During the half term holiday we visited the Historic Dockyard Chatham for the day, along with some friends and their children (all aged 3 and 4).
Although it’s only a 45 minute drive from us in Tonbridge, we’d not yet visited despite there being some very proud naval history in the family, and with a two week half term looming it was the perfect excuse for a day trip.
The Historic Dockyard Chatham is signposted well, easy to find and has ample parking. If you’re making your way by public transport check out the directions on their website here.
Chatham’s Historic Dockyard has been building and maintaining warships for the Royal Navy for 400 years.
It was the dockyard in which The Victory was built, which can now be seen at Portsmouth Docks. It’s also where they film Call The Midwife, which I have to admit I have never seen, but if you’re a fan of the show you’ll definitely recognise some of the scenery.
It is home to three warships, HM Submarine Ocelot, HMS Cavalier and HMS Gannet which visitors can board and explore, the Victorian Ropery which you can tour and the RNLI lifeboat collection.
Inside the Historic Dockyard Chatham
You pay for your ticket (information on prices below) and then once inside you can book tours and timed tickets. We tried to get as much done as we could, but couldn’t do everything in one day!
These were the highlights of our trip:
HM Submarine Ocelot
Certainly not one for the agoraphobic but fascinating none the less, to visit the submarine you need to get a timed ticket which once you’ve entered the Historic Dockyard and you can do a 15 minute walkthrough or a 30 minute guided tour.
The warship was the last to be built at Chatham Historic Dockyard, and was launched in 1962.
After 27 years’ service she returned to Chatham as a museum ship, and if you don’t mind squeezing through fairly small holes and trying not to bang your head then you can go and visit the impossibly small quarters in which men spent months at a time under the sea during the cold war.
Take a look up the periscopes to see what’s going on outside.
The Victorian Ropery
The Ropery is a tour which you book on entrance; it’s free with entry to the Historic Dockyard but you need to get a timed ticket for a tour which takes 45 minutes to an hour to complete.
I don’t know what I was expecting but it was actually really interesting; I realised I had no idea how rope was made or what the different types of rope were, nor did I appreciate what an integral part they were in the shipbuilding process.
The children were all really good despite the tour being long and them probably being a little young for it. They even got to help make their own piece of rope at the end using the rope making machinery, which they proudly carried with them for the rest of the day.
The Ropewalk at the end of the tour is almost 1/4 mile long! We waited to see the demonstration at which point my children decided they needed the loo so we missed it; so near yet so far. It was pretty loud though!
The Enchanted Garden
During the half term holiday Chatham’s Historic Dockyard had a third timed-ticket attraction taking place in the Commissioner’s Garden especially for children.
The garden was done out in Halloween-decor and there was free wand making, and story telling as well as a hunt for fairy doors. There were a couple of tents set up; one with instruments and another with a sleeping wizard inside.
There is a nice open space in the garden for the children to run around in.
There was also dreamcatcher making going on and outside between the docks and the Ropery there was pumpkin carving, both for an additional charge.
We spent over an hour in the garden as the sun was shining and the children enjoyed running about in the open space and listening to the wizard’s stories.
It wasn’t an event in itself but a nice little addition to the day out especially for my daughter who was not overly enamoured with the warships; fairies are definitely more her thing!
HMS Cavalier and HMS Gannet
HMS Cavalier is a warship built in 1944.
She has been preserved at Chatham Historic Dockyard as a museum ship since 1972, and you can climb aboard and take a seat in the Commanding Officer’s chair.
The HMS Gannet is a Royal Navy Sloop which was built in Sheerness in 1878.
After many years as a training ship, in 1987 she was restored to her original appearance and is now preserved at Chatham Historic Dockyard.
Ring the bell, stand at the wheel or shout down the pipes and scare the people on the deck below.
RNLI Historic Lifeboat Collection
Chatham Historic Dockyard is home to the UK’s largest collection of historic lifeboats, which have saved hundreds of lives.
It’s a huge area and the children loved looking at the boats.
There are outdoor two play areas, and an indoor soft play with cafe.
We spent about an hour inside the cafe area where there are picnic benches inside and out, but the kids could happily have spent hours there. We didn’t even get to go to the outside play parks.
As it was we spent around 6 hours inside Chatham Historic Dockyard.
We could easily have spent more time and didn’t even get to visit the historic buildings. We would definitely need a return trip or two in order to see everything!
Ticket prices for the Historic Dockyard Chatham
A ticket for the Historic Dockyard Chatham on the door costs £24 for adults, £21.50 for concessions or £10.50 for children, or you can get a ticket for a family of four for £63.
Currently you can buy an online ticket for an adult and get a child ticket for £1 for the duration of the holidays.
Once you buy your ticket it lasts you the entire year, which is brilliant if you happen to live fairly close by as there is far too much to do in one day.
This is well worth it; there is much more than you could possibly do in a day especially with small children, and with the playgrounds and small soft play it is a place you could return to fairly regularly even if the ropery and the ships are more of a one-off visit.
We had a really good day; thank you to the Historic Dockyard Chatham for giving us free entry for the purposes of this review.
If you’re local then it’s well worth a visit, there is so much to do even for young kids.