I don’t remember Portsmouth. I feel that I should, having grown up in Southampton, but I don’t recall ever going.
Rewind a few months and my middle boy reads about the Mary Rose in a copy of Whizz Pop Bang Magazine. He’s been asking to see it ever since.
So we booked a caravan in December and packed the car with coats, gloves, scarves, thick jumpers, extra jumpers, hats, more jumpers, wellies and vests – and somehow managed to fit a fully grown Rottweiler in the boot for good measure, and off we went. My husband, for the record, packed a pair of trainers with holes in, one jumper and a thin coat. In the interests of preventing frostbite, I advise you dress a bit more sensibly for the beach in December. But I digress.
The less said about the caravan, the better, but there’s so much good to say about Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
The boys have asked to come again and we fully intend to. There was too much here to see in a single weekend.
(Photo Credit: Unknown)
Our first port of call was HMS Warrior, which is stunning. The guided tour gave an incredibly vivid insight into what life would have been like onboard, and while I’m not crazy on history, her backstory is compelling. It’s a beautiful ship and when we get back to the caravan that evening, I flick through the souvenir book to absorb as much information on her as I can.
The boys beg to go across to the Submarine Museum in Gosport so from the dockyard we boarded the waterbus.
HMS Alliance is immense. There are no words to describe it that could do it justice. We all stare, slack-jawed at the sheer enormity of her, all the while awed at how sleek she is.
Inside, it’s a children’s haven. It’s been so beautifully done to show how it would have been aboard. The bunks are made up, there’s cups of tea and handwritten letters, photographs taped up onto beams and food cooking in the kitchen. The tour guide creates an atmosphere for us and tells the children they can poke and prod what they like, which always goes down well.
Day two brought some ferocious weather and the waterbus and harbour tours were cancelled, which put paid to our plans to head over to the Explosions Museum. A nearby P&O ferry ran aground with the ferocity of the wind. 6am saw me walking Muttley down the beach. All eleven stone of me was struggling to put one foot in front of the other and Muttley looks at me as if to check I’m serious.
We decided on the Mary Rose museum, seeing as it’s indoors, and since it’s pretty much what we came to see.
It’s haunting. The museum is almost eerie, the layout of the items recovered placed opposite the ship in a mirror image of where they were found. Every so often, they project snippets of film onto the ship, bringing to life the bare bones of the only 16th century war ship on display anywhere in the world.
The work behind the museum must’ve been painstaking, piecing together the people and the stories as each artefact was reunited with the ship.
The afternoon found us in Action Stations, which was like Christmas for three small boys: a helicopter simulator, a climbing wall, assault course, endless games and experiments to help children understand buoyancy, balance, electrical currents – the list is endless.
If anything, perhaps the biggest surprise was how passionate the staff are at the dockyard. It makes a change to find staff who genuinely love their job, and that kind of enthusiasm brings joy to the children in untold amounts.
The rain fails to stop. The caravan park is flooded. The electrics have gone. We pack up the car, wading through puddles and getting soaked to the bone. After three and a half hours in the car we get home to snow. The boys climb over the enormous pile of laundry I’ve dumped in front of the machine and disappear outside. I hear their laughter, their cries of painfully cold fingers, the slam of the door as they charge in to change their wet gloves.
The little one takes himself off to bed after a bath, asleep within moments of his head hitting the pillow. I pull the covers over him, whispering about how I’ve enjoyed the weekend. There’s no reply, only the faint drawing of breath as his thumb slips from between plump lips.
It’s good to be home, but it’s been an even better weekend.