Beechtlly Karp

Well, big fat raspberries to Kwik-Fit – our campsite owner knew a guy down the road who repaired our exhaust for £30. Whoo hoo! While the work was being done, we got completely lost on a walk in a rather lovely bit of countryside. We were trying to follow the instructions that the mechanic gave us, but they were a bit vague. ‘Take the track out past the farm, walk along the top there and then down the path back to the road’. Turns out there is more than one path ‘along the top’, in fact, several tops and several paths which looked like they might end up back at the road, but didn’t. We were pleased to make it back to his garage before he closed!

Admission to Bletchley Park allows you entry for 12 months so we did a quick visit yesterday and then went back today. Most of yesterday’s visit was spent trying to find somewhere to park – following the death of a dog left in a car in their carpark, they don’t allow dogs in at all. Understandable, but a vehicle of our size is not the easiest thing to find alternative parking for, especially in the multi-storey car park that the gatekeeper directed us to! Eventually, we called Bletchley and explained our situation – the manager suggested a spot just outside the gate that, whilst technically not a parking space, he was happy for us to use.

For those of you who don’t know, Bletchley Park was home to the ‘codebreakers’ during WWII – the men and women who cracked the Enigma code, most famously, but many others too. It was a huge complex – depending on which part of the museum you believe, upwards of 8,000 or 9,000 or 12,000 people worked there, including D’s granny. The amazing thing is that even the locals didn’t know what was going on there – our campsite owner remembers passing it regularly and had no idea until 30 years later when presumably it was decided that it didn’t need to be quite so secret any more.

Initially, we thought it all seemed a bit amateur and quite a lot of information is repeated, but the more we saw, the more we enjoyed it. Unbelievably, given the strategic importance of the place and the incredible work that was done there, it was going to be demolished and replaced by a housing estate in the 1980s – fortunately, there was an outcry (which means that several people wrote ‘Angry of…’ letters) and a trust was set up to save it. We walked past several of the original huts which had signs saying ‘Opening in 2005’ – clearly money is tight as there is no sign of them opening to the public any time soon.

Alan Turing is probably the most famous person to work at Bletchley Park, but is best known for the wrong reasons. He is pretty much the founder of computer science and artificial intelligence and was one of the team which cracked the Enigma code, but several years after the war ended, was convicted of gross indecency. We call it being gay, rather than gross indecency, these days. He was chemically castrated (his other choice was prison) and committed suicide in 1954. He didn’t receive public recognition for any of the work he did at Bletchley until 2009 – bit late by then really. At least he now has a rather spiffy statue, made of thousands of layers of slate.

Bletchley also has a reproduction of the first programmable computer, Colossus, developed to help crack the new Lorenz SZ42, the 12 rotor cipher machine the Nazis started using in 1942. There were 10 Colossusses/Colossi built, but of course, all were destroyed after the war and the blueprints were burned – goodness knows how they rebuilt the one we saw.

There is a lot of information about how the cipher machines worked which, quite frankly, blew my tiny mind, but the key is the starting position of the rotors and plugs – Lorenz had 140 trillion possible settings. Without knowing which setting was being using to encipher a particular message, you had no hope of deciphering it. Colossus came up with the most likely setting, which could then be tested and verified. How that was achieved with valves and strips of paper, I will never understand. We couldn’t even work out which was the front of the computer and which was the back!

Colossus front or back

Colossus back or front

Bletchley is also home to the MKMRS – the Milton Keynes Model Railway Society. D was very excited to see an N gauge model railway. There was a bit of a ‘Where’s Wally’ thing going on too – apparently it was for the children, but it kept me occupied for some time, searching for the cat, the badger, the two phone boxes etc. We also enjoyed the toy/household museum – D for the original Meccano and Airfix models and me for things like a wedding dress made out of lace curtains and cushion covers made from embroidered floorcloths (floorcloths weren’t rationed, fancy cushion cover fabric was).

In the end, the slightly amateur feel to the place added to the charm – I’m glad people wrote letters and a trust was set up. A housing estate with Turing Road and Colossus Lane just wouldn’t be the same.


PS from D
Always wondered why granny was “terribly hush-hush” about the WWII and was very good at crosswords!


Very jealous about Blechley Park visit. A must see. If you are vaguely into that sort of thing there is a very entertaining and sometimes thought provoking book called A Bodyguard of Lies which describes the British and Allied tricks played by way of counter-intelligence (fields full of cardboard tanks and teams of folk sending fake radio messages from fake HQs are just a start).

We loved our visit to Bletchley Park too, and agree that the amateur feeling is part of its charm. When we were there, there were lists of many of the people who worked on the site. We couldn’t find a reference to Granny S; wonder if you did? Pleased the exhaust problem was sorted fairly easily; the parking problems might recur!

By the way, can be expect more blog headings in the style of Farty Towels?

Yes,again! Bletchley Park remained very strictly secret after the war because of the Cold War and Churchill didn’t want other states (even our allies) to know that we had a computer that could break any code, given time. It was fairly recently that a book was written about what went on there. The government of the day was going to prevent publication but decided that it could do no harm now. Soon after D’s granny died the government declared that those who had worked at the Park during the war, and were now surviving, could apply for a commemorative medal to celebrate their vital work. When we visited, we were told that a recent German visitor had written to thank the codebreakers, saying that , if it hadn’t been for them shortening the war, Berlin would have been the target for the first atom bomb. Makes you think,doesn’t it.
Really enjoying the photos. If S is taking them, she’s learned a lot from D.

Yes ,I have cracked your heading code & Chris’s too….but not the image verification code !
I didn’t press next after my last comment so now I’ve read all about B.Park !lvmx

…she does take a fine photo, but don’t get too carried away! Each blog often contains shots from both of us. I’ll leave it to you to work out who took which shot. I wouldn’t want this to be some kind of competition…

Uller how you doing darling hope they are keeping you in sausages. The chief geek thought your geek might be intrested in this news on restoration of Bletchley Park, if not I am sure he will enjoy the pictures.

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