Sidetrip: Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyards
The Historic Dockyards in Portsmouth are best thought of as a kind of British naval history theme park. There are half a dozen ships of different vintages and states of repair, ranging from the half-hulk of Henry VIII’s Mary Rose, all the way up to a submarine that was running missions in the Cold War. It’s huge. We spent two days exploring the dockyard’s multiple museums, and could easily have spent a third.
The highlight was probably the Mary Rose exhibit, which was opened in 2016, 33 years after the ship was retrieved from the bottom of the sea. The views of the ship are great, and they’ve created a lot of audio-visual content and interpretation around the ship and its artifacts so that you can easily spend more than two hours learning about seafaring in Tudor times. HMS Victory was shrouded in scaffolding during our visit, so it didn’t cast such an impressive figure in the harbour. But we all enjoyed the audioguide taking us through the Battle of Trafalgar and Nelson’s death, even if it took some doing not to bang our heads on the 5′ ceilings of the lower decks. HMS Warrior was much more spacious and easier to explore — amazing how shipboard comforts evolved in just 50 years from Victory to Warrior — and the boys had great fun clambering into hammocks and trying out the sword duelling training.
Some of the museums are across the harbour, so we hopped a water bus to visit the submarine museum and the museum of naval firepower. The water bus offered some lovely views of the harbour, and the submarine tour put our cramped quarters onboard the canal boat into perspective. The museum of naval firepower delivered all the canons, bombs and weaponry small boys might desire, and a microbrewery for the grown-ups too. All that, and we ran out of time for the harbour tour, the WWI vessel, the and the National Museum of the Royal Navy — definitely enough for a full third day.