May half term sorted!
But Easter was only yesterday I hear you cry! Don't worry, Muddy has you covered with the best family-friendly things to do over May half term in Oxon, Bucks and beyond.
Theatre for kids this half term includes My First Ballet: Sleeping Beauty at New Theatre Oxford (Fri 31), a simplified version of the fairytale to a shortened version of Tchaikovsky’s score, for kids 3+, performed by students from the English National Ballet School; Tarzanna, at The North Wall theatre, featuring dance and aerial acrobatics (Sat 25 May, 5-8 years); dino-musical What Killed the Dinosaurs? performed by Oxford Uni’s Earth Sciences PhD students, at the Museum of Natural History (Tues 28 May, 7+); Out of the Hat, at Roxburgh Hall, Stowe School, a feel-good family puppet show about a band of musical frogs.
Cabaret for kids? Bear with us… Duckie, a re-imagining of The Ugly Duckling, is acclaimed cabaret star, Le Gateau Chocolat’s first foray into children’s performance (all family-friendly, of course), and it sounds faaabulous. A good moral tale about self respect, with a side order of glitz and glamour- showing at Muddy favourite Pegasus Theatre, Oxford, Sat 25 May. Also at Pegasus is Mole & Geko: The Show, a short 45 minute interactive rap musical that’s created with help from the audience. Expect live songs, poetry and rap stories (Sat 1 Jun). Word.
Created by Julia Donaldson, the brains behind kid’s classic The Gruffalo of course, Zog is about a young dragon eager to win a golden star at Madam Dragon’s school, Oxford Playhouse (Fri 31). If your kids have seen Tiddler and Other Terrific Tales and Tabby McTat, it’s a dead cert as it’s the same team behind the production. And finally, all-female troupe of thespian cyclists The Handlebards return to Chiltern Open Air Museum, nr Chalfont St Giles, for an al fresco performance of The Tempest, in their unique brand of energetic, chaotic and environmentally friendly cycle-powered theatre (Sun 2 Jun). The all-male troupe will be performing Much Ado About Nothing later in the month (Fri 28 Jun).
Wellies at the ready! Our neck of the woods punches above its weight when it comes to music festivals, and many of them are brilliantly family-friendly. First off the blocks is Cotswolds weekender, Lechlade Music Festival – Brit indie-pop crew The Feeling are headlining, plus there’s yoga, woodland skills workshops and storytelling (Fri 24 – Sun 26). Just over the Glos border, Wychwood Festival pitches up at Cheltenham Racecourse, it’s another family fair with comedy, yoga and performances from Scouting For Girls, The Stranglers, ABC and, um, Basil Brush (Fri 31 May – Sun 2 June). Or, if you can’t stand to camp, there’s family friendly day fest All My People, in Chalfont St. Peter, Gerrards Cross– Soul II Soul headline and there’s also an Acoustic Garden showcasing emerging talent, yoga, wellbeing workshops, street food, kids activities and a vintage fair. PS: If you’re forward planning your summer, here’s our full festival guide.
A nice counterpoint to the larger, big name festivals are a couple of slightly more local dos. High Wycombe‘s biggest annual music festival, Frogfest, returns on bank holiday (Sun 26), taking over the town centre. Now in its sixth year, the festival gets bigger every year with local bands and those from further afield, craft workshops, fire shows and circus acts. Or, there’s Love Marlow (Sat 1 – Sun 16 Jun), Marlow, a two week community festival with over 60 events including music, sport, workshops and kids activities across the town. For the last weekend of half term, you can catch Marlow Market (Sat 1), Brass on the Grass (Sun 2) and Marlow Beerfest (Sat 1 – Sun 2) which will be serving a selection of craft beer alongside a Gin Bar- grown ups need to enjoy half term too, right?
Museums are a great for amusing kids who’re climbing the walls – loads of activities to hand, and they’re always a leetle bit educational too so you get smug parent points (always worth grabbing when available – it happens so rarely in my family). Here are my top picks:
The Oxfordshire Museum, Woodstock, with dinosaur and Matisse inspired collage making sessions influenced by the museum’s new Matisse, Drawing with Scissors exhibition (Tues 28 & Thurs 30 May); Wycombe Museum, Wycombe, with tile coaster making (Tues 28 & Thurs 30 May) and Bug Bonanza where you can hold giant spiders (I’ll pass) and various other bugs and mini-beasts (Sun 2 Jun)- there’s a lovely garden for the kids to bomb about in too; The Ashmolean, in Oxford, drop-in Magical Maths workshops inspired by Dimensions: The Mathematics of Symmetry and Space, in collaboration with Oxford University’s Maths Institute (Wed 29 – Thurs 30 May).
As usual, the Roald Dahl Children’s Museum, in Great Missenden, is piling on the activities with Clay Cockatooloos modelling workshops, Whirlgig Whiffle-birds crafting where kids can make their own imaginary birds, a talk with best-selling children’s author and poet Jen Campbell, who’ll be reading from her new book Franklin and Luna go to the Moon, Propsposterous Flying Thingalingalings junk modelling (try saying that after a couple of Margaritas) and May Scoff ‘n’ Stroll, a 3km guided countryside walk and afternoon tea, part of Chilterns Walking Festival (Sat 25 – Fri 31 May). It’s also your last chance to see the Matilda at Thirty exhibition, featuring eight drawings of a grown-up Matilda by Quentin Blake (ends Sun 2 Jun).
Others to check out include the River and Rowing Museum, in Henley, I visited its William Morris exhibit above back in Feb and really enjoyed it- loads of family friendly elements to the display, plus the museum is putting on a few activities alongside for half term (Tues 28 – Fri 31 May); Milton Keynes Museum‘s Look at Life weekend with free attractions like microscope safaris, nature-themed crafts, displays and talks from local wildlife groups (Sat 25 – Sun 26 May); Banbury Museum, north Oxon, opens its brand new interactive exhibition Mechanical Circus (Sat 25 – Sat 7 Sept) where you can see optical illusions and, erm, put your head in a lion’s mouth. The exhibit will feature the museum’s first international loans from Museum Boerhaave in The Netherlands, plus loads of workshops and activities including a circus family day (Sat 25 – Fri 31 May). Full list here.
Roll up, roll up!
And speaking of, it’s circuses galore this half term, with Gifford’s Circus pitching up its Big Top at Sudley Castle (Thurs 16 – Tues 28) and, just over the border in Glos, Daylesford Organic Farm in Kingham (Thurs 30 – Mon 3 Jun). This year’s theme is ’70s summer of love, so expect hippies and flower power amid the chaos and clowns. For a smaller affair, John Lawson’s circus return to Millets Farm, near Faringdon (Sun 26 – Sat 1 Jun).
Fancy getting a new perspective on the world? The Great Big Tree Climbing Company will teach you and yours how to enter a tree’s canopy using ropes, knots and karabiners (no idea what that is, let’s move on) before doing the fun bit and taking the zip wire back down. Seeing Mr M land in the woodchips after a speedy zip wire descent still has my children in stitches. Coming to Cliveden, nr Marlow, (Mon 27 – Tues 28), Hughenden Manor, nr High Wycombe, (Thurs 30) and Stonor, nr Henley, (Fri 31). 6+
Calling all fledgling farmers! Odds Farm Park, nr Beaconsfield is holding a Young Farmer’s Week with a host of farmyard activities for children to try out including sheep shearing, baby goat feeding, egg collecting and mini Land Rover drives. Interactive farming quests, challenges and crafts, as well as the Farm’s usual giant indoor play barn and tearoom. There’s welly wanging for all the family to get stuck into too (Sat 25 – Sun 2 Jun). And, over in Witney, Cogges’ Farm is jumping on the festival hype (Mon 27) with live music from Witney Ukes, flower crown crafting, various other kiddie activities and more. PLUS Millets Farm, nr Abingdon, kicks off its Pick Your Own season in time for half term (from Sat 25 May), with over 30 fruits and veggies including raspberries, courgettes, apples and strawberries (for Champers obvs).
Waddesdon Manor, Aylesbury, has acres of walks, kids’ playgrounds, formal gardens and for half term it also has awesome art installation Colourscape (see below) and free talks with the Aviary Keepers where children can learn about the exotic collection of rare and endangered birds at Waddesdon’s 19th century Aviary above (29 – 31 May). Hughenden Manor, nr High Wycombe, is celebrating bees with a trail around the grounds, beekeeper workshops and crafts (27 – 31 May). And there are also trails at Grey’s Court, nr Henley (25 May – 2 Jun), a sports themed route around Cliveden, nr Maidenhead (25 May – 2 Jun) and Basildon Park, Berks, with a wild themed trail and brand new area for little ones with ball run stations (25 May – 2 Jun).
At Stowe Landscape Gardens, nr Buckingham, there’s a fun take on an activity trail with kids having to complete nine mythical themed missions around the gardens to win a prize (26 May – 2 Jun) or a Spring Seekers trail, with a guide to discover the varied birds, flowers and bugs around the grounds. You can also book Wild Wednesday (29 May), a free nature walk for children around the gardens, a great way to get them out into the fresh air and away from the iPads.
Colourscape, Waddesdon Manor, nr Aylesbury, Sat 25 May – Sun 2 June
I snapped this at Waddesdon Manor’s ever-so-slightly-bonkers annual immersive installation, Colourscape last year (check on my review here). It’s back for its fifth year – prepare for a sensory overload, as this year will have the longest installation to date with 56 interlinked chambers full of light, colour and music. On weekdays, resident musician, Michael Ormiston, will be creating family-friendly free-flowing workshops and on weekends Hurdy-Gurdy will be performing a theatre piece with dance, acoustics, panpipes and flutes from around the world.
Oxford Festival of Nature, various locations, Sat 25 May – Sat 8 Jun
Organised by the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust, this two week festival showcases the wild and whacky wildlife we have here in Oxfordshire with a programme over 40 events, walks, workshops, comedy nights and activities in venues including Oxford University Museum of Natural History, Farmoor Nature Reserve, Blackwell’s Bookshop and more. Half term highlights include the festival’s main event the Wild Fair (Sat 1 Jun) with appearances from wolves, crocodiles, bats, edible insects (ew!) and live music, plus loads of drop-in family activities such as Ready Stead Draw, garden flower pressing and nature walks around Warburg Nature Reserve, nr Henley. Full programme here.
Westgate Oxford Spring Party, Oxford, Sat 25 – Sun 26 May
It would be rude not to make the most of Westgate’s gorgeous rooftop, especially if the sun is out, so our favourite shopping centre has organised a two day mini festival for half term with storytelling, face painting, the Bubble Fairy and for grown ups, plenty of discounts and offers. 11am – 5pm.
Lemur Week, Cotswold Wildlife Park, Sat 25 May – Sun 2 Jun
How cute is this little guy?! Throughout half term, Cotswold Wildlife Park will be holding competitions, board games and talks in the walkthrough Lemur enclosure in aid of the Park’s Madagascan conservation initiatives. There’ll be a Lemur themed trail round the park too.
Blenheim Palace Food Festival, Sat 25 – Mon 27 May
For a foodie family day out, there’s Blenheim Palace’s sixth annual Food Festival– a gastronomic weekender packed with talks, demonstrations, family activities and a hearty sprinkling of celebrity chefs, including Raymond Blanc OBE, Jean-Christophe Novelli and Celebrity MasterChef champion, Angellica Bell. There’ll also be up to 160 local and regional foodie and drink stalls with artisan bakers, craft brewers, gourmet burgers, international cuisine and, new for this year, the Vegan & Veggie Garden. Go stuff yourself silly.
Waterperry Gardens is defiantly lo-fi in its approach to children’s entertainment and I rather like them for it. The gardens are just starting to blossom, perfect floral hiding places for the Gnometastic trail. There’s a decent sized play frame thingy, a gift shop for your children to poke and prod their way around and a huge nursery (floral not child-minder unfortunately).
Big Doggie Do, Willen Lake South, Milton Keynes Sat 26 – Sun 27 May
This free weekender for the whole fam, including Rover, has doggie stalls, family entertainment and four legged fun including K9 Aqua Sport (I’ll believe it when I see it).
Roman Gladiator day, Chiltern Open Air Museum, Sun 26 – Mon 27 May
Muscly men running around in tiny shorts. Nope, it’s not the rugby but, erm, Gladiators. Criminals, barbarians, prisoners and disgraced soldiers fight to the death to be crowned champion in full Roman costume. The event is run by Britannia, one of the oldest and largest re-enactement groups in the UK, who have worked on tons of TV projects from Ridley Scott’s Gladiator to kids’ favourite CBBC’s Horrible Histories. You’ll also be able to buy replica weapons, if that’s what floats your boat.
Sleepover at Stowe, Stowe House, Sun 26 May
To celebrate Queen Victoria’s 200th birthday, Stowe House will be holding it’s very first sleepover- you’ll find out about the beautiful 18th century house’s history, play Victorian games, crafts, dance and the Queen will even pop in to say hello. The sleepover is for children aged 7-11 and all children must be accompanied by an adult.
Oxford United football camp, Hanney recreation ground, Oxford, Tues 28 – Fri 31
For footie mad children aged 4-13, this four day course is for all abilities with skills and mini-matches- it’s 9am – 3pm so plenty of time to pop off to Westgate for a wander.
Queens Park Arts Centre, Aylesbury, Bucks, Tues 28 – Fri 31 May
Night Safari, Wallingford Castle Meadows, Tues 28 May
Don your best camouflage for this safari around Wallingford Castle Meadow. Starting at 8.30pm you’ll go on a guided walk of the Green Flag nature reserve to sleuth out local wildlife from small mammals like wood mice, bank voles and shrew (all humane, of course) to bats and moths. The safari finishes at 10.30pm, so best for 5+ with later bedtimes.
Mud & Guts workshop, Stonor House, nr Henley, Wed 29 – Thurs 30 May
Wilts based outdoor adventure company Mud & Guts comes to Stonor to train the Bear Grylls of Bucks & Oxon- den building, fire lighting, tracking skills, bushcraft tutorials and woodland games. There’ll be two sessions per day, 10am – 12pm for 5-7 year olds and 1pm – 4pm for ages 8+. The Wonder Woods and adventure playground will also be open through the holiday.
Turn End Garden, Haddenham, Bucks, Sat 1 Jun
I live down the road from Turn End and it really is stunning- a series of interlocking garden rooms each with a different planting style, with a Grade II listed house and artist studios within. The gardens, part of the National Gardening Scheme, are having a rare public opening with free entry for kids (adults £15). Artist in Residence, Heather Hunter’s studio will be open to look around and there’ll also be a small selection of plants for sale from Turn End’s nursery.
New Children’s Garden, Kew Gardens, London
As if it wasn’t already a prime spot for day tripping, the clever sausages at Kew Gardens have added a brand new Children’s Garden just in time for May half term. Two years in the making, the interactive garden (aimed at ages 2 – 12) has over 100 varieties of mature trees, bamboo tunnels, hammocks and in-ground trampolines all under the cover of a huge 200 year old oak tree.
Dino Week, Mead Open Farm, Beds, Mon 27 – Fri 31 May
I’m always slightly puzzled as to why kids are always so crazy about dinosaurs, but hey ho, they can get their fix over at Mead Open Farm as its dedicating a who week to T-Rexes, Triceratopses and the like. There’s dinos hidden around the farm, the Caveman Rock Show, Jurassic tractor rides and a Dino Disco at the end of the day.
Beasts of London, Museum of London, Fri 5 May – Sun 5 Jan
This looks amazing- a fully immersive, digital installation (see above for a sneak preview) exploring the role animals have played in the shaping of London, from the Roman era all they way up to present day. The interactive show uses video projection mapping to bring the beasts, from rats to lions, to life as they narrate a virtual tour of London. There are some major British celebs involved too, with Kate Moss, Brian Blessed, Pam Ferris and more voicing the beasts. museumoflondon.org.uk
Great Brick Safari, ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, Beds, until Sun 2 Jun
I’ll be a few of you have a LEGO obsessive under your roof. At Easter Whipsnade Zoo introduced its Brick Safari, with one million bricks’ worth of beasts and animals dotted around the mammoth zoo (it’s the biggest in the UK doncha know), as well as hands-on family activities. It’s included in entry price and running throughout this month. zsl.org