What’s the Chiltern Open Air Museum like?
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…. Much better than it sounds, in fact! If you’re like me, you’ll hear the words ‘outdoor museum’ and I instinctively reach for the hipflask, but I have to say that the Chiltern Open Air Musuem (COAM, because it’s too long to write again) was a really fun day out for the kids, and happy kids means a mother off the hook.
My friend and I had five children between us, from 4 to 11 years and they happily spent three hours in semi-drissle wandering from building to building, chatting to people dressed in period costume weaving or whacking horses’s hooves, and running safely outside without parental squeals of anxiety.
It’s hard to pinpoint anything in particular as being outstanding but as I often say to Mr Muddy, whilst none of his features are stunning individually, put them together and it’s quite a pleasant vista! I was interested in the witchert walls (well, aren’t you?!) because they come from Haddenham, my local village. The iron age fort was cool. I liked watching the lady spin the wool because it reminded me of my primary school in Wales where we also learnt to spin and loom the wool, along with keeping bees, making honey, and stepping on sheep poo every play time in the fields because we shared it with the rams and goats. Now kids can’t touch a conker without it being confiscated as a weapon of mass destruction but don’t get me started on that one.
Back to the matter in hand. I think the big pleasure for the COAM and it’s greatest selling point is that it’s outdoors. Indoor museums can feel claustrophic, glassy, quiet, constricting. Here, kids can meander off the main track, burn off some energy, learn a little and play a lot. It’s all incredibly relaxed, all buildings are interesting and ‘doable’, the whole site is walkable even for little ones, and you can just go at your own pace.
Then to top it off, there’s a candle making activity at the end – very popular with our lot – which kept things moving along as there was something fun to walk towards. The kids could choose the colour and size of candle, and of course the millions of stickers to go on it, followed by a mass decamp to a rather basic but serviceable cafe for cake.
By the time you’re leaving everyone is nodding and smiling and saying what fun it was and no-one is quite sure how it’s happened; it’s been a kind of tree fairy alchemy. I think at its most basic level, it’s success is its simplicity. If you want to do something outside with your kids that doesn’t just involve the park, if you want them to learn some basic history and enjoy some pretty countryside, you can’t go far wrong with this place.
BTW, The COAM has an impressively active schedule – they aim to have something different on each weekend and Tuesday over holiday periods, so keep checking the website for the latest info. Next weekend it’s a Medieval view of the Chalfonts with medieval tents, armoured knights and cooks, plus music, make up, a Medieval replica latrine and weapon and combat demonstrations.
Finally, and rather deliciously, I have a family pass to the museum (2 adults, 3 kids) worth £32, to give away so it’s first come first served. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you hear from me you know you’ve won!
Chiltern Open Air Museum, Newland Park, Gorelands Lane, Chalfont St Giles, Bucks, HP8 4AB. Tel: 01494 871117. www.coam.org.uk