7 free things to do this summer
Summer funds might be running low but there is still plenty to squeeze out of summer right here in Bucks & Oxon. Shall we take a look?
If the purse strings are tighter this year and you’re 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.
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. In Oxon we’re keen to pop to Aston Pottery (above) in Bampton (22 & 23 Aug), Radcot House in West Oxfordshire (23 Aug) and Bolters Farm in Chipping Norton (30 Aug). Whilst in Bucks there’s Ascott in Leighton Buzzard (30 Aug). Booking essential.
Get your art fix
We’ve missed our lovely local museums and galleries, haven’t you? Luckily, a few are planning to open just in time for the summer hols including Oxford’s excellent Ashmolean (opening 10 Aug), which will be exhibiting Young Rembrandt – a chronological journey through the artist’s early career with 34 paintings and a further 90 drawings and prints. The show also includes the newly discovered Let the Little Children Come to Me, which is making its public debut at the exhibition. The city’s Modern Art Oxford will also be opening its bright and airy galleries, showing Tools for Life (above), the first solo show from Chilean artist Johanna Unzueta that combines art, clothing, a large-scale felt installation and a short film for a multi-faceted look at function and form (open 11 Aug).
Play al fresco tennis
Game, set and match! There are plenty of tennis clubs and leisure centres in our ends where you can pay to book a court for an hour but I’ve scoped out some free options, all you need to bring is a bat and ball. Or balls, plural, if your serves are as wayward as ours. Oxon haunts include Hinksey Park, which has four courts available to play on, and Botley Park which has two (booking essential). Whilst over in High Wycombe, there are three courts at Desborough Recreation Ground which are first come, first served – head over for an early morning match to nab a court with no queues.
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, 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 and pick up some of this perky picnicware to take with.
Tap up some regional heritage
Ah, the National Trust where children under 5 go free and frazzled parents weep quietly in gratitude. Many of the gorgeous sites have opened their grounds for walks including Rothschild playground Waddesdon Manor, nr Aylesbury, and the pretty Georgian landscaped gardens at Stowe, Bucks, (there’s 250 acres to explore and simultaneously tire out little legs). Muddy’s other NT favourites include Greys Court in Henley, Upton House & Gardens on the Oxon/Warks border, which has opened its Pavillion and café, plus there’s Stonor Park, nr Henley (not NT, but just as historic and pretty) where kids under 1 go free. Check out five reasons to visit the latter here. Booking essential for all venues.
Go for a ramble
Make the most of sunny days by stomping through our lush woodlands and undulating countryside. Head to Coombe Hill for extraordinary views of Buckinghamshire across the Aylesbury Vale and Chiltern Hills or see Oxfordshire’s answer to Stonehenge, The Rollright Stones, a collection of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in the Cotswolds. Many more headline-worthy walks can be found in our guide here.
Pick your own fruit and veggies
Rectory Farm, Stanton St John, is the biggie in our ‘hood for hand-picked punnets. It’s free to go and you only pay for what you pick which will, no doubt, be less than what you eat as you do the rounds. You can just turn up for strawberries, but to pick raspberries you’ll have to book a slot. Or over near Abingdon there’s Millets Farm Centre (not free but the £2 entry is redeemable against any fruit purchased).