A couple of years ago a friend recommended a visit to Bletchley Park. Her son had enjoyed it at younger than N but I decided we’d wait a couple of years. When we stayed in Milton Keynes the other week, I decided we were close enough and that N might be more interested now given he knows a little bit about the World Wars.
We arrived early just after opening when the car park was empty – I’m a big fan of this, especially for interactive museums, otherwise N doesn’t get to play on things. He’s too reticent to push to the front and would rather not bother than wait. We paid for the children’s ‘Top Secret Mission Pack’ – a themed activity pack with activities to do as you visit.
Bletchley Park was the home of decoding and deciphering in the second world war. Some buildings were purpose built in the estate, eventually housing around 8000 workers who were employed to intercept radio signals, take down messages and decode them, before passing them on to relevant people. It was amazing to see how people had no idea what they would be doing for so many hours a day, surely tedium would set in.
It’s a beautiful location with the mansion house and lake. When you arrive you can choose to use one of the multimedia guides to take you round the park, with information in each location. For children, there’s a family guide with activities to do as they walk round. N was excited by this, but then found it annoying to have on all the time – we had to use their headphones so it might have been a bit different if he’d had his own ones to plug in instead.
The lake was looking beautiful under blue skies when we were there. It’s a lovely place to sit and walk round, even if the surrounding buildings are war time austere.
We were able to go into the mansion house and see what how it was set up as offices. And find out a bit more about the owners prior to the wartime efforts taking over it. N enjoyed trying on some of the hats that would have been worn in the war and listening to previous employees talking about their lives and work at Bletchley Park, as well as their welfare and leisure.
I don’t think he could quite believe how restricted a life it was in the war. But was something he could relate back to and compare with how his Gramps and Gran would have been as very young children during World War 2. It prompted conversations and questions about living in the countryside, and evacuees and the kind of work women did when the men were off at war.
N was excited to see a ‘real’ grass tennis court, although he did think it wouldn’t be practical because ‘ you can’t play on grass most of the time’.
We were there at the same time as a coachload of French students. N was confused about why they were there as well, so I had to explain how they were probably on a school trip, and how Bletchley would have been important to them as well because the war involved the French fighting as well.
He wasn’t too keen on the numerous buildings, although they delivered well, with educational and interesting exhibits and displays. And plenty of interactive activities – whether electronic through touch screen games, or more manual activities. There was plenty to learn and I expect there are plenty of school visits to tie in with history lessons.
The garages were also interesting. It was a chance to look at the old motorcycles that were used by dispatch riders and understand the type of dangerous work they had to do without maps – in case the enemy got hold of their documents.
We weren’t at Bletchley Park for long. I think unless your child has a real interest in war time or codes, or they’re studying it, then Bletchley Park is better for older primary school or secondary school age children.
Bletchley Park tickets
If you’re local, the entry fee also includes an annual pass so you can return time and time again within the year. With children under 12 free, and adult tickets costing £18.50 (including the multimedia guides and a 1 hour walking tour when available), it’s a good value day out. There are discounts for National Art pass and English Heritage members.
Have you ever been to Bletchley Park?
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