What’s on outdoors (yes, really!)
The time has finally come to put on some real clothes (joggers don't count, sorry) and have some fun in the fresh air - at a social distance, of course.
Going out is the new staying in! Yep, it’s finally time to emerge from your cocoon, put on some actual shoes and head out into the world. Stay safe of course but we think it’s time to get out there and support your local events, stores and experiences.
For a lovely family day out with stunning walks historic country estate Stonor Park , about four miles north or Henley-on-Thames, is a no brainer. The grounds encompass parts of both the Chiltern and Shakespeare Way and are an anthophile’s dream, blooming with pretty English flowers including peonies, roses and irises. For the kids, the Wonder Woods play area (we’re talking sandpits, seesaws, tunnels and more) is reopening from this weekend in line with government guidelines. Plus for larger kids there’s a nine metre pyramid slide, tree house, giant nest swing and 50 metre zip wire (which I want a go on too!).
Cool London street food vendors are also parking up on the grounds and on the rota this week in association with KERB. You can grab a takeout from Kalimera (hello halloumi wraps, 10 Jul), OH MY DOG! (posh hotdogs and steak takeaways, 11 Jul), Kolkati (epic flavours from the back streets of Kolkata, 11 Jul), Bian Dang (tasty Taiwanese, 12 Jul), Mother Flipper (hearty burgers, 12 Jul).
The gardens and car park are open Wed – Sun and pre-booking is essential to adhere to social distancing rules. The toilets will be open with added cleaning measures. Book here.
CAR PARK PARTY
I am loving this idea for a safe and socially distanced night out! Brand new Car Park Party is bringing the classic American drive-thru to Bucks & Oxon with live entertainment including comedy nights (world-famous Comedy Store are supplying the laughs), live theatre (award-winning Birmingham Stage Company are performing kiddie favourite Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain, which seems rather apt in these times!) and karaoke (choose from 80s, family movies and musicals). First up the event is pulling into Henley Festival on 9 – 11 July (tickets are selling like the clappers so book in pronto) and then later in the month at Newbury Race Course (24 – 25 July). Book tickets here.
CHILTERN OPEN AIR MUSEUM
The independent heritage museum will be opening its grounds – with allotment and woodland – from 20 Jun with reduced ticket rates (booking essential). There’ll also be takeaway drinks from the village kitchen, plus the toilets and museum shop will be open too. Dogs on short leads welcome. Tickets here.
Oxford’s favourite pastime was made for social distancing (each punt holds up to 5 people) and is a great idea for a fun family day out. Magdalen Bridge Boathouse is back open for the summer and you can hire boats to ride down the River Thames – start at Oxford Botanic Gardens, glide through Christ Church College and then either fork left to see Magdalen School’s pretty rose gardens or right towards the Isis (this is my favourite). You can hire punts hourly, or rent for the day and ride ’till sunset. Or, a little further upstream, Cherwell Boathouse is also open for online punting bookings. The riverside restaurant is currently closed but in the meantime you can pick up a pizza from Mamma Mia’s, or go fancy with a fine dining takeout from brand new Two One Five Kitchen & Drinks (formerly Michelin-starred Oxford Kitchen) nearby. Check out my review here.
Privately owned, this underrated 14th century castle with moat, is prettily situated a few miles outside Banbury, and though not grand like Warwick, or a romantic ruin like Corfe there’s something really charming about it. I think the real pleasure in it is that it feels quite laid-back and untouristy and ‘do’able – because some days you’re just not in the mood to flog around a castle for 6 hours are you? The gardens are now open Sun – Wed (2pm – 5pm) with 150 tickets released for each date. Tickets here.
OXFORD BOTANIC GARDEN & ARBORETUM
One of my favourite local arboretums, Harcourt Arboretum has been part of Oxford Botanic Gardens since 1963 and is just six miles south of the city centre. It’s now open for walks around its 130 acres of historic landscape, with tickets available to purchase online (booking essential). Central Oxford Botanic Garden, the oldest in the UK, will follow suit on 22 Jun. Tickets here.
Tell me about it, Stud! Get ready to channel your inner Sandy (or Zuko) – the retro drive-in is here. With social distancing as de rigueur as a pair of stilettos for the summer, we’ve cherry-picked 3 of the coolest outdoor cinema experiences in Bucks & Oxon.
Cotswold Drive-In Cinema @ the Showground at Ascott-under-Wychwood: A brand new drive-in for the ‘Wolds – yippee. Cotswold Drive-In Cinema lends you in-car bluetooth speakers and has wood-fired pizza, popcorn, ice-cream and drinks on demand – all served through your window. There are ‘luxury loos’ (no idea, but sound good) and prior to the movie you can even stretch your legs and go to the bar to get yourself a drink from the ‘specialist’ gin bar (socially distanced of course). And the best bit? Err, only a pre-movie live set from Ibiza DJ Gary Mack to get you in the mood, and fireworks to top off the night. Rocketman will be first to play (20 Jun) with more films to be announced. Cars are limited to 4 people and the film starts just after 9pm.
Luna Cinema @ Blenheim Palace: The ever-popular Luna Cinema is back with a drive-in makeover. Expect giant HD LED screens, state-of-the-art digital in-car speakers and stunning backdrops. We love the sound of the Luna Bar – order food and drink from your car by scanning the QR code on the front of the in-car speaker you’re given and hey presto, they’ll roller-skate it over to you. Toilets and medics are on site too (just in case you get overwhelm from a 30ft Ryan Gosling). The 18th century stunner is hosting 14 fabulous films from Rocketman (10 July) to Pretty Woman (12 July) and JoJo Rabbit (13 July) and A Star is Born (16 July). Doors open at 8.30pm and the party starts at 9.30pm. Nearby, film are also showing at Warwick Castle in Warks, and Knebworth House in Herts.
Tom Kerridge’s Drive & Dine Theatre @ Henley Showground: With Pub in the Park cancelled this year, the Michelin-starred Marlow marvel chef has instead organised a drive-in cinema experience, complete with a top-notch foodie offering (we wouldn’t expect anything less). Expect classic 80’s flicks and family faves as well as a comedy set from Mark Watson’s Carpool Comedy Club (18 July only). There are 11 films on the movie reel including La La Land (14 Jul), 1917 (16 Jul), Back to the Future (19 Jul), plus it wouldn’t be a drive-in without Grease (16 Jul)! Tickets are on sale from 10 Jun and are sure to sell like hot chocolate-glazed choux buns (well we are talking Michelin star quality here!), so snap a parking spot pronto. The Drive & Dine Theatre is also popping up just over the border in Beds at Luton Hoo Estate (7 – 12 Jul).
SHOP (AT A SOCIAL DISTANCE)
Shopaholics rejoice! Shopping centres have been given the go-ahead to reopen from 15 Jun which includes Westgate Oxford that’ll be opening with a limited capacity, hand sanitiser stations and enhanced cleaning regimes to be as safe as possible. There will also be a one way system (warning: this could be dangerous from your credit card if you keep passing Mint Velvet!).
Designer shopping mecca Bicester Village is also opening (the village looks lovely this time of year with summer flowers, plants and trees) with new regulations. Visitors will have a temperature scan on arrival, plus you can book a virtual queue spot for your favourite boutiques using the app.
And for those of you that are Bucks-based, centre:MK also has plans to open on 15 Jun with social distancing measures in place. All 18 doors will be open, plus shops will have ‘waiting areas’ to keep capacity at a safe level. Let’s shop!
PICK YOUR OWN STRAWBERRIES
Feeling fruity? Rectory Farm, in Stanton St John, is the biggie in our ‘hood for hand picked punnets. There’s no need to book, and you only pay for what you pick which will, no doubt, be less than what you eat as you do the rounds. Millets Farm Centre, near Abingdon, is also open on a booking basis and you’ll get a whole strip of strawberries to yourself whilst you pick. Current dates to book are 13 & 14 Jun, with more to be released soon. Entry is £1.50.
Fingers on buzzers! Slots sell like hotcakes for National Trust trips these days, but if you’re lucky enough to get tickets here are some of my local favourites: Stowe, Bucks, with its timeless landscaped gardens and lakeside walks; Cliveden, Bucks, where the gardens and woodland estate are open; Rothschild Waddesdon Manor, nr Aylesbury, and its Victorian style gardens and aviary; the rolling parkland and woods at Hughenden (above), High Wycombe; picturesque Greys Court, nr Henley.
THE SECRET FEAST POP-UP
Now here’s something to get in the diary pronto. Throughout Oct 2020, The Secret Feast is hosting fine dining experiences in Beaconsfield with dinner served in pop-up pods set in a totally dreamy location. It’s an immersive experience with live performers and acts, plus there’ll be a five course menu including oak smoked salmon, confit duck, roast beef (*drool*). After countless weeks in lockdown, we could all use a little escapism to look forward to. Dates are already filling up, so this is your warning.
Fancy a takeaway coffee with your outdoor fun? Click here to see who’s open.