10 free things to do this summer
It may be looking distinctly changeable outside and the summer funds might be running low but there is still plenty to squeeze out of summer in Bucks, Oxon and further afield.
According to Instagram, the world and its dog is whooping it up in Mykonos. But if you’re mindful that your holiday budget has been prematurely consumed by the summer sales and wondering how on earth you might elicit some joy from the next few weeks, you’re in the same boat as us. Precisely why we’ve been rummaging through the internet for free things to do. Light of pocket but still pumped for summer fun? Look no further.
1 Check out someone else’s dahlias
The National Garden Scheme sees over 3,500 private gardens in England and Wales open for charity – adults pay but children go free. This is brilliant for two reasons: firstly, you can indulge in a bit of real-life garden porn (begone Right Move), and you can pick up clever border design ideas while sending a few quid (normally around £4) to highly worthy charities such as MacMillan. We’re keen to pop into Aston Pottery near Bampton, Oxon, on 25 and 26 Aug and Lindengate in Wendover (pictured above) on 6 and 8 Sept. See you there.
2 Run amok in natural history and culture
Turns out you’ve never too old to draw some wonder from drawers of preserved beetles and butterflies and the occasional stuffed polar bear. The National History Museum‘s outpost in Tring is a fascinating and free way to spend an hour (donations are welcome) while in our neck of the woods The Ashmolean and Pitt Rivers Museum is packed full of ancient treasures and fine art. Small museums can pack a real punch too – I’m a big fan of Banbury Museum, which currently has a cool Mechanical Circus exhibition (under 5s go free) and Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock is lovely too. The Aylesbury-based Bucks County Museum currently has a free exhibition The Beautiful Stitch, as well as it’s fantastic new ROBOTS exhibit (not free, but super reasonable at £2.50 for kids, £3.50 for adults). Great Missenden’s Roald Dahl Museum is free for children under five and if you can stomach a train journey into London, the Wellcome Collection and Science Museum offer floors of entertainment for zero pence.
3 Go for a ramble
Make the most of the last days of summer by stomping through the lush woodlands of the English countryside. Oxford’s Post Meadow, above, is a welcome green oasis in the city which you can cross in around 45 minutes, while making the most of the nearby watering holes including The Perch, or the cool Jacob’s Inn. Many more stunning walks with pubs nearby in our guide here.
4 Carve out some art time
We all know that many art galleries are free and yet… can you remember when you last went? Us neither. But there is no time like the present. Top of our list for a mosey around is the vastly revamped MK Gallery with its brilliant exhibit on political artist Paula Rego (free on Tuesdays if you’re an MK resident and for gallery members). Also very much worth the effort is Modern Art Oxford, currently showing Claudette Johnson: I Came to Dance above. Looking for something more bijou? The Jam Factory in Oxford won our Best Art Gallery in Bucks/Oxon award this year and operates as a creative hub for the community together with hosting a fantastic bar and bistro. From 21 August, there will be a exhibition of cinema posters from Oxford’s underground cinema club, Oxford Under The Stairs.
5 Tap up some regional heritage
Ah, the National Trust where children under 5 go free and frazzled parents weep quietly in gratitude. Sanctuary of the bored, saviour of many a wet weekend. And this August will be no different. Waddesdon Manor, formerly a Rothschild playground, holds an artisan food market every second Saturday of the month (no need to pay for entry as it’s down the bottom of the estate) and harbours a truly excellent woodland playground that will guarantee to wear out any irritable, screen-saturated children. The Gardens at Stowe has 250 acres to explore and simultaneously tire out little legs. Other NT favourites of mine include Chastleton House near Chipping Norton, Greys Court in Henley, Claydon House near Buckingham and the under-rated Upton House & Gardens on the Oxon/Warks border. Go visit them all!
6 Walk among the dreaming spires
Want to give the kids something to aim for? Spend the afternoon strolling around the Oxford University Colleges that are open to the public to subliminally implant your expectations for their academic achievements! Or, if you’re happy with them just being happy, you could just wonder at the architecture and immaculate lawns while hearing about the illustrious alumni such as Sir Christopher Wren, J. R. R. Tolkein and… Dr Seuss.
7 Pack a picnic
Nothing says summer quite as much as a wicker basket packed full of strawberries, champagne and salmon sandwiches (or perhaps more likely, a bag-for-life with a box of sausage rolls, a can of coke and a couple of Kit Kats). And if you come prepared with umbrella, waterproofs and rainproof rug, you’ll have a good time whatever the weather throws at you. Head up to the top of Wendover Woods to make the most of the incredible views across to Buckinghamshire (Wendover has dedicated BBQ spots too if you get there early enough to snaffle one) while Abingdon Lock in Oxfordshire allows you to stare dreamily across the water, while ignoring the wasps attacking your ice lolly. Read our guide to the loveliest picnic spots for ultimate crustless sarnie inspo.
8 Pick your own fruit and veggies
Rectory Farm is the biggie in our ‘hood for hand picked punnets. It’s free to go (there’s also a free bouncy castle, sandpit and haystack for little ones) and you only pay for what you pick which will, no doubt, be less than what you eat as you do the rounds. In season at the moment are strawberries, raspberries, potatoes, broad beans, blackberries, plus it’s a great way to coax the kids into eating something healthy (mwa-ha-ha!). Other PYO hotspots include Peterley Manor Farm in G Miss, Peach Croft Farm near Radley, and Millets Farm Centre near Abingdon (not free but the £2 entry is redeemable against any fruit purchased).
9 Take the kids to catch a show
Sometimes, when it’s bucketing down and the children are wrecking the house, all you need to do is put them in the car and take them to another building so they can wreck that instead. So why not choose one of London’s eminent theatres, which have the added benefit of not only being robust but home to some high quality entertainment. Kids Week is a programme that lasts for the whole of August, which allows one child under the age of 16 to watch a production for free as long as they’re accompanied by a full-paying adult. And up to two other children can benefit from a half-price ticket. Participating shows include Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain Part 4, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Gloria Estefan’s On Your Feet! and the highly acclaimed Barber Shop Chronicles.
10 See London from the Sky
There’s something utterly enthralling about scrutinising London from top down (“Look how close The Shard is to the London Eye!” “I never realised the river was so bendy!”) so you could do a lot worse than book yourself a free one hour session strolling around 20 Fenchurch Street’s Sky Garden – a lush green space atop of The City’s ‘Walkie Talkie’ skyscraper . The next of limited tickets are available on Monday 19 August and we strongly recommend booking a weekend ticket as the extended opening times mean you may just catch the sunset. Weather permitting.