La-la-la!!! That’s the sound of me with my fingers in my ears and eyes firmly shut – I mean, the school holidays can’t be happening, can they? Oh God, they are happening! Better unleash my guide to what to do with the kids over the next six weeks then…
The biggie this summer is Wilderness, in Cornbury Park, Oxford – a heady mix of right-on hippiness (lots of yoga) combined with impressive big-name music bookings including Groove Armada, Robyn, Bombay Bicycle Club and Tom Odell (Thurs 1 – Sun 4 Aug). A huge line up of family activities to get stuck into too.
For foodie families The Big Feastival, based on the farm of cheese-obsessed Blur bassist Alex James in Kingham, Oxon, is a goodie. Top notch chefs for the grown ups (including Raymond Blanc, Jodie Kidd and Pru Leith), heaps for kids (circus top, playground, fair and activities) and a stellar pop line-up of Jess Glynne, Lewis Capaldi, Jade Bird and Rudimental (Fri 23 – Sun 25).
Reading Festival will keep older teens happy with the Foo Fighters, The 1975, Twenty One Pilots and Post Malone all headlining (Fri 23- Sun 25 Aug), with many other bands I’ve never heard of, but according to my teen, it’s because I have no musical taste and I’m old. Hurumph.
There’s also the return of Retro Festival, a vintage fest held at Newbury Showground. It has everything from the Spitfire Cabaret, music from Ska Britannia, soul sisters The Heatwaves and northern soul band The Signatures, plus the wall of death, motorcycle stunt show, fun fair and much much more (Fri 9 – Sun 11 Aug).
Alternatively, Jessie J will be headlining at Ascot Racecourse on Sat 10 Aug for the Shergar Cup and Concert, followed by a DJ set from Tinie Temper. For something a bit more laid-back, head to Wellington Country Fair and Horse Trials (24-26 Aug) for a weekend of fabulous food, first class eventing, dogs and your kids can be free range. There is Pimms Bus, just saying. Get the lowdown and a delicious Muddy discount here.
You have to hand it to Legoland for continuing to come up with ways to sell the Lego dream to under-10s in ever-inventive new ways. This year’s attraction is the fangtastic Haunted House Monster Party, a brand new rotating ride and that’ll turn your world upside down (Best before lunch) There’s also the Ninjago World and Lego Miniland, which took three years to complete.
Let your littlies let off steam at Wellington Country Park near Reading. With 350 glorious acres to explore, adventure playground, splash pad and themed weeks – pirates and mermaids, unicorns, fairies and pixies, dinosaurs, and a bouncy castle bonanza – it’s a guaranteed hit for those with younger children.
Thorpe Park is catnip to thrill-seeking teens with the Walking Dead and Derren Brown Ghost Train rides upping the fear factor. New this summer is Bouncezilla – a brilliantly bonkers 90m inflatable obstacle course that bites back. Yikes.
If you’re still in the Peppa Pig phase, Paulton’s Park over in Hants is a fab introduction to theme parks with over 70 rides – nine of them Peppa-themed – plus a large indoor play zone and Muddy Puddles to jump and play in! Have the tramadol on standby.
Kids climbing the walls? Send them up trees instead! The Big Tree Climbing Company is pitching up at Cliveden (15 – 16 Aug and 29 – 30 Aug), Oxford Botanic Garden (10 Aug) and Waddesdon Manor, Aylesbury (17 – 18 Aug) – kids aged 6+ can safely scale the trees with ropes, harnesses, helmets and zip line to the floor. Or head over to Swinley Forest to Go Ape for zipwire japes plus there’s woodland tracks and trails to explore on Segways or bikes. If you’re heading into London, try Zip.Now and fly 225 metres at 50kmh across Southbank. Beats the tube in a heatwave.
There are castles and stately homes aplenty in our neck of the woods, so you’re spoilt for choice. Windsor Castle, often neglected by Berkshire peeps, has lots of summer activities running throughout the summer, including its Stars and Banners: Knights and Ladies of the Garter. Try on some armour and make a Garter star to wear as you explore the home of Britain’s oldest and most senior band of knights.
At Cliveden my kids love being free to explore the maze, 365 acres and sculpture spotting – Antony Caro this year. No screen time worries at Basildon Park, they’ve introduced a wild play trail, featuring 20 different play stations including a wooden xylophone, a sensory room, log bridges and much more. Hop over the Hampshire border to The Vyne for a Victorian Children’s Play trail and lots of dressing up.
Time to try something different? Shaw House in Newbury is super family friendly, putting on outdoor theatre and film nights, crafty activities and a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. I’d pop Highclere Castle on your list too, a lovely day out, but with the Downton Abbey film due out in September, you’ll want to beat the bus loads of super fans and hang out now.
Over in Henley is the National Trust’s gorgeous Grey’s Court has a new Wildlife Wanderers trail around the grounds for summer. Also in Henley is Stonor Park with its stunning deer park, Wonder Woods adventure play area and, new for summer, a nature trail, Robin Hood themed dress-up activities, pirate-themed painting and, for fledgling Bear Grylls, Mud & Guts workshops where children can build outdoor shelters and learn bushcraft skills.
And finally, Waddesdon Manor, Aylesbury, is always a dead cert with it’s stunning grounds (anyone for a picnic?), plus the National Trust venue is hosting a Summer of Sport (until Fri 30 Aug) with themed trails, Orienteering, workouts, Tour de Waddesdon, football, table tennis, badminton and more.
The headline family show this summer is Aliens Love Underpants showing at the Corn Exchange Newbury. Based on best-selling children’s book by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort, you’ll laugh your pants off at this fantastically fresh and funny production (2 – 4 Aug).
First produced at the Young Vic Theatre in 1994 to critical acclaim, poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy’s adaptation of the Grimm brothers’ famous fairytales comes to life on stage at South Hill Park in Bracknell. From the family drama of Hansel and Gretel, to the touching tale of Cinderella, and other magical stories, Grimm Tales is one to see this summer suitable for ages 7+) (23 Jul – 1 Sep).
My kids love a bit of comedy and children’s TV royalty Sam and Mark, as seen on CBBC’s Big Friday Wind-Up and Copycats, will provide an hour of LOLs (12 Aug) or book in to see Claire Hollingworth and The Scoop Of The Century, a highly interactive show bursting with storytelling, songs and journalistic snooping (15 Aug), both on at Norden Farm Maidenhead.
There’s some outdoor theatre action too including Quantum Theatre’s Wind in the Willows in Cliveden‘s gorgeous grounds (30 – 31 Jul) and David Walliams’ Gangsta Granny (13 – 15 Aug). Alternatively there’s Midsummer Night’s Dream (30 Jul) and Alice in Wonderland (12 Aug) in the garden of Shaw House.
If you’re happy to travel, there’s a double bill of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (of The Gruffalo fame) with Zog at Milton Keynes Theatre, about a young dragon eager to earn a star at Dragon School (29 – 31 Aug), and Tabby McTat at Oxford Playhouse (16 – 18 Aug) – a feel good story about friendship with original songs. Mister Magnolia, based on the book by Roald Dahl’s illustrator Quentin Blake, at Millets Farm, nr Abingdon, with live puppetry.
The lovely River and Rowing Museum, in Henley has a new children’s exhibition for the hols Bears! (3 Aug – 3 Nov) where kids can learn about history’s favourite bears – Rupert, Winnie the Pooh and friends – as well as explore original artwork and manuscripts from We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, The Bear and The Piano and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. Every Fri during the hols there’ll be bear-themed games and crafts in the galleries, and on 8 Aug, there’ll be a Teddy Bear’s Picnic.
Muddy Award-winning The Base in Greenham Common is putting on some brilliant exhibitions, the latest is Brick City, the iconic Lego brick buildings by artist Warren Elsmore. Take in lively celebrations in Rio through to New York, tall towers from Copenhagen to Venice, and imaginative castles from medieval Japan to modern Las Vegas. Then pop into the Brick Den and create your own masterpiece.
Brick City at The Base Greenham Common
Lots to see Reading Museum, including Britain’s famous Bayeux Tapestry replica. The original, which will go on display next year at the British Museum, is a bit racier than the Reading version. The Victorian embroiderers covered up all the exposed private parts. Spoil sports. Pop the MERL (Museum of English Rural Life) on your list too. A little bit old school, a dash of innovation and plenty of opportunities to get your hands dirty.
Elsewhere, Muddy Award-winning Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford is always worth a look around (especially with dino-mad children), or the History of Science Museum. The Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden, Bucks, piling on the activities to keep the ankle biters entertained over the summer holidays all themed around James and the Giant Peach – loads of tongue-twisting events including Buzzwangling Bug Pots, Phizzwhizzing Insect Portraits, Hunky-Dory Insect Homes and more.
If you’re heading into London, fuel your imagination at the Science Museum‘s spectacular interactive gallery – Wonderlab, where you can think like a scientist and make stuff go boom.The Space and AI tech exhibitions are also worth seeing. If you have a mini dedicated follower of fashion the V&A‘s Mary Quant and Dior exhibitions are amazing and a new interactive food exhibition is running over the summer for you to taste and debate. Lunch sorted.
Let your kids run riot in 74 acres of Berkshire countryside without losing them *Phew*. Bucklebury Farm Park. Meet the weird and wonderful farm animals – feed them, pet them, they will lick you; tackle the outdoor assault course, bounce around on the inflatable pillow, whizz down the zipwire, the deer safari is a must and don’t forget the new Maize Maze.
Longleat is always a hit in the Muddy household, but news just in that a pair of endangered Amur tiger cubs have just been born, see visitor numbers soar. They’re also throwing their new koalas an almighty party with a summer of Aussie activities and entertainment. No Aussie bash would be complete without a sand between your toes, so they’ve also built the UK’s biggest indoor beach. Bonza.
Cotswold Wildlife Park, nr Burford, has all the furry, creepy and crawly creatures you can think of. It has the little fellas – penguins, lemurs and reptiles – as well as the big guns, including lions, rhinos (FYI Aug is Rhino month with daily talks) and giraffes (try out the Giraffe Walkway where you can stroll up to eye-level with the animals). There’s also a cute railway, adventure playground and children’s farmyard.
Or there’s Britain’s biggest zoo Whipsnade Zoo, just over the Beds border, which is opening its brand new aquarium just in time for summer. Running until Sept is Nature Night Camping (for kids 5+) from 6.30pm – 10am with animal tracking activities, morning tour and breakfast. Or, for a quieter affair head to Showcase Cinema in Reading to see Disney’s new Lion King and maybe have a cheeky nap on the reclining leather seats.
If your kids like getting wet, Bray Lake Watersports offers kids holidays activities, suitable for ages 8-15, over a week or daily. Sign ’em up for sailing, paddle boarding, canoeing. If they’re not splash happy, perhaps a bungee jump, segway adventure or fishing will float their boat. My kids absolutely love an inflatable obstacle course we’re lucky to have Europe’s largest course at Liquid Leisure in Windsor, including a junior, Ninja Warrior and Aqua Jungle courses. Fancy a dip? Northcroft Lido in Newbury is a mahoosive (and affordable) outdoor pool. For the full list of watery wonderlands in the ‘hood, click here. Or for beach trips in less than two hours, click here.
FIVE MINUTES’ PEACE
If you haven’t visited The Jelly Lounge in Windsor, it is your summer holiday sanity saver. Not only the coolest soft play EVER (such a thing does exist) it has a fantastic selection of camps for children aged 5-10. From Explosive science and performing arts, to graffiti workshops, street dance and circus skills. Happy, tired kids at the end of the day and cheeky glass of wine for you from the brilliant café.
If you’ve got a Duracell bunny. The Little Gym to the rescue. The brilliant team will take your 3-12 year olds off your hands, send them on exciting missions around the gym – running, rolling, swinging. Think Lara Croft or Indiana Jones without the jeopardy and snacks.
Release the tension! And what better place to send them than kids yoga at Swan at Streatley. Two creative yoga workshops for different age groups (4-7 yr olds at 1.15pm and 8-13 yr olds at 2.15pm), where they’ll get to release energy and hit the reset button. You can work on your own tension in the cafe/bar – coffee? wine? Choose your poison and relax.
Reach for the sky and learn the basic skills involved in indoor roped climbing at Intro To Climbing, Reading Climbing Centre. Suitable for ages 7-17.
Can you kick it? Yes you can. Once again Reading FC is running its ridiculous popular soccer schools. All age groups are catered for plus girls only sessions, goalie and technical skills training. Courses at Madjeski Stadium Dome book up really quickly. From £6 a session -£65 for the week.