12 fun things to do this weekend
We’re on the cruise down to the end of the week, we’re into December at last and we’re gonna nail this social sucker! Here’s my curated pick of the most interesting, fun and unmissable bits of Oxon, Bucks and beyond.
Christmas Opera Double Bill – Opera at Sunningwell Art School! Sat 3 Dec
Can I just say how much I love Opera Anywhere? Such a brilliant concept to take opera out of posh concert halls and into unusual places, and lucky us – the company is based in Oxfordshire, and so has four performances across the county over the next month. First off is this double bill of one act operas, contrasting in style and story, and both composed by Giancarlo Menotti and sung in English.
The Old Maid and the Thief is a comic opera that tells how gossip can get out of hand, while Amahl and the Night visitors is the story a crippled shepherd boy and his mum who are visited one night by three kings (apparently one of the most frequently performed operas of the 20th century though I think Puccini may have something to say about that). Tickets are between £5-£15 so it’s bonkersly good value.
Sunningwell School of Art, nr Abingdon Bucks, operaanywhere.com
Christmas at Stonor, Mon 28 Nov – Sun 4 Dec
A flagwave for a first at Stonor House near Henley (above), that opens its front door to guests this Winter for the first time from Mon 28 Nov. This will be the moment to think kind thoughts as your body is gripped by stupendous envy as the family still lives here (excuse me while I weep quietly). Stonor House, let’s be frank, is an absolute stunner that dates back to 13th century, and for its open house is promising a traditional Victorian Christmas tree in the Gothic Hall, the Blue Dining Room laid for Christmas lunch and even Christmas stockings in the bedroom. It’s the sort of thing that kids will love if you can trust them not to push and shove each other around the tree (timb-errrrrrrr!) and you’ll get massive brownie points with the in-laws too.
Refined, Woldstone Jewellery, Mon 5 – Fri 23 Dec
The Woldstone jewellery gallery in Woodstock is holding Refined, a preview evening featuring three international jewellers working distinctively in goldsmithing. Woldstone takes the position that jewellery is art and their passion is really infectious – not hard when you’re representing famous jewellers like Oxford’s Vicki Ambery-Smith, Catherine Mannheim and Sarah Pulvertaft. If you’re near Woodstock, you can meet the artists, preview their work and have a chat on Fri 9 Dec between 5.30-8pm.
Woldstone, 25 Oxford St, Woodstock, Oxon, woldstone.com
Christ Church Cathedral Choir Family concert, Oxford, Sat 3 Dec
The boys of Christ Church Cathedral Choir present an afternoon concert especially for families. Hold onto your cassocks and ruffs, because there’s audience participation (hey Mr Muddy, where are you going?!) but the music will be incredible and of course the venue is second to none. Unsighted areas of the church will have screens so everyone can fully enjoy the choir.
Christmas at Blenheim Palace, until Sat 31 Dec
I flagged this brand new event up last week and since then I’ve been there, done that, and bought the t-shirt (or is that commemorative mug) from the Blenheim giftshop. These illuminations are really worth seeing – I ooohed and ahhhhed and took about a zillion photos along with this vid of the stunningn waterfall. The trail takes about an hour to walk around and it can be steep and muddy in places, so make sure you have sturdy footwear and if you have little ones maybe take a torch too. Read my full review here.
Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxon, blenheimpalace.com
Days Out With Thomas to visit Father Christmas, Didcot Railway Centre, Weekends through Dec
How these Thomas the Tank Engine railway days endure in the age of Pokemon is a source of amazement to me, but here comes another chance to see the Fat Controller, Thomas and friends, a whole lot of steam trains and the inside of the cafe and gift shop. Bust my buffers!
Didcot Railway Centre, Station Rd, Didcot, Oxon, didcotrailwaycentre.org.uk
Magical Christmas Market, The Crown, Bray, Fri 2 – Sun 4 Dec
It’s not in Bucks & Oxon and it’s not this week – stop being so fussy! – but you’ll want to know about this little beauty in advance. Christmas is coming to The Crown at Bray and Bray High Street with a special Christmas market. It’s free to enter in The Crown’s lovely cosy gardens, showingcasing indie craft and food producers. Get there before 7.30pm to see Father Christmas turn on the The Crown lights (is it Heston? is it Heston?!! Um, probably not), then it’s choir time as The Crown chefs serve winter foods and mulled wine from the outside bar. On Saturday and Sunday there’s storytelling inspired by Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ from the heated garden show tent, plus Santa’s Grotto (£14 per child to include a gift) and £10 per adult – buy your tickets here . It will all be done in the best possible taste, no question about that.
Market opening times : Fri 2 Dec (6-9pm); Sat 3 Dec (11am-9pm); Sun 4 Dec (11am-6pm).
The Crown, High St, Bray, Berks, thecrownatbray.com
Christmas at Grey’s Court, Henley, From Sat 3 Dec
Greys Court is one of the prettiest National Trust treasures in the area and it’s ideal for those who prefer less of a fanfare to events. From 3 December you can experience a traditional, family-inspired Christmas in the house laid out as it would have been when the Brunner family lived at Greys Court. Downstairs the rooms will be decorated with mid-twentieth century inspired decorations, and the kitchen promises the smells and sights of home-made Christmas treats. By contrast the Cromwellian building will be showing what Greys Court would have been like during a Tudor Christmas with decorations, banquet and Tudor festive costumes. It’ll be a lovely gentle day out, give it a go.
Greys Court, Rotherfield Greys, Henley-on-Thames, national trust.org
Hart to Heart Singles Drinks Party, Henley, Sat 3 Dec
Looking for love? Or maybe trying to matchmake one of your parents? Hart to Heart are back with a Christmas drinks party this Saturday for 50-60 year olds. It’s been held in a stunning private house with its own grounds so you can head off to a quiet corner of the garden in search of misteltoe. They promise equal numbers of men and women, no embarrassing games or gimmicks and a chance to meet likeminded people in a relaxed atmosphere. See you later Mr Muddy, I’m so there.
Burn Burn Burn + Candy Says, Ultimate Picture Palace, Oxford, Fri 2 Dec
The fabulous The Ultimate Picture Palace has an inventive schedule, and this Friday it hosts a screening of lighthearted road trip comedy Burn Burn Burn preceded by a special live music performance by local band Candy Says performing songs from the soundtrack they wrote for the film. Sounds fun.
The Ultimate Picture Palace, Cowley Rd, Oxford, uppcinema.com
Christmas in Chippy 2016, Chipping Norton, Fri 2 Dec
Chipping Norton is one of those Oxfordshire towns that seems to have a very strong community and indie shop spirit – also a lot of creativity there so if you’re planning on attending a Christmas festival, this is a strong contender. Between 4-9pm, the centre of Chipping Norton will be turned into a giant street market with craft stalls, art exhibitions, live music, pop-up Christmas cinema and even a giant snow globe for the ultimate Xmas selfie, plus a lantern procession around the town centre, carol singing and kids rides.
Chipping Norton, experiencechippingnorton.com
Another week, another festival of light, but Sudeley Castle in the Cotwolds in Winchcombe is soooo pretty that it’s bound to be amazing. For the first time the castle and grounds will be illuminated taking you around a trail that ends up – what a surprise! – in the gift area of the brand new visitor centre. Well, those heating bills must be horrific.
From 5pm. Sudeley Castle, Winchcombe, Cheltenham, spectacleoflight.co.uk
Oxford Botanic Gardens Christmas Fair, Sat 3- Sun 4 Dec
Oxford Botanic Garden hops the Christmas Fair ride. Gifts, food, and perhaps most importantly at the moment, a heated marquee are the main things to recommend it, but in essence it’s just a great opportunity to visit these gorgeous gardens and then meander across Magdalen Bridge and into the city.
Sat 10am-8pm, Sun 10-4pm. Adults £5, Concession £3.50 Children under 16 are free when accompanied by a family member. University of Oxford Botanic Garden, Rose Lane, Oxford, botanic-garden.ox.ac.uk.
Cinderella and The Glass Slipper, Mill Arts, Banbury, Thurs 1 – Sat 31 Dec
The Oxford-based Creation Theatre returns for a second Christmas to The Mill with Cinderella and the Glass Slipper performed in the round and promising plenty of songs and silliness to rival the traditional panto. Recommended for 5+.
The Mill Arts Centre, Spiceball Park, Spiceball Park Rd, Banbury, themillartscentre.co.uk
Snow White and Other Tales from the Brothers Grimm
The team behind last year’s Treasure Island and 2014’s Wind in the Willows brings Snow White and Other Tales from the Brothers Grimm to one of my favourite Oxford theatres, the North Wall in Summertown. The theatre will be transformed in the round with stalls arranged around circular tables so you can get up close with the action. Recommended.
The North Wall, South Parade, Oxford, thenorthwall.com