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Having two boys with a large age gap, eight years in fact, we can at times find days out difficult to plan as they have such varying interests. However, my youngest has decided that this month his favourite word is "plane" so thinking this was a great opportunity to engage him and encourage yet more words, we thought instantly of The Imperial War Museum in Duxford, Cambridgeshire.
It is a great day out for people of any age. Whether you are an aviation fanatic or have like me a great fascination with the Second World War, which I have pasted on to my oldest son of ten. So with this, we loaded up a picnic and headed out. We are lucky enough to live only about an hour from Duxford, so we were able to get there at opening.
We went in September 2012 and at this time Duxford were excepting Tesco Days Out vouchers, but unfortunately they were unable to except mine as they had recently changed the rules and the vouchers had to be pacifically for Duxford not just a regular days out voucher.
Child (under 16) Free
Unemployed (with ES40) £13.60
Disabled Adult £13.60
Disabled Senior/Student £11.90
Carer for Disabled Visitor: Free (one free carer per disabled person)
Friends of Duxford Free
I also bought a guide book on entry costing £4.95 they also have a plane spotter's book for kids.
Summer 10am - 6pm
Last admission 5pm
Winter 10am - 4pm
Last admission 3pm
Closed 24, 25 and 26 December
It is located on junction 10 of the M11, and as you exit the M11 the imposing building is impossible to miss. Although, if you opt to travel to Duxford by bus; there is a frequent bus service from Cambridge bus and rail station. In the summer it is the city sightseeing bus which is an added treat. The service leaves from Silver Street, Downing Street and the rail station. You can also purchase a bus ticket which includes entry to Duxford. The nearest train stations are Whittlesford, Royston and Cambridge.
Duxford is an ideal day out for children who will enjoy the open spaces. There are many exhibitions spread over this spacious former world war one and two airfield. Many of the buildings are original which gives a real idea of what Duxford was like during the wars. They have some newer buildings also but they don't take anything away from the historical value of the original buildings. The children have ample space to run between exhibitions which meant that they were able to focus more on what was being displayed and I feel they enjoyed and gained more from it. There are many commercial aeroplanes that you are able to board including Concorde. I would however say that there are no facilities to leave pushchairs at the entrance to the aeroplanes and you are not allowed to leave them unattended, for obvious reasons, so I had to stay with the pushchair. Not a huge problem, but my youngest son couldn't understand why I couldn't go too.
They have air shows on a regular basis, however I have never been to one, but it is on my to-do list.
After purchasing your tickets you go through the shop to get to the exhibitions, this did cause a small issue as the children wanted to spend their money before we started the day, but it was easy to get their attention back to the planes.
We went into the Air Space exhibit first, which is to the left as you exit the shop. This is one of the new buildings. Inside is a huge array of aeroplanes from all ages both on the ground and suspended from the ceiling, this was too much for my youngest son who I thought at one point may stop breathing with his excitement. He didn't know which way to turn; he was just amazed by it all. This is also the home Concorde and they also have a typhoon air craft in this exhibit. Upstairs in Air Space they have some hands on and visual displays and you can get a better view of the aircraft suspended from the ceiling.
After Air Space you go back past the visitors centre and past a lovely little café/restaurant called the mess restaurant which serves some lovely cakes and sandwiches along with other hot options, and drinks. Then there is a fantastic little park which looks like has been newly done. It is designed in the shape of a plane, my son informed me it was not just a plane, and it was a Lancaster bomber!!! But I have no idea if that's right...lol!!
We decided to walk right to the opposite end of the exhibits and work our way back. On the way up my son went on a simulator: £4.00 adults and £3.00 children. My son said it was great and had a huge smile on his face, but was disappointed that he was flying a messersmitz and firing on spitfires. His favourite plane is a spitfire!
We continued up to the end, but if you go remember a coat it can get very cold and windy on the airfield...lol
We entered The Land Warfare exhibit, this is another one of the new buildings and as you would expect is completely accessible with a lift to the lower level. This area is my favourite exhibit with world war one and two machinery and weaponry. The exhibit has a D-Day exhibit with helmets and guns for you to get an idea of what kind of kit the soldiers were expected to carry and the surprising weight. There are representations of what a battle ground could have looked like. I think a very sensitive portrayal.
Next is the American air museum. There is a wonderfully impressive display of American aircraft, spanning the whole of aviation history. Again my youngest son was in heaven. You walk under and next to these incredible machines and realize there true magnificence. Again this is entirely accessible with a slope running around both sides to access the entrance/exit and also the café and shop. This is also nice as it gives you a more impressive view of the suspended aircraft. Among the aircraft displayed is the B24 Liberator the more famous Mustang. Another aircraft that is displayed here is the blackbird which was the highest and fastest aircraft of its time up until 1997. Here we stopped for a drink in a little café called station 357, not a very big café, but the coffee was nice, and you sit with your drink and are able to see the aeroplanes. The four drinks we bought came to just under seven pounds but this is on par with other attractions, so I was not surprised at the price. Next to the café is another little shop selling souvenirs, but all of the items are available in the main shop in the visitors centre.
When you exit The American air museum you can see a little prefab and allotment set up as it would have been in the 40`s. There is also an Anderson shelter but mind your head as my son discovered the hard way.
We followed the route down to Conservation in action, not what I would call and exhibit as such but extremely interesting and well worth a look around. This is where the restoration of the aircraft takes place, it`s amazing how badly off some of the aircraft is when it arrives at Duxford. It is amazing how they rebuild these aircraft. The conservation is done by both staff and volunteers. You get to see the work they do up close.
While you are moving between the exhibits, you often see different types of aircraft taking off, as they still use the runway. I think you can also book a trip up if you wish.
Another must is the battle of Britain hanger. This hanger has displays of world war two non- military vehicles, like ambulances. As well as military aircraft including Bristol F2B Fighter, a first world war fighter plane. There are exhibits in this hanger showing home-front experiences.
There is another little café here called Wing Co Joes, this serves the usual hot and cold food and drinks.
In the Air and Sea hanger there are subs, a boat and helicopter. The boys liked it but were getting tired by this point.
There is the 1940s operations room, which is accessed by about six or seven steps which may prevent some people to access, it can also become quite crowded. You view the room from an elevated walk way to one side. The room is laid out like an operations room would have been during world war two with sound effects, I loved it.
There are plenty of toilets all of which have disabled and changing facilities next to the regular toilets. There are plenty of places to eat a picnic lunch should you bring one and if you like Duxford can make one for you at a cost of £21.00 for two. You need to contact Duxford to order one. You are able to exit to collect your picnic from the car if you need to so you don't need to carry it around. We decided to eat in the car as it was an extremely cold day.
The shop has plenty on offer from pencils to books and toys to model aircraft, there is something for everyone although is on the expensive side, but I expect this in these type of attractions. Duxford have made this attraction very accessible and improved and expanded the exhibits without ruining its historical importance.
An amazing day out, although you need more than one day to take full advantage of the exhibits. The kids definitely slept that night. The whole family had a fantastic time. I would highly recommend.
The whole aspect of the war and the methods used to gain an advantage truly fascinate me, the death and the joy that were experienced through the war years show what a different and cruel world it was then. These days its only through places like the Imperial War Museum at Duxford that one can truly understand the scope of what it is was like to live throughout that period and although the museum itself has lovingly restored aircraft to flying condition, it is also shows how advanced aircraft have become since the war ended in 1945. The trouble is that Duxford can boast about its participation in the war as it was one of Hitler's targets as it was originally an airbase itself. Duxford is just one arm of the Imperial War Museum's attractions. The others are HMS Belfast in London, Cabinet War Rooms, IWM North in Manchester and the IWM London.
Situated north of Stansted Airport and just off Juction 10 of the M11 in Cambridgeshire; Duxford is a museum that is unique in its nature. For the enthusiast it has a lot to offer the historian while also showing the past in an interactive manner that shows progression and evolution in terms of defence and air travel. The history of Duxford is fascinating to read as well, the majority of the aircraft on display were originally flown in to the site itself using the runway; a good example is the Concorde that is on display and open to the public to board. This is one of the prototypes that Duxford acquired, yet to see the photos of the aircraft coming into land in 1977 just gives you some idea as the operational scope of the museum itself. Other aircraft on display along side the runway itself gives an overview of how our methods of travel has evolved with jet liners from the late 1960's standing alongside modern and far more aesthetically pleasing equivalents used today. One thing that is apparent is that war is the common theme throughout certain areas of the complex, which itself is spread down one side of the runway throughout a number of various themed zones.
The museum is always changing yet the two buildings that stand out are the American Air Museum at the far end and the vast Airspace hangar that is nearest to the entrance. For me these two buildings are complete opposites in nature, the Air Museum shows a vast collection of aircraft that are still sealed up due to the security level still being classified with the contents (if any) inside. The building is modern in design with a full glass front that from standing outside looks strange as there area a sizeable amount of aircraft hanging in the direction of the glass and it does make it look like they are ready to fly out at a moments notice, but when inside you enter a completely different world. Most notably the pride of the display in the B-52 Stratofortress bomber whose wingspan is so large that it takes up almost all the entire lower level of the building with all other displays positioned around it including a stealth Lockheed SR71 Blackbird as well as aircraft such as the aircraft hanging from the ceiling! That's not to say that the only thing is planes as there are helicopters, Dakotas and also Bi-Planes on display. All looking rather splendid in their military liveries in the manner they have positioned which has been done very well to show off the aircraft in the best possible manner. In contrast there is also a piece of the Berlin Wall, in fact a very large piece that shows the full height of the wall and is quite frightening to stand against given the size of the piece acquired. This for me gave me a good contrast and gave a time stamp to the majority of the items I was looking at. I think its fair to say that I spent quite a bit of time here, the Huey 105 Helicopter was something that was heavily used in Vietnam while the Dakotas were used in World War II. With the obligatory shop and Coffee bar at the back you sit and relax in the rather chilled atmosphere of the building and just soak up what you see. There is a collection box and I noticed that at the time of my visit that this was half full, not only with sterling but also with American dollars. Outside is a breakdown of the aircraft lost in combat, this was frightening seeing as the memorial is over 50 metres in length and brings to your attention the loss that occurred and so you don't realise how dark a subject that the museum is projecting until you see some stone cold facts.
As you walk back the half mile towards the entrance you see something that would give the British a major headache and take numerous lives. The V1 rocket launcher is something that bought terror to civilians in the Blitz. Launched in Germany or France the V1 would travel in the direction of its perfectly calculated target when the engine would cut out and so the V1 would simply drop from the sky with devastating consequences, as their was no sound no judgements could be made as to the impact point. To stand next to something like this is surreal and to see the item in very good condition shows what level of terror this weapon of mass destruction could bring. Again it was the size that shocked me, standing next to the rocket itself with its wings and looking at a fairly compact piece of kit raised my awareness with how the design was thought out. I was still thinking of the impact some two hours later. Other displays as you walk back include a prefab house, a Gatling gun as well as combat aircraft such as the Eurofighter.
The Airspace hangar is a brand new building and here the aircraft depict the story of the parts that Britain and the Commonwealth have played in the design of aircraft throughout the various periods of the past. Here is where Concorde is located and while the fascination of the plane interested me it was the Avro Vulcan Bomber that really caught my attention. This is a forerunner to Concorde with its Delta shaped wings and to see one in the "flesh" is amazing to say the least. It isn't just about looking at the planes in this area either as there is now a simulator that you can enter to experience the first flight by the Wright Brothers... the kids will love it.
If you're into Tanks then Land Warfare offers a wealth of information, with displays depicting a full scale French village with Tank showing the destruction to the assorted back up vehicles that were used with the Tanks in the battlefield. On my first visit I didn't realise this was here and missed it completely as its based further on from the American Air Museum, yet on a return visit I found it and was glad I did as seeing the vast collection of vehicles and different types of Tanks up close is extremely interesting and with the information on each one provided in a clear and concise manner totally in encapsulating to read.
This place works on two levels - firstly the adults will look at the exhibits and stare in awe of the care that they have been given and reminisce as to when they travelled on such an aircraft or tell stories to their kids about the time when so and so happened. The kids will love it because they can in and interact with the displays and see the sheer size of what there actually is to see and will find the day to be an adventure into new territory. I know when I was there I felt I had found my utopia as I could name the various aircraft to the extent which models and mark designs they actually were, much to the disbelief of my other half who by the afternoon had simply given up with me. Okay to be honest I was like a kid again, but I was having a blast!!!
You are also allowed in to look at the current restoration projects that are taking place; on my visit this was restoring a Spitfire. The display boards showed pictures of a before state that the air frame was acquired in and to see the frame as it was on my visit showed an almost entirely different aircraft as well as a much healthier one that one day will take to the air again. All this work is carried out by volunteers who give their time to Duxford.
Facilities on-site are very good, with Coffee shops placed in the right areas and with some in the style of 1930's Tea shops only adds to the atmosphere that is projected, the price is very good and not much different from the High St prices anyway. Also the entire complex is wheelchair friendly and the assistants will go that extra mile to assist if necessary. Lavatories are clean and well kept, which considering their could be coach loads of American tourists tells me that the image is all important. In fact in one area they have a display dedicated to the filming of the 1969 movie Battle of Britain. The majority of the film was filmed at Duxford and watching the relevant clips showing the precise locations in the airfield make you realise just how much history the place actually has as it was used as a base in World War II with Fighter Command being based here.
Free parking on site with enough spaces for visitors and coaches means that getting to the place is easy. Cost wise its very good money, for an Adult it will cost £16.50 whilst children under 15 years old get free entry. Although the prices do vary for out of season from October to March and are less than in the peak period from March to October. Be warned in the summer the venue will hold a number of high quality air shows and this means that you could be paying up to £35 per ticket if you haven't checked the website. However I have been to a number of these and find the aircraft flying such as Spitfires and Hurricanes with the occasional 747 aerial display certainly does warrant the entrance fee. Also the site does hold large gatherings throughout the year, a good example is Showbus, a celebration of Buses that gather from all over the country, even on days like this the various Museums and annexes are open and extremely busy.
I heartily recommend Duxford as a place to visit, however check before you go as to what is on and go early. To give some idea of the size from Airspace to Land Warfare is somewhere close to a mile in length and so a land train is used should anyone wish to forego the walk. This is one place that the children can wander freely and it is guaranteed that they will be totally zonked out by the end of the day.