Bumper Half-Term Muddy Guide!
It’s safe to peer above the parapet, here comes the bumper Muddy half-term guide to what’s on in Oxon and Bucks! Welcome to the most replete, carefully-curated, exhaustively researched local guide we’ve ever produced! Use my clickable events planner to organise your time day-to-day, or use my lists below as a steer on pre-bookable courses for young kids to teens.
COOL STUFF THAT’S ON ALL WEEK – OXON & BUCKS
Wonder Woods at Stonor Park, extended opening until end of Oct
Last couple of weeks to to try out this fab woodland play park at Stonor Park which pulls off the miracle of catering to children from 0 – 15, so ideal for parents like me who have kids with a frustratingly wide age range. Younger kids have the usual sand, playhouse, seasaws and slides, but the larger, lumpier ones can throw their energy into climbing the Wonder Wood pile and twisty rope tangle, trying the wavy slide, tunnels and 50 metre zip wire. There’s the Visitor Centre next door too, if you want to facilitate your little darlings’ happiness from the warmth of the cafe (just saying).
If you have friends over who want to visit Oxford, or if you want to do something a bit different with the kids, Bill Spectre’s Ghost Tours are a fun option – this ex-actor dons a Victorian undertaker outfit and leads an entertainment-based tour around the city, full of props and illusions. Catch him at Oxford Castle Unlocked on 29 – 31 Oct 6.30 and 9pm. More spook on offer at the Hell-Fire Caves near High Wycombe on Friday nights, transformed with a macabre selection of props, lighting and creepy music and not suitable for those under 10. For littlies the courtyard hosts free activities like colouring, fancy dress competitions and games and special witch workshops (4-10 years).
Halloween Half Term (24 -30 Oct) at Green Dragon Eco Farm near Quainton. My kids did a holiday course here over summer and loved it, so booking them in for monster pizzas, bugs and beasties shows, creepy cupcakes, and web making could be a winner.
Like the pretty lights? The disability-friendly Fairytale Farm in Chipping Norton has a week long Halloween event (Sat 22 – Sun 30 Oct), with illuminations on every evening from dusk with free games and activities for younger children, while those who love nature should head to the stunning Westonbirt Arboretum in the Cotswolds where kids can try different daily arts and crafts activities including making leaf crowns, Autumn sun catchers and leaf bugs. Young animal lovers could head to Odds Farm Park’s new Halloween Festival (Fri 21 – Mon 31 Oct) with puppet shows, arts, crafts, pumpkining etc.
Where’s the culture, I hear you cry! (er, go on then). Well, thanks for asking. you can take the kids to the Bates Museum of Musical Instruments in Oxford for free Family Friendly Events (24-28 Oct, 2-5pm) where you can all ogle at Handel’s harpsichord and strange instruments from all over the world. How about introducing your little darlings to impressionism with Matisse: Drawing With Scissors exhibition at the River & Rowing museum in Henley (now until 8 Jan 2017), featuring 35 lithographic prints of the famous cut-outs, including The Snail and the Blue Nudes?
For a further art fix, head to the Christchurch College Picture Gallery in central Oxford – a fantastic, little known gallery to those outside the university that is showing two exhibitions – Drawing In Red featuring 30 red chalk drawings from Michelangelo to Bernini, and Forgotten Faces: Portraits from our Storeroom – a look at the many sublime portraits of the unknown and unloved from its collections. There’s also a very cool sounding event at Waddesdon Manor that goes beyond the usual Halloweeny stuff – a 3D portraiture Scanner at The Coach House Gallery (Sat 22 – Sun 30 Oct) that will scan, process, print and carve members of the public into 3D portrait busts in real time. It takes 4 seconds to snap you, and you get your own a digital file of your head within a few days that can be then 3D printed and materialised in wax, plaster, alabaster, lead glass or even gilded bronze.
Also worth looking at if you’re after low-hassle artsy crafty ideas: Cogges Manor Farm near Witney has daily arts and craft sessions throughout half term (10am -2pm) plus a Pumpkin Day on Sun 30 Oct with Halloween fun and activities; and daily opening for the Roald Dahl Children’s Gallery in Aylesbury (normally only open to schools during term time) from Mon 24 – Sat 29 Oct.
COOL STUFF THAT’S ON ALL WEEK – FURTHER AFIELD
Warwick Castle always ramps up for Halloween in style, with The Haunted Castle open until 9pm, with Horrible Histories back, fire jousting and all that jazz (Fri 22 – Mon 31 Oct), or how about Brick or Treat is Legoland’s special Halloween-themed event (Mon 17 – Sun 30 Oct) with over 55 rides, live shows, plus fireworks spectaculars on 15, 22, 23, 28 and 29 Oct. For animal lovers there are free Tours all week and lots of half-term activities (Sat 22 – Sun 30 Oct) at The Living Rainforest near Newbury – a lovely family attraction with monkeys, toucans, an armadillo, resident sloth etc that my kids loved.
There’s a Halloween Festival at Longleat (Sat 22 – Sun 30 Oct), that ends with a bang and a series of fantastic firework displays (27th – 29th October only), while at Mead Open Farm near Leighton Buzzard it’s Freaky Funfest (22 – 31 Oct), with six new family events including the ‘Shed of Dread’ plus the usual puppet shows, stories, fancy dress and pumpkin carving and the farm animal attractions.
For older kids, there are Fright Nights at Thorpe Park (Fri 21 – Mon 31 Oct, from 3 – 10pm) with a live action horror maze, plus rides including the UK’s first winged rollercoaster, a 100ft ‘beyond vertical’ drop and Stealth, one of Europe’ fastest and tallest rollercoasters. My idea of utter hell but your kids 13+ will love it. If you’re east, try The Howl scream park in Leighton Buzzard, back for its second year and featuring five huge haunted attractions full of live, terrifying creatures. Yes, people actually do this for fun…
Into LONDONIUM, you can bring two kids to The View from the Shard for free with each fee-paying adult, or how about taking them to fly down the world’s longest and tallest slide at the Olympic Park? Don’t forget to check out the The British Museum (awesome mummies), the V&A Museum, Natural History Museum and Science Museum or for something slightly less educational, head to the Board Game Fun at the Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green (Mon 24 – Sun 30 Oct), where kids can become a piece in a giant board game, make their own games and even do a board game collage workshop.
WHAT’S HAPPENING AT THE STATELY HOMES NEAR YOU
The National Trusts and private stately homes pull out the stops for visitor at half-term.
It’s Spooks and Surprises at the Grade I listed Chenies Manor (Weds 26 – Thurs 27 Oct, 2-5pm) with two special scary afternoons for kids with a specially adapted tour of the 15th century manor house (above). Kids can also visit the two mazes, see the silent Tudor ghost roaming the corridors and have their faces painted for free, and ou can also dive in into The Pavilion Art Gallery for free during your trip.
Cliveden (near Marlow) has a drop in Wands, Wizards and Witches in the Woods for kids 4-11, in which your little witch or wizard (in full fancy dress regalia) heads into the woods to collect natural things with which to a brew a potion. At Waddesdon Manor there’s an Ugly Bug trail, Halloween games, pumpkin carving and undercover art and craft activities at the Summer house (Sat 22 – Sun 30 Oct) , plus on Sat 29 – Sun 30 Oct, it’s Winnie the Witch’s Halloween Party where kids can meet her in the flesh and take part in Halloween Games.
Stowe Landscape Gardens near Buckingham (above) is one of the most stunning green spaces in England, so well worth the trip if you’re never been. An extra excuse is the daily haunted trail for kids, but seriously, they’ll be entranced even without one. At Hughenden Manor near High Wycombe, there’s the chance for kids to carve their own jack-o-lantern (22-30 Oct, £3), while over at Blenheim Palace they’re throwing the entire broomstick at it with spooky tours of the Palace, a ghost train, minibeasts shows, puppetry, pumpkin trail, story-telling and pumpkin carving (23 – 30 Oct)
Claydon House near Buckingham, where Florence Nightingale once lived (you can lie on her bed btw!) has a Conservation in Action Week where they prepare to put the house to bed and discover more about how the team cleans and cares for the collection. Bletchley keeps it high brow too with its Blackout Bletchley after-hours tour as part of Museums at Night (Fri 28-29), where you and yours can walk in the footsteps of the Codebreakers and experience the atmospheric surroundings at night between 7-9pm (tickets need to be booked in advance). Finally, if shopping is more your thing, Mapledurham House has a Festive Gift Fair (Fri 28 – Sun 30 Oct).
JUST FOR ADULTS
Meh, those pesky children! If you don’t have ankle biters yourself or just want to do something without your heirs hanging off your ankles, book in to see Ghost the Musical coming to New Theatre Oxford (31 Oct – 5 Nov) starring Girls Aloud’s Sarah Harding and a whole load of flying clay. There’s the brilliant Edward Fox as John Betjeman in Sand in the Sandwiches at the Oxford Playhouse (Tues 25-Fri 28 Oct); or perhaps even better, King Lear starring none other than Glenda Jackson in the title role (from Tues 25 Oct) at The Old Vic, London with outstanding cast including Jane Horrocks, Rhys Ifans and Celia Imrie.
COURSES FOR YOUNGER KIDS
Longridge runs brilliant Holiday Activity Days every day through the half term for kids 8+, and Willen Lake in Milton Keynes offers sheltered waters in which to learn kayaking and canoeing during half term week. There’s also a beginner’s watersports course at Bray Lake in Maidenhead, where kids can learn to sale, windsful and paddle to RYA and BCU qualifications.
Thespy kids from 6-8 and 9-12 can Put on a Play in a Week with the fantastic Creation Theatre at d’Overbroeks in Oxford (£170 a week with discount available), starting 24 October, promising a Shakespeare theme with a Halloween twist. If a whole week of thesping is too much, how about a 3 drama course and performance of Aladdin with Perform in Beaconsfield for kids 4-7 from Mon 24 – Weds 26?
For the sports mad, there are rugby camps with Oxford Harlequins for U7s to U12s, London Irish in Henley for 6-14 year olds, and London Irish in Windsor for 6-16 year olds. Arsenal Soccer Schools are holding an October Half Term soccer school in Berkhamsted from 24-28 Oct. On an entirely different note, how about Lego Holiday Camps, run in London during the hols? Camps are typicaly for one week and run for 2-3 hour a day, including Vikings Camp (5-11 years) and “Halloween” LEGO Camp for 8-11 years creating stop motion animation that kids can take home with them.
COURSES FOR OLDER KIDS
Jazz hands at the ready for a 3 day CATS-themed musical theatre course at Milton Keynes Theatre for kids 12-16, or how about stage combat workshop 13-16s at Creation Theatre in Oxford. At The Stables in MK, there’s a half term workshop in jazz improvisation for kids 12-17, and there’s also an introduction to sound engineering or Sonic Pi for teens 13-17. There are also some fab sounding RIBA design and architecture day courses for kids 11-15 and 15-18 (from Mon 24 Oct) in London.