The Urban Guide to the Countryside
Kent Edition

Family fun at the Historic Dockyard, Chatham

25 Aug 2016

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Crikey, the summer holidays have screamed by. Before I know it I’ll be hosing down the kiddies before waving them off at the school gates and kicking my heels in delight. But there’s a teensy bit of me that is already mourning all the many things I promised myself I’d take time off work to do with them this summer. So this week a friend and I took our sons to The Historic Dockyard, in Chatham, and fulfilled a promise I’d made, oh, about 18 months ago: Batten down the hatches – let’s go!

If you’re not too familiar with it, the Dockyard in Chatham is a family attraction celebrating all the best of Britain’s maritime heritage. Or put it another way – three battleships, a one-time spy submarine and huge hangers full of boats. As far as my son was concerned we’d definitely saved the best summer trip til last.

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Now I would just like to point out here that most of the engineers I know are women. And it goes without saying that girls can do science, military history and warships. But I didn’t take my daughter on this particular day trip – she had a playdate. However if I was asked to answer truthfully – would she have enjoyed it as much as my son? The answer would be possibly not. But then that’s just the Muddy Kent household – and with the Ropery, costumes and adventure play – I think she’d have found it fun enough. All I can say is – if silly science, swinging through the hatches on submarines and trying out sawing and rigging skills ticks the boxes for your child, then they’ll love it here.

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The organisers have made a big effort to make the experience really interactive and there’s lots of techie touches to appeal to the younger audience. We watched a film about the history of sea warfare narrated by Fiona Bruce (recorded, not in person, silly). My son and his friend had fun exploring every function of the  iPad / giant screens. Apologies to any visitors who aren’t fluent in German or Japanese. *Sigh*…

Next the boys were on to trying out the hands-on exhibits demonstrating the various skills required of a seaman. Then they sprinted off to explore the decks of the Victorian warship. If you want to go into the depths of the  2,000-tonne, 24-torpedo sub you need to book your slot in advance. We went for one of the mini 15 min tours (versus 30 mins) and that was plenty of time to walk through and get an idea (any longer and I think they might have been overcome by the temptation to press one of the many ‘Do Not Touch’ big red buttons…)

Another quick word of advice for touring the submarine. My friend Emily was wearing a summer dress. You are required to hop through the hatches. Then clamber up the steep steps. I think she might have regretted her clothing choice. The rest of us had a giggle though (insert childish snigger here).

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The whole set-up is very organised, staff could not have been more helpful. The first thing they do is help you plan your visit and book you in to allocated time slots for tours and shows. We caught this summer’s show about two crazy scientists travelling back in time to King George III when The Dockyard was at its height and Britain had Command of the Oceans. It was all done in a whacky way and the boys seemed to enjoy it – particularly the bit about the invention of the toilet.

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Just 35 miles from central London, less than 50 minutes from both Tunbridge Wells or Canterbury, 40 minutes from Sevenoaks or just 20 minutes from Maidstone this is a family attraction that is accessible from all over Kent. It’s also incredible value – tickets are valid for 12 months – meaning once you pay you can go as many times as you like over the next year. And there’s a lot to do so splitting it into a couple of trips is a good idea. Also there’s a special offer on this summer – one child goes free with every full paying adult, (you must book online to get this offer). But you need to book your tickets online by Monday, Aug 29, to take advantage of this offer – then you can go any time you want over the next year.

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Everything is included in the admission price. There’s also two cafes with really kid-friendly snacks or warm meals for less than £5 and oodles of free parking. (And if you recognise any of it – it does appear regularly on screen in scenes from Les Miserables to Call the Midwife).

All in all we had a great day out and it’s a good one to keep up your sleeve if you fancy venturing on one last hurrah these summer hols – or booking the kids go free offer before it runs out. All hands on deck!

The Historic Dockyard, Chatham, The Sail & Colour Loft, Church Ln, Chatham ME4 4TE, Tel: thedockyard.co.uk

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The Urban Guide to the Countryside -
Kent Edition