3 August 2009
One museum, three locations.
The National Waterways Museum is split across three sites in Gloucester Docks in Gloucestershire, Stoke Bruerne in Northamptonshire and Ellesmere Port in Cheshire. This is a review of the first two as I've not yet visited the Ellesmere Port museum. If you plan to visit more than one of these locations then be sure to ask for a season ticket which gives you unlimited access to all 3 locations for a year.
Kids under 5 are free at the museums and on the boat trip at
Gloucester Docks; you do have to pay for young children on the boat trip at Stoke Bruerne, even babies.
Gloucester Docks National Waterways Museum
I have visited the Gloucester Docks museum on two occasions now. On the first we just visited the museum, but on our subsequent visit we went on the boat ride as well. I've already posted a review of Gloucester Docks National Waterways Museum from our earlier visit.
The museum is great for children. Upstairs (with lift) there is a museum with some exhibits and videos, but downstairs is more interactive with computers, a boat race and a working canal with locks and boat lift. You may want to bring a change of clothes for the last two as they involve playing with water and the children do get a little wet. These are great, the kids love them. The only complaint is that they were quite high up. They could do with some of the toilet trainer style stools to allow the children to play with the boats. My four year old daughter could just about reach (except for the boat lift), but any younger and they will need lifting.
There is also a environmental interactive display area and a table with some pictures to colour and crayons (but only one chair).
Outside there are some floating exhibits which you can go on-board including two narrow boats and a steam powered dredger. Children need to be carefully supervised, but I managed to take my daughter and son (in my arms) onto two of these. It was good actually going on real floating exhibits rather than the usual part model boats inside the museum.
The boat ride was quite good. It was 45 minutes up the ship canal, passing through a lifting bridge and a swing bridge. The boat had an area that was covered as well as an open area in the front. They also allowed us to bring our pushchair on the boat which we folded up and left at one side, although I'm not sure how that works when they are busy. The kids enjoyed the boat-ride, but they were getting restless and needed a toilet by the end of it so I'm glad it wasn't any longer.
There are baby changing facilities in the disabled toilet.
There is a cafe next door, but we ate before we arrived so I don't know what it was like. There is also a shop with a subway just a few minutes walk away.
There is car parking nearby. The signs direct you to large car park 2 minutes walk away, but that is often busy. At weekends you can park in-front of the museum itself which had lots of spare spaces if passing the normal car park on your right, go straight on and then turn right. There is a sign saying no access except for museum and car park as the road is buses only after the museum.
Stoke Bruerne National Waterways Museum
The museum at Stoke Bruerne is a bit more of a traditional museum without the same hands-on children's activities as Gloucester docks. The museum shop is on the ground floor and the museum is accessed using stairs to the 2nd and 3rd floors. There is no lift available so I had to carry our youngest. A hand-help audio commentary is provided included in the admission fee. This covers not only the exhibits in the museum, but also a walk along the canal towpath up to the tunnel.
The walk is mostly accessible with pushchair, although I did not try the part of the walk that went through the woods instead going straight back along the tow-path. We had really good weather when we visited so we had a picnic on the bench at the side of the canal. There is a cafe and a pub nearby with a children's play area.
There is also an education centre behind the museum that is free (I believe even for those not visiting the museum). It had a full-size model boat and some clothes to dress up in, but didn't have much else. Some craft activities would have gone down better with my children.
The canal boat ride was in a fairly small boat which had a roof to protect against the elements. The boat ride was about 20 minutes going up the canal and a short-way into the tunnel before briefly switching off the lights and then going back. It was a reasonable price, but I would have thought that the one year old would have been free.
We also had a walk down in the other direction allowing the children to see a real lock in action.
Best for Kids?
These museums are both worth a visit. Of these the Gloucester Docks was the one that our children enjoyed the most. It is much more hands-on and captured their interest more. Gloucester Docks is also better for wet weather.
The one at Stoke Bruerne is good to visit on a sunny day and you can have a walk down the canal as well as visiting the museum.
Both museums are worth visiting and the price of a season ticket is a bargain.