I didn’t expect to enjoy visiting the tank museum or spending time at Tankfest. After all, I’m a classical music-loving middle-aged mum who enjoys affordable luxury travel, a healthy dose of culture, and a G&T or two. My style is a lot more Glyndebourne than Glastonbury.
Festivals are my idea of hell. The idea of trudging around a field surrounded by noise, sweaty people and queues for loos sends shivers down my spine. I’ve never been to a festival yet and I’m not planning to change that anytime soon.
Visiting the Tank Museum
This time I was wrong. Tankfest at the Tank Museum in Bovington, Dorset was the perfect weekend trip with the teen boy (a reward for a year of hard work at school)
Driving up to this shrine to armoured vehicles feels a bit otherworldly. One minute you’re pootling along little country lanes through the prettiest of Dorset villages, admiring thatched cottages and the next you’re passing road signs warning of “Tanks Crossing”.
Suddenly the road widens to the size of a runway, the speed limit drops, and military buildings appear. Serious-looking chaps saunter around in serious-looking kit and no one dares flout the posted speed limit (10 mph).
Half expecting a tank to burst out from the vegetation at any moment, you arrive at the museum entrance, ready to discover why over 200,000 visitors flock here every year, from all around the world.
Visiting the museum for Tankfest2019, we expected to queue to get in. We needn’t have worried though, as the museum staff handled the whole operation with true British military efficiency and we were parked, whisked through the ticket gate and ready to explore in mere moments.
What to see at the Tank Museum
The museum’s collection includes over 300 armoured vehicles, including everything from the first tank developed (“Little Willie“) to ones used in the two World Wars and in more recent conflicts.
We saw the much-feared WWII German Tiger tanks, huge modern Challenger tanks, and fearsome machines from many other countries, including France, Russia, Australia, and the US. Plus a whole collection of armoured support vehicles.
There was plenty of history to keep me enthralled (who knew tanks and the support crew who keep them working could be so interesting) and more than enough big boys toys to satiate the teen boy’s hunger for tanks. I’m reasonably sure he looked at, touched and photographed every single one. He even got to sit on one or two and nobody objected. I guess it’s quite hard to break a tank, but I didn’t risk it!
Highlights of the Tank Museum
We loved the tanks that were cut in half so you can see exactly what it’s like inside, where the soldiers sit and where all the kit is! We also loved the fascinating exhibition about the conflict in Afghanistan. The historical tanks were interesting, but the ones used in the most recent conflicts were the real draw.
The Tank Museum is awesome and worthy of spending a whole day exploring, but Tankfest takes it to the next level. It’s where you get to see tanks in action!
What is Tankfest?
It’s the biggest and best annual display of historic (and modern) moving armour in the world, running from Friday to Sunday in late June, at the Tank Museum in Bovington. You’ll see thrilling displays in the arena, seriously big machines, entertaining historical re-enactments, and your ticket includes an all-access pass to the whole museum too.
We saw the latest super-fast tanks from the Netherlands, amazing bridge-building and mine clearing tanks from the British army, plus plenty of explosions and paratroopers landing in the arena.
You also get the chance to get right up close to the armoured machinery and you can even sit inside tanks if that’s your thing (it was for the teen boy). And there are lots of men in uniform to chat
It would be easy to get carried away by the excitement of the big events at Tankfest, the noise and the macho atmosphere. While we thoroughly enjoyed the whole event, we left the Tank Museum with a far better understanding of tanks, the whole theatre of war and the exceptional bravery and commitment of those who serve in our armed forces.
I got lots of Mum kudos points for taking the teen boy on this trip. Now he and his pals are busy planning the return trip for next year. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m looking forward to it too.
The Tank Museum Facts
Tucked away in deepest Dorset, near the British Army military base of Bovington Camp, the museum is just a few miles from the UNESCO recognised Southwest Jurassic coast, 12 miles from Poole and 1 mile north of the charming village of Wool.
How to Get to The Tank Museum
Set your SatNav for BH20 6JG, which will bring you through Dorset’s country lanes and pretty villages to the free parking area for the museum.
Wool is the nearest train station to the museum, about one mile (a 20-minute walk) away. Alternatively, you can pick up a taxi from the station.
The Tank Museum is very thoughtfully set up for visitors with accessibility needs, with level/ramped access to all areas and lifts to all floors. Read their full access statement to find details of the assistance provided. Guide dogs and hearing dogs are welcomed here too.
Places to Visit Nearby
- The UNESCO World Heritage Jurassic Coast and the limestone archway at Durdle Door
- Lulworth Castle and Corfe Castle
- Clouds Hill – the home of Laurance of Arabia
Where to Stay
West Lulworth and the surrounding villages are some of the prettiest villages in England, but you’ll need to book early, as Tank Museum hotels are very popular, especially during Tankfest.
Lulworth Cove Inn and the Lulworth Lodge are perfect for a romantic getaway, with excellent facilities and food. It’s also worth looking for Tank Museum hotels in towns along the train line to Wool, including Bournemouth, Dorchester, Poole, Wareham, and Weymouth.
The Priory Hotel in Wareham is a real gem – located in the prettiest of village settings and haviing over 200 vintages in the wine cellar…
Have you visited the Tank Museum or been to Tankfest? What did you enjoy the most? As always, we love to hear your thoughts.
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