I’ve always been fascinated with espionage. As I’ve mentioned to friends, I’d like to be a spy except 1. I don’t know multiple languages, 2. I can’t drive various vehicles and 3. I talk quite loudly.

So I content myself with reading John Le Carré novels and visiting exhibitions about spies. On Thursday, I paid a visit to Bletchley Park in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire. This once-stately estate was transformed during World War II into the home of the codebreakers — the clever and (very importantly) discreet men and women who deciphered the encrypted messages being transmitted by Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire. Amongst their number was Alan Turing, the computer science pioneer.

Bletchley Park is 45 minutes by train from London, and a very short walk from the Bletchley station. It’s an easy and worthwhile day trip from London (admittedly I had to make it a day trip from Norwich, but I had to go to London to apply for my Egyptian visa (finally going to visit Phenomenon!), and a chance remark by Comrade R means Bletchley has been on my mind). I didn’t take many photos, but good ones can be found on the trust’s website. The museum is spread out amongst the various “blocks” and “huts” that were built for the codebreakers and other staff. There is also the pre-existing mansion, as well as cottages and garages.

It’s actually a rather beautiful estate, with lots of green space and outdoor tables/benches. I’d recommend visiting in warm weather and bringing a picnic lunch (there are on-site cafes as well, though I didn’t try them as I was saving my appetite for a Chipotle dinner in London ( Chipotle! ❤ ). You'll definitely want to keep up your strength — there are A. LOT. OF. exhibits, and all of them quite interesting (at least to someone keen on puzzles, subterfuge and general cunning). I spent five hours there and don't think I managed to see everything. I took a self-guided tour with the help of the multimedia guide, included in the admission price of £15, £13 for students (oh, and your ticket lasts for a year… no cheaper option for a one-day trip, unfortunately!).

An Enigma machine, used by the Nazis to encipher messages. A very, very, very simplified explanation of how it works: A series of rotors substitutes one typed letter with another. In order to decrypt a message, you would need to know the settings used.

An Enigma machine, used by the Nazis to encipher messages. A very, very, very simplified explanation of how it works: A series of rotors substitutes a typed letter (eg: A) with another (eg: X). In order to decrypt a message, you would need to know the Enigma settings used. More info here.

Musical scribbles in one of the codebreakers' notebooks...

Musical scribbles in one of the codebreakers’ notebooks…

The lovely lake that's at the centre of the estate. There are old photos displayed around the grounds that show Bletchley staff ice-skating, playing ball games, having romantical interludes etc.

The lovely lake that’s at the centre of the estate. There are old photos displayed around the grounds that show Bletchley staff ice-skating, playing ball games, having romantical interludes etc.

I also met this duck friend and her babies.

I also met this duck friend and her babies.

One of the two grumpy griffins that guard the entrance to the mansion. The secrets he could tell...

One of the two grumpy griffins that guard the entrance to the mansion. The secrets he could tell…

A re-creation of Turing's office in Hut 8. Not his actual stuff, of course -- that is in the museum in Block B.

A re-creation of Turing’s office in Hut 8. Not his actual stuff, of course — that is in the museum in Block B. The huts are furnished more or less like this throughout, with period cardigans on the backs of chairs, period stationery and knick-knacks on the desks, period posters on the walls… a good effort but the effect is also rather generic.

In Hut 11, you can practise being one of the Wrens (WRNS, Women's Royal Naval Service members) who helped operate the Bombe, a machine that  ran through various possible permutations of Enigma settings.

In Hut 11, you can practise being one of the Wrens (WRNS, Women’s Royal Naval Service members) who helped operate the Bombe, a machine that ran through various possible permutations of Enigma settings. My iPhone couldn’t capture it, but the lighted box says, “Well done, you’ve completed your Wrens’ training” (*pats self on back*).

I don't think this was actually here during WWII, but yes it's a giant playable chess set (the pieces look heavy but are really made of plastic, like traffic cones).

I don’t think this was actually here during WWII, but yes it’s a giant playable chess set (the pieces look heavy but are really made of plastic, like traffic cones).

Turing's teddy bear :)

Turing’s teddy bear 🙂

WWII-era poster illustrating the perils of gossip.

WWII-era poster illustrating the perils of gossip.

The work done at Bletchley was so sensitive that a staff member would have little clue as to what a colleague in another section was doing. As for the public, what went on at Bletchley was kept secret even decades after the war; it’s only now, in an age of social media and universal surveillance, that the achievements of the Bletchley band are finally being recognised.

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