Newest Review: ... high, but there were plenty of other contributory factors that I feel also added to this slight sense of anti-climax. It could just b... more
Fetch me a ticket to Bletchley
Bletchley Park (Milton Keynes)
Member Name: Mildew82
Bletchley Park (Milton Keynes)
Advantages: Very informative, great antiquities and machines on display, friendly staff, value for money
Disadvantages: Activities only open on certain days, not overly interactive, not too much for kids
Bletchley Park is a little out of the way which is probably a good thing if you want to stay hidden, but does make locating the place a little tricky.
If you drive I would advise using a SatNav, but apparently the postcode may take you to the wrong location so enter Sherwood Drive specifically. Parking is somewhat limited with a couple of small car parks, which you have to pay £3 for when you enter Block B, assuming the guard lets you in, so getting there early may be advisable to guarantee parking. Public transport is convenient as Bletchley Park is just 300 yards away from Bletchley Railway station which has direct links to London, the Midlands and South Yorkshire and if you come in on the Marston Vale Community Railway you can get a 20% discount - happy days. The nearest bus station is Bletchley Bus Station which is very near the railway station so you can head that way and easily walk.
Your tickets can be used as an annual pass:
Children 12 to 16: £6.00
Children under 12: Free of Charge
Family Ticket (2 adults + 2 children aged 12 to 16): £26.00
The National Museum of Computing is a separate trust so you need to pay extra if you want to visit and this is just a one off ticket, not an annual pass:
Just to see the Colossus and Tunny galleries:
Children (13 to 16) and Concessions: £1
Children aged 12 and under: Free
For the rest of the museum, open only on Thursdays and Saturdays adults will need to pay an extra £3.
==Facilities and Access==
* There are 3 sets of toilets - one in Block B, one between Hut 1 and Hut 8 and the other in the mansion. There are 4 disabled toilets available within these 3 sets. The toilets I used were of a very high standard, clean and fully stocked, although the taps were those irritating ones that you cannot completely get your hands under so are left with soapy residue.
* Dogs are banned apart from assistance dogs.
* If you will need a wheelchair it is necessary to pre-book, although wheelchair assistants/pushers are not available.
* Food and drink can be found in the café in Hut 4
* There is wheelchair access for the café with a ramp and into Block B for the museum via a general wheelchair lift, as well as another lift inside.
* Sessions can also be arranged for the visually impaired in handling certain artefacts.
==My Day Out==
I'll be honest, most of my prior knowledge for Bletchley Park came from seeing the movie Enigma, which certainly glorified it to a certain extent and made it feel like a beehive of activity, so I don't really know what I was expecting in visiting here, but I thought it would be an exciting collection of machines whirring away and the chance to get some hands on code cracking experience in the style of World War II, but overall I found myself a little disappointed which could just be that I set the benchmark ludicrously high, but there were plenty of other contributory factors that I feel also added to this slight sense of anti-climax. It could just be the time of year that I visited, but the place did feel slightly that it had fallen into a state of disrepair with scaffolding around some of the huts and areas no longer fit for public footfall which made it feel a little run down in places, though obviously the buildings are old. The main buildings though still looked very impressive, especially the mansion, and the walk round the small, pretty lake is nice if you fancy a stroll.
There is an awful lot to see here so you are looking at potentially a full day's experience to fit it all in, but one of the biggest problems here is that not everything is open every day and perhaps this was another reason for my bitter sense of disappointment as on a Tuesday it felt like everything I wanted to do was shut. It looks like the weekend, probably a Saturday, is the best day to attend if you want a chance to experience as much as possible in one day, but I suspect it would be incredibly busy which may have a detrimental effect on your overall enjoyment factor. But, the advantage of your ticket being an annual one means, assuming you have the time and/or proclivity, you can pop back on other days when previously closed attractions are now open so you don't miss out, but alas for me it was an 1 ½ hour's drive to get there so I'm not sure I would go back any time soon.
So what is there to see? Block B accommodates the main exhibition which is the museum displayed over two floors. Here you get a complete overview of the events that occurred here over the wartime period which is enhanced by a short film, as well as all the different techniques for intercepting messages, decrypting and analysis with special difficulties to overcome the language barriers. The evolution of the Enigma and Lorenz machines and other decryption devices with genuine models is fascinating, but it is a case of "look but don't touch". There were a couple of demonstrations of working machines near the Bombe machine so keep an eye out for those and also look out for the famous slate statue of Alan Turing here, commemorating his invaluable work, plus there is also a section about his horrendously shabby treatment after his homosexuality became known and his ultimate demise via cyanide which is a big blot on the Government's record. There is also a section devoted to the magic of cinema with old projectors and cameras on display which are stunning to look at and highlights yet another stage in the technological evolution over the years plus much, much more.
The highlight of this museum is without a doubt the reconstruction project for the Bombe machine. The original machine, the Bomba, came from Polish crypto-analysts who had devised it to test the German Enigma machines' rotor settings, but were unable to continue when those blasted German's changed their military system, yet they kindly passed on all their information to Bletchley Park before the war started. Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman further developed the Bombe machine which was able to capitalise on repeat messages from the Germans such as with weather reports and the fact that the same letter could not be encrypted by itself and thus "cribs" or guesses could be formed that made it easier to identify the correct rotor settings thus enabling mass deciphering of intercepted messages. Genius. There is the separate toy museum spanning across the 1930s-1950s, which is located by the Post Office which was shut on Tuesday's, but these toys are moved to Block B on the days it is shut so these were also on display in Block B, and they were great to look at with lots of tiny models of trains, toy soldier, dolls (like the now contentious gollywog) and teddy bears which are very indicative of the period and probably very nostalgic for the older generation.
In Block A you can visit the Churchill Collection which is a massive room just crammed full of memorabilia and information about the life of the great man. I personally felt there was just a little too much to see here, so it was information overload, making it hard to take any of it in, but there were very friendly volunteers manning the rooms willing to tell you stories at the drop of the hat and they were easily more interesting to listen to, with stories such as how Churchill had a direct line to Eisenhower, but could be cut off by no less than a woman if it was deemed unsafe which at the time may have ruffled some feathers. Apparently a few years back this collection was much bigger with models on display and an area to teach kids Morse code, but a lot of the collection was sold off, no doubt due to money issues, so explains the reduced space and how the remaining collection is crammed in. Also in this block is the Enigma cinema, in a 1940s style, only open on the weekends (so no good for me) that show old wartime reels from between 1pm and 4:30pm in the summer and 2pm to 4pm in the winter every half an hour so if you are around that time it undoubtedly well worth a stop by.
The mansion, although doubling up as an exhibition centre for private functions meaning most of it is closed off to the public, still has quite a few rooms to explore and is also the starting point for the 1 ½ hour tour available, with a maximum of 50 people allowed. There is the Hall of Fame which has an information board for the most influential people during the wartime efforts which is worth a read as there were quite a few characters during this time and a library with a few exhibits on display of old devices like the peach peeler, back massagers and many quirky antiquities so worth a quick gander if you have the time. We would have liked to do the tour, but unfortunately arrived too late for the only time we could make in our scheduled day so had to miss out, though they do warn you at the reception to get there early so it was our own mistake. Tours can be seen in massive clumps of people as you go around the complex, so a bit of eavesdropping on the way past revealed some interesting stories being regaled by an enthusiastic tour guide so I think if you can spare the time you will want to try to get on one of these tours.
The rest of the estate is scattered about into Huts (1, 8, 11, 12) and a few other outbuildings. The Post Office is small but quaint, and you can buy postcards and other cheap memorabilia, as well as a £5 secret letter from the front counter which you can send to a person of your choosing which I can only imagine goes on a secretive journey around the country before it reaches its final destination. You can also learn about which establishments worked undercover with the post office to deliver important letters in safety. The garages next door house some maritime and old car exhibitions which you can get up close and personal to which give off that marvellous aura of history that make these types of places so appealing. There is also a Model Railway, sadly open only on the weekends so again I couldn't see it, but it sounds pretty mesmerizing according to the website. There is also a Polish memorial in the Stableyard commemorating all the hard work of the Polish codebreakers allowing Bletchley Park such a great head start over the Germans. There isn't a great deal aimed solely at kids, and strolling around the vast number of patrons were septua- and octogenarians, but Bletchley Park has made an effort with printable trails and quiz sheets, a play area outside the café, the toys display, Wednesday activities including spy workshops, teaching Morse code and interactive pigeon displays and the Children's Cinema Club as part of the Enigma Cinema.
Onto the huts which all served their different purposes during the war (clearly labelled outside), even if they are no longer in use. Hut 1: here you can see the original communications equipment that sent and received the secret ULTRA and DIPLOMATIC messages overseas. Alas, only open on the weekends. Hut 4: the café which serves hot and cold food such as sandwiches, sausages and mash/chips with vegetables or baked beans, soup of the day and sausage rolls. I had sausages, chips and vegetables and a cup of tea at under £8 which I thought was very reasonable. There is quite a lot of available seating inside and outside on benches, though perhaps only during the summer time, but it best to get there before a tour finishes as otherwise floods of people swarm in and it becomes ridiculously busy. Hut 8: previously Alan Turing's work space but now home to the Pigeons exhibition depicting the bravery of those patriotic homing pigeons throughout WWI and WWII as well as ideas on turning them into biological weapons which was thankfully scrapped...or was it...it should be open daily, but was shut for renovations when we went. Hut 11: since all of the Bombe machines were ordered destroyed after the war, only replica Bombe machines are exhibited here, and you can get a talk on them in here as well by knowledgeable staff. Hut 12: a fascinating exhibition on Ian Fleming and the little known work he did during the war, which obviously influenced his James Bond spy novels.
This just leaves Block H where the National Museum of Computing lives, and is something I would have loved to have visited having a keen interest in computing, which of course, unless you had the foresight to book an appointment on the other days, is only open on Thursdays and Saturdays between 1-5pm so again I was thwarted. The blurb about it looks really fascinating from a computer development perspective ranging from the Tunny machine (which is available to see any day), Mainframes, analogue computers, flight simulators all the way up to scientific computing so it sounds worth the £5 entry fee so I was bummed I couldn't see it. But, thankfully the rebuilt Colossus machine of 15 years in the making is on display daily, so you do get to see that stunning piece of engineering work in its entirety with wires and bulbs and all kinds of whirring noises and flashing lights which is rather awe-inspiringly the first digital, programmable and electronic computer and the sheer magnitude of it when compared to today's piddly little laptops is astounding.
If you didn't opt for the guided tour, you can also have benefitted from the audio guide available in Block B at the reception area, but we weren't offered this at the time so were unaware of its existence. Ah well, there was plenty of information and staff around to ask questions if you didn't have this extra resource, but I think it could have been useful. The shop is also fairly spacious and there are plenty of great things to buy in amongst the normal tat, such as a working Enigma machine for the princely sum of £199.99, jigsaws, jams, toy models, books, books and more books, and a whole section rather uncomfortably devoted to the London 2012 Olympics. So I have rambled on horribly, but hopefully have given an idea of all there is to see here. For me, I was disappointed by the amount that I failed to see either through my own fault by missing the tour guide or through things simply being shut on the day I chose to go, but had I gone over the weekend I would have seen everything I wanted which is clearly the time to go, though it may well be busier and more stressful with parking and eating etc.
This is a great place full of history and intrigue with some stunning displays of old, working and in progress mechanics and some fabulous insight into the people that helped win us the war and whom we owe our way of life to, but for me it was slightly lacking that hands on experience I was craving with limited interactivity and most things following a strict museum regime. This will probably appeal more to people with a genuine interest in / nostalgia for the war than perhaps the younger generation as I can see kids potentially being a tad bored, despite efforts to put on activities for them. But, apart from the shabby state of certain buildings and many activities being unavailable at certain times, there was little else to complain about, the exhibitions were all of a high standard, if a little dry in their delivery and the helpful staff was very friendly so I am only knocking off one star despite my own disappointment. Recommended to those with an interest in World War II, though you may have to come back several times to do it all, but at least it will be free for the remainder of the year.
Summary: A chance to visit one of the most important sites in Britain's WWII history
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