Plymouth is a port town of significant sea faring heritage, from here Sir Francis Drake sailed off with his fleet to do battle with the Spanish Armada, the first British colonisers set sail to America and New Zealand, and the area has been home to the Royal Navy for over three centuries. It’s also a fine place to be based for a long weekend family getaway.
Our accommodation was booked through the very helpful holidaylettings.co.uk and we stayed in the idyllic waterside setting of Oak Cottage, Hooe, Plymouth, the pale blue cottage pictured below. With its own mooring and close proximity to a park, local food, and the Dive Centre in Mount Batten (from where you can catch a water taxi to Plymouth’s main visitor area), this cottage has the tranquillity of being away from it all, but within reach of whatever you may require.
After the children’s initial excitement of exploring every charming room in Oak Cottage and ‘bagsying’ their bedrooms, we had dinner outdoors in the small herb garden with its Mediterranean planting and terrace overlooking the water.
Oak Cottage was cosy, comfortable and well equipped. After a good nights sleep, we took breakfast on the terrace enjoying the fresh breeze blowing, seagulls squawking overhead and people in boats and kayaks on the water beyond.
We packed a lunch and drove two minutes to the Deep Dive Centre located in the Mount Batten Dock. You can book a beginners two hour kayak session for £17 or if you want to learn about diving then there are plenty of courses on offer http://www.indeep.co.uk/
About 250 metres away from the dive centre is the water taxi pier where a regular service runs to the Barbican and National Aquarium. We took the Mount Batten Ferry across the water of Plymouth Sound and to the harbour, a five minute journey that costs £1.50 per adult and £1 per child.
Although the original steps are no longer there, as you approach the pier you see the Mayflower Steps Arch marking the point where the Pilgrim Fathers stepped off British soil and set sail for America in 1620.
Once onto the pier, there are many plaques commemorating this historic migration. We read about those first families and paused for reflection on how they must have felt and the difficulty of the journey itself which took 66 days. There’s a constant flow of tourists who come to ponder and have their photo taken under the arch with the flags of America and Britain on either side. A little further down, there is another plaque that remembers the first colonisers to New Zealand who set sail on the ‘Tory’ from Plymouth in 1839. We met an elderly couple who proudly told us that their ancestors had made this journey and that they had come to see Plymouth city for this very reason.
A stone’s throw away is the tourist office- a good place to pick up a local map, get your bearings and do a walking tour that suits you and your family. This old area is known as the Barbican, we walked around cobbled streets from Elizabethan times, past old ship store houses with their winches still intact, arts and crafts shops selling works by local artists, and the Old Gin distillery that’s provided gin rations for the British Navy since 1793 and is still in business today.
From the Barbican you can take a stroll up Lambhay Hill and Madeira Road alongside the fortified walls of the Royal Citadel which were built to defend England by attack from the sea. Once you reach the Hoe there are great views of Plymouth Sound with several points of interest including: the iconic lighthouse known as Smeaton’s Tower, monuments to Sir Francis Drake, a memorial to those that died in WWII, the Plymouth Eye and Hoe Park in which your children can run about and you can relax!
The scale, strategic importance and the impact that three centuries of Naval base have had on this area can only be fully appreciated if you take the one hour cruise with live commentary that goes from from the Barbican pier to the River Tamar.
A return trip for a family costs £20 . This was one of our highlights, with views of Drake’s Island and the shoreline where you can see enormous war ships, decommissioned nuclear submarines as well as the docks with their many related ancillary buildings.
Situated on the shores of the Plymouth Sound is another maritime treasure especially suitable for children, the Plymouth National Aquarium, which boasts the largest tank in the UK filled with 2.5 million litres of water. The aquarium’s underwater journey begins with marine life from the shores of Plymouth to that of British reefs, to the Atlantic Ocean and ends with the Great Barrier Reef.
The Aquarium has large viewing galleries where you can sit, watch and marvel as the sharks, turtles, rays and a myriad of fish go by.
Interactive and informative events are on offer half hourly throughout the day, so you can attend whatever interests you. Our children were thrilled to see the Dive Show and mesmerised by the bubbles of air released by the two divers as they floated about in a huge fish tank. The show’s presenter was fun, knowledgeable and encouraged great audience participation, whilst the divers left us wanting to try out diving for ourselves. A family ticket for two adults and two children is £33.25
Getting there: Plymouth is 180 miles from London, a drive time of approximately 3.5 hours. Trains go from London Paddington and take about 4 hours. We stayed with at Oak Cottage, Hooe, Plymouth booked through Holidaylettings.co.uk
Written by Sonia Zubri
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