Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Things To Do in Buckinghamshire: The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre

Emma waiting patiently in the entrance for me to
stop taking photos. The gates that you can see if
you press your nose to the screen and squint are
recreations of the ones used in the Johnny Depp
retelling of Charlie & the Chocolate Factory: they
were offered the ones from the movie, but were
too big!
On a long-weekend dog-sitting for my mum while she was on holiday, we found a few things to pass our time. This was the first thing we did, en route to my mum's house near Reading. This is a combined photo post and review; you can see more pictures here.

In the picturesque village of Great Missenden, home of beloved children's author Roal Dahl for over thirty years, sits the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Telling Centre.

Upon arrival we went straight for lunch in Cafe Twit. Whilst not a cheap meal, it had a very home-made feel quality to it, and they weren't skimpy on the portions either. The whole experience was in keeping with the Roald Dahl theme, with favourites having their names twisted to sound like they could have come from one of his classic stories.

After lunch we headed into the museum proper. At £6 a head (for adults), it's not a bad entry fee, and we had it even better because we got one free on a Waterstones promotion. It's probably worth mentioning that Cafe Twit and the shop can be accessed without paying for entry.

Once entry is paid for you can wander around to your heart's content, and even leave the site and return later thanks to the wristbands that you're supplied with. Adults are given a visitor's guide, and children get a story ideas book to jot down notes and ideas as they go.

A quote on the wall in Cafe Twit. Do you know which book it's from? And can you spot the superfluous apostrophe...

There's plenty to do:
  • Two galleries outline Roald Dahl's life: one details his childhood and school years; the other takes you through his various experiences as an adult, including many of the events that inspired and shaped the stories that he wrote.
  • The story centre is an area full of inspiration and encouragement for budding young (and young-at-heart) storytellers. With activities to get the creative juices flowing; clothes to dress up in; excerpts from notes and early, unpublished versions of Dahl's stories; a craft room; and comments, both spoken and written, from other famous children's authors on how they write, anyone with a creative bent can run amok.
Emma gleaning inspiration from the master's notes in the story centre.
There's a fair amount of interactivity here, with extracts from his books and memoirs, and displays visually echoing the works of Quentin Blake, whose illustrations will, for me, forever be an integral part of Roald Dahl's mastery.

Whilst the museum is aimed at children between the ages of 6 and 12 I found myself, at 29, immersed in the experience of finding out about the creator of worlds that influenced my own early years. I found out that I'm exactly the same height as Farmer Boggis, whilst Emma is somewhere between Mrs Silver and a human-sized duck. An interactive quiz told me that I'm as sparky as Fantastic Mr Fox*, and I had a sit down in a faithful replica of Dahl's own loved and battered writing armchair. The staff at the museum are very friendly, approachable, and encouraging, regardless of how many digits there are in your age.
There's a feedback board that does nothing to detract from the playful atmosphere of the museum!
Aside from the static exhibitions, there are also other events from time-to-time: craft activities in the craft room, story-telling activities in the courtyard, and we listened to a short but interesting and informative talk about Roald Dahl's writing hut. Most comments that I've found state that their visit lasted 1 - 2 hours, but this would depend on how many of the extra activities you take part in, and on what day you go. I'd advise taking a peak at the calendar in the What's On section of the museum's website before you go so you can find out what extra activities are being laid on at the time of your visit.

Here are some places you can find info:

The sweet shop across the road from the museum is a great place to pick up some treats and gifts.

If you're looking to stay a little longer (it's quite far away from a lot of places**), then there are options to extend your visit:
  • Across the road from the museum is a gorgeous little old-style sweet shop, selling sweets, pic & mix, ice cream, chocolate fudge and all sorts of other things that are good for your mind and bad for your body.
  • If it's a nice day, there are two self-guided walks you can follow: the village trail, and the countryside trail (hard copies are available at the museum).
  • Roald Dahl's garden is open on selected dates during the year.

Sweets in jars: the sign of a good old-style sweet shop.

* I can live with that.
** So is everywhere, I suppose.