I could be at one of the UK’s many iconic stately homes, or even a hotel or restaurant as I sit and admire the swans gently swim across the picturesque lake and the sun reflecting off the beautiful mansion standing proudly behind it.
Except this stunning view hides a rather stunning secret.
I went to visit Bletchley Park, near Milton Keynes, former home to the (now) world-famous codebreakers, who among other things went on to break the Enigma machine during World War II.
What Alan Turing and the other code-breakers went on to do changed the course of history forever, and not only helped win the war, but shorten it by 2-4 years.
But their operation was top secret – no one knew what the thousands of ordinary British people who worked here were doing, and even after the war had ended, the secret remained for over 40 years.
At it’s peak, over 10,000 people worked here, starting off in the mansion house, before prefab huts were built and labelled with individual numbers to prevent people knowing what went on inside them.
After it closed, the site took on a number of other roles, but also remained derelict for many years, before being earmarked for demolition.
But it’s since the Bletchley Park codebreakers’ big secret was revealed, it’s been fully renovated and opened to the public – where annually over 280,000 visitors flock to the site to see what mysterious missions took place here so many years ago.
I sat myself down on the bench opposite the lake, and looked around my surroundings.
If someone had asked me to describe what I thought a top-secret code-breaking site would look like, then this place, with it’s beautiful mansion, swans, small park and little huts with numbers painted on the side – would not be it.
What I did feel though was a sense of calm sitting on this old rickety bench.
It’s easy to imagine that with over 9,000 people running around there must have been a real sense of pride and urgency.
This was a place where thousands were trying to help win a war, and here I was 70 years later, soaking up some of the autumnal sunshine and admiring the view.
The stark contrast between the two is unimaginable.
But this is what is so remarkable about Bletchley – it’s completely understated.
Even since it’s renovation, the park continues to give off an impression that it remains ‘top secret’.
The facade doesn’t give anything away – from the moment you pull up to the gates (which has security you have to pass to get through) all the way to the simple, basic huts and quiet lanes – it’s still hard to believe what went on here – even when you’re there!
For anyone interested in World War II or history, this place is a must-visit.
The in-depth demonstrations, the information on offer (which is somewhat ironic, considering its past) and just getting to feel like you’re experiencing a little bit of history makes the trip to this somewhat quiet and unremarkable part of middle England worth it.
Many of the huts have been refurbished and are open to the public, most designed to replicate what happened in those very four walls all those years ago.
Standing in the hut where Alan Turing had his office, I felt a shiver down my spine.
The shutters are all closed and it’s dark in the rooms. Recordings of typists furiously typing and reenactments of angry and urgent conversations can be heard echoing down the hall.
Go on a weekday like I did, and you’ll probably have the hut to yourself, which feels incredibly odd – almost like you expect Alan to walk in any moment.
It’s been beautifully recreated without feeling overdone or crass. It doesn’t feel like a museum or theme park – but more like you’ve walked in on a bit of history taking place.
I would highly recommend paying Bletchley Park a visit – and exploring the now tranquil surroundings of what was once one of the most important places in Britain.
To find out more – visit the Bletchley Park website.