I know what you’re thinking. Bletchley Park doesn’t begin with an X. Thankfully, it’s a destination that is also known as Station X so I can sort of get away with it (mostly because it’s my challenge and I make up the rules). Turns out it’s quite hard to find places to go that begin with an X, but thankfully I’ve been wanting to go to Bletchley for a while anyway.
I walked to Bletchley from the direction of the train station, which must have been the same journey that many, many codebreakers experienced when they turned up. For them, though, they wouldn’t have known what on earth it was they were letting themselves in for. I, meanwhile, had a good idea what to expect and wasn’t disappointed.
You get one of those multimedia audio guide things to walk you round the site, and the main highlights are the lake, the mansion and the huts. There are other bits and pieces open, and plenty of stuff that isn’t open or is in progress, but those three pieces were the areas that left a lasting impression. The beautiful lake sits in front of the mansion, and you’re immediately confronted with boards that tell you about what life was like in this secretive place – difficult to find time to relax in, almost impossible to maintain relationships in, amongst a backdrop of hugely complex tasks to complete.
The mansion has a mockup of some offices and yet more information about how the residents spent their spare time – Bletchley Park Drama Group gets quite a high billing. From there, it’s round the corner to the garages for a look at the motorbikes and cars in use during the period, and then down to the huts.
There are a couple of huts that have exhibitions about the machines used to break the codes, and the machines that were used to make the codes in the first place (so many Enigmas!) as well as plenty of documents from the period, including letters from Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower about the people at Bletchley.
Some huts are exhibitions only but some are set up like they would have been at the time. Here’s where you really get the chills down your spine, treading the same boards as these incredible people that worked so hard under difficult conditions to make a huge difference to the entire world. There are a lot of rooms that are essentially just desks and pencils and telephones but even so, there’s something weirdly compelling about the whole thing.
And then to the museum, where there’s a whole floor dedicated to Alan Turing, and whilst it’s true that he was one of many people that made a big difference at Bletchley Park, his really is the story that resonates. I walked round the museum taking it all in, but then when I saw Turing’s teddy bear, I had to make a swift exit because it made me feel a bit weepy.
I’m not 100% sure the site actually taught me anything I didn’t already know, except perhaps the sheer scale of the operation and the great exhibits that explained the steps gone through to get a message from the field and spit it out the other end decoded and useful. Mostly it was just a matter of being there, seeing the place with my own eyes, and thinking, yet again, about the incredible efforts of people who worked so hard so that I can live the life I do today.