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Eden Camp (North Yorkshire)
Member Name: micksheff
Eden Camp (North Yorkshire)
Date: 15/09/09, updated on 15/09/09 (190 review reads)
Advantages: Loads to see
Disadvantages: Need a whole day to see everything
Eden Camp is a former prisoner of war camp located a few miles inland from Scarborough in North Yorkshire. It might sound like an odd setting for a museum but with around 300,000 visitors every year it has established itself as one of the major tourist attractions in the region.
Built in 1942 with the specific purpose of holding Nazi prisoners of war from the Second World War the layout of the museum that we see today hasn't changed that much. There are still barriers across the gate where visitors now pay their admission fee and there are observation towers surrounding the perimeter, as you approach Eden Camp it really does feel more like you are driving into an army base rather than a museum.
Since opening its doors to the public on the 21st March 1987 Eden Camp has won numerous awards. In 1992 it won its first award when the Yorkshire Tourist Board voted it the "Visitor Attraction of the Year", they would later give it this same award in 1995, 1996 and 1998 and since then the awards have kept coming. In 1998 it was also awarded the English Tourist Board's "Excellence Award" gaining its first national recognition.
I had only ever heard good things about Eden Camp and when my parents visited recently they declared it as one of the best places they had ever been too. It is only about one and a half hours by car from my house so on Saturday 19th July 2009 I decided to see for myself what all the fuss was about.
Location wise Eden Camp is just off the A64 and it is very well sign posted from just about anywhere within the vicinity of York and also from the A1. A huge tower with its name sprawled across the top makes it visible from afar so there are really no excuses for not finding it easily. The final approach road is via a narrow dusty track that leads to the entrance barrier where all visitors pay their admission fee. The current cost is £5.00 per adult and £4.00 for children and concessions.
Once through the entrance barrier there is a large car parking area. This is scattered with the odd tank or other piece of military memorabilia to serve as a teaser for what is in store, but don't be fooled into thinking that this is just another museum full of war relics. Eden Camp is much more about the lives of the people during the war than the war itself and the story that it tells is more from a social history perspective rather than a military one.
The museum consists of a total of 33 different huts, each of which has a different theme to it and is more a less a separate museum in its own right. Visitors start at one end of hut 1 and leave it at the opposite end then move on to hut 2, unless you follow this recommended route in this order then believe me you are likely to miss some of the huts. Generally speaking the route is easy to follow but the huts are in rows and it can be a bit confusing when you move across to the next row so you do have to remember the last hut number that you have just been in. A few of the huts are used for different purposes, for example one is a toilet block and another is a cafeteria/canteen, but 29 out of the 33 huts do contain exhibits. In addition to the huts there is an exercise area where the prisoners would have been allowed some fresh air and there is also a garden full of vegetables, which would have been maintained by the prisoners and provided some food for the camp. Throughout the complex there are lots of benches to rest on and since it is all very flat it is especially well suited for wheelchair users and people with pushchairs.
The theme of Hut 1 is Adolf Hitler and the rise of the Nazi party in Germany. Starting with the economic collapse of Germany in the 1920's it tells the story of Hitler's election as the leader of Germany and the subsequent countdown to war that followed. It ends with the declaration of war and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's famous speech is played through loud speakers as you walk out of the hut and onto hut 2 next door. Outside the exit to hut 1 there is a large sign with a hand painted on it pointing to hut 2, which is literally only a few steps away.
Hut 2 is about the Home Guard and the role that propaganda played in the early days of the war. There is also a section about some of the young children that were evacuated during the war and since this is a rural area many of them ended up around here. Some of their stories are told and many of them are quite heartbreaking so make sure that you have your tissues handy because you will need them.
Having dashed around the first hut in about 10 minutes I realised that I could have easily spent an hour in the second hut and with another 31 huts to go I was sure that I wouldn't have time to see it all in one day.
I could quite easily describe each of the huts in details since each one is as I mentioned earlier more or less a mini museum in its own right. However I think most of you would have nodded off before you reached the end of this review so instead I'll just try and summarise a few bits.
There's an entire hut that is designed to resemble a German U-boat, another hut dedicated to the role that women played in the war, and another hut is all about the prisoners of war. This latter hut has photographs of some of the prisoners and their stories are told on placards that are displayed on the walls outside the cells in which they would have spent most of their time. It's another weepy area for those of you without a strong stomach.
In additional to the huts full of exhibits there is a small church, which was used for the prisoners to worship in.
One of the things that really brings Eden Camp to life is that each area is not only accompanied by sound but there are also authentic smells too. One of the areas about the blitz has an overwhelming smell of burning and as the dust clears you see piles of rubble and the flicker of flames. This part is quite eerie and is just one of many examples that demonstrates the detail of the special effects that have been used to re-create these scenes.
As you have probably guessed I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Eden Camp. I did manage to see it all (I think) but you do certainly need the best part of a full day so there's little point turning up mid afternoon. When I visited the weather was fine but since most of the exhibits are undercover it is the sort of place you could still visit if it was raining and it wouldn't be spoilt too much. I guess that you'd just need to dash from one hut to the next.
At the end of the final hut there is the customary gift shop, a tea room and a canteen. By the time we reached this it was ready for closing so I can't comment on the quality of the drinks or food although it did look reasonably priced and there were some wonderful names on the menu like "Churchill's Pie" and "Dambuster Stew and Dumplings".
Eden Camp is open daily throughout the year (with the exception of a few days around Christmas). It was interesting to note that all the children I saw seemed to be having a good time so its certainly a place that appeals to all generations, which did surprise me a little. If you get the chance it's well worth a visit.
Tel 01653 697777
Summary: An award winning museum in North Yorkshire
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