For a cultural getaway or a countryside ramble, Oxfordshire is a captivating county. Oxford itself, at the very heart of this rural county, is renowned for its heritage, exquisite architecture, and ancient university. But it’s well worth taking time out time out to explore the surrounding landscapes, enjoy the county’s bustling honey-coloured market towns, discover the film and literary connections or visit beautiful Blenheim Palace.
The first colleges of Oxford were built in the 13th century, but it wasn't until 1878 that women were admitted to the university.
Oxford’s Story Museum is open at last
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.
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
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 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?
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.
The Manor Country House Hotel review
Visiting The Manor Country House Hotel is like walking into a National Trust property where you can touch the furniture
Shop – then drop
Grade II-listed Weston Manor dates back to the 13thcentury. Built in mellow local stone, it has always been well-situated, within easy distance of Oxford, the Cotswolds and Blenheim Palace. These days there’s an added draw. Bicester Shopping Village is just down the road.
READ MORE: Behind the scenes at Blenheim Palace
Immerse yourself in history
From the moment you pass the ancient wooden front door, history comes alive. A log fire still burns in the 16thcentury fireplace; the paintings on the walls are of the Bertie family, who once warmed themselves by it.
Wonderful Tudor details, such as the rare feather panelling, intricate ceilings and tracery have been carefully incorporated into the design so that it is both comfortable and beautiful.
Thirty-two individually-decorated rooms can be reached by timbered corridors and delightful, up-and-down stairs. For a slightly more contemporary twist, there are also rooms in the tastefully restored coach house. Some have four-poster beds, some are ideal for families. All are en-suite. Furry friends are welcome in the special dog-friendly rooms.
Romantic strolls in a topiary fantasy
The Manor is set in twelve acres of stunningly kept grounds. There is a seasonal outdoor swimming pool and tennis court. Less energetic guests can explore the various garden ‘rooms’ of sleek hedges, comic topiary animals, sunken beds, herbaceous borders, quiet formal parterres and even a ‘secret garden’. Enjoy a drink on the stone-flagged terrace as the sun sets or step into the garden at dusk to see rabbits and deer sneaking into their night-time playground.
Dine like a Baron
The magnificent hammer-beamed dining room is the oldest part of the manor. It was once the Baron’s Hall, where the Abbot of Osney’s bailiff held court. Today it serves a constantly changing, traditional British menu using locally sourced ingredients.
Choose from a wide range of selected wines to accompany your meal. If you’re very lucky, you may get to dine privately in the fabulous minstrels’ gallery, overlooking the great hall without being seen yourself: ideal for the ultimate romantic tryst.
If you don’t have time to dine, why not enjoy afternoon tea – in the snug in winter, the Topiary Terrace when the weather permits.
READ MORE: Your essential guide to Oxford
What’s on in Britain in July
We can’t always rely on the British weather, but even when the sun doesn’t shine we’ve rounded up the best spots to put you in a summertime mood
Situated in a beautiful area of Oxfordshire, and just an hour outside London, is Henley-on-Thames. A bustling town with a countryside feel, it makes for an idyllic escape from London on a warm July day: a place to relax and enjoy a cold drink on the banks of the River Thames.
Henley is also home to the Henley Royal Regatta. Founded in 1839, the Regatta is a five-day rowing race, with a one-mile route along the Thames.
Cowes, Isle of Wight
Less than two hours from London and ringed by lovely beaches, the Isle of Wight is an excellent holiday destination and hosts some brilliant sea-related events every July.
The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition
The annual Summer Exhibition at London’s Royal Academy is one of the big art events of the year. With over 1500 carefully selected artworks, this year’s promises to be the biggest Summer Exhibition yet. The Exhibition runs until the 12th of August; buy tickets here.
The Suffolk Coast
With 50 miles of unspoilt coastline, the Suffolk Coast is summer-holiday heaven. Highlights include Walberswick, a quaint Georgian seaside village with lovely pubs, and Southwold, with its broad expanse of sandy beaches and traditional villagey charm. Aldeburgh, with its world-class concert halls, provides a dose of culture.
Britain’s most spectacular stately homes
As these photos show, we have some gorgeous grand houses in Britain, from giants such as Blenheim Palace, Chatsworth and Highclere Castle to lesser-known gems
From Downton fantasies to dreams of Mr Darcy, nothing captures the imagination quite like Britain’s beautiful stately homes.
Once solely the proud ancestral seats of royalty and landed gentry, which the rest of us could only peek from afar or working ‘downstairs’, manor houses and country estates across the UK have now opened their doors and their gardens to the public. Architectural wonders, beautiful landscaping, lavish art collections and intriguing tales of visiting royals and secret scandals lie beyond their gates…