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Ahoy there

The 200th anniversary of Trafalgar next year signals a year of events celebrating Britain's seafaring history, writes Renata Rubnikowicz

Next Wednesday is the 246th birthday of Admiral Lord Nelson. The pigeon-decorated hero will look down from his column in Trafalgar Square on the launch of a countrywide commemoration of his victory in the battle 200 years ago that gave the square its name.

SeaBritain 2005, a year-long festival of Britain and the sea, aims to celebrate our seafaring history: there will be chances to join in the festivities that link in with the national curriculum.

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich has already created an online resource, Connecting with Schools, which offers organisations affiliated with SeaBritain 2005 a searchable database and practical support to help them tailor activities to the needs of key stages 1 to 5.

A centrepiece of SeaBritain 2005 is the exhibition Nelson and Napoleon at the museum from July next year. The show, which has been 10 years in the making and is the largest ever staged by the Maritime Museum, details the lives of the two leaders together for the first time.

Exhibits gathered include the uniform in which Nelson was killed and the musket ball that killed him, the cloak worn by Bonaparte at Waterloo, Nelson's hand-drawn battle plan for Trafalgar and the sword used to proclaim Napoleon as emperor. The exhibition will show the impact of the French Revolution and Napoleon on Britain, will look at Nelson's tactics and challenge myths about Trafalgar.

On Merseyside, the Liverpool Museum will include many reminders of the city's maritime heritage in its new galleries opening next spring. And in Grimsby, Trafalgar Through French Eyes, at the National Fishing Heritage Centre from April to October, will show the other side of the story.

Local museums everywhere are preparing to mark the year, and Wales will get a new attraction, the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea, due to open in summer.

On the South Coast, the Trafalgar 200 festival will take to the briny in a sea-borne extravaganza as only the Royal Navy could organise. Between June 30 and July 3, the International Festival of the Sea, billed as a festival "to touch the head, heart and stomach", will take over Portsmouth; the three services will take to land, sea and sky in daily displays, the streets thronged with sailors, musicians, artists and entertainers, and tall ships fluttering in the harbour.

On June 28, the International Fleet Review will rule the waves off Spithead, continuing a tradition that began in 1346 when King Edward III reviewed his fleet here. Ships from the world's navies and merchant fleets have been invited to join in what looks set to be the biggest multinational maritime gathering of ships. A sail-past will be followed by an international fly-past. At dusk, a second fly-past starts Son et Lumi re - a dramatic mock battle between tall ships, with fireworks and music, finishing with the floodlighting of the flotilla in the Solent.

For schools who cannot squeeze into Portsmouth on that weekend, Nelson's original flagship, HMS Victory, lies in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and offers guided tours year round.

Throughout the summer and autumn next year everyone will have the chance to join in events in their neighbourhood. The Woodland Trust is planning 27 new woods, each named after a ship in Nelson's fleet, which pupils will be asked to help plant.

The Trafalgar Festival is a programme of Nelson and Trafalgar-related concerts, conferences, exhibitions, festivals and regattas, celebrating international friendships between former opponents. The focus will be Trafalgar Day, on October 21 next year, beginning a weekend when communities across Britain and the Channel Islands will be encouraged to have street parties and light beacons that echo the celebrations for the Golden Jubilee and the Millennium.

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