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Tried & Tested: a great little museum in Henley

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This weather is driving me nutty. It’s just so hard to think up interesting things to do with the kids day after day when it’s pidoodling down with rain. But I have a new trick up my sleeve now – The River & Rowing Museum in Henley.

Admittedly the name sounds a bit dull, as if you’re going to see a few stuffed mallards and fish (well, there were a few of those!), but it’s actually an attractive, light, modern space, built in 1998 right on the river and just a five minute walk from the town.

I should caveat this post by saying that I didn’t see the museum at its most typical yesterday as I stumbled in on a Prince & Princess day (Cassius won the dressing up competition and taunted his sister for the next four hours with ‘I’m the winner, I’m the winner!) but even without full size Toad of Toad Halls roaming about and singalong performances, there’s plenty for everyone here, not least because there are five temporary exhibition spaces that change regularly.

For small kids, the current Wind In The Willows exhibition is totally charming – we went around it twice – with cleverly presented  3D models, theatrical lighting and music and an audio guide bringing the story to life. There were several well-equipped drawing and sticking stations too, with helpful staff showing idiots like me how to help my kids make butterfly puppets (well, come on, do you know?!).

For older kids and adults, there’s loads of interesting stuff, including an early Thames boat from around 540AD , Olympic gold medals and other paraphenalia on display, the history of rowing in the UK (including womens rowing), early rowing machines, and a small but perfectly-formed exhibition of John Piper (1903 – 1992) displayed for the first time in the UK. It’s quite an eclectic mix, but it really works because of it. It’s great to have art nestled next to drawing stations, and interractive oar-pull measurers next to historical artefacts.

The cafe downstairs is decent, with paninis and soups, kids lunch boxes and indecent-looking cakes, but if you get to the museum early enough and it stops tanking down with rain for 5 minutes I’d suggest a stroll into the town centre for something to eat, down past the river, the rows of weeping willows, and Toad, Rat and Mole.

River & Rowing Museum, Mill Meadows, Henley on Thames, Oxfordshire, RG9 1BF. Tel: 01491 415600.


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