Oxford’s Story Museum is open at last

The entrance to Oxford's Story Museum. Credit: Diane Auckland

The pandemic is a challenge that the newly opened Story Museum in Oxford have overcome with creativity. Who said social distancing can’t be fun?

The magic begins the moment you step into the enchanted Portal and pick your very own wand. A simple wave or a twist can open doors, light up hidey-holes or solve puzzles to hear more stories.

The wand is, of course, one of many imaginative ways of making sure a pandemic doesn’t get in the way of charm, fun and beauty. The Story Museum, Oxford, has had many setbacks, but the coronavirus crisis isn’t going to stop it opening this time.

The courtyard at The Story Museum. Credit: Diane Auckland

Instead of a long list of dos and don’ts, visitors are tempted with exciting possibilities. Which budding knight, for example, could turn down the chance to ‘purify’ themselves and cleanse their hands of evil with a ‘special potion’ before attempting to draw a sword from a stone?

Even the wait while a socially-distanced forest clears enough to allow visitors to hear each tale has been carefully orchestrated with soundscapes, jokes and simple games. By the time your wand sounds the gong to enter, the magic is flowing.

Tales from the Whispering Wood

The Whispering Wood. Credit: Diane Auckland

Family bubbles wander through an indoor forest, guided by an invisible hare. Stopping at each tree, they experience a story, myth or fable from around the world. At the end of their journey everyone makes three wishes. They must choose well, though, or end up like the old man and the sausage…

The Story of a Story

The Treasure Chamber exhibition space tells the story of the museum, using memorabilia, objects and images. While this bit is probably more for the grown-ups, the tale is told in family-friendly language, and the tutorial on how to make your own dragon should inspire rainy afternoons.

The Enchanted Library

The Chronicles of Narnia installation in The Enchanted Library. Credit: John Cairns

The Enchanted Library explores the world of children’s books through a series of interactive tableaux and stuffed-full cabinets of curiosity. Crunch through the snowy world of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.Peer into the haunted parallel realms of His Dark Materials. Gaze up through Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole or play pooh-sticks in the Hundred Acre Wood. Visitors can explore the dystopian London of Noughts and Crosses, sneak intoHorrid Henry’s bedroom or even take a flight with The Snowman.

Adults or children?

The Small Worlds area in The Story Museum. Credit: Andrew Walmsley Photography

It’s a tough call who will most enjoy the Story Museum. The Small Worlds play area will entertain tinies while older children may prefer the City of Stories film show. For me, this wonderful, happy place is a fabulous, moving nostalgia-fest for adults, made spine-tinglingly friendly for children. And those wands are a palpable hit.