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Half term saviour

Here is it. The biggest brute of  Muddy Guide yet, a one-stop shop for activities, culture, activity, food, nights out, and everything in between. If you have kids, put the bottle down, it’s OK, I’ve taken the pain out of half term for you. For those who don’t have children, or whose kids are old enough to ignore them for weeks on end (how I long for those days), there’s plenty for you too. I will keep adding to the Guide as I find stuff, so keep checking back, and if you try something out and love it and feel like letting the rest of us in on its brilliance (no, really), be my guest in the comment box at the bottom of this post!

Right, you ready to rumble? Here goes…



Waddesdon Manor (above) awakes from its winter slumber for special half-term activities from from 14 to 22 Feb, with its Knights’ and Princesses’ Week aimed at (roughly) the Under 9s: think themed crafts, fancy dress (strongly encouraged) and general medieval mayhem. Blenheim Palace reopens on 14 Feb showcasing Chinese superartist Ai Wei Wei whose jaw-dropping and subversive exhibition in the palace has been extended until 30 April  (big huzzah from me, as I haven’t got round to taking my kids yet). The fab Roald Dahl Gallery at Bucks County Museum in Aylesbury is putting on Wondercrump Messy Fun from Mon 16 – Fri 20 Feb between 10-12, and 1-3pm). All activities are £3 per child, adults go free and there’s no need to book. If your kids are into drama, Perform has half term ‘Superheroes’ courses for 4-7 year olds throughout Bucks and Oxon, with singing, dancing and confidence boosting.

*BREATHE*…. and continue…

Tower Bridge's perilous new glass walkway

Tower Bridge’s perilous new glass walkway

… Oxford Castle Encounters (Mon 16 – Fri 20 Feb) offers visitors a guided tour with castle characters lingering in Tower rooms, prison cells and the crypt, ready to tell their tale (and no doubt freak out small children). There’s a Family Cookery School all this week at Waddesdon Manor (Mon 16 – Fri 20 Feb, tickets £20, 10.30-3pm) for 7-11 year olds, with places limited to 15 children and 15 adults. The price includes cooking savoury and sweet treats, lunch, all ingredients and a goody box thrown in. If you fancy going into London, the Tate Modern has free family free events on weekends including Liminal events where families can create participatory sculpture together (think posh building blocks).

While in London don’t forget to totter across the brand-spanking new Tower Bridge Glass Walkway, for a never-seen-before view of London life, from 42 metres above the River Thames. Eek. (£9 adults, £3.90 children). I’ve heard great things from friends about Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales, An Immersive Fairy Tale at the Oxo Tower on the South Bank, where the Grimm Tales are twisted and theatrically re-imagined. The show continues until 11 April and is for 7+ years. Also worth checking out is the interactive Muse of Fire (Mon 16 – 20 Feb) aimed at 6-11 year olds at the Globe Theatre (one for your mini arsonist). And don’t forget Imagine Children’s Festival is in full flow at the Southbank until 22 Feb – an incredible array of readings from top authors, live performances, world-class orchestras and free activities. You can also check  out the new Alluring Orchids exhibition at Kew Gardens (until 8 March), and Windsor Castle’s week of Bring on the Battle! where kids can go back to the Middle Ages and the time of the Magna Carta, and handle objects, get dressed up in the Moat room and learn about armour and weaponry.



Sophie's Kitchen

Sophie’s Kitchen

I love the sound of this Sophie’s Kitchen: Made with Love Valentine’s Day kids cookery course at The Story Museum, where 8-12 year olds can cook dishes and desserts, with all ingredients provided between 11am-12.30pm. Mini Makers: Capturing Time at the cool Milton Keynes Gallery is a free event for kids 5+ and their families that explores art in a down-to-earth way. This session takes inspiration from current exhibition How to Construct a Time Machine. Kids can bring an object they love (picture, book, toy, whatever) and then explore time and space creatively. Don’t ask me how but they also incorporate choreography into the session! Into London, and Tuttle Families at Tate Modern sounds like lots of fun. An original soundtrack blares out of the Turbine Hall, while families with 5+ kids weave through the space, guided by dances and communicating through giant tin can phones. It’s free (12pm-4pm), and sounds bonkers and fun if you’re down that way anyway.

Kids 6+ years can combine a love of Roald Dahl and cake with a Terrifically Tasty Tortoises cookery event with food writer Victoria Glass at the Roald Dahl Museum. The Comedy Club for Kids returns to Chippy Theatre for kids 6+ – all the laughs but without the rude bits! In London, Shakespeare Untold puts on a clever-sounding Romeo and Juliet at The Globe for kids 6+. Romeo loves Juliet. But when he starts hanging around under her balcony the trouble really begins. The world’s most famous love story told by someone who was there to help. Shows at 11.00am & 2.00pm. For budding writers, The Story Museum in Oxford is holding How To…Be A Daring Detective event, with Robin Stevens (author of The Wells and Wong Mysteries series) showing kids 9 – 14 yrs  how to write fantastic detective fiction. Best of all, you don’t have to stay and wait for them. Bonza!

The bed where Churchill was born, Blenheim Palace

The bed where Churchill was born, Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace reopens today with a revamped Churchill exhibition (I’ve been and it’s fab). For the arty, Milton Keynes Gallery is offering a pop up cinema season of new releases, cult classics and special events for a fiver. First up, Violette, a film about the lifelong affair between Violette Leduc and Simone de Beavoir in post-war Paris. Comedian Stephen K Amos’s UK tour Welcome to my World reaches Chippy Theatre today, while Olivier Award-winning OperaUpClose performs its hit production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro at the intimate North Wall Theatre in Oxford, with orchestration for piano, viola and clarinet. Sounds really inventive and different, that one.


Want to celebrate V-day today? It’s nipple tassle-tastic at Missy Malone and Friends Burlesque Revue at Cornerstone Arts in Didcot (£16) if you’re a fan of such things, or go for the celluloid option with Fifty Shades of Grey, and enjoy a full 20 minutes of Jamie Dornan acting his socks, t-shirt and, um, pants off. Love is in the air at The Quince Tree (Stonor) with a fab sounding V-night dinner that includes a glass of fizz, amuse bouche and three courses for £50. There’s also a wine flight for £25, or a ‘mini’ wine flight for drivers if Parker has taken the night off. Meanwhile, Waddesdon Manor’s Five Arrows hotel offers – get this! – pre-dinner champers, four courses, coffee, box of chocs, and overnight stay, full English breakfast, set of gent’s golf clubs and a cuddly toy for £229 for two adults sharing a classic double room. (Leave your Pringle jumper at home, I was just joking about the golf clubs and cuddly toy)


Skateboarding antique. But we shouldn't talk of our husbands this way...

Skateboarding antique. But we shouldn’t talk of our husbands this way…


KIDS: The groovy little Kenton Theatre in Henley is putting on Duck in the Truck for littlies 3-7 yrs today, based on the best-selling book by Jez Alborough. Expect puppetry, singing, and all that jazz. Family ticket £30. Bung them in front of How to Train Your Dragon at The Story Museum, Oxford (2pm, tickets £2.50 including a soft drink). Pegasus Theatre, also in Oxford, has its Funday Sunday: Puppets Go Wild event  today packed with puppetry (obvs), interactive songs, clowning and a chance for littlies to meet the puppet stars after the show. Cute. (45 min, 2 shows, tickets £5). Teens will love the By Boarders for Boarders pro skateboard tournament in Milton Keynes, which also offers free skateboard tuition for kids and adults, DJ, food stalls and about a million reasons to feel like a total dinosaur.


ADULTS: The renowned Adderbury Ensemble perform Mozart’s Quintet for Piano and Wind & Fantasia in G minor at their regular Oxford Coffee Concert, in the Holywell Music Room Oxford, Europe’s oldest purpose-built concert hall. (£12 adults, free
Free admission to children ages 5 -10 accompanied by an adult). Kids doing your nut in already? Try the Sunday Night Escape at Stoke Park for £90pp including accommodation and a full English and free use of the spa/gym facilities. The Bodleian Library runs fantastic tours for kids over 11 and adults. There are three tours on Sundays (and others in the week if you prefer), taking in the stunning 1488 Divinity School (above) , the Convocation house where parliament was held during the Civil War and Sir Humfry’s medieval library.




KIDS: At The Roald Dahl Museum, poet and guitarist James Carter promises a madcap session of aliens, rockets, space and science from his featuring poems from his books Greetings Earthlings and How To Turn Your Teacher Purple, as well as his brand new book I’m a Little Alien with James Carter (for 5+). Thespy kids can put on a Play in a Week with Creation Theatre‘s popular Half Term Theatre Workshops at Leckford Place School. Workshop places are limited to 16, every kid gets a chance to shine, and all workshop leaders are actors and theatre pros. The workshops run in two groups –  6-8 yrs and 9-12 yrs from 10am- 4.30pm, with flexible drop-off and pick-up from 9am-5pm (whoo hoo!).  There’s a fab Tweens and Teens Movie Making Course at Shoot Me Studios over the border into Berkhamsted (today and tomorrow). It’s £35 per day, with lunch thrown in (9am – 3pm). Or over at The Theatre in Chipping Norton, they do things even faster with a Play in Two Days for 8-12 yr olds that includes drama games, impro and devising a play (from 16-17 Feb, 10am-4pm, £50, no lunch provided). Kids can build a den, handle objects and explore how animals and humans make themselves at home (pipe, slippers, Krispy Kreme donut) at the Home Sweet Habitat event Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford (1-4pm, 16-18 Feb).Finally for adrenaline junkies, there are special half-term ‘flights’ all this week from skydiving wind-tunnel Airkix in Milton Keynes, none of which involve clouds, planes or hyperventilation.



Looking for some P&Q? The resplendent Rousham Gardens, designed by William Kent (above), will do nicely, especially as children under 15 are not permitted (for fear of spray-painting the dahlias no doubt). You can also see inside the house for £10, but it’s a minimum spend of £120 so you’ll have to bus your friends in. Other peaceful country walks (though good luck on avoid the kids) include Black Park, Burnham Beeches, Willen Park, Wendover Woods, and the rest of the Chilterns! To that you could add Blenheim Palace grounds of course, and if you’re there, you might as well pop in on a lovely exhibition at The Oxfordshire Museum, Keeping Up Appearances that focuses on womens clothes through the wars and shows how the war succeeded, amongst other things, in freeing women from the tyranny of the ankle hem.



KIDS: Not one but two film screenings  at The Mill Arts Centre, Banbury (yes, it’s good for them!). The Lego movie at 10:45 am and Maleficent at 2pm. It’s the last day for the brilliant sounding Teens and Tweens Photography Course at Shoot Me Studios over the border in Berkhamsted while over at MK Gallery there’s Start the Art 3D model making for accompanied kids under 5 years (11am-12pm, free). In Oxford  How to Create Cool Cartoons with cartoonist Clive Goddard is on at The Story Museum for kids 8-12 years (£10, 2-2.30pm), or if you want them outdoors, kids 10+ can try the brand new ‘extreme’ route now open at Go Ape Wendover Woods. It’s a first for Go Ape, a, a scrambling net and climbing wall to scale in order to reach the most adventurous crossings which sounds like there’s scope for some amusement. For toddlers and younger kids Teeny Tiny Town sounds sweet at River and Rowing Museum, Henley where 4-7 year olds can make a little person to take on a dancing journey (£8.50). Alternatively see The Sooty Show, starring Sooty and his CITV sidekick Richard Cadell at New Theatre Oxford today only (11am, 2.3opm).



Lots of theatre on the go! One for adults and kids I guess, Matthew Bourne’s acclaimed revival of Edward Scissorhands reaches Milton Keynes Theatre today until 21 Feb, and takes a fresh new look at this modern fairytale. Over at The Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, Arthur Miller’s dramatic masterpiece The Crucible runs from today 17-19 Feb, whilst in London, Ralph Fiennes stars in Man and Superman at the National Theatre in a epic reinvention of Bernard Shaw’s classic play, opening today and running until 17 May.



Science Oxford – The Fire Show sounds like a blast for kids, an interactive show from the massively Science Oxford team, held at The Story Museum (£6, 11.30 – 12.30, 2-3pm). For arty types 7-11 years, there’s Silk Painting at The River and Rowing Museum, Henley inspired by the work of famous 20th century printmaker Julian Trevalyn (£8.50).  Theatre-wise, Robin’s Winter Adventure, at the Chippy Theatre (Ch Norton) sounds sweet for little ones 4+ – puppetry, poetry and music following a young boy’s journey with his feathered friend (£8.30, 11.30am). Up in Banbury at the Mill Arts Centre, there’s a Neverland drama workshop (9am-5pm, £30 per child including a ticket to Duck Egg’s current production of Peter Pan).

Want to exercise the little buggers? Halton Tennis Centre near Wendover is a national centre of sporting excellence (yup really!) and is offering loads of tennis camps today and tomorrow (18 – 19 Feb)  – hour long groups for 2.5 – 4 years, mornings for 4-7 and full day courses for 7-10, 10-14 and 14-17 year olds. Or how about If you want to get them outside, how about Den Building in Tring Park, a free, 45 minute activity (advance booking required). There are also joint tennis and golf camps using the world class facilities at  Stoke Park, and hockey camps at Stowe School featuring an (as yet unnamed) England player,


Smith Harpsichord
The Bodleian Library runs fantastic tours for adults and children over 11, taking in the stunning 1488 Divinity School, the Convocation house where parliament was held during the Civil War and Sir Humfry’s medieval library. Worth doing. Other fantastic, but little bothered-with Oxford gems include checking out The Bate Collection of Musical instruments (next door to Christchurch College) and The Museum of the History of Science next door to the Sheldonian Theatre, and even the Sheldonian itself – there are mini tours for around a fiver, that take you right to the top of the theatre, with stupendous views out across the spires.



KIDS:  Three shows today of the classic Wind in the Willows at Henley’s Kenton Theatre from Immersion Theatre and critically-acclaimed Cambridge Touring Theatre. If you want to celebrate Chinese New Year  The River and Rowing Museum (Henley) will help kids make Chinese lanterns, lucky charms and all that jazz (free with admission), while over at The Wycombe Museum it’s Chinese Dragons hand puppets (£2.50 per child, 5 timed tickets, suitable for 5 – 11 year olds). Green-fingered kids can decorate a Fantabulous Flowerpots at The Roald Dahl Museum (Great Missenden), but bring old clothes – the paint doesn’t wash out… Kids 4-6 years can learn How to…Draw a Windy Day at The Story Museum, Oxford with illustrator Rob Biddulph who will show them how to to draw their own windy day adventure, creating fun characters from simple lines and shapes. Also at The Story Museum, there’s a great course for teens (as well as adults) – How To Be An Illustrator led by Biddulph (again) and David Mackintosh.

ADULTS: Comedian and activist Mark Thomas performs his one man Cuckooed, at The Stables in MK, the true story of how Britain’s biggest arms manufacturer (BAE Systems) came to spy on a comedian. Looks interesting, but no surprise with Thomas that it’s adult material and for 16+ years. Into London, and Juliet Stevenson takes on one of Beckett’s surreal masterpiece Happy Days at the Young Vic, London (until 21 March).


KIDS: The last day for kids to make the most of the half-term flights at skydiving wind-tunnel Airkix in Milton Keynes.

ADULTS: Give yourself a break from the relentless driving-kids-here-there-and-everywhere and book yourselves in for a 2 night break at The Polurrian Bay Hotel, Cornwall for £299 for a two night dinner and breakfast break (see my review of The Polurrian Bay Hotel), or £399 for 3 nights (and mention Muddy for a free upgrade). Staying put? Lucy Porter, a regular on Mock the Week and Have I Got News For You…. hits Chippy Theatre with Me Time her tenth solo show.



For littlies, check out The Magic Porridge Pot at North Wall Arts Centre, Oxford (today and tomorrow), with puppets, pop up sets and original music (recommended age 3+, shows at 11am and 2pm). Over in Chipping Norton, Science oxford brings new show Out of This World the Chippy theatre for kids 8+. How do we get into space? What’s it like when we’re up there? And what do astronauts have to do to prepare for the trip? In London, there’s the brilliant sounding Mini Vaults Festival (today and tomorrow 10am – 3pm, see image above), an explosion of activities for under 11s and their famlies in the secret tunnels under Waterloo. Entry is free, and includes theatre, circus and comedy, storytelling, face-painting, games, live music, mini shows, interactive installations and more more more. A bit more sombre but just as interesting is the Bucks at War WW1 Event, Bucks County Museum, Aylesbury where kids can taste trench food, play games from the era, and listen to wartime songs and poetry (drop in event 11am – 4pm).



The lovely Waterperry Gardens is offering a Snowdrop weekend (also tomorrow), showcasing more than 60 different snowdrop varieties carpeting the ornamental gardens and a new snowdrop valley area. There are free guided tours at 11am, 12.30pm and 2.30pm. There’s also a fruit tree pruning course today (£55) if you’re organised enough to be thinking about September yields now (show off). Gardening not your bag? Press speeddial for The Rex Berkhamsted from 10.30 this morning – the March tickets for movie showings at this stunning art deco cinema and bar go on sale, and they go fast . Tel: 01442 877759.

Sun 22 Feb


KIDS: Chinese New Year Parade
in London’s Chinatown is well worth the trip into the Smoke – the biggest celebration outside Asia with over 1000 performers and volunteers. Starts 10am. Or take them to the UK’s first  4DX cinema – only two weeks old! –  Cineworld Milton Keynes with tickets on sale now.  The new auditorium has taken a total of five months to complete and includes 140 seats plus a curved screen measuring 5.8m x 10.5m – bigger than a double decker bus.

The first film to be screened in 4DX will be Kingsman: The Secret Service and thereafter, customers will be able to enjoy upcoming movies, including Hollywood blockbusters and local hits of various genres as well.

Another great Oxford Coffee Concerts at Holywell Music Room, this week featuring pianist Viv Maclean, performing Gershwin Preludes and Song Transcriptions & Liszt Consolations. If you think your Chopsticks is good, you’ll be blown away by this! (£12 adults, kids 5-10 free, under 5s not permitted).  Sticking with classical music, An Evening With Julian Lloyd Webber at The Stables (MK) includes story-telling and live music, plus clips of JLW performing with the likes of Nigel Kennedy, Elton and Yehudi Menuhin. Now that’s just showing off.










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The Urban Guide to the Countryside - Bucks & Oxon