portsmouth historic dockyard - Bubbablue and me

Educational fun at Portsmouth historic dockyard

Sometimes children get something in their head and there’s no backing down.  I often think N is a bit easy going and needs to assert himself a bit more with his peers, but he doesn’t have any problems asserting himself with me.  I just didn’t expect it in the middle of our visit to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

I’d planned a nice day out there (ok, there was rain too, so it wasn’t going to be that cheery).  I’ve been several times, as a child not long after the Mary Rose was brought up from the sea, and later as an adult with the OH.  With N’s love of Horrible Histories, I thought looking round the old ships and learning more about the history would go down well.  Quite the opposite unfortunately.

portsmouth historic dockyard - Bubbablue and me

Buying a pass for the whole of the dockyards works out much better value and I’d planned that we’d see the Mary Rose, and go round HMS Warrior and Victory.  They had a special deal on for the passes, and you could use your ticket up to a year later.  We were in the queue before opening and I’d definitely recommend it because the queues build up and getting to the places you want to see when they’re empty is worth it.  But generally the historic dockyard never feels that busy when walking round because there’s so much to see.

walking in the rain at portsmouth historic dockyard

HMS Warrior

We headed for HMS Warrior as soon as we were through the bag search and ticket office.  N was quite taken with the ship, and amazed at how old it was.  But once we got on board it started to go a bit wrong.  He didn’t want to be on the ship at all.  I managed to get him down one deck to where the guns were, but he wasn’t interested and just wanted to get back on top again.  Going down myself didn’t help because he was nearly in tears.  Two of the staff in different areas tried to get him interested and happier.  But it didn’t help.

HMS Warrior
figurehead on HMS warrior
on deck on HMS warrior

For children they can watch out for the various animals that are on ship (N didn’t believe that there would have been a sheep on board).  I like that there are staff members around the ship to answer any questions you have.

We didn’t get far into the ship – just about managing to drag him round to the Captain’s posh end to see the dining area and rooms before he was virtually dragging me back to the steps out.  He’s never been worried about boats before – we’ve been on HMS Belfast, canal boats and more, but it seems that going on boats is now not an option.

wheels in the HMS warrior
inside HMS Warrior
looking upstairs in HMS Warrior

We aborted our visit on HMS Warrior and I marched him off towards the Mary Rose instead.  Maybe stopping to see Victory on the way.  But even with Victory being dry docked and nowhere near water (apart from the rain), N was having none of it.  I was very disappointed because previous experience of the tours and staff on the ships has always been very good, and I know he’d enjoy finding out about what went on while out at sea.

Mary Rose

But the Mary Rose was a different matter.  Although he wasn’t interested in watching the film showing the history of the ship, he told me all about Henry VIII who we met, and how the Mary Rose was in battle with the French.  This is why I love Horrible Histories.  He knows so much more about history age 6, than I do, with my limited knowledge of proper history from my mum’s Jean Plaidy books I used to read as a child.

outside Mary Rose
Henry VIII

We spent a bit of time looking at the finds that were found – from work tools, to learning about the different jobs that people had on the ship.  Then we could go through and see the Mary Rose itself.

It’s very different to the first time I saw it, continually being sprayed with water to keep it at the right temperature.  Now it’s in place in shape as it would have been, with projections of people doing their work in different rooms or decks of the ship.  It’s really clever and helps you imagine how it would have been like all those years ago.

Mary Rose ship
artefacts from the Mary Rose

N wasn’t too impressed with it though.  We stopped briefly so I could explain the final film of how they discovered and then brought up the Mary Rose.  I think that hit him most, realising that people have dived to find it and then had to retrieve it over time.

in the rain at Portsmouth historic dockyard
naval museums in portsmouth

Apprentices exhibition

As well as the ships themselves, the historic dockyards have naval museums, and various exhibitions.  N was given the choice between a ship building exhibition and the apprentices one.  He decided on the apprentices one and having been round it before I knew he’d like it.  It’s a bit more relatable given his oldest cousins are doing apprenticeships so he knows what they’re about.

The exhibition took us round the different jobs involved with the naval ships and the types of people working in them from the apprenticeships to those doing the training.   You could touch some of the displays, and at certain points there were interactive activities.  We liked the learning knots area (I was very impressed with my memory of knots from my Brownie days), and trying to do flag communications (not very easy).

drunken sailor at apprentices display
apprentices museum
learning flag signalling

It got a big tick from N and sparked off lots of conversation.  By this time N was ready for lunch and with refusing to go on any of the ships, we were pretty much done for the day visiting the dockyards.

giant deckchair at gunwharf quays

I decided that we’d head back into Gunwharf Quays to get some food.  Although this was easier said than done.  No coffee shops with seating, or the few that did had so little they were rammed given the weather. We didn’t want full on food, so instead headed on a tour of the local supermarkets in the hope of finding one with a café. Thankfully Morrisons came to the rescue and readily sustained, we headed back to the hotel to have a relax before the weather improved and we were able to get out to the park and beach for a walk.

If you’ve a child who’s interested in history and likes going on boats, then a trip to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is a must.  It’s great value and there’s enough to do to stay all day, and if you’re in the area for longer than a few days, you can always return on the same ticket.

Have you ever been? What’s your favourite ship to see?

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