Tag Archives: Bristol

Being three meets Being Brunel: a birthday day out

Being Brunel“We’re going to a pirate ship!” Not strictly true but the idea definitely captured D’s imagination on his third birthday, as we set off for a day out at the nearby SS Great Britain. He might have been looking forward to cutlasses and treasure chests; my husband and I were looking forward to seeing the new Being Brunel permanent display.

Our trip started with a stop at the M Shed, after a friend’s tip off that an open air steam train is running up and down the dock during certain weekends. We took the first return trip of the day and D thought it was magical, and didn’t even cry at the loud noises, even though the whistle was just near us. You can disembark outside the SS Great Britain directly but our journey was non-stop. We also decided to come back to the M Shed another time because the displays and cafe there were brilliant.

Despite it being a drizzly day, there was plenty of colour as we walked along the dockside, with the bright rainbow shades of the houses in the distance and then the multi-coloured flags blowing in the wind on board the SS Great Britain, which raised the excitement levels. The ship really is magnificent, even from a distance.

SS Great Britain

This was my husband’s first time on board so we took some time to look around the edge of the dock and the museum. The attention to detail is brilliant – from the old fashioned posters outside to the tour guide who prepares you to step back in time as you enter the area. Then we headed to Being Brunel, the permanent exhibition new this year.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel and his majestic designs were a regular feature of my up-bringing, as he designed the Tamar Bridge which took us from Cornwall into deepest, darkest Devon; the first London landmark we reached, Paddington Station, and the most famous structure in my university city of Bristol – Clifton Suspension Bridge.

I’m pleased to say that Scrip knows a lot about him as well, having studied Brunel at school, so she was equally interested to hear more about his life. Once again, the attention to detail is good: you can pause on entry to have a photo taken wearing one of a range of replica trademark top hats – which my father later told us was chosen by Brunel to add to his height.

The first stop is a copy of his dining room, beautifully embellished and with some digital portraits that come to life and tell his story. Through the second door the children liked the moving train carriage, which bumped along when they climbed aboard, and the gigantic 3D Brunel face on the wall, which rises two stories high. As always when looking around museums with children you only tend to get a glimpse of displays before being made to move on, but there was a lot in there to look at.

Being Brunel

His life story is told through time lines, documents and images and the journey continues upstairs with more displays. We didn’t make it into the Brunel video experience as it promised flashing lights and loud noises, which one of our children wasn’t keen on, but that also sounded interesting. I should imagine this would be a big draw for older children, as there’s probably less that’s hands-on in here than in the main museum.

Then we carried on to the SS Great Britain herself and enjoyed another brilliant tour of the ship, complete with sounds, smells and scuttling rats in the kitchens. I didn’t manage to make it to Go Aloft, the climbing experience, as it was raining harder by then. So I’d love to come back and do it one day. But it was certainly a great day out and one little boy had to be carried back to the car, and no doubt dreamed of pirate adventures as he slept the whole way home.

Being Brunel

I’ve also written about 12 things to spot on the SS Great Britain.

Thanks to the SS Great Britain for letting us experience the SS Great Britain for the day. A family ticket costs £45.

12 things we loved doing on the ss Great Britain

ss Great BritainIt’s one of those days out I’ve wanted to go on for a while – and it was worth the wait. We had a brilliant time at the ss Great Britain where there was so much to see and do Easter Trail aside. Although I have to say the Trail was definitely Scrip’s best bit (spotting the animals, sticking on the stickers and enjoying the chocolate egg at the end of it – the Easter Trail runs until 23rd April 2017).

We went with friends and there was one 5 year old (Scrip), one 4 year old boy and two toddlers – one two, one almost-two (D). Here were 12 of our ss Great Britain highlights:

  1. The excitement at seeing this magnificent ship for the first time. It’s been so beautifully restored and as my friend who came with me said, even nowdays when we’re used to massive aeroplanes and cruise ships the scale of this up close still takes your breath away.ss GB anchor
  2. Exploring the dockyard which is laid out as it would have been in Victorian times. The horse poo and the toilet were particular draws…ss GB toilet
  3. Steering the ship. The captain (in full costume) explained how it would have taken two crew members to do it they would have faced backwards to get their steering orders.ss GB steering ship
  4. Scrubbing the decks! The children did this for ages!ss GB scrubbing decks
  5. Walking around the many decks on board the ship – there’s so much to see on board and it feels like you get to look into every area. ss GB
  6. The fact the Easter Trail drew on integral parts of life on the ss Great Britain life and wasn’t just tacked on as they sometimes are.
  7. Dressing up. There were plenty of children’s and adults’ costumes beautifully made. Not a big dresser-upper, Scrip really enjoyed putting on her full dress and mop cap.ss GB dressing up
  8. The contrasts on board. First Class was beautifully grand with a lovely light banqueting hall versus the cramped conditions in Second Class and then the farm animals at the very bottom.
  9. The models were all well done – expressive and just the right amount to bring things to life. There was a doctor, Brunel himself and a newborn baby. Again younger children may be a little scared of some but you could avoid them if so.
  10. The sounds from the creaky toilet door! I’ll let you see what I mean for yourselves!ss GB climbing
  11. The rats in the kitchen! Very well done. Although the younger ones were a little scared in the darker rooms I found them fascinating with full sights and smells.
  12. Going ‘underwater’ to walk around the hull. On a sunny day there’s something magical about this. Just look at that propeller!ss GB propeller

There’s also a well stocked gift shop and cafe although we actually headed down to the quayside and got the little ferry (90p for adults, children go free) across to Spoke & Stringer opposite for some lunch in the sunshine.

Thanks to the ss Great Britain for letting us experience the fun this Easter. Family tickets (2 adults, 2 children) are £37 and you get unlimited re-visits for 12 months.

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