The panther-like growl of a number of delicious Aston’s rolling into the Naval Heritage base in Plymouth was, for once, overshadowed by the sheer history of the venue. We didn’t spend much time looking at the sleek lines of our vehicles but instead were mesmerised by the line up of sinister black whales in the usually off limits area of the naval dockyard. The “whales” were of course submarines – now decommissioned, sitting low in the water, their conning towers no longer looking for enemy action but instead surveying the peaceful waters of Plymouth sound.
The event was all things nautical and is a day that will linger long in our minds – not least because we were offered the chance to go to places not easily accessible to the public.
So on a crisp November Saturday we cruised into the rather rubbly car park under the watchful eye of a security matelot whose eyes grew to saucer proportions as one after another of beautiful Astons rumbled in under his nose.
25 AMOC members took the tour. The volunteers who looked after us were exceptional . After a warming cup of coffee we were treated to a fascinating talk about the history of the dockyard, and then taken round the museum – housed in the old Georgian buildings. So much to see and not enough time to pore over the sepia prints, the old uniforms, the glimpse of life on board from the earliest seafaring days of Plymouth.
Stepping into the old fire station we were greeted by the most magical mastheads – huge effigies of Queen Victoria, the Duke of Wellington and others, carved with extraordinary craftsmanship. Each had taken pride of place on ships and were used, not just to make the vessels look beautiful but to allow the oft-illiterate sailors to recognise their ships.
We spent a morning mesmerised by the historical artefacts and quizzing our patient guides before being taken back to the reception area for a lunch of hot pasties and salad and hot drinks.
Transported by coach we then went off to the secure area of the dockyard to board HMS Courageous, a nuclear submarine decommissioned in 1992. Life on board was vividly portrayed. The galley, mess, hot bedding for crew and the missile units were all preserved and the personalised tour laid on for us left us in no doubt what life would have been like living at the bottom of the sea for months on end. It was absolutely fascinating and we came away with huge respect for the people who dedicated their lives to protecting our shores in such a way. There were, I hasten to add, no volunteers join the submarine service when we left, but each one of us came away with respect, pride and appreciation for what made Plymouth and the UK one of the once greatest naval areas of the world.
Our day wound up with a generous cream tea at the Heritage Centre and, probably thankful to see the sky, we purred off into the winter sunset – with a lot to think about.
Our thanks to Charmian for organising the day for us that those who attended enjoyed so much. We were restricted to a maximum of 25 people attending and demand was such that we will hopefully be organising another visit in the early part of next year.