Half Term on the High Seas at IWM North

To my shame I’ve never visited the Imperial War Museum North. I remember it being built and everyone who has been has always had really good things to say about it but I’ve never made the trip. Now the Metrolink is nearby I have absolutely no excuse not to visit. We were invited to a preview of the War at Sea family activity week which will be running over the February half term. Between 14th and 22nd February family visitors can take part in a week of free activities to discover what life was like on the high seas. From submarines to sea mines, families can explore the past 100 years at sea through storytelling, craft activities and objects on display. Sounds good, so we thought we’d check it out.

We are lucky enough to have our very own salty sea-dog in our family, a Submariner from the Australian Navy and we thought he’d enjoy a trip out too. We arrived at Salford Quays and were mightily impressed with the tank outside, this was only a small taster of what we would see inside.

IWM North

We were taken to the main exhibition space and in a cosy corner we talked about the adventures of Able Seaman Wally Tobin in A Sailor’s Story interactive storytelling session. This was a lovely moment with all the children sat listening to the story and joining in when they could. It was a nice introduction to life on the ocean wave for the children and the small boy was gripped, though loathe to join in. After the storytelling we went back downstairs to the learning studio to make our very own message in a bottle.

The learning studio is a great place for kids, with things to look at and read, as well as comfy sofas, toys and a brilliant dressing up box. We played in here for a little while before moving back to the main exhibition space to have a proper look around.

IWM North was apparently designed to make you feel a bit disorientated and confused, much the way war would make you feel. The floor in the main exhibition space slopes by two metres, it’s dark and there are films and images projected against the large white walls. It is disorientating and I felt a bit wonky for a few hours after we left.

IWM North

The exhibition space is full of interesting artefacts and stories, from modern day conflicts right back to WW1. On the whole the collection is interesting, varied, fascinating, with lots of activities for children to get involved in along the way. I think we viewed it on two levels, for me I was incredibly moved by the steel from the World Trade Center and small trinkets of everyday life people had on the during the wars, items of clothing, precious things they made themselves in prisoner of war camps, that kind of thing. My son who is four loved the vehicles, the Harrier Jump Jet (how did they get it in there?), the small fire engine, the tanks and cars. He like the activities, smelling the less than lovely odours from the WW1 trenches. But I was very moved by the whole experience.

As we were getting to the end of the main exhibition, a warning came on that they were about to show a film and the lights would go out, we stuck around and we were really glad we did. A fantastic film flickered around us, projected on all those tall white walls. The film told the story of the Home Front in WW2 and it was fascinating. We felt utterly involved in the experience and were quite moved by it, even the small boy watched it, I think more for the whiz bangs than anything. It was an incredible, immersive experience.

We’d worked up an appetite for lunch so we went to the Watershard Cafe for a spot of lunch. The food was well priced and excellent quality. The boys had a rather excellent beef stew, mash and green beans, I had soup and the small boy had the “ration pack” lunch, which was five items of yumminess. We all really enjoyed lunch.

IWM North

After lunch we decided to take a trip up the Airshard which is a lift which takes you up 29 metres so you can view the city. Submariners are not known for their love of heights and none of the menfolk I was with fully appreciated the views from the (incredibly safe) Airshard. I took a few pictures but it was a cloudy day and Salford Quays, though always beautiful, was not looking her very best.

The IWM North is a brilliant free day out. There’s so much to see and do there and although we spent a good three hours looking around, we’re looking forward to going again and exploring some more.

If you’re local it’s well worth a visit to IWM North this February half term, there are lots of events and special activities planned during that week, you can find more information on the IWM North website.

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