The SS Great Britain was one of the attractions that I was taken to see the first time I visited Bristol, five years ago. I remember really enjoying going around the ship and seeing all the different areas with added sounds and smells which brought the ship to life. I have to admit that getting to dress up was also a fun activity and added to the immersive experience. Although I had a great time, having been once I hadn’t returned as there are so many other things in Bristol that I am yet to see and do. However, recently the opportunity came up to visit the new Being Brunel museum on its opening weekend which seemed like the perfect time to reacquaint myself with the ship.
The opening of the new Being Brunel museum has been much anticipated – six galleries featuring 150 of Brunel’s personal artefacts, bringing together the world’s most significant Brunel collection. I’d watched and read a lot of the press coverage eagerly, looking forward to going and seeing it for myself. Whilst I was also eager to look around the rest of the SS Great Britain again, once we’d been issued our tickets the new Being Brunel museum was where we headed first.
As soon as you enter the museum there are a selection of different top hats that you can put on, and immediately imagine yourself as Isambard Kingdom Brunel. One of the best things about the museum was the fact that it was interactive and immersive in a range of different ways, whilst still being incredibly informative. Science and Engineering aren’t particular interests of mine, but I found the museum really interesting, particularly when I quickly realised how little I actually knew about Brunel himself. I hadn’t even known that his father was an engineer!
One of my favourite activities in the Being Brunel museum was trying to draw a circle on an ipad on an 1830s broad-gauge railway carriage which was shaking from side to side – it was rather difficult! Apparently Brunel used to carry a notebook and pencil with him everywhere and would draw circles on his various train journeys to see how smooth the ride was (he could draw a perfect circle when sitting still). One of the other slightly bizarre facts I came away with was the fact that he used to smoke 48 cigars a day!
The other part that I particularly enjoyed was walking around Brunel’s original and fully restored Dock Office where incredible attention to detail had been taken to make it feel and look as it would have done in the nineteenth century.
Once we’d immersed ourselves in Brunel’s mind (one of the features is a multi-sensory cinema experience where you can observe moments from his life as if you were seeing it through his eyes) and world, it was time to explore the rest of the SS Great Britain attraction. As part of our visit we had booked to Go Aloft and climb the rigging on the ship. I am not a fan of heights, and neither is James, so this was a bit of an intimidating challenge but we were blessed with beautiful blue skies so at least knew we would get a good view over Bristol.
After being fitted with our kit and given a safety briefing we were ready to climb the 25 metres up to the viewing platform. It was a shame that we couldn’t take cameras with us as the views were excellent and it provided me with a perspective of Bristol that I haven’t ever seen before. I was happy to stay on the platform before heading down, but James decided to step out onto the main yard before returning to the deck of the ship. I felt sick just watching him so knew this wasn’t for me, but if you like a bit of added adventure or challenge then this is a great addition to the day out.
We just had enough time to wander around the ship and go down into the Dry Dock before we had to return home. If you are planning to go and visit the SS Great Britain for the first time then I would leave a day for the attraction (if you finish early it’s a good excuse to wander around the harbourside). We spent most of the afternoon there, and could easily have stayed longer as we didn’t go around the Dockyard Museum having done this before. I really enjoyed our visit and think that the Being Brunel museum is a great addition to the whole attraction, whether or not you are interested in engineering. It’s certainly somewhere I’ll be taking visitors in the future!
Disclaimer: I was given free access to the SS Great Britain, Being Brunel and Go Aloft! in return for this blog post. All opinions are my own as usual.