ships from such different eras. The drunkards on Victory got chained up and left on the main deck till they sobered up, where as the trouble makers on the Victorian era Warrior were thrown in tiny dark cells beneath the waterline.
After two ship tours we stopped for lunch. I must admit we didn’t have very high expectations about what the food would be like on site so were really surprised and pleased when we discovered Boathouse No. 7 which is a large bright restaurant that serves a really good range of food.
Jim sampled the fish and chips, whilst I had a pizza which was freshly prepared in front of me and cooked in a pizza oven to order. For the kids they did a great selection of lunch items which you could choose a number of for a set price. Once we were refueled we were ready to explore a few more things…
Next up was Action Stations, a high-tech indoor attraction with games and simulators. Theo and Jim enjoyed playing with the weapons trainer and there are also a couple of climbing walls, laser quest and a motion simulator. A great place to spend an hour or two on a wet (or in our case very windy) afternoon.
Our final stop for the day was the famous Mary Rose. Having followed this ship for the last 32 years I was fascinated to see it in its latest home, a new state of the art building. What I hadn’t appreciated when I saw it emerge from the sea all those years ago was quite how long the preservation project was planned to be. We’ve now reached the end of the first 30 year long chapter and the emphasis has switched from spraying the wreck to drying it out. In a few years that will be finished too and we’ll all finally be able to see the hull of this Tudor boat in its full glory.
We really enjoyed our day at PHD and are looking forward to going back again soon. I’m particularly keen to take a tour of the submarine, HMS Alliance and to see HMS M.33 (which opens in August) one of only three British War Ships from WW1 still in existence.