Kent with Kids: the Historic Dockyard Chatham
Seaside and fantastic countryside in one trip in the UK? You need to go to Kent! Only 1.5 hours from London, the county is full to the brim with seaside towns and beaches, quirky villages, beautiful landscapes and child-friendly activities. We have already been to Kent once and, having liked it so much, we went again one weekend in July.
Our first stop was the Historic Dockyard Chatham, which used to be a working dockyard in the past. Due to the river bed becoming smaller, it is now no longer possible to build and repair ships of a considerable size. As a result of this, the dockyard was closed as a working facility, however a museum is now open for all of us to learn about ships and submarines and see how the dockyard looked back in the day.
The amount of things on display is incredible and if you want to see everything properly, one visit would not be enough. Luckily, once you buy your admission ticket, it is valid for a year, so you can come back as many times as you like. I have to say, I am not a big fan of ships, but the way information is presented and the fact, that you can go onboard and touch things – that made me interested and I had a ball! If I required some convincing, Claudio and Luca were impressed from the start!
Let me tell you about my favourite parts of the Historic Dockyard Chatham.
As soon as you arrive, try and get the timed tickets for the Ropery and the submarine. The Ropery is where they still make the ropes and as part of the tour, you will visit the longest building in Europe. We were guided by charming ropery workers, dressed in a period costume and speaking as if we were still in 18th century. We saw how a rope becomes the Chatham rope and then walked half way through the longest building.
The submarine Ocelot was another highlight for me, as I have never been inside the submarine before. Have you? We were able to see how submariners lived the Ocelot and how cramped the conditions were, we looked outside using the periscope and quizzed our guide what the modern submarines looked like nowadays compared to Ocelot.
There are also two ships , that you can visit: HMS Gannet is from 1878 and HMS Cavalier is from 1944. I loved the Cavalier! By walking the whole length of the ship, you can see how life was organised on board: they had a shop, a library, space for relaxation with hammocks, captains quarters – I can go on. You can see the menus of what they were eating, the working hours of the library, the shopping list with prices and a fantastic note on the rum rationing !
Two of the dry docks are now being used as an exhibition area, where you can learn about the history of lifeboats. I also suggest to go up and see the exquisite roof design in Dock 3.
Immediately after the entrance, there is No1 Smithery, which partly is used to showcase the ship models and what importance they had in the shipbuilding. The other part of the building is given to changing exhibitions and this time it was a all about pirates. Luca loved going on the pirate ship and looking at pirate paraphernalia.
We visited in July and to celebrate summer Historic Dockyard have put on a sandy beach with deck chairs, seagulls and a beach shop. This is where you will find me with my cup of coffee, relaxing!
I was also very impressed with facilities : the smarter restaurant Mess Deck at the reception area and a more casual cafe Wagon Stop with a soft play thrown in and stationary trains for your train enthusiasts. There was also a fantastic playground outside with a scattering of picnic tables, if you want to bring your own supplies.
I also have to commend the staff as at every place we went, we were greeted by a friendly member of staff, who was genuinely happy to see us. We happily chatted about why dockyard has now closed with Malcolm at the Cavalier and were impressed by Debbie acting skills at the Ropery.
If you are a fan of “Call the Midwife” series, then you are in luck, as this where the series were filmed and they do guided tours to show the locations. I could not resist taking a picture!
There is a lot to see at the Historic Dockyard Chatham, but even if you looked at everything, throughout the year they also do themed events like Railway Weekends or Britain’s Vintage Festival “Salute to the 40s”! You just have to keep discovering.
Our visit was hosted by Historic Dockyard Chatham, but all opinions are my own.