Bumper Half-Term Guide
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Well, mes braves, are you ready to rumble with half-term? Those of you with kids, breathe a sigh of relief for your trusty correspondent has it all covered. If you’re unincumbered, fear not, there’s plenty for you to do as well. I’m going to lie own in a dark corner and attempt to recover from my exertions..
Do check back with the guide regularly as I will definitely add stuff as I come across it, and have fun!
Friday 24 Oct
I always have to make the half-term plastic brick pilgrimage. At Legoland this time around Brick or Treat (geddit?), has a Pumpkin forest, lego spiders nests and a Monster’s Ball (until 3 Nov). Freaky Fortnight has already started Mead Open Farm (until 31 Oct), with 8 goulish family attractions, from creepy tots corner (all the fun without the thrills and scares) to the brand new The Dark attraction with live actors who will paid good money to freak out your children. If you’re going into London, try to catch Fantastic Mr Fox at Islington’s renowned Little Angel Puppet Theatre (until 9 Nov). Get the kids outdoors with Stowe Landscape Gardens‘ Pumpkin Hunt (10am-6pm, ends 2 Nov), a special half-term trail to find different types of pumpkin hidden around the stunning gardens. Haven’t sorted childcare for next week yet? Check out Supercamps, rated Outstanding by Ofsted, then you won’t need to read the rest of this post!
It’s the last few days to access the house at Waddesdon Manor; it shuts on 26 Oct while its famous Christmas decorations and installations are being added (reopening 12 Nov). The 50th Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition opens today at the Natural History Museum in London, as chosen from 40,000 professional and amateur submissions which will be amazing. I’m dying to see Outkast’s Andre 3000 starring as Jimi Hendrix in All Is By My Side, which has just opened nationally. Be taken back to your year off in South East Asia by After Hours: Java & Ball at the Pitt Rivers museum (6.30-9.30pm) with shadow puppetry, a live gamelan, Javanese dance performances, and Indonesian cuisine. Throw in a drunken snog with an Australian surfer and it’ll be pretty much as I remember it first time around. Finally, start practising your rumba, Baby – Dirty Dancing is coming to Milton Keynes Theatre (until 8 Nov). I’ve just interviewed the guy who plays Johnny and he’s FIT!
Saturday 25 Oct
The first weekend of half term and there’s masses going on. The lovely River & Rowing Museum starts its Halloween Trail (25 Oct – 2 Nov, 10am-5pm) around its galleries (your kids can claim a prize at the end of it). There’s a Fantastic Fireworks Night at Longleat Safari Park tonight (also 31 Oct & 1 Nov), with fireworks starting at 6.30pm if you want to combine that with a visit during the day. Waterperry Gardens is going old-school with a Great Pumpkin Hunt – kids can bomb around trying to find 10 pumpkins hidden in the ornamental gardens to win a prize (£6.50 garden entrance fee applies). Also pumpkin hunting are Stowe Landscape Gardens but they’re throwing in making a witch’s wand too (from today until 2 Nov, 10am-6pm). Older kids can revel in the gore of Execution at Oxford Castle Unlocked (ends 2 Nov) where they can discover the crimes that justified the death penalty at Oxford Castle and meet the executioner whose job it was to carry out the deadly deed. Your kids will love it.
What else? The Octonauts arrive at the Wycombe Swan (showings at 1pm and 4pm, also on the 26th) in a brand new live interactive stage show. Or at Blenheim Palace, ride the ghost train down to the Pleasure Gardens (ends 2 Nov) for trails, pumpkin carving, craft-making and classic spooky stories including The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and The Canterville Ghost every hour from 11am-4pm.
Over at Warwick, it’s a Haunted Castle during the day and also evening with the castle open until 9pm with the spirits of Mary and Henry Black loose in the house and a team of paranormal investigators in to track them down in a good v evil battle. FIGHHHHHT! Or if you’re going into the smoke, The London Eye Witch Academy (25 Oct – 1 Nov) sounds great fun for 4-9 year olds, with magic spells, tricks, story-telling and frightening facts delivered to your little darlings as they journey in a green London Eye capsule alongside dangling bats and a library of spells with a perfect pointy hat, an activity pack and some treats for the journey. Booking recommended. Or at the Cornerstone Theatre in Didcot, West End Magic show arrives from Leicester Sq Theatre – illusion, mind magic, switches and comedy, starting at a child-friendly 6pm. I also really like the sound of Shh!, at Pegasus Theatre, Oxford, part of a national Family Arts Festival. The performance is for 5years+ but at 7.30pm at night and nearly an hour long will only suit older kids better. Set in a library that’s closed down until the local community pull together, expect books flying overhead, performers free-running over the shelves and a whole set manipulated for a fast-flowing show with dance elements.
November tickets for The Rex Berkhamsted (above) go on sale this morning at 10.30am. Get in there fast! It’s the last night Othello at The Oxford Playhouse, brought to life by Frantic Assembly, “The most innovative and progressive company around” (The Times), fusing a taut adaptation of the text with hard-hitting choreography. 14yrs+. The well-regarded Artists and Makers Fair returns to Thame Town Hall today if you’re in the mood for an early Christmas bargain (£1 entry) .
Sunday 26 Oct
Loving the sound of Hallowe’en Spooks Special at Chinnor Railway – what’s not to like about steamtrains and fancy dress? Best dressed kids in Hallowe’en costume will receive a treat too. Trains at 10.15, 11.45, 1.30, 3 & 4pm. Alternatively, summon the Superheroes at FUNomusica in Oxford, where Alasdair Molloy will be showcase the superstrength speed and sound of the orchestra for little ears. Pre-show activities from 2pm, concert at 3pm. Over at Legoland, there’s a Legends of Chima Fire and Ice Fireworks Show today if you want to enjoy extra explosions with your visit (also 31 Oct & 1 Nov). At Hughenden Manor, there’s are two Bushcraft courses running today, £25, 9am-12pm and 1-4pm for lessons in nature including shelter building and fire lighting.
It’s the last day to see the Tutenkhamun exhibition at The Ashmolean today (see my review) – combine with an afternoon tea at the Randolph if your pockets are deep enough. Want to do something child-free? Head to the replete Rousham Gardens nr Bicester – no children allowed under 15, and the tranquility is incredible!
Monday 27 Oct
It’s Diwali at Henley’s River & Rowing museum today (above) with clay lamp making, Rangoli patterns and other sweet crafty things from 10.30-4pm, plus a Halloween trail through the galleries (treats involved!). At the Pitt Rivers Museum, it’s Beauty and the Beasts, where kids can touch some repulsive museum objects (I really don’t think the curators should be talked about like that, do you?) and also find out what makes us beautiful (until 29 Oct, 1-4pm).
If your children are into singing and dancing, Perform drama is running a three day course Ice Queen (yup, very Frozen), with original songs and sackfuls of cool costumes in various regional centres (£98). Or there’s Play in a Day in Stratford-upon-Avon’s Clore Learning Centre, where an RSC expert will help your kids created a shortened version of a Shakespeare play. Today the 8-10 year olds, 10am-4.30pm and it’s only £20! Alternatively, Blood Guts and Gore at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre (from today until 30 Oct, 11am-12pm, suitable for all ages) has former the RSC Head of Wigs and Make-up demonstrating how to create fake bruises, cuts and scars. Willing participants will be required! £3.50 Adults/£2.50 Children.
More you say?! There are Hallowe’en trails at Upton nr Banbury, Hughenden Manor in High Wycombe (above) and Cliveden. Buckinghamshire County Museum has a Creepy Creatures Week starting today (until 31 Oct, 10am-3pm), where kids can make their own creatures to take home (today: frogs, tomorrow: spiders etc) plus an Enchanted Forest creative space available as part of the The Big Draw where kids can draw creatures and plants to live in the forest inspired by the Museum’s collections (10am-5pm).
Further afield, The Big Draw is also coming to the Moat Room at Windsor Castle (27 -31 Oct & 11am -3pm) if your children want to have a go at creating a shadow puppet or animal mask inspired by what they’ve seen in the castle (er, the Queen?). And there’s just a couple of days left to catch Wizz-Bangs and Pipsqueaks, at the Museum of Childhood (ends 31 Oct, 10.30am-4pm)with World War One-themed activities. Also in London, starting today until 31 Oct, a whole week of Lego-building of everyting ‘City’ related at the Mini-Engineers iLab (5-11 years), where kids Children will have the chance to design and construct skyscrapers, public transport, high streets and loads more in teams of two and four (9.30-12.3opm, £270).
Meh, who cares about pumpkins? Bicester Village has thoughtfully come up with some half-term fun for grown-ups called Mix up your Denim. A whole week of exclusive offers, gifts with purchase and events in celebration of fashion’s favourite fabric. Ivor Novello and Brit-nominated singer-songwriter Nerina Pallot plays at The Stables, nr Milton Keynes (8pm, £19.50).
Tuesday 28 Oct
Play in a Day in Stratford-upon-Avon’s Clore Learning Centre has an RSC expert helping your kids creat a shortened version of a Shakespeare play. Today it’s the turn of the 11-14 year olds, and great value – from 10am-4.30pm and only £20! In London, Storystock starts today, a story-telling festival for kids and their families, with Michael Morpurgo day to kick things off. Morpurgo himself performs The Mozart Question which will be coooool, or closer to home Oxford’s Story Museum has a Cartoon comic workshop with David O’Connell (age 6+, £6, 11.3oam). Or take your kids to a supercool artdeco cinema with booths and nibbles at tables (I know!) with a showing Disney’s The Jungle Book at The Rex, Berkhamsted (12pm, parent and child screening).
Wednesday 29 Oct
Waddesdon Manor teams up with the Roald Dahl Museum for a packed day of activities based on The Witches – kids can make a witch’s nose, a puppet mouse and best of all, launch a rocket mouse into the air *wheeeeeee!* Summer House, 11am-3pm, free. At the River & Rowing Museum, it’s Snugly Squirrel time (4-7 yrs), finding out what quirrels eat and do and making a felt squirrel to take home (£8.50). It’s the last Play in a Day in Stratford-upon-Avon’s Clore Learning Centre, where an RSC expert will help your kids created a shortened version of a Shakespeare play. Today the 15-18 year olds, 10am-4.30pm and it’s only £20!
In London, Storystock continues, a story-telling festival for kids and their families, The Big Draw today – comic book illustration, animation studio workshops, an audience with Charlie & Lola’s Lauren Child and loads more besides. At Chenies Manor House today and tomorrow, it’s Spooks & Surprises, two specially adapted spooky tours of the house with fancy dress encouraged, and free facepainting. And finally, Cornerstone Pops Out… to Thame Library to perform I Believe in Unicorns, described as ‘an utterly magical stage adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s enthralling children’s tale’ by The Stage. Kids can bring a book they no longer want to add to the stage set and take away someone else’s book at the end of the show. Age 5-11, £5. Finally, at Bletchley, it’s Family Drop in Wednesday (9.30-5pm) where families can check out craft and spy workshops, guided tours, trails and all that codebreaking jazz (under 12s go free).
Oh joy! The Reiss Sample Sale starts today (until 31October) from 8am to 8pm at The Music Rooms, South Molton St, Mayfair W1K 5LF. There’s a ‘Bake Off’ Patisserie class at The Quince Tree, Stonor today if you feel like losing your soggy bottom (don’t we all *sigh*) or for some culture, make a beeline for Ai Wei Wei’s exhibition at Blenheim Palace, it’s a corker. Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons is putting on an all-day cookery course called Maman Blanc, focusing on rustic, beautifully provenenced family meals.
Thursday 30 Oct
It’s Marvellous Mini-Beasts time at Henley’s River & Rowing museum, where adults pretend to be, like, totally relaxed about being up close and personal with bugs *shiver*. Free with entry (10.30am-4pm). For little dancers, the English National Ballet dance a matinee performance of the gorgeous Coppelia tonight at the New Theatre, Oxford accompanied by full orchestra (£11.90-£43.90), while over at Legoland, there’s a Legends of Chima Fire and Ice Fireworks Show today if you want to enjoy extra explosions with your visit (also 31 Oct & 1 Nov). In London, it’s the last day of Storystock , the story-telling festival for kids and their families, and it’s Adventure day – dinosaurs, Beast Quest adventures, Wahaca pinata making and stories from around the world.
Both the Regal Picturehouse in Henley and Aylesbury Waterside Theatre are showing live screenings of The National Theatre Encore production of Frankenstein staring Benedict Cumberbatch as Creature and directed by Danny Boyle (8.30pm Regal; 6.45pm Waterside). It’s the last day to visit Chenies Manor today before it closes for winter, so don’t miss out if you can help it.
Friday 31 Oct
Award-winning storyteller Bill Spectre, famous for his Oxford Ghost Trail, returns by popular demand to Waddesdon Manor with his mind-reading crow Colin, for spooky storytelling every hour on the hour (11am-3pm) in the Summer House (free event). Kids can also attend Witch School making spells and mixing potions in the Summer House 11-3pm. There’s a Live Friday Halloween Spectacular at the Chiltern Open Air Museum (6-9pm) if you can brave the cold with Halloween-themed crafts, a spooky labyrinth, face painting and storytelling. Hot food and drink will be available on the Village Green, and children (and adults) are encouraged to dress up for prizes.
Bunsen burners at the ready at Science Oxford Live, The Halloween Show, sounds groovy for budding scientists, with spooky surprises, experiements and demonstrations where the tricks are actually shown as science. Ages 6+, 11am and 1pm (tickets £5, or £16 for 4). Over at Legoland, it’s the last day of the Legends of Chima Fire and Ice Fireworks Show you want to enjoy extra explosions with your visit. Watch your kids (6yrs+) invent a Witchy Wonka bar with biscuits and sweets, get their hands disgustingly messy, and then smear them all over their clothes. Bet ya! £2.50 plus museum entry. Free reptile roadshow in the Snolounge where you can meet creepy crawlies face to face, plus spooky sledging, face painting and a bit of indoor skiing in the Snozone if you can be bothered to fit it in.
If you can make an afternoon showing of Footloose at the Ultimate Picture Palace, Oxford, I salute you – because how did you slip the kids? work? the washing up?! (3.30pm). Or make it to the Ashmolean Live Friday event Egyptomania, where the museum will be transformed after hours with live music, performance and general Tutunkhamen cool reflecting the fascination with Egyptology during the 1920s. These are cool nights, definitely check it out if you can. Or maybe book in for the first night of Mr Turner, Mike Leigh’s much-hyped biopic of the iconic painter, played by Timothy Spall.
Saturday 1 Nov
In Oxford today? Pop into Modern Art Oxford at 2pm for a drop in, artist led family workshop offering activities based on the current Stuart Brisley exhibition. All ages welcome (adults must accompany kids), and best of all it’s free! It’s the last weekend to catch the Deadly & Disgusting Plant festival at Kew Gardens with trails, quizzes and worryingly, hands-on activities… Kids can try a Pumpcorn & Popkins cookery course at The Story Museum with chef Sophie Grigson, for 8-12 years, with all ingredients provided (huzzah!) and veg/glutenfree options available. 11am-12.30pm, £20.
In the mood to try something new? The first official pop-up supper club in the Peterley Manor Farm yurt begins tonight with a Halloween feast, including welcome “apple bobbing’ cocktails, creepy canapés, three courses plus coffee and ‘death by chocolate’ petit fours. Licensed, the meal costs £37.50 per person. The Boomtown Rats are wheeling themselves back onto the stage at the 02 in Oxford for their Pension Tour (oh OK I made up the name). Talking of music there’s a Halloween Party at the little funk-and-soul oasis that is Clayton’s Marlow. Over the border there’s a fab Artisans Arts, Crafts & Vintage market (10-4pm) or if you’re beginning to feel the Christmas tingle, Stratton Audley Christmas Barn opens with a much bigger gift shop today (and coffee and cake too) and a whopper selection of festive trees (where Waddesdon Manor source their whoppers). Ho ho ho!
Sunday 2 Nov
The second day of Modern Art Oxford‘s drop in family-led workshop (2pm), artist led offering activities based on the current Stuart Brisley exhibition. All ages welcome (adults must accompany kids), and it costs nowt! Cliveden‘s glorious giant slide closes at the end of today, so get the kids there if you can. The final Wonder Walk of the year at The Story Museum, a playful meander through Oxford, learning more about Middle-Earth, Wonderland and Narnia and the famous writers who created these worlds. £6.50/£4.50. Hampton Court has a live historic cookery demonstration for, wait for it, Tudor and Georgian chocolate cookery, based in the only surviving royal chocolate kitchen in the country.
Last day to catch…. Geek is Good at the Museum of the History of Science and the Lod mosaic at Waddesdon Manor, and the Halloween trails at Henley’s lovely River & Rowing Museum, Cliveden, Stowe and Wateperry. It’s Bonfire Night at Stoke Park and the red five star hotel will let rip with some brilliant fireworks, music, entertainment and a BBQ prepared by executive chef and TV regular Chris Wheeler. A goody (£35 adults, £20 under 12s, under 2s free).