I have vague recollections of visiting Portsmouth when I was a child. A few years earlier the Tudor ship, the Mary Rose, had been raised from the Solent after 437 years. Any memories of the ship wreck – or Portsmouth itself – are extremely hazy. Fortunately, a recent trip to the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard has given me a brand new perspective on the Hampshire port city.
A haven for history buffs and naval fans, there’s plenty to discover at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard on England’s south coast. The wooden warship HMS Victory, where Nelson died in the Battle of Trafalgar is open to visitors as well as the armoured HMS Warrior 1860. Of course, there’s the remains of the Mary Rose and a submarine museum. Plus, tons of activities for children. At around an hour and a half drive from south-west London, it proved an enjoyable and enriching day out.
It was busy when we arrived at the dockyard with security checks to enter. Once in, we studied the map. With so much to do and see, we were at a slight loss where to start. But putting the children’s needs first, I decided to test out the Action Stations building.
It was a good choice. Designed for children, the amount of activities contained in this old boathouse is staggering. You could spend a day just there. The interactive space has everything including a helicopter simulator (not as easy as it looks), Laser Quest (for over 6s), the UK’s tallest climbing tower and a Ninja Warrior assault course.
We started at Sky Tykes, a rope course designed for children aged 2-7. Although Mrs T wasn’t best pleased about changing from her sandals to a pair of hire plimsoles, she loved traversing across the course and spent quite some time exploring it.
After a couple of failed attempts at the helicopter simulator (less said about that the better), we headed upstairs where we played a game of giant Connect 4 (Mrs T loves that game at the moment). Then it was onto the Ninja Warrior course. It looked a little advanced for a (just turned) five year old but Mrs T was keen. Although there were some stages she couldn’t do, she gave it a very good go and never gave up (that’s my girl). I was very impressed!
After Mrs T had had her fill of activities, it was time fill our heads with naval history as we went abroad HMS Victory. One of the Royal Navy’s most famous ships, it is best known for its role in the Battle of Trafalgar and is where Lord Nelson died. It is a magnificent ship.
What amazed me was its depth. You could keep going down and down into its hull. We only made it down to the second floor before my youngest, Cheeky, decided she’d enough. But what we saw was incredible. There’s an audio guide which will talk you through the ship’s history. I’d have loved to listen but as I on my own at that point with a wriggling one year old and five year old – it wasn’t going to happen.
Inside, you can see the spot on the quarter deck where Nelson died – it’s marked by a brass plaque. The ship, which is undergoing a huge restoration project, serves as a living museum to the Georgian Navy. You can see where the sailors would have eaten and slept, where their food would have been cooked and where battles would have been plotted. All amongst the sizeable cannons which adorn its decks.
After exiting HMS Victory we headed to Boathouse 7 for something to eat then onto HMS Warrior. I didn’t think another ship could outshine Victory. But this did. Take a look at its figurehead for starters. This one is the third incarnation after the others were either lost or damaged.
Warrior was the pride of the Victorian navy and due to its size, power and stack of armour, it never had to fire a shot at enemies who, quite rightly, were intimated by her.
The restoration of the ship shows off her grandeur wonderfully. We loved exploring. It started well too with this enormous deckchair for the girls to sit on.
Inside, you don’t only see where the sailors would have slept, eaten and had their food cooked but also where they’d have put their kit and how the ship would have been powered in its sizeable engine rooms.
You can also take a closer look at where those of a superior rank would have had their dinner and slept.
The contrast is huge.
While we were exploring, one of the kind volunteers allowed Mrs T to try out the sailors’ hammock which was a great experience for her. She didn’t seem too keen on swapping her own bed for it though.
HMS Warrior 1860 was Britain’s first iron-hulled, armoured battleship. The ship’s armour is evident everywhere.
It’s clear why HMS Warrior was known as the ‘ultimate deterrent’.
It was soon time for us to leave Portsmouth but not before we had a glimpse at the new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth. It is the largest ship ever built for the Royal Navy and at a rumoured £3bn probably the most expensive. The size is simply staggering. It can hold 40 aircraft and is longer than the Houses of Parliament.
Finally it WAS time to go. It’s a shame we missed the Mary Rose museum but I know we shall be back. I certainly won’t be leaving it so long until l visit Portsmouth again.
How To Get There
Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is around a two hour drive from central London or a two hour train journey from London Waterloo to Portsmouth Harbour.
An adult ticket to visit all the attractions at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is currently £28. The ticket gives you access for one year.
Children (5-15) – £12
Family tickets are also available.
Visit the website to book and for further information
*We were very kindly given complimentary tickets to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. All opinions are my own.
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