Frigates and clippers, galleons and liners – these famous ships and authentic replicas have weighed anchor on the coast of Britain and are well worth exploring.
Words Lisa Sykes.
1. For explorers
Golden Hind Museum Ship, Brixham Harbour, Devon
The Golden Hind in Torbay is a full-sized replica of Sir Francis Drake’s ship – the one in which he became the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe. Following an epic expedition lasting three years from 1577, the Golden Hind returned to Elizabethan England laden with a vast cargo of plundered treasures. Brixham Pirate Festival takes place in April/May and the ship plays a key role. (01803 856223, goldenhind.co.uk).
Looking to make a stay of it? Take a look at our top Devon hotels.
2. For wartime drama
The U-boat Story, Birkenhead, Liverpool
Why did U-534 refuse to surrender? Theories such as the secret mission, the nazi gold and the rogue captain abound but the truth is, no one really knows what happened on 5 May, 1945, aboard this German sub. She was raised from the seabed after 40 years in the vain hope of finding hidden treasure. Film archive and interactive displays bring all the action alive and you can look into the U-boat for an insight into life aboard during wartime. (0151 330 1000, u-boatstory.co.uk).
3. For a sense of style
SS Great Britain, Great Western Dock, Bristol
Billed as ‘the ship that changed the world’, this was the first great ocean liner, designed by Brunel and launched in 1843. Peep inside the First Class cabins, stroll on the decks and take in the bustle of the ship preparing to set sail. Below the waterline is a fish’s-eye view of the hull. Don’t miss the story in the Dockyard Museum of the 8,000-mile rescue from her resting place in the Falklands Islands back to the dock where she was built 127 years earlier. (0117 926 0680, ssgreatbritain.org).
4. For regal splendour
Royal Yacht Britannia, Leith, Edinburgh
Home to Her Majesty the Queen and the royal family for over 40 years, Britannia has sailed more than a million miles around the world. Now berthed in Edinburgh, visitors can have a good old nosey around the state apartments, crew quarters and engine room, following a self-guided audio tour. Check out the Rolls-Royce Phantom that was always on board and see more of life below decks in the sick bay and the laundry. Finish up in style with tea in the Royal Deck Tea Room. (0131 555 5566, royalyachtbritannia.co.uk).
For more regal splendour, take a look at our luxury Scotland hotels.
5. For scientists
Discovery, Dundee Antarctic exploration
This is the story of Discovery, from her beginnings in Dundee and Captain Scott’s Antarctic expedition, through her long ocean-going career until her final journey home. Find out about the design features that allowed her to survive the extreme polar conditions and explore Discovery for yourself with an area-by-area tour of the ship. (01382 309060, rrsdiscovery.com).
6. For shipaholics
Chatham Dockyard, River Medway, Kent
There’s so much to see at this home of shipbuilding through the centuries: you can get a feel of what life was like as a sailor on board HMS Gannet, a Victorian naval sloop, experience Arctic conditions on HMS Cavalier, the WWII destroyer, and as a Cold War submariner, you can squeeze through HMS Ocelot’s tiny compartments. On land, try your hand at making your own rope in the Victorian ropery and learn more about shipbuilding on the pipe-bending floor. The RNLI Historic Lifeboat Collection is here too. (01634 823800, thedockyard.co.uk/).
7. For romance of the sea
Cutty Sark, Greenwich
The last-surviving tea clipper and the fastest and greatest of her time, this is one of the world’s most famous ships, which visited every major port after her launch in 1869. Last year’s refit means you can venture aboard in the footsteps of the merchant seamen who sailed her over a century ago. Named for the Scottish legend of Tam O’Shanter, which Robert Burns turned into a poem, the Cutty Sark is a beautiful reminder of the golden age of sailing. (rmg.co.uk/cuttysark).
8. For fans of the Tudors
Mary Rose, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
The story of the Mary Rose is an intriguing one: Henry VIII watched, in vain, as his favourite ship sank in front of him, taking hundreds of the crew with her. Then there’s the tale of the quest to find, excavate, raise and ultimately save her for the nation. A new museum opened in early 2013 reuniting the hull of the Mary Rose with many of the 19,000 Tudor artefacts recovered from the seabed. She’s not the only ship to visit at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. You can also walk the decks of the world’s oldest commissioned warship, learning about those who sailed and died with Nelson on HMS Victory; compare the engineering advances as you step on board HMS Warrior 1860, plus there’s also the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Harbour Tours, and the interactive Action Stations. (023 9275 0521, maryrose.org, 023 9283 9766, historicdockyard.co.uk).
9. For stretching your sealegs
Bark Endeavour, The Captain Cook Experience, Whitby, North Yorkshire
This scaled replica of the famous ship was built by Whitby craftsmen at 40% of her former size and, unlike most other historic vessels, you can take to the sea in her. Regular sailings travel from Whitby Harbour, where the original Endeavour was launched in 1764, along the coast to Sandsend to see the Jurassic coastline of North Yorkshire. On your journey, listen to sea shanties and learn about Captain Cook, who was born nearby. Sent to Tahiti by the Royal Society to observe Venus crossing the face of the sun, Cook chartered New Zealand and ‘claimed’ Eastern Australia before returning home. ‘Bark’ refers to the way the ship was made – larch planks steamed into shape and fastened on to an English oak frame. (01723 364100, endeavourwhitby.com).
10. For playing battleships
Maritime Experience, Hartlepool
Set among this recreation of an 18th-century seaport is the oldest warship still afloat, HMS Trincomlee – nicknamed the ‘mari-time machine’. The theme is life aboard a naval frigate during the time of Nelson, Napoleon and the Battle of Trafalgar – an audio tour features tales of bloody wars and rat-infested dinners. On the historic quay, enjoy guided tours. (01429 860077, hartlepoolsmaritimeexperience.com).