I knew that it was the kind of place my father would love though, and so on a cold and breezy but utterly beautiful first day of spring, I left Stephen watching Man Utd vs Man City (Man Utd won, he was happy) and went on a proper tour of the Dockyard with Dad.
The Dockyard is 400 years old, and some of the most famous British naval vessels, including Nelson's flagship, the HMS Victory, have been built and launched on the premises. The first warship known to have been built at the Dockyard was the Sunne, a pinnace of five guns, launched in 1586, and the last was built in the 1960's.
Whilst we were there, the 1st Battalion 42nd Highland Regiment of Foot 1815 (also known as The Black Watch) were practicing their drills to the beat of the drum. The Black Watch are a re-enactment society, dedicated to preserving; as accurately as possible, the uniform, drill, musketry, tactics and daily life of the regiment in 1815, the year of the Battle of Waterloo. The 42nd Foot was the most senior of the Highland Regiments and the sombre appearance of the tartan and its original role of policing the Highlands led to the nickname 'The Black Watch'. Modern re-enactment organisations are now based all over the UK and abroad, including at Chatham.
The Smithery is a Grade II listed building that, as the name suggests, was originally used for iron-working. It also enjoys status as a Scheduled Ancient Monument and houses 4,000 ship models in total. Inside is a totally immersive experience - you could spend hours in this one location alone.
There are the original forges used for making the metal pipes, great hulking masses of blackened iron surrounded by decades of soot and ash embedded into the brickwork. Beyond is the Courtyard, a huge imposing space where the enormous anchors can be viewed in pits
The HMS Cavalier, a retired C-Class destroyer, decommissioned in 1972.
He was so right.
Below though is the real talking point. The Big Space is not just named for the building's scale, but for the collection of really 'big things' housed underneath that grand roof. On the ground floor is a Midget submarine, dozens of boats, giant tools, steam machinery, Kitchener's Railway Carriage, the D Day locomotive 'Overlord', bridge-building machine, mine clearance equipment and, just to add to the scale of it all, a Chieftain AVRE tank.
Check back in a couple of days for the tours of The Ropery and the Submarine at the Dockyard....