HMS Belfast

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to visit HMS Belfast, the WW2 ship moored on the Thames near London Bridge station. I’d got a Tesco Clubcard voucher which was about to expire, and thought I should use it up sharpish! Unfortunately the Sunday I visited was one of the hottest days of the year, and I can tell you it got pretty warm inside the ship. Nevertheless, I enjoyed my visit.

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HMS Belfast

 HMS Belfast is run by the Imperial War Museums, and information can be found on the same website. The ship was built in Belfast and launched in 1936.  Hit by a mine in 1939, she had to undergo thorough repairs before returning to service in 1942, helping to protect Arctic convoys (Russia’s wartime supplies) and playing a crucial role in the Battle of North Cape. She also played a key role during the D-Day landings. HMS Belfast is the last remaining ship of her type in existence, and has been in position on the Thames for over 40 years.

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Ship’s bell

Outside the ship it was hot, but inside it was even worse – hot and stuffy. The filmed ‘battle’ on the gun deck was highly entertaining, though. When I reached the ship proper, I was amused to find this sign:

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Amusing sign

I found the waxworks on the ship rather creepy, particularly this grim-looking fellow. Others could be found baking in the kitchen, manning the controls and lying in hammocks.

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Creepy waxwork

I ventured down to the bowels of the ship to explore, which involved a good deal of climbing up and down ladders (and is not recommended for young children). This would have been more fun if it had been less warm. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with being below the waterline, and was rather glad to be back on deck.

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Front of the ship [flickr id=”9255084378″ thumbnail=”medium” align=”left”]
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Prow of the ship

Even if you’re not really into naval history, HMS Belfast is a good place to visit, as there is lots to see (including a number of small exhibitions inside the ship). I enjoyed it – especially as I got in for free!

FACTS

Address: The Queen’s Walk, London, SE1 2JH

Website: iwm.org.uk/visits/hms-belfast

Opening Hours: 10am-6pm

Prices: Adult £16, Concession £12.80, Child £8; under-5s free

Cutty Sark

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Entrance to the ship

My parents came down to London to visit me a couple of weeks ago. They left around midday on the Friday and as I had an afternoon free, I decided to visit the Cutty Sark.

The Cutty Sark is a tea clipper, the last one to survive. She was named from the poem  ‘Tam O’ Shanter’ by Robert Burns, in which the character of Nannie the witch wears a ‘cutty sark’ – an old Scottish term for a short nightdress. Launched in 1869, she enjoyed a varied career transporting tea from China, wool from Australia and various cargoes to and from Portugal and the Americas before being severely damaged in 1916. In 1922 a retired windjammer skipper, Wilfred Dowman, set out to buy her and brought her back to the UK where she was restored. The ship was towed into a dry dock in Greenwich in 1954, where she has remained ever since.

When I was a child, I visited Cutty Sark with my family although we didn’t actually look round the ship: there are, however, several photos of us standing outside it. At the time it was rather run down, so I was pleased to hear that a refurbishment programme was planned (this began in 2006). Though severely hampered by a fire partway through the restoration, the programme was completed and the Cutty Sark reopened to the public just over a year ago, on 25 April 2012.

I was astounded when I walked up to the ship from the DLR station that shares its name.  It is exactly where it always was, but the ship and its setting have been transformed. The ship rests on a raised glass canopy, beautifully restored.

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The Cutty Sark seen from the front

I paid my entry fee and headed to the centre of the ship. I sat and watched a short video surrounded by a number of boxes and the smell of tea. It was very atmospheric. Next I headed to a higher floor with more exhibits. My favourite thing was the seat designed to mimic the movement of the waves: sitting on it was so relaxing!

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Inside the ship

I went on deck and explored further: the outside has clearly been just as painstakingly restored as the inside.

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On deck

Here, I stopped to look round the captain’s quarters, which were fairly swanky, a clear improvement on the narrow bunks used by the crew. Still, I don’t suppose it makes a great deal of difference where you are when the ship is swaying every which way.

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Inside the Captain’s quarters

I went down in the lift to the lower ground floor, which has been cleverly designed to fit under the ship while still letting through plenty of natural light. I enjoyed looking at the motley collection of figureheads.

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Figureheads

The view of the ship from underneath is pretty impressive.

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Underneath the ship

Visiting the Cutty Sark is pretty expensive, but it’s worth it just to marvel at the brilliant job the restorers have done with it. I was hugely impressed.

FACTS

Address: Cutty Sark Clipper Ship, King William Walk, Greenwich, London, SE10 9HT

Website: rmg.co.uk/cuttysark

Opening Hours: 10am-5pm

Prices: Adult £13.50, Concession £11.50, Child £8.50; under-5s free. Combined tickets with the Royal Observatory are also available.