Things to do with kids this summer
Stuck on what to do with your children for SIX whole weeks? Don't panic, Muddy has you covered with the best bits of Bucks & Oxon.
La-la-la!!! That’s the sound of me with my fingers in my ears and eyes firmly shut – I mean, the school holidays can’t be happening, can they? Oh God, they are happening!
Better unleash my guide to what to do with the kids over the next six weeks then…
The lovely River and Rowing Museum, in Henley has a new children’s exhibition for the hols Bears! (3 Aug – 3 Nov) where kids can learn about history’s favourite bears – Rupert, Winnie the Pooh and friends – as well as explore original artwork and manuscripts from We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, The Bear and The Piano and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. Every Fri during the hols there’ll be bear-themed games and crafts in the galleries, and on 8 Aug, there’ll be a Teddy Bear’s Picnic.
If you’re heading to central Oxford, Muddy Award-winning Pitt Rivers Museum is always worth a look around (especially with dino-mad children), or just round the corner there’s the History of Science Museum and the Ashmolean (pop up to the Rooftop Restaurant in the day for coffee and cake).
Pitt Rivers Museum
The Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden, Bucks, piling on the activities to keep the ankle biters entertained over the summer holidays all themed around James and the Giant Peach – loads of tongue-twisting events including Buzzwangling Bug Pots, Phizzwhizzing Insect Portraits, Hunky-Dory Insect Homes and more.
Also over that way, Robots have invaded Bucks County Museum, in Aylesbury, for its new exhibition Robots (Sat 27 Jul – Sat 31 Aug), which will feature cyborgs, androids and metal characters from sci-fi TV shows from the ’50s and ’70s – looks perfect for techy 10 year olds. For a relatively small county museum, Wycombe Museum, Wycombe, always punches above its weight during the holidays with heaps of activities going on across the summer including open air cinema, science workshops, cookery lessons (it’s pizza, so a dead cert hit) and inflatable fun day.
The biggie this summer is Wilderness, in Cornbury Park, Oxford. I’ve been a couple of times with my children and it’s possibly the coolest local festival of them all- a heady mix of right-on hippiness (lots of yoga) combined with impressive big-name music bookings including Groove Armada, Robyn, Bombay Bicycle Club and Tom Odell (Thurs 1 – Sun 4). A huge line up of family activities to get stuck into too.
For foodie families The Big Feastival, based on the farm of cheese-obsessed Blur bassist Alex James in Kingham, Oxon, is a goodie. Top notch chefs for the grown ups (including Raymond Blanc, Jodie Kidd and Pru Leith), heaps for kids (circus top, playground, fair and activities) and a stellar pop line-up of Jess Glynne, Lewis Capaldi, Jade Bird and Rudimental (Fri 23 – Sun 25). There’s also the return of Towersey Festival, the veteran folk festival which confusingly is now held in market town Thame, rather than nearby village, Towersey. Acts this year include Hothouse Flowers, Seth Lakeman and Steve Harley & The Cockney Rebel, and there’s loads of kiddy activities to keep the nippers occupied (Fri 26 – Mon 26). Or you can head over to Swanbourne, set in the beautiful Bucks countryside, for family affair Swanbourne Music Festival – lots of local acts, plus Brit indie rock band The Zutons.
Kids climbing the walls? Send them up trees instead! The Big Tree Climbing Company is pitching up at Oxford Botanic Garden (Sat 10) and Waddesdon Manor, Aylesbury (Sat 17 – Sun 18) – kids aged 6+ can safely scale the trees with ropes, harnesses, helmets and zip line to the floor. Or head over to Black Park to Go Ape for zipwire japes in the 500 acres of woodland and heathland zigzagged with tracks and trails.
There are castles and stately homes aplenty in our neck of the woods but we often make a beeline for the usual suspects. Time to try something different? Over in Henley is the National Trust’s gorgeous Grey’s Court has a new Wildlife Wanderers trail around the grounds for summer. Also in Henley is Stonor Park with its stunning deer park, Wonder Woods adventure play area and, new for summer, a nature trail, Robin Hood themed dress-up activities, pirate-themed painting and, for fledgling Bear Grylls, Mud & Guts workshops where children can build outdoor shelters and learn bushcraft skills.
Waddesdon Manor, Aylesbury, is always a dead cert with it’s stunning grounds (anyone for a picnic?), plus the National Trust venue is hosting a Summer of Sport (until Fri 30 Aug) with themed trails, Orienteering, workouts, Tour de Waddesdon, football, table tennis, badminton and more. Chenies Manor in the south Bucks countryside, also has stunning grounds (you might recognise it from TV shows like Lewis, Midsomer Murders or Poirot, it’s a popular filming location)- entry to the gardens is just £4 for kids, £5 for house and gardens, and under threes go free.
Broughton Castle, nr Banbury, is one of my favourite local spots, not too touristy with smaller crowds, and large garners for the kids to bomb about in. A 15 minute drive down the road there’s Upton House or over near Chipping Norton there’s Chastleton House which is putting on croquet on the lawns for summer. Or there’s Buscot Park, nr Faringdon- the formal gardens really are stunning with loads of different areas to explore (the Walled Garden and Peto Water Garden are top of my list).
Other heritage buildings worth a meander are Claydon House nr Buckingham (amazing 18th century interiors – the kids can lie on Florence Nightingale’s bed!), William Morris’s Cotswolds retreat Kelmscott Manor. And finally, over in Berks, Highclere Castle (of Downton Abbey fame) is a great day out.
The headline family show this summer is Little Miss Sunshine showing at Oxford Playhouse. Based on the brilliant Oscar-winning film, it follows the Hoover family as they travel from New Mexico to California in a bright yellow campervan for their young daughter Olive to compete in a beauty pageant- feel good theatre at its finest (Tue 20 – Sat 24 Aug).
Or, if you’re looking for something specifically for littlies there’s a double bill of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (of The Gruffalo fame) with Zog at Milton Keynes Theatre, about a young dragon eager to earn a star at Dragon School (Thurs 29 – Sat 31 Aug), and Tabby McTat at Oxford Playhouse (Fri 16 – Sun 18 Aug) – a feel good story about friendship with original songs. Also in Oxon, there’s Mister Magnolia, based on the book by Roald Dahl’s illustrator Quentin Blake, at Millets Farm, nr Abingdon, with live puppetry. There’s some outdoor theatre action too including Quantum Theatre’s Wind in the Willows in Waddesdon Manor‘s gorgeous grounds, with the stately country manor house for a backdrop (23 Aug) which you can also catch at Cliveden (30 – 31 Jul) along with David Walliams’ Gangsta Granny (13 – 15 Aug).
Cotswold Wildlife Park, nr Burford, is a guaranteed hit with kids who love all things furry, creepy and crawly. It has the little fellas – penguins, lemurs and reptiles – as well as the big guns, including lions, rhinos (FYI Aug is Rhino month with daily talks) and giraffes (try out the Giraffe Walkway where you can stroll up to eye-level with the animals). There’s also a cute railway, adventure playground and children’s farmyard. Or there’s Britain’s biggest zoo Whipsnade Zoo, just over the Beds border, which is opening its brand new aquarium just in time for summer on 26 Jul. Running until Sept is Nature Night Camping (for kids 5+) from 6.30pm – 10am with animal tracking activities, morning tour and breakfast. Or, for a quieter affair head into central Oxford to the cool Curzon Cinema (see my review here) to see Disney’s new Lion King and maybe have a cheeky nap on the sofas.