May 15, 2018
Allied Mobility’s special reporter, Helen Dolphin, recently took a trip to the once top-secret Bletchley Park. The site, used in World War II, was home to 10,000 men and women who, in their own way, were tasked with deciphering coded messages sent by enemies. In her review, Helen evaluates the accessibility of the Park and its facilities and delves into the fascinating world of the codebreakers. Read more from Helen below.
Bletchley Park was originally chosen as the base for the codebreakers as it was close to London and the “Varsity Line”, which linked the University cities of Oxford and Cambridge. I decided to drive to the Park and found there was plenty of disabled parking on a surface car park near to the entrance. The only issue for me was that the surface was quite gravelly, which meant it was tough to push my wheelchair over. However, there are a small number of disabled spaces on tarmac.
Tickets and Tours
Once you’ve parked, you’re directed into the visitor centre to buy your tickets. Adult entry is £18.50, concessions are £16.50, with carers going free of charge upon request. After a long drive, my first stop was the accessible toilet. Unfortunately, there aren’t any changing places on site. If you need to borrow a manual wheelchair, some are available on request. Assistance dogs are welcome, and a water bowl can be provided. My first impressions for accessibility were positive.
Guided tours around the grounds are offered. The Park is quite easy to navigate in a wheelchair but I was glad to have someone pushing me as there are some slopes and uneven surfaces. I was fascinated to find out that the codebreakers first moved there in August 1938, when a small group of people moved into the main Mansion house on site under the guise they were ‘Captain Ridley’s Shooting Party’. However, this small group of people were actually members of MI6 and the Government Code and Cypher School.
After the guided tour, I decided to look around the Mansion and some of the huts – all of which were step free. With no automatic doors and some big thresholds to get over, it would be quite a struggle on your own. Initially the codebreakers worked inside the Mansion, but as more and more people arrived to join the operation, the various sections began to move into the huts set up on the lawns of the Park. Many of the huts remain as they were in war time with old fashioned telephones and typewriters, making the experience quite immersive.
During the war, the German army and air force used Enigma code machines to produce complex coded messages. The Enigma machine most commonly used had three rotors, selected from a choice of five and a plugboard with 10 cables. This meant there were 103,325,660,891,587,134,000,000 possibilities for each Enigma key – making the code almost impossible to decipher. That was, until Alan Turin (one of the most famous codebreakers to work at Bletchley park), devised an electromechanical machine that could find settings for the Enigma machine. It has been estimated that Turin’s work shortened the war in Europe by more than two years and saved over fourteen million lives. The Enigma machine looks just like a typewriter but with more wires and both it and a replica of Turin’s code breaking machine, are on display. You also get to have a go at solving some codes yourself. This makes you realise quite how amazing the code breakers were.
There was so much to see and do at Bletchley Park, it was impossible to fit it all into just one day. The site is completely accessible and nowhere is out of bounds for wheelchair users.