Family day out: Brooklands Museum in Surrey
Whenever I visit Brooklands Museum in Surrey, there’ll be tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat at some point during the day. Not a great recommendation, you might think.
But the museum, on the site of the world’s oldest purpose-built race circuit, is also home to Concorde. And whenever we visit, the highlight for me is taking the tour of this iconic plane, hearing the history, the incredible achievement of supersonic flight and the thought these beautiful planes will never fly again (hence lump).
Well, not until my daughter is a bit older at least, as our visit inspired her announcement that she’d get Concorde airborne again when she grows up. I knew travel would be inspiring!
Because if the lovely hotel next door is the perfect weekend break for us as a family – check out my review of Brooklands Hotel to find out why – the museum is another perfect mix. I get my plane fix, my husband gets a huge car collection and plenty of vintage automobilia, and my four-year-old gets to climb inside a racing car, scamper around old planes and even sit in retro buses at the London Bus Museum on site.
We’d coincidentally timed our visit for one of the vintage car events which run from time to time, and while it was busier than normal (unsurprisingly), there was also plenty to see along with some cars parading around the grounds.
Plenty of people had dressed for the occasion too and the cars were gleaming – which made for some interesting effects on a sunny day.
As well as those parked outside, there are collections indoors, including a race simulator (which we skipped) and the chance to climb inside a race car – which Minnie tried enthusiastically. In fact, she’d already asked to get inside and I’d explained it wasn’t possible before I realised this was one place which lets you clamber on their exhibits – one exhibit, at least.
There’s plenty of fantastic detail to spot just as you walk around too, with old signs and even classic petrol pumps – sometimes, you suspect very little has changed apart from the people.
The bus collection is confined to one building, but seems even more extensive, with everything from original horse-drawn versions to different styles of classic omnibus – it reminded me of our visit to the London Transport Museum’s Acton Depot.
And finally, in a field, sit the planes. Not just Concorde, you can climb aboard a few different jets and look around but however interesting, they pale by comparison to the tour of this beautiful aircraft.
Unlike everything else at the museum, you need an additional timed ticket to see Concorde, so it’s worth sorting that first before all the slots book up. And I don’t think you need to be an aviation geek to be fascinated.
Starting with an introduction to its history and design from guides who really know their facts, there’s also a chance to ask questions before boarding – all while sitting in the kind of bus that shuttles you to and from planes.
The achievement is just astonishing: the problems of supersonic flight are so complex, the Americans spent a billion dollars and the only result was a wooden model, while NASA said it was easier to put a man on the moon than conquer supersonic flight. In fact there are more US astronauts than Concorde pilots…
The British-designed solution was a special design to slow the air down before it reached the engines, using precision computer-controlled ramps – back in the 1970s, this plane had eight digital computers on board.
It also needed a completely new design, including the famous droop nose which heated to 127C during flight, 13 fuel tanks which helped balance the plane and extra-powerful engines to allow it to reach the 250mph take-off speed needed on a normal length runway. No surprise that half the experienced pilots who took the six month training to fly the plane would fail.
Concorde was so quick that other aircraft would look like they were going backwards and you’d arrive in New York an hour before you left the UK, as the plane travelled faster than the Earth’s rotation.
And even if the plane has been grounded for well over a decade, with an interior that’s starting to look a little dated, there is nothing like climbing on board, getting to look at some of the mechanics, wandering up the aisle and discovering that the glamour of supersonic flight still can’t transform a plane bathroom.
Then finally taking a seat to watch a video of Concorde’s arrival at Brooklands, where part of the plane was actually built, and having a taste of the experience with a former pilot talking you through the steps to reaching Mach 2.
Then the terrible crash in Paris, the legacy of 9/11 and the world of aviation changed forever when the planes were retired in 2003. Walking back down into the sunshine, I’ll always feel a slight regret I never experienced the real thing – although a trip to Brooklands Museum in Surrey certainly has a much lower price tag… even if I have to buy my own champagne.
Need to know
The museum is open year-round except for a few days over Christmas. Summer opening is 10am to 5pm, and 10am to 4pm in winter – check here for details. Tickets cost £11 for adults, £6 for children aged five to 16, and under-fives are free.
The Concorde Experience costs £5 per adult and £3 for children (less for Brooklands Trust members). The museum has free parking.
There are activities during school holidays and on some event days, as well as a trail for children (although we didn’t get one, as I hadn’t realised they were available until afterwards). There are also cafes and baby changing on site, as well as soft play (although we were so busy exploring, we didn’t find that either).
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Disclosure: Although our stay at Brooklands Hotel was for the purposes of review, the decision to go to the museum was entirely our own and we paid for our own entry. All blubbing my own too.
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