Every now and again Mama realises that there are places to go in London which do not have anything to do with animals. One of those is the RAF Museum in Hendon, which is full of planes.
It also has a really big car park. I think that if Mama found out somewhere had a really big car park in London she would visit it no matter what it contained. Admittedly, the one at the RAF Museum is not free, but neither does it require lots of the shiny metal things Mama hordes so assiduously, and the museum itself does not charge for entry, so Mama doesn’t seem to mind. If you do, there is a limited amount of free parking on some of the streets round about.
Or, y’know, public transport, which might be a better option if, unlike us, you are not going on a Sunday. We have only ever visited on a Sunday. If you have to travel all across London by car, reasonably early on Sunday morning is the time to do it. Mama says.
The first section is the one with the older flying contraptions. You can walk around the gallery at the top and observe the ones suspended from the ceiling but that’s not the main point of the place.
No, the real attraction is that they have these REALLY AMAZING interactive touch screen information points, which I could play with forever. Press this, see the picture change, press that, see the picture change, press this, the picture rotates, press that and the picture stops rotating, press this, see the picture change, press that, hey Mama, pick me up again! I wanna press the buttons! Yes, there is a design flaw. You have to be a bit bigger than I was the first time we went to reach it all easily. But I’m getting there now! Next time it will be impossible to tear me away!
The ground floor allows you to get up close and personal with the plane undercarriages. Not that up close, though, although the rope barriers guarding them are rather lackadaisical. Someone really needs to do something about them. They seem to keep out the adults well enough but they are very easy for toddlers to climb over or slide under. Us small people can have a lot of fun flaunting our amazing ability by cavorting just out of grabbing reach underneath the planes.
However, I am not entirely convinced all of the machines displayed in this area would really fly. The looked quite flimsy. We discussed our favourite. The consensus of opinion was that we liked the one with the checked looking pattern in purple and green. Because it was pretty. Mama thought about pointing out the paintwork might have another purpose, but she suspected she might be overruled.
Then we went into a new hanger. The planes here were much bigger and rather less colourful. Even our adults seemed overawed by the sheer hugeness of some of them. It took quite a while to go round and see all of them, but that was just fine. There was plenty of room to run about, so it wasn’t necessary to find our own fun by hurdling the barriers too often. Also, because we were there quite early, we were allowed a moderate amount of overexcited shrieking. But even as it started to fill up later in the day, it never got really crowded.
Popular flying machines included the maaaahooooosive great back monster aeroplane for dropping things out of, an elegant varnished wooden one with brass fittings that looked like it should be a yacht for discerning rich people, the huge plane with raked back wings and scooped out with the TV inside showing how impressive a whole bunch of them looked taking off, the plane with its nose painted to look like a shark, which my Incredible Big Brother dragged us over to see specially, the one which had spent a great deal of time at the bottom of a lake and whose metalwork had gone an intriguing colour as a result, and ALL the toy ones in the shop, which is cunningly situated at the exit.
Mama avoided it by trekking us back the way we had come and going out the entrance the next time we came. Spoilsport.
If you start to get too rowdy, the grown ups can take you to where there is an extensive indoor play area at the back, with a whole bunch of child sized cockpits you can pretend to drive, various machines which have a wide range of button pressing or handle turning opportunities, some flying ping pong balls, the opportunity to fire a parcel out of a plane at a target, a bit of shape sorting, and other such things. We were happy. Mama seemed a bit disappointed that neither me nor my Superlative Big Brother came up to a line on the wall next to a large box which kept flinging itself around every time someone gave it some of the round metal things. Mama says it is a flight simulator, and she is clearly determined that one of us will want to have a go on it someday. I am not so sure.
There are also tables for eating your lunch on, and a cafe too not far away, right in the middle of some helicopters. Mama also discovered that you can get coffee in a takeaway cup to bring over to the picnic area, so basically, the refreshment options are pretty good all round.
In fact, the only problem with the play space is that it has two exits. Mama really wishes that in dedicated play areas she could let us go out of sight and relax with her coffee safe in the knowledge that we haven’t escaped the child-friendly section and are being sticky all over delicate paintwork somewhere else. But then I fell out of a plane on my head the time she tried being laid back, so hey. It’s probably best if she follows us around closely at all times anyway.
Anyway. The RAF Museum London. if your children like planes the way we like animals and horses, this place is an absolute must visit. But even if they don’t, a bunch of grounded aircraft are a lot more interesting than you might think. In addition, it’s certainly not as busy as the big central London museums, but there is just as much floor space to get some much needed exercise. The fact that the play area is indoors makes it just about perfect for any inclement day.
And don’t forget about the car park!
PS: Mama cannot find any photos of the RAF Museum. Either she is having a senior moment, which is possible as she is really really old, or the museum is SO GOOD that she forgot to take any. Whichever it is, we will be forced to return for pictures. Wheeeeee!
The Spitfire: Copyright Alan Wilson (CC BY-SA 2.0)
The Lancaster Bomber: Copyright Michael Reeve ( CC BY-SA 3.0 and GNU FDL)
The RAF Museum, Hendon’s website.
This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the Supermarine Spitfire aircraft.
Address: Grahame Park Way, London. Use the postcode NW9 5QW for your satnav.
Opening: 10am -6pm.
Price: Free (apart from the car park).
By tube: Colindale (Northern Line). Do NOT get off at Hendon Central.
By train: Mill Hill Broadway (15 mins walk) on the Luton/Kings Cross/Thameslink line.
By bus: The 303 bus goes directly past.
By car: Yes! You can go by car! There’s a car park! It costs up to £4 but it is TOTALLY WORTH IT (says Mama).