It's fun to celebrate Roald Dahl Day on 13th September – the writer’s birthday – with a jaunt into the Chiltern Hills. Though it’s off the tourist track, this is a great place to take kids – especially since the Roald Dahl Museum & Story Centre opened in the Buckinghamshire town of Great Missenden, joining the Roald Dahl Children’s Gallery in nearby Aylesbury.
The Museum & Story Centre is Great Missenden’s celebration of its most famous son, who as well as one of the world’s greatest children’s authors was a confirmed chocoholic. On or around Roald Dahl Day itself, the venue lays on all kinds of extra-special fun. But it's worth a visit any time of year, especially with kids aged six and up who know and appreciate the books.
"Kids can send themselves into TV like Mike in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, ride in the Great Glass Elevator up to the Imagination Gallery with its eyeball maze, magic writing wall and magic mirrors, and study minibeasts in the Giant Peach."
Doors shaped into huge chocolate bars lead into two galleries filled with displays including a replica of the garden shed in which Dahl wrote and early drafts of the books. There’s also a program of free craft activities and storytelling sessions, self-guided trails exploring the local area and key sights relating to Dahl's books and life, and workshops teaching kids how to decorate chocolate bars, make puppets and the like. Revolting Recipes – which actually taste very good – are available in the very fine Café Twit.
Or you have younger children, head to Aylesbury’s Buckinghamshire County Museum, home to the Roald Dahl Children’s Gallery, where kids can send themselves into TV like Mike in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, ride in the Great Glass Elevator up to the Imagination Gallery with its eyeball maze, magic writing wall and magic mirrors, and study minibeasts in the Giant Peach, among other things. In busy periods, booking is advised and visits may be restricted to an hour. Outside school holidays, check for public openings as some days are limited to school visits. In early July, Aylesbury also holds the annual community-focussed Roald Dahl Festival, including a parade of larger-than-life puppets.
Other attractions in the area are the little-known Natural History Museum at Tring, an outpost of London’s mighty Natural History Museum, with 4,000 preserved animals, temporary exhibitions on themes such as bees, and crafts and activity sessions, some outdoors, plus the child-friendly Zebra Café. For more animal fun, head for nearby ZSL Whipsnade Zoo.
There’s also the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre at Quainton, with Static Viewing days, when you can visit the steam museum, Steaming Days, when you can ride on a full-size engine as well as a miniature train, and Special Events, which combine the attractions of the Steaming Days with activities and attractions such as visits by Thomas the Tank Engine.
Or you could just shop ‘till you drop at Bicester Village with its discount designer clothes and homeware outlets, including Polo Ralph Lauren Children, plus several restaurants and cafés including Farmshop with its kids’ menu.
It’s quite easy to get to the Chilterns by train: Great Missenden, Aylesbury, and Bicester are on a route from London’s Marylebone Station, with the journey taking about 40 minutes, an hour and 90 minutes respectively. If you want to take your time discovering the area’s many attractions, save your pennies for a night or two at the award-winning country estate The Grove, with a spa, a Walled Garden with an outdoor pool and a summer urban beach with volleyball, an OFSTED-registered kids’ club, and three restaurants. Family break packages include tickets for the nearby Warner Bros. Studio Tour.
Alternatively, the Holiday Inn in Hemel Hempstead has great rates on family rooms, an indoor pool, a Kids Eat for Free policy in its restaurant, and 24-hour room service. Hemel Hempstead is also home to The Snow Centre, a massive indoor snowsports venue.
Read more about things to do with kids and family breaks in South East England.