Here comes half term!
The midgets need entertaining, so read on for the best family-friendly things to do over the next week in Oxon, Bucks and beyond.
Howl at the moon, slash your pumpkins, trick or treat it – or let’s be honest, just let your children run amok while you take a large slug of wine. However you want to play it, here comes half term, served up in one perfectly ghoulish post. Wah-ha-haaaaaa!
1. Halloween Half Term Activities at Stately Homes & National Trust Houses and Gardens
The big guns pull out all the stops for little visitors over the next week, starting with Stonor Park (above) and its huuuge list of Halloween Half Term activities, from pumpkin carving to trails and all with the Wonder Woods adventure playground thrown in free for good measure.
Over at Waddesdon Manor pumpkiny happenings including pumpkin carving, trails and spooky afternoon teas. There’s also the Fête Worse than Death (full marks to whoever came up with the name of that one), a two day Halloween party filled with games, stalls, live music, face painting and dress up photo booths, and an Autumn Trail suitable for kids aged 2 – 12 (dogs on leads are welcome too).
Chenies Manor closes to the public over the winter months so Spooks and Surprises on Weds 25 – Thurs 26 Oct is one of the last chances to visit this year. Stowe Landscape Gardens near Buckingham is one of the most stunning green spaces in England, and there’s a haunting daily trail where littlies can dress up and you can exhaust them around the Capability Brown grounds. There’s also a Holloween Trail at the Cliveden National Trust. Turn up anytime between 11am-2.30pm, between 21 and 29 October. Fancy dress is optional (but your kids will turn to stone if they don’t).
Hughenden Manor, Disraeli’s old gaff, near High Wycombe, has a stash of pumpkins ready to carve from Mon 23 onwards. Meanwhile, Blenheim Palace has Halloween Entertainment all half term. Hop on board the ghost train to go through a creepy tunnel to the Pleasure Gardens and take the mini-beasts trail, do some pumpkin carving, or head to the cinema in the Stables Courtyard for classic Halloween storytelling.
2. Brick or Treat, Legoland, Windsor, Sat 14 – Mon 30 Oct
I’ve run out of jokes about Brick or Treat – that’s how long this Legoland event has been running! Over 55 ‘spooktacular’ rides, live shows and attractions, plus firework displays on 21, 22, 27 & 28 October. Don’t forget to read my tips on how to survive Legoland.
3. Ghost Fest, Oxford Castle, Sat 21 – Sun 29 Oct
Oxford Castle goes totally OTT at Halloween and it’s usually great fun. This time round there are guided family tours, a Spooky Sunday party on Sun 29 Oct with pumpkin carving and fancy dress, or Spooky Tours for older kids (11+), with a character tour guide and a whole load of ghosts.
4. Dark Arts, Harry Potter Warner Bros Studios, Sun 1 Oct – Sun 12 Nov
Harry Potter Warner Bros Studios are brilliant at ringing the changes with their events and for this one the Great Hall will be decorated with over 100 floating pumpkins, just as seen as in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, along with a table laden with a Halloween feast of red apples, pumpkins and cauldrons of lollipops. Kids can also delve into the sinister world of the Dark Art – wand combat techniques and Death Eater duels as well as filmmaking snot, blood and drool. Er, nice!
Warner Bros. Studio Tour london, Studio Tour Dr, Watford, Leavesden, wbstudiotour.co.uk
5. Shrek’s Adventure, County Hall, London, ongoing
Tried this one yet? Billed as London’s newest tourist attraction (about 5 minutes from Waterloo tube), this family-friendly DreamWorks tour takes you on a 4D bus adventure with Shrek’s Donkey as guide. There are 10 live fairy-tale themed shows where kids can visit Shrek’s swamp, find their fortune in the crystal ball, and get lost in the Mirror maze. It’s for kids 6-12 primarily and lasts about 75 mins. Shrek’s Adventure London has been devised by the team behind the London Dungeon and it works in a similar way – dropped into various scenes, you have to solve clues, sing and activate your silly gene. Sounds fun.
Riverside Building, County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 , shreksadventure.com
6. Horrible Hampton, Hampton Court, Sat 21 – Sun 29 Oct
Do you have the stomach to pull rotten teeth, scour the ‘gong’ from the toilets or investigate the ‘Royal Wee’? You’ll fit in just fine at the court of Henry VIII then. Plus The Magic Garden is open until Sun 29 Oct where kids can come face to face with mysterious mythical beasts, storm the battlements, besiege the towers and explore the secret grotto. Wimple optional.
7. Half Term Happenings at The Story Museum, Oxford, Sat 21 – Sun 29 Oct
Young booklovers should head to The Story Musuem this half term, for a whole week of wordsmithery. On Sat 21 Oct, it’s Owl Service day, a celebration of Alan Garner’s Carnegie medal winning classic book where kids can meet real owls and find more about this retelling of a legendary Welsh tale. Nick Cope is there with his Song Book, singing about the stuff kids are interested in (adults, close your ears). Later on in the week it’s creepy riddles, a Bogey Man Slime Workshop and illustrator talks.
The Story Museum, Pembroke St, Oxford, storymuseum.org
8. Earth Trust, Abingdon, Half Term Activities, Sat 21 – Fri 27 Oct
About as lo-fi as you can get, we love the Earth Trust’s events. Over half term, kids can do Basket Weaving on (21 Oct), Build a Bat Box (23 Oct), have a Woodland Adventure, (25 Oct), Family Bushcraft (26 Oct) and a Spooky Dusk Discovery Walk (Fri 27 Oct). Whatever you choose, at least you know they won’t be on their phones!
Earth Trust Centre, Little Wittenham, Abingdon, Oxon, earthtrust.org.uk
9. Half Term at The River and Rowing Museum, Henley, from Mon 23 Oct
Curated by Quentin Blake himself, the exhibition of everyone’s favourite giant includes unpublished illustrations that have never been exhibited in public before. The exhibition includes Blake’s first designs that weren’t included in the book, and provide a glimpse of a BFG that might have been in 40 original artworks. Don’t forget there’s the permanent John Piper exhibition at the museum too – that’s well worth seeing in its own right.
10. Half Term at Milton Keynes Museum, Mon 23 – Fri 27 Oct
Milton Keynes Museum hosts five days of holiday activities geared to young visitors, including weird and wonderful science shows taking place every hour throughout the day. There’s also a nature trail, historic board games in the courtyard and craft activities. Open every day Monday to Friday, 11am-4.30pm and your entry ticket will allow you to revisit the museum for free in the next 12 months.
11. Have a Hell-Fire Halloween, Hell-Fire Caves, West Wycombe, Mon 23 – Sun 29 Oct
The Hellfire Caves in West Wycombe get a macabre makeover with a selection of props, lighting and creepy music, not to mention a number of ravaged souls who prowl the passageways. For kids, the courtyard will play host to the free Halloween fun – spooky games, colouring comps, fancy dress, special witches workshops, potion making etc. No charge for the courtyard, but normal entry prices apply if you want to enter the caves. Older kids and adults can scare themselves witless on Fri 27, Sat 28 and Tues 31 Oct on one of the Fright Nights (suitable for 10+ but under 16s have to have an adult in tow).
Opening hours for the half term courtyard activities are Monday to Friday, 10am – 5pm, No booking required. hellfirecaves.co.uk
12. Thorpe Park Fright Nights, Fri 29 Sept – Tues 31 Oct
Wah-ha-haaaa! This is my idea of total hell, but if you or your kids like to be frightened to death, be my guest at Thorpe Park Fright Nights. They’re promising new horror experiences, live action attractions based on The Walking Dead, extreme live action horror mazes, Derren Brown’s Rise of the Demon ghost train and and all manner of other horrific stuff not suitable for middle-aged women called Hero over 40.
13. Halloween Festival, Odds Farm Park, Sat 21 – Tues 31 Oct
Oh it’s just too cute! Odds Farm Park near High Wycombe is ideal for littlies who can dress up for the twice-daily Fancy Dress comps, carve a pumpkin, or take the Trick or Treat Walk. There are daily Halloween shows, tractor and trailer rides, go-karting, animal stroking, and a giant indoor playbarn.
Odds Farm Park, Wooburn Common, Wooburn Green, High Wycombe, oddsfarm.co.uk
14. The Haunted Castle, Warwick Castle, Sat Oct 21-Tues Oct 31
Fire jousting, dreadful dungeons, ghostly tales in Witches Tower, Horrible Histories maze and an Edinburgh Fringe sell-out – Seance. It’s no wonder The Haunted Castle will remain open until 9pm with so much going on! Enjoy eerie escapades throughout the day and as darkness falls over the ancient towers and ramparts, the scare factor rises. New for 2017 is live entertainment on Dead Centre Stage, Dolls House and Glen Neath and David Rosenberg’s Séance, fresh from rave reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – an intense 15-minute sonic performance for an audience of 20 that will test just how susceptible you are to a visit from the other side. Not one for the claustrophobic!
15. Hallo’welly’ween, Wellington Country Park Reading, Sat 21 – Sun 29 Oct
A week of spooktacular fun for the kids at Wellington Country Park from 21 – 29 October – Storytime, monster’s mischief and magic shows, a creepy craft room, scary face painting, a haunted Halloween train ride, pumpkin carving and much more! Book em up.
16. Fright Nights, Kenilworth Castle, Sat Oct 21-Sun Oct 29
Little horrors will be scared silly by terrifying Tudor tales and enjoy creepy crafts and spooky every day during half-term and from Thurs Oct 26 – Sat Oct 28 families with children aged 5-10 years can visit the castle after-hours, 6-7pm to meet spine-tingling storytellers and discover tales of ghostly apparitions, dastardly deeds, and ghoulish goings-on. From 7pm-10pm the event is suitable for over 10’s only and not for anyone with a nervous disposition!
17. Beale Park, Pangbourne, Mon 23 – Tues 31 Oct
Head to Beale Park like a bat out of her for its Halloween bat-themed Trail and prize draw. Just look for the clues that will be dotted around the Park. Or join the Build a Bat Box workshop own Wed 25 Oct – 10.30am – 12.30pm. All the deets are here. bealepark.org.uk
18. The Lost Words, Compton Verney, Sat Oct 21-Sun Dec 17
This absolutely delightful new family-friendly autumn exhibition opens just in time for half-term! It combines the creative talents of writer Robert Macfarlane and artist Jackie Morris to celebrate the relationship between language and the living world, and nature’s power to spark the imagination. In response to the gradual disappearance of nature from our children’s stories and imaginations, Robert’s spell-poems and Jackie Morris’ beautiful, iridescent watercolours will take visitors on a journey that makes the familiar appear magical once more. Immersive floor to ceiling graphics, merge with family interpretation areas and recordings of Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris reading the poems.