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War and whirlybirds – military museums in the UK

February 5, 2013
by Laura Canning | guides

Richard III - recently rediscovered We've quite the history of skirmishes here in the UK, with quite the number of attractions to prove it. From famous battlefields to war memorials, regimental army museums, aviation museums, re-creations of the Blitz and more, exploring the history of military Britain is enough to keep you out of mischief for some time – and that’s before you even think of digging up council car parks to find kingly skeletons.

In celebration of this week’s Confirmation of Richard Three, we bring you five UK military museums to start you off on your military quest of Britain, with details of where to camp nearby. Toodle-pip!

If you're in London or Manchester, the excellent Imperial War Museums are a good place to start, with permanent and changing exhibitions as well as all manner of info and events about Britain at war. But to combine an IWM trip with a countryside camping holiday, head to the IWM Duxford in Cambridgeshire, where there are over 200 aircraft including a Spitfire and a Concorde set in former war airfields, as well as tanks, military vehicles, boats, and award-winning interactive exhibitions. A museum you can get lost in and wander around all day? That's our favourite type.

Stay : Tall Trees Leisure Park at Wisbech is open all year round, and has a tasty farm shop selling olives, cheeses, chutneys, juices and jams – and cream cakes on weekends. There’s fishing available at the lakes a couple of miles along the road. Pitches at Tall Trees start from £14.50 a night, with 34 per cent off until 28 March. The Paddock at nearby Lakenheath has pitches for tents, tourers and motorhomes from £10 a night.

Yorkshire Air Museum

This is the biggest independent air museum in the UK, and the site of the Allied Air Forces Memorial, on a former World War II RAF Bomber Command Station at Elvington. There are loads of exhibitions, vehicles, aircraft and displays covering the history of aviation in the UK, starting from the 1853 Cayley Governable Parachute and going through both world wars, the Cold War and up to the present day. Some of the displayed vehicles are still in use, although we wouldn't recommend asking to take one for a spin.

Stay : Our closest site to the airfield is the York Touring Caravan Site with its own driving range and nine hole golf course – pitches start from £17 a night. Nearby, The Alders Caravan Park has camping pods from £36 a night sleeping up to four people, set on a working farm in the Vale of York.

Holyhead Maritime Museum

Take a look at the maritime history of the Isle of Anglesey at this museum set in the oldest lifeboat station in Wales, on the seafront at Newry Beach. There are exhibitions on the social history of Holyhead as well as its maritime history and exhibits from the Iron Age onwards, and there's also a permanent exhibition on Holyhead at War in the World War II air raid shelter beside the museum.

Stay : We have plenty of options on the Isle of Anglesey and North Wales : St David’s Park overlooks Red Wharf Bay and has its own private beach as well as a gastropub on site. Soft coastal pitches with electric hook-up start from £25 a night for up to six people. For a static caravan stay, Caernarfon Bay Caravan Park is yards from an award-winning beach for watersports and fishing, with caravan starting from £55 a night.

Dinner options at Etherley Farm Army Medical Services Museum, Aldershot

There are military museums and there are specialised military museums, and the AMS is one of the best if you want to look a bit beyond general war exhibitions and displays. It covers the history of the four main medical army corps (Royal Army Medical Corps, Royal Army Veterinary Corps, Royal Army Dental Corps and Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps) to tell the story of army medicine and healthcare – for man and beast – from the Civil War onwards. There are displays of uniforms, insignia, ambulances and enough old and painful looking dental equipment to keep the kids very quiet.

Stay : The adults-only Two Hoots Campsite at Winchester is on the doorstep of the New Forest and the South Downs National Park, with heated pods available all year round from £60 a night. Or have a farm stay at Etherley Farm in Dorking, where you can buy food from the poultry farm for your barbie or take a tour of the country's biggest vineyard six miles away. Campfires are allowed and student groups are welcome; pitches start from £15 a night.

The Helicopter Museum, Weston-super-Mare

This is the only helicopter museum in the country, the biggest dedicated helicopter museum in the world, and the biggest indoor visitor attraction in Weston-super-Mare. Worth a visit, then. As well as historic helicopters, there are vintage military vehicles, helicopter flights and interactive displays, and you can go along to one of the special events days which let you learn to fly your own helicopter or have all the mechanics explained by an expert on the Open Cockpit Days.

Stay : Book a caravan on a quiet farm site in the Mendip Hills at Nettwood Country Breaks in Wells from £300 for a week for up to six people, with tent and tourer pitches also available from £13 a night. For an active option, Burnham-on-Sea Holiday Village is a seaside site with lakes, a nature reserve, free kids’ clubs and loads of activities for all ages. Hardstanding electric pitches start from £46 for four nights.

For battle breaks in general, have a look at our campsites near battlefields – click on the ‘Local Attractions’ tab for more details of what to do in the area. Digging up car parks not recommended.

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