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Voyage of Discovery

On the last day of the half-term, Trailblazers, under the pennant of Captain Northam (and with her trusty bo’sun and coxswain, Miss B and Mr L respectively, on board) launched themselves on a voyage of discovery to the National Maritime Museum at Falmouth. The museum, which overlooks Falmouth harbour (the third deepest natural harbour in the world), occupies land that was once covered with boat builders’ sheds.

After we arrived, the time until lunch was employed in exploring the museum, which occupies five floors. Our exploration began in the Main Hall, in which is exhibited the National Small Boat Collection, originally curated at the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. There was a stunning flotilla of craft (small vessels propelled by muscle, wind or engine) on display, many of which were floating, somewhat surreally, not in their natural element but in air. Next, we descended to the Tidal Zone.

In the Tidal Zone, we went underwater. However, it wasn’t necessary to don diving suits. We were able to glimpse the harbour’s underwater world through two windows. As we looked out through the reassuringly thick glass, sleek silver fish languidly swam by, seemingly oblivious of being observed. From the ‘underwater’ floor of the museum, we climbed the spiral staircase to the top of the tower to the Look Out, from which there are breath-taking views of the harbour, docks and estuary. Giddily descending the spiral staircase, we navigated our way to the Pirates exhibition.

Dashing, daring and adventurous or bloodthirsty, immoral and greedy: pirates of the eighteenth century are regarded by some as heroes of the age, while others view them as no more than cold-hearted cut-throats. It was fascinating to discover how, over the generations, pirates have been portrayed in popular fiction and film as symbols of freedom and adventure, and to discover the dark reality of the Caribbean pirates. In the afternoon, we took part in a workshop about the Vikings, who we are investigating as part of our history topic (Raiders and Traders) this term.

Perhaps the first image of a Viking that springs to mind is that of a bloodthirsty invader. But from first being unwelcome and uninvited visitors to Britain, they turned to trading with the Anglo-Saxons rather than stealing from them, eventually settling in Britain; indeed, even after their defeat in 878CE, there would be four Viking kings in the eleventh century. As traders, the Vikings, who were skilled boat builders, daring seafarers and courageous explorers, reached as far as Newfoundland, the Middle East and the coast of North Africa.

Belying their reputation as formidable warriors, the Vikings were also accomplished artists and artisans, trading furs, amber, horn (oh, by the way, the Vikings didn’t wear horned helmets!), jewellery and items of metalwork such as (unsurprisingly, perhaps) axes and chainmail for fine quality glassware, exotic spices and precious metals. It was fascinating to find out that the Vikings were more than just warriors but were also sea-going traders and explorers.

To end the workshop we had the opportunity to mint some replica coins using a method employing two dies, the lower die known as the anvil (impressing the reverse side of the coin) and the upper die the trussel (impressing the obverse side). Designs are engraved onto the faces of the dies and a thin metal blank (disc) placed between them. The trussel is struck with a hammer and the images are ‘stamped’ or impressed onto each side of the disc. And, voila! You have minted a coin – but we would advise you not to try this at home as a way of easing the cost of living crisis! You might find yourself attracting the attention of Warden of the Royal Mint!


We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a visit to Falmouth's National Maritime Museum. It was well worth the journey from the rugged northern coast of the county to the balmy southern coast to explore the lives of pirates and Vikings.