One of my ‘bucket list’ visits has always been Bletchley Park, which was home to the codebreakers during WWII, and the inspiration behind films like The Imitation Game and Enigma.
Why so keen? Well, my Great Aunt worked there in the ‘Security of Allied Cypher’ department during the war. Sadly, she died in the 1970s while her work (and much of what happened at Bletchley) was still classified, so we know little more than that. Still, she sounded like an incredibly cool person!
It’s an amazing place, and they’ve done a great job transforming a previously top-secret location into a museum. It can’t have been an easy job, with so much destroyed after the war for security reasons! Luckily it strikes the right balance between being absolutely fascinating, and still feeling like a museum and not just a tourist attraction – there’s plenty to read for maths geniuses (which I am certainly not) but you won’t miss out if you don’t fully understand the minutiae of cyphers by the time you leave.
What to see at Bletchley Park
The exhibitions are spread across the grounds, so it’s even better enjoyed on a sunny day – then you can imagine all the young code breakers lounging by the lake on a rare break. Luckily there’s a visitor’s centre to ease you into the world of Bletchley, before you start exploring the Mansion, the famous codebreakers huts, and the main part of the museum.
In Block B, look out for the special exhibition on Alan Turing, and ‘the world’s most comprehensive collection of Enigma machines.’ In the Mansion, the ‘veterans stories’ exhibition is incredible for getting an inside look into what Bletchley must have been like when it was in full-swing during the war.
The huts are where most of the codebreakers themselves were based – in hut 11 you can experience what working with the ‘Bombe machines’ must have been like – Loud! It’s no wonder the women who worked on the machines dubbed it the “hell-hole”. Meanwhile in hut 8, interactive exhibitions show what the building, including Alan Turing’s office, would have looked like in WWII (including a mug chained to the radiator!)
Timing the visit
Obviously, there’s A LOT of information. It’s definitely a place to visit for the day, not just an hour – we went quite late in the afternoon and felt a bit rushed, so I’d like to go back sometime soon. I believe a single ticket can be validated to become an annual pass, so if you live closer you can visit time and again!
Top tip: Milton Keynes is not particularly renowned as a holiday destination (no offence intended), but we paired the visit with a stay in Oxford, which is just under an hour away – the perfect nerd’s holiday!
In case your wondering, we visited well before the pandemic. Ah the good old days!