All aboard the SS Great Britain

A food blogger never stops exploring food. This week, something a little different a visit to SS Great Britain in Bristol with Granddaughter in tow.

Tilly's waiting until she 10 - she can then climb the rigging.
Tilly’s waiting until she 10 – she can then climb the rigging.

Tilly decided that the green-grey water must have a crocodile in it, but it was probably hiding just at that moment.Tilly loves to run and climb. She loves making things with Grandad. I love seeing things from a 4 and a half year old’s perspective (the half is very important). She’d previously been on a ferry so was very keen to visit a ship. When we explained it was very old, she decided it might be “stinky”. Why we asked? “Because it is old”. So there you are.

On seeing SS Great Britain she thought it looked like a pirate ship and couldn’t wait to explore. We headed straight to the ship where she was in her element – plenty of room to run, to climb up steps and to steer the ship. She was fascinated by the chickens who lived on board and had laid an egg. Down below she wasn’t so sure about the atmospheric noises especially the disembodied male telling us not to open the toilet door (we loved that) but absolutely loved the bunk beds with curtains. So much so that when we’d visited everything else she had to go back for a second look.

We loved that she could touch things, open trunks and baskets and try out the bunks. We could relax and just let her enjoy it.

I found the kitchen fascinating. Full of props recreating the space the cooks had to work in. Dark, hot and stuffy. The current kitchen is a long galley shaped room to one side of the ship where food for the cafe is cooked. In the first class salon we were able to taste dishes that the first class passengers ate – quite tasty and those for the steerage –  very dry and only redeemed by the addition of spice. Grandad loved looking at the machinery and he and Tilly inspected several nuts and bolts that were just a bit larger than the ones in her Meccano set.

Looking out of a port hole was high on Tilly’s list so we lifted her up. We then explained we could go down and see the bottom of the ship. Having spied the water surrounding the boat she couldn’t see how that was possible. Underneath, she was fascinated by the holes in the metal and how smooth the modern rudder is and padding in the damp bits.

Outside a friendly member of staff suggested we go and decorate a ship’s biscuit. Ship’s biscuits could take up blog post on their own. There are historical mentions of ship’s biscuits back as far as the 12th century. In Nelson’s time, sailors received around 3 kilos of ship’s biscuit made of flour, water and salt. To eat, just add water, but don’t mind the weevils. Sailors had to bang the biscuits on the table to get rid of the vermin. The British Sign Language sign for biscuit mimics this action! Strangely enough ship’s biscuits were also given as love tokens.

Tilly decorated her biscuit and left it to dry. Off to steer the ship. On one exhibit she could see how ropes were moved and what happened as the wheel turned, on another she could engage the engine.

How the food tasted in 1861. Just hop you weren't in steerage
How the food tasted in 1861 – you wouldn’t have wanted to be in steerage

We had glimpses of other visitors who were enjoying their visits in a different way – listening to audio descriptions, interacting with Mr Brunel, dressing up in the clothes of the day for a photograph and tying knots. It’s a rare visitor attraction that engages people of all ages in the way that SS Great Britain does.

It does look like a pirate ship, doesn't it!
It does look like a pirate ship, doesn’t it!

We asked Tilly what she liked best. “The bunk beds and going under the water. It wasn’t stinky at all”. For us? We appreciated all the thought and extra touches that made a visit both special and easy. A great visit.

Catering for all

I am sure you’ll agree, that if you find good food and pleasant surroundings that suit all the family, it bodes well. It is possibly the number one requirement for these grandparents. The cafe at SS Great Britain is a lovely space. There’s a good choice of tasty dishes. My mediterranean quiche was accompanied by a water melon and feta salad – delicious. Grandad had a tuna toastie and Tilly was very happy to tuck into a child’s ham and cheese toastie. For children, you could also go for a sandwich, drink and yogurt combination.

I’d suggest eating early if you’re visiting in school holidays like we did. We popped in again after our visit and had tea and cake (red velvet). There were nice touches – serve yourself water, colouring sheets for the children using motifs from the ship, plenty of books and information to look at. The sort of cafe you’d visit regularly, not simply because it is next to an attraction.

Tickets and Parking

The Dock Yard Cafe
The Dock Yard Cafe

Family tickets (2 adults and 2 or 3 children are £37) Grandparent tickets (2 adults and 2 or 3 children are £34) with tickets for visitors with one adult and children.Tickets to Brunel’s SS Great Britain include free unlimited return visits for a year.

We spent about 3 hours there. There’s plenty to do and with older children or just by yourselves, you’d probably spend longer. We’d highly recommend it as a day out.

There is a reasonably sized carpark and, a nice touch, 5 hours parking will cost £2 if you take the ticket to the ticket desk. We don’t know Bristol well and were relying on our sat nav which tried to take us over a bridge that’s closed. There’s a lot of construction work in the area at the moment, so do plan your route!

Brunel’s SS Great Britain
Great Western Dockyard
United Kingdom

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Check out Coombe Mill which in addition to self-catered accommodation is a great resource for family days out!

SS Great Britain provided a Family Ticket for Danielle

Country Kids

16 thoughts on “All aboard the SS Great Britain”

  1. Hi we are not too far from Bristol but yet to look around this ship, good to know more about it. Over half term we visited HMS Belfast so this would be a big contrast. #CountryKids

  2. It looks like a great way to spend a day-I know that my son would love it! It’s so great when an attraction has thought of all the little details to make a truly family friendly fun day out. #countrykids

  3. It’s great seeing things through little peoples eyes, they put a view on things we don’t even contemplate 🙂 it looks like you all had a lovely trip #countrykidsfun

  4. I have a post still to write up about our visit there in October – we were so impressed, my son loved every minute of our time there. The cafe was very popular when we were there too, but good food #CountryKids

  5. The cafe really is good – apparently they’ve recently had a new manager. It was so lovely to be somewhere where touching things was positively encouraged!

  6. Old ships are such a wonderful insight into life on the sea so long ago. SS Great Britain looks as though it has been lovingly restored to give you a really good feel for how life aboard would have been. We haven’t been but it reminds me a little of the big boats at the Royal Dockyards at Portsmouth. I’m adding the SS Great Britain to my list of places to visit now seeing your lovely photos. I always find the kitchens amazing and like your daughter the bunk beds too!

    Thank you for linking up and sharing with me at Country Kids

  7. My girls loved visiting the SS Great Britain- it’s hard not to get excited about running about on deck. Love the biscuit making activity. Must have a look into visiting again some time!

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