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A Day Trip to Bovington Tank Museum in Dorset

Bovington tank museum
Image: Bovington Tank Museum

Clank! Clank! I’m a Tank!

It is a fine and noble tradition that small boys, when playing “War” or “Cowboys and Indians” in the school playground, will yell at each other “Bang! Bang! You’re dead!”. The accepted response, if you didn’t want to die, is “Clank! Clank! I’m a Tank!” and you could continue to joyfully leather your opponent.

I’m not sure if small boys play “War” or “Cowboys and Indians” these days, as that’s probably long since been sacrificed on the altar of Political Correctness, and most school playing fields have been sold to Housing Developers, so opportunities to yell such phrases at each other are severely reduced in 2023.

I guess you can still do it online. In fact, they must do, because The Boy has recently developed a fascination with tanks, having previously gained an encyclopaedic knowledge of dinosaurs, Lego sets, Minecraft and guns, it is now the turn of tanks to be obsessed over by him.

a tank called fury
Tanks at the, erm, tank museum!

Mrs B, like all mothers, worries about the slow self-militarisation of The Boy but is internally torn. Like all right-minded people, she recognises that war, like Swindon, or ITV4, is a terrible and pointless thing, and she’s absolutely right.

However, she also understands that the Armed Forces are incredibly good at energising and enthusing idle layabouts such as herself and her husband to achieve many great things, and The Boy is definitely a chip off the old block in that regard.

a boy dressed in military gear with his face in camo
The Boy – only “slightly” interested in all things military

Fortunately, on that last glorious week of the School Summer Holidays, we’d arranged with some friends to go and “glamp” in the New Forest for a few days at Omaha Meadows campsite on the border of Hampshire and Dorset, on the outskirts of Verwood.

Well, I say arrange. What actually happened was that we held a party earlier in the year, got drunk, woke up feeling a bit hungover and discovered that after several drinks we’d signed up, not only to glamp for a few days, but I had been taken advantage of in my drunken state and agreed to take all the children for a day out while the girls went and found a spa for a well deserved day of relaxation.

Oh my.

What is a man to do with loads of children in Dorset? 

Fortunately, at this very moment, The Boy burst into the room and demanded to know the makes and models of every tank in the US Army’s inventory in World War 2 and a small idea formed in the darkest recesses of my tiny brain.

“Son” I gently offered. “How would you like to go and see a load of tanks at the Bovington Tank Museum?”

Based on his reaction, I might as well have offered to give him his Christmas presents early, because, as it turns out, if there’s one thing eight-year-old boys like more than Christmas presents, it’s the promise of a vast building full of armour. I suspect this enthusiasm is not limited just to eight-year-olds, even The Girl (her being firmly in her sequins, art and not getting dirty phase) was a bit curious about it, so that was settled.

The ladies would go off and get massaged by beauticians, and us boys would go off and be massaged by the roar of tank engines and the torsion bar suspension that, as I now know, is fitted to the T-72 Battle Tank.  

Glamping in Dorset

glamping tents in a field in dorset
Glamping at Omaha Meadows

And so it came to pass that on a hot August weekend we duly loaded up the car and set off an hour and bit down the road to Omaha Meadows. The glamping site itself was perfectly lovely, located right on the edge of the stunning Moors Valley Country Park, itself worth a separate blog that Mrs B will no doubt make me write at some point. 

a boy running through the tree path at Moors country park
Moors Valley Country Park is worth a visit while you are in the area!

The glamping site itself was quite small but perfect for a long weekend, with just 2 large Bell Tents for Glamping. Inside each tent was a Double Bed (thank God!), 2 single fold-out children’s beds, plates and cutlery, electric lighting and a charging point.

Just outside each Bell Tent was a BBQ, a Fire Pit (an optional extra) and tables and chairs. The lovely couple who run it, Alan and Jayne, can also supply charcoal, marshmallows and skewers for a small extra charge, which I recommend you do if you have kids. Toilets and showers are on site.

a campfire
A little evening campfire

What pleasantly surprised me was the hot drinks pack to make tea and coffee and a “Breakfast Pack” which was also included in the price. You get the choice of the Continental style, which we didn’t get, so can’t comment on, or the Full English Breakfast pack, which contained great quality sausages and bacon, Heinz beans, fresh eggs, and tomatoes, thus ensuring everyone has a really good feed at the start of the day.

It altogether felt like we were having a really lovely time in someone’s back garden. Because we were.     

Travel to Bovington Tank Museum

a boy sat in a people carrier at the tank museum
Travel to the tank museum in an actual tank, not advisable.

After a full breakfast expertly cooked by myself, we dropped the women off in the nearby town of Ringwood and drove for about 45 minutes across the beautiful Dorset countryside.

If you’re car-less, for any reason, the Tank Museum’s nearest station is Wool (1.5 miles), which is on the South Western Railway mainline from London Waterloo to Weymouth. Trains are frequent in both directions and whilst it is walkable in about 30 minutes, there’s a shuttle bus to the museum in the summer months.

We drove. Slowly, the beautiful countryside gave way to the obvious markings of a Ministry of Defence Training Area. Tank track-shaped mud deposits covered the roads and ominous warning signs threatened death and destruction to any unwary civilians straying off the beaten track.

The Bovington Tank Museum is co-located with quite a large British Army garrison in the area, and once I saw my first short-haired man wearing a tracksuit, I knew we were close. Luckily, the way in is well signposted, so you do end up where you need to be, and not inadvertently in a recruiting office signing up for the conflict in Ukraine.

Bovington Tank Museum 

children in a small tank in the children's area at the tank museum
Tank museum fun for the kids

As with many attractions these days, tickets are valid for one year from the date of purchase should you wish to come back again. An adult ticket (16+) will set you back £17.55 if you’re organised and buy it in advance online, or £19.50 if you’re disorganised and buy them on the door.

Children are £9.90 or £11 and a family ticket (2 Adults + 2 Children) is £45 or £50. Kids under 4, serving members of any Armed Forces and members of Royal Armoured Corps Regimental Associations are free.

Once the painful bit of parting with money is over, there are ten separate areas to explore, starting with “The Tank Story” which tells the story of the tank from 1915 to the Present Day. It goes on to tell the history of the tank throughout the wars of the last century, all the way through to the excellent “Battlegroup Afghanistan” exhibition that shows Helmand Province in 2011, complete with a recreated Forward Operating Base.

a boy escaping the trenches at the tank museum

Having been in a few, I wasn’t sure if that made me old, or a curiosity. I’d also call out the excellent “Tank Men – The Story of the First Tank Crews” and “The Trench Experience” set in 1916 in France.

What struck me most about the entire museum though is that while the mechanical engineering and innovation on display were undoubtedly impressive, the museum curators had clearly put a lot of thought into the displays to highlight that it wasn’t the machines themselves that were the focus, but the men and women who designed, build, maintained and fought in them.

There was what I can only describe as a rich stream of humanity in every exhibition that was more impressive and somehow stronger than the piles of metal on display if that makes sense to you. It’s almost like they’re saying “Hey look, we know tanks are cool, but people are cooler“.

The Memorial Room commemorates the sacrifice of almost 13,000 Royal Armoured Corps soldiers who have died in service since the Corps was founded in 1939 and you can watch some really moving videos about those who fought for the country. All in all, it makes for a pretty impressive and immersive experience.

a boy sat on a camp cot in a reinactment of a bedroom in afghanistan
A typical Afghanistan bunkroom

Eat and Drink

After much excitement and looking at tanks saying “oooh” and “aaaah”, it was perhaps inevitable that the children promptly announced there were hungry and luckily, the Museum contains both a Restaurant and a Café.

Another impressive touch is that, where possible, they have tried to use Dorset and South West suppliers for the museum’s food and drink, so there are things like the interestingly named Piddle Brewery beer and loads of food from local farms.

We opted for the excellent and reasonably priced café, where The Boy was delighted to see hot dogs, The Girl was delighted to find her much-loved Bubble Tea for sale, and I was delighted to see the café was next to a soft play area I could throw the children into while I had a ham sandwich.

If you’re organised enough to bring a picnic, picnic benches are provided and there’s also an indoor picnic area, available during weekends and school holidays.

a people carrier at the tank museum
Thumbs up for the tank museum

Suitably fortified at a reasonable price, we moved on to the remaining displays, but the highlight of the day was undoubtedly a chance to ride in a tracked vehicle.

Over the Dorset Easter, May and Summer school holidays, there’s normally some sort of outdoor display on, and for an additional £3 each, we got a thrilling ride on an M548. Just in case you’re not my son and have no idea what I’m on about, that’s an unarmoured, general-purpose cargo carrier that uses the running gear of the M113 APC. A passenger tank, if you will.

It was fair to say that we definitely had our fill of tanks and it was genuinely a brilliant day out with something for everything. Once we’d negotiated the traditional yet terrifying ride that is Exit via Gift Shop, we made it out with wallets relatively unscathed and headed back for the peace of the campsite and the promise of an exploration of the lovely Moors Valley Country Park the next day.

a tank outside the tank museum in Bovington
Bovington Tank Museum – a fun day out for all!

We picked up Mrs B on the way back who looked ten years younger from her child-free spa day and happy to see the children, although perhaps slightly less happy at the amount of sugar they’d managed to consume on a single day out. 

As we walked back to the campsite through the woods, The Boy couldn’t resist a quick game of soldiers in the perfect summer evening light and cheerfully sprinted through the sunlit woods. “Bang! Bang! You’re dead!” I yelled as he fled through the trees.

No Dad!” he yelled back. “Clank! Clank! I’m a Tank!”

The kids are alright.

The Tank Museum is located in Bovington, Dorset and the postcode for your SatNav is BH20 6JG. It is open from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm daily except 24, 25 and 26 of December. Event Days that may require special tickets can be seen here.

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