Last week I went to the National Museum of Computing for the first time and returned to Bletchley Park for the second. The two museums are in Milton Keynes with a short, five minute walk between them. They also offer all day access so you can easily swap between one and the other, providing you keep your receipt as proof of payment.
The National Museum of Computing offered a daily tour which I went on, lasting around an hour and a half. Our tour guide was fairly new to volunteering there so had to carry flashcards to reference, but all considering he was pretty good. The tour went through the whole museum, starting with the machines used in the second world war, such as Colosseus and then progressed through the early history of computing. It was a good experience as the museum had all the machines that went along with the exhibition, including ones such as Colosseus, meaning that the design was explained well but you were also about to see them in action.
My favourite part of the museum was all the early video games they had. They had some of the firsts, such as Space Invaders and Tetris, as well as the pioneers in consoles, Nintendo 64 and the original PlayStation to name a couple. All the consoles were equipped with the classics and you was able to play on all of them as you wished as we were given free reign to the museum after the tour.
Once we had finished that museum we progressed onto Bletchley Park. This site is quite a large one, so if you’re the type who likes to read every exhibit then it’s best to arrive here early or visit a couple times to avoid the feeling of being rushed. The site offers free audio guides as well as the option of going on a tour around parts of the site, allowing you to grasp what the place would have looked like during WWII. And in terms of eating, there’s a cafe at the entrance and next to the house, the latter getting absolutely packed during midday.
The site seems to cover just about everything you’d want to know about coding in the war, providing a comprehensive guide about each section. They also focus on people not as widely known, such as Bill Tuttle who had his own exhibit, as well as covering many a operation and the lifestyle of the workers at Bletchley.
For those who are more interested in the machines themselves, Bletchley has its own rebuilt Bombe, based off Turing’s design. Every hour or so a volunteer turns it on to give a demonstration and talk. However if you miss this, or dislike the pack of people watching, there tends to be a volunteer stationed nearby who I’m sure would be able to give you a good amount of information.
With every visit to the site, Bletchley offers you the option to upgrade your ticket to allow you to visit again. This option is free and only takes a few minutes to sort so it is definitely a feature I recommend. You must return within a year for it to be valid, similar to Blenheim Palace, meaning you can go shortly after to visit the exhibits you didn’t have the chance to see, or you could wait until their temporary exhibits change and return with fresher eyes.
Both the National Museum of Computing and Bletchley Park are places worth visiting due to the comprehensive, well rounded knowledge you leave with. The park is also a beautiful site to walk around which is a refreshing alternative to museums simply contained in one building. I’ve linked both the National Museum of Computing and Bletchley Park, and if you do decide to visit I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.