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16 fun things to do in Bucks & Oxon this month

Well, lockdown has lifted but life is not normal quite yet. Still, it’s Christmas don’t you know and there’s lights to see, and bells to jingle, and mulled wine to quaff. Here’s where to do it.

MK Gallery, Milton Keynes

Image: “Tawaraya” boxing ring by Masanori Umeda 1981 with the Designers of the Memphis Group – photo taken in 1981 Photo Credit Studio Azzurro Courtesy Memphis srl

Buck’s foremost contemporary gallery is opening up again on 2 December and welcomes individuals and family bubbles to experience Memphis: Plastic Field, an exploration into the influential 1980’s art movement (produced in partnership with Memphis srl, Milan with exhibition design by IB Studio, Milan – Architects Isabella Invernizzi & Beatrice Bonzanigo). There are other exhibitions running in the project spaces and the cafe/bar, cinema and shop are welcoming visitors too , should you be in the market for some arty Christmas presents. Exhibitions are open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm. The shop and cafe/bar stay open until 7.30 on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday.

The North Wall Arts Centre, Summertown

Korky Paul Winnie and Wilbur

The North Wall Arts Centre is opening up with a charming exhibition, Korky Paul: Winnie and Wilbur’s Magical Moments. Noted illustrator Korky Paul is showing his favourite creations from the much-loved children book series Winnie the Witch and Wilbur, written by Valerie Thomas. The show will run from 4-23 December, and then the 4-23 January (Mon to Fri, 10am-4pm, Sat, 12pm to 4pm). Admission is free.

Waddesdon Manor, Aylesbury

If it’s a Christmas Market you’re after, you could do far worse than buying tickets for Waddesdon’s offering. From 3 December to 3 January (excluding 24-26 December), aside from the fair – which will be packed full of locally made gifts, food and drink – visitors can enjoy the Winter Light Trail, the Manor’s illuminations, When You Wish Upon a Star Trail, and an immersive performance in the Coach House. (The house and cellars will not be open.) If you’re keen, book quickly.

Ultimate Picture Palace, Oxford

On the rocks Sofia Coppola

With Oxford in Tier 2, the UPP has been able to put together a two-week pre-Christmas programme. On The Rocks is showing, Sofia Coppola’s first feature-length collaboration with Bill Murray since Lost in Translation. Then there’s the highly rated Mogul Mowgli with the ever-excellent Riz Ahmed alongside potentially the best Christmas film ever, Die Hard. Plus, they’re serving mulled wine. Go, go, go!

Christmas at Blenheim, Woodstock

Blenheim Light Trail

So, it’s not going to be quite the same (there won’t be a Christmas market) but the palace is open for visitors and will be decorated to some extent, with warming fires in the grate. The fabulous Cecily Brown exhibition is on so there’s even more reason to wander the gilded corridors. Outside, however, it’s a different story with the Illuminated Light Trail; this year, the team have built in a scented fire garden (?), colour-changing neon tunnels (??) and a Heart of Stars lawn (???). Tickets, as you might expect, are a must. Open from 4 December to 3 January excluding Christmas Day.

Missenden Abbey Festive illuminations, Great Missenden

Missenden Abbey Illuminations

From 3-23 December from 4.30 to 8.30pm, for the first time ever, visitors can walk an illuminated trail at Missenden Abbey. Tickets must be purchased beforehand (entry is timed) and obviously no more than groups of six. 

Festive Fairytales, Odds Farm, High Wycombe

For younger families, this could just be the sort of godsend you’re after. Mostly outdoors (wrap up warm) and socially distanced, Odds Farm is putting on a group story time with Santa himself. Then you can walk through the Enchanted Woodland to the North Pole, via Santa’s toyshop, of course. From 3-24 December. Booking essential.

Clayton’s Boutique Cinema, Marlow

It's a Wonderful Life

Dinner, drinks and a classic film? Don’t mind if I do. Clayton’s is currently taking bookings for its film nights in December and It’s A Wonderful Life is showing on 8 December. There’s also Elf on 22 December if you fancy something a little more giggly.

Curzon Oxford

This Friday (4 December) Curzon is opening up across the nation and Oxford’s branch will be raring to go. Head over to Westgate to see David Fincher’s Mank and Christopher Nolan’s Tenet – two of the big Oscar contenders for next year.

Stonor Park, Henley

Stonor Wonder Woods

Stonor’s big Christmas 2020 celebrations have had to be postponed until next year due the November lockdown but the adventure playground and gardens are opening for two weekends this month (5-6 and 12-13 December) to allow cooped up families to let off steam. The visitor centre will be open for drinks and light snacks too. Pre-booked tickets are essential.

Ashmolean, Oxford

Ashmolean

Oxford’s premier art and archaeology museum is getting ready to welcome the crowds once again. A new exhibition Owning the Past: From Mesopotamia to Iraq opens on the 12 December and delves into how past can affect the present in reference particularly to Islamic State and the First World War. You’ll need to book free tickets. Open hours are 10am-5pm.

Santa’s Grotto at Oxford Castle and Prison

Castle Elves are ready and waiting (from selected dates between 12-23 December) to welcome visitors to the winter wonderland inside the castle where they can travel to the North Pole to meet Father Christmas himself. It’s all nicely socially distanced and lucky children will receive a festive bag, a photo with Santa, a Christmas ornament they’ve decorated themselves and a story told by the big man himself. You (parent) get tea or coffee and a guided tour of the prison to be taken by March. Go online for prices and to book.

Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford

Pitt Rivers Museum

The awesome Pitt Rivers is opening again on Saturday 5 December but as you would expect for a building so crammed with fascinating artefacts, pre-booked timed tickets are the name of the game here. Only the ground floor is open and there will be one-way traffic in some areas. Open Mon-Sun, 10am to 5pm.

Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum, Woodstock

As of right now, the SOFO is back open and has a fab exhibit Spy Oxfordshire that every hopeful James Bond will be thoroughly delighted with. Especially as it features objects from REAL LIFE Bond films. Open Weds to Sat, 11am-5pm, Sun 2-5pm. As ever, book tickets.

Modern Art Oxford

Modern Art Oxford

On Saturday (5 Dec) the Modern Art Oxford will open its doors again and visitors will be greeted with some thought-provoking exhibitions. Mariana Castillo Deball’s Between Making and Knowing Something focuses on little-known stories of female anthropologists. In the Piper Gallery, Responsive Space is a collection of art projects created during lockdown. The cafe and shop are open but you’ll need to pre-book free tickets. Opening hours are Tues to Sun 11am – 4pm.

Roald Dahl Museum, Great Missenden

Roald Dahl Museum

Fans, young and old, of Roald Dahl will be delighted to know that thanks to some Culture Recovery Funding, the museum is able to open again on 4 December. It’s guided tours only and they will run half-hourly from 10am-4pm. Tickets, of course, are a must.

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