There are so many places I’d love to visit around the world but I don’t have the time or money to travel extensively. Fortunately there’s lots to see and do in the UK so I’ve created a bucket list which will keep me busy for the next few years.
My bucket list favours outdoor attractions, walks and great scenery as that’s what I enjoy. It may look like I’ve ignored vast swathes of the country and prime tourist attractions but that’s because I’ve already visited many of them!
What’s on my bucket list?
Wild camp on Dartmoor.
Walk a long distance path.
Cycle the towpath from Bath to Bradford-on-Avon.
Spend a night on Lundy Island, Devon.
Enjoy a weekend break in Lincoln.
Join a tour of Highgate Cemetery, London.
See the Purton Ships graveyard, Gloucestershire.
Brave the Via Ferrata at Honister Slate Mine, Cumbria.
Camp on Bryher, one of the Isles of Scilly.
Climb Up at the O2, London
Watch a Highland Games in Scotland.
Spend a week exploring the Isle of Anglesey.
Attend the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Visit the Italianate village of Portmeirion, Gwynedd.
Stay in a castle.
Enjoy the Gower Peninsula beaches.
Explore the Isle of Harris.
Go wildlife spotting on the Farne Islands, Northumberland.
Explore Neolithic Orkney.
Visit a lavender field.
See Britain’s only desert at Dungeness beach, Kent.
Walk part of Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland.
Enjoy the waterfall at St Nectan’s Glen, Cornwall.
Stay in an Airstream caravan.
Explore the deserted village of Tyneham, Dorset.
Visit a tin mine in Cornwall.
Spot dinosaurs at Crystal Palace, London.
Walk around the Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye.
Discover the Rame Peninsula, Cornwall
Watch the British Firework Championships in Plymouth, Devon
Ride Velocity, the longest zip line in Europe at Bethesda, Gwynedd.
After our last backpack along the Lambourn Valley Way I was keen to attempt another overnight trip with the family. This time I was under strict instructions to make the walk shorter. Fortunately I had such a trip up my sleeve. A walk from Oxford along the Thames Path to a small campsite near Eynsham, returning by a different route the next day; a total of around 10 miles.
Day 1: Oxford to Eynsham along the Thames Path National Trail
The Thames Path National Trail runs for 184 miles from the Cotswolds until it meets the Thames Barrier in Greenwich. We joined it a few minutes walk from Oxford railway station; the traffic noise and fumes of Botley Road magically disappearing just a few feet along the path.
The first stretch from Oxford to Wolvercote was packed with families and groups enjoying the weather. Helped of course by two pubs conveniently located just off the trail. We watched as the cattle and ponies of Port Meadow paddled in the shallows, trying to escape the afternoon heat.
Once past Wolvercote the path was much quieter with only the occassional walker or cyclist. The local wildlife appreciated the peace; a heron and little egret perched photogenically on a dead tree trunk. Although of course they flew off just as I attempted a photograph.
At one point we came across an elderly couple swimming au naturel in the river. We were walking beside a stretch of overgrown bank so I’m assuming they couldn’t see us. Let’s just say their shouted conversations to each other made us all smile!
Whilst the walk was much shorter than our last trip I couldn’t do anything about the weather. Hot and sunny. Bliss. Unless you’re walking with a backpack in which case it means sweaty backs and complaints from the kids about how warm it is.
Swinford Lock campsite, Eynsham
We reached Swinford Lock campsite late afternoon. The Environment Agency runs a number of basic campsites on lock islands along the Thames. A toilet, a water tap and a fire pit were the only facilities but for one night what else do you need?
After pitching the tent we walked into the nearby village of Eynsham. Despite living only a few miles away I’d never visited before. It’s definitely the kind of place I can imagine living; a large thriving village with lots of community spirit and good transport links.
Eynsham is also home to several eateries and inns. We don’t carry cooking equipment on our overnight backpacks as we like to treat ourselves and eat out. Hence we dined at The Bayleaf, a restaurant serving Bangladeshi and Indian food, before a slow walk back to our campsite collecting firewood on the way.
At the campsite we were still the only tent on the island. When I’d phoned earlier in the week the lock-keeper had advised there were seven others booked in. But nobody else arrived and we ended up with our own private camping island. How lucky we were!
Every campsite needs a campfire so we set about building one. It took a while to light but eventually some toilet paper and old receipts did the trick. Fortunately I’d managed to buy marshmallows in the local shop for the kids to toast; it’s lovely there are some family traditions they haven’t grown out of yet.
We went to bed shortly after sunset. Further along the riverside a wedding party was in full swing and we were woken by the music several times in the night.
Day 2: Eynsham to Oxford
The morning dawned cloudy, ideal weather for walking. After a trip into Eynsham for breakfast provisions (fresh pain-au-chocolat and croissants) we packed our tents and continued our walk along the Thames Path. We passed the remnants of the wedding party camp, I’d imagine there were quite a few sore heads that morning.
Just before the next lock we turned away from the river. I thought I’d planned a scenic walk around Farmoor Reservoir but the path I’d chosen took us outside the boundary instead. Next to the sewage works. Whoops.
We eventually reached the main entrance to the Reservoir and made our way through the car park. I was delighted to see people drinking coffee outside the sailing club. How I’d missed my morning cuppa! For the grand sum of £2.30 we spent the next half-hour drinking two mugs of coffee and two of hot chocolate whilst watching sailing races on the reservoir.
After leaving Farmoor the next couple of miles took us through crop fields. We thought we’d lost the footpath at one stage but discovered it hidden under an invasion of Japanese Knotweed. Incredible just how overgrown the path was!
The last mile was through the outskirts of Oxford. Some lovely houses to look at but not exactly backpacking territory. It was tempting to stop at one of the bus stops and cover the final mile on wheels. But we resisted, and I’m glad we did. It was good to complete the trip under our own steam.
So that’s our second backpacking trip ticked off. I wonder if we’ll be able to squeeze another one in before the end of summer? And if so, where will we go?
A list of Environment Agency and other commercial campsites close to the River Thames can be found here. The Environment Agency campsites are open to walkers, cyclists and river users only; there are no parking facilities close by. Our pitch (2 backpacking tents, 2 adults and 2 children) cost £14 for the night.
Oxford, my local city, attracts around 9 million tourists every year. Whilst many are language students or couples there’s a fair smattering of families amongst them. The usual Oxford tourist itinerary focuses on the historic University buildings but my children would be first in line to declare how BORING these are.
With this in mind I’ve chosen 25 (hopefully less boring) suggestions for things to do with your family in Oxford. Whilst this list contains some obvious tourist attractions it also includes those which are likely to be more interesting to families. Read on for my locals’ guide to places to visit in Oxford with kids.
1. Pitt Rivers Museum
My favourite museum in Oxford, the Pitt Rivers, shares a building with the Natural History museum and is full of ethnographic objects from around the world. There are so many items squeezed into the darkened display cases that it’s worth focussing on just a few areas. Most kids will want to see the shrunken heads but there’s so much more, ranging from masks to carvings and a witch in a bottle! Free entry.
2. The Covered Market
The Covered Market is a great place to wander and check out some food stalls. Head along to The Cake Shop to watch the staff decorating cakes through the windows and then join the queue at Ben’s Cookies. I can recommend whatever has just come out of the oven.
Visit at Christmas to see deer and pheasant hanging outside the butchers and to pick up some Oxford Blue from the cheese shop
3. Eat out along the Cowley Road
You’ll find the main chain restaurants along Park End Street and dotted around the city centre but there’s more interesting dining along the Cowley Road. Atomic Burger, Pizzeria Trattoria Mario and the Tick Tock Cafe are good family options but there are loads to choose from covering all tastes.
4. The Story Museum
This is a relatively new addition to Oxford and offers a variety of exhibitions plus book related events for all ages. The Story Museum is work in progress and is gradually developing into a centre which will celebrate all forms of storytelling.
The museum also has a cafe and children’s cookery classes run by chef Sophie Grigson and her team. Admission charge applies.
5. Headington shark
Once hugely controversial but nowadays just part of the landscape it’s worth a quick trip out to Headington to see a huge shark sticking out the roof of 2 New High Street. The house is sometimes up for rent so if you don’t mind a steady stream of tourists and can afford £2000+ per month you can live beneath the shark sculpture!
6. Oxford Castle Unlocked
The area around Oxford Castle has been revamped in recent years with part of the old prison converted into a luxury Malmaison hotel. At Oxford Castle Unlocked you can take a guided tour and discover the story of the prison and castle area. Visitors can experience a Norman crypt, see prison cells, climb 101 steps to the top of a Saxon tower for views across the city (5+ only) and scale the mound of the 11th century motte and bailey castle. Admission charge applies.
7. Walk along the Thames to Iffley Lock
A popular Sunday stroll for both visitors and locals. From the Head of the River pub it’s a 30 minute riverside walk to Iffley village. At busy times you’ll be forever moving out of the way of cyclists and runners but if you manage to combine your walk with the opening of the Isis Farmhouse pub you’ll be rewarded with a huge slice of cake. It’s generally open Friday to Sunday but check opening hours before you visit as they’re variable.
8. Ashmolean museum
The Ashmolean is the world’s first university museum. They have some great events for children but the museum is probably best visited in short bursts.
Some of the collections will have limited appeal to children but the Ancient Egyptian galleries are always popular with kids. There’s also a top 10 trail and dog detective spotter sheet to keep the children entertained. Free entry.
9. Spot the Antony Gormley statue
I have a soft spot for Antony Gormley sculptures. A 7ft iron man (similar to those we saw on Crosby Beach) sits atop Exeter College watching over Broad Street. Can you find him?
10. Bill Spectre’s Oxford ghost tour
Rated as one of the top 10 ghost tours in the world our children loved Bill Spectre’s Oxford ghost tour. Theatrically dressed, he regaled us with spooky tales, burning books and magic on our walk around the city. It’s suitable for all ages; highly recommended!
11. Explore the city with a Treasure Trail
We’ve found Treasure Trails are a great way for locals and visitors to discover new areas, even if you think you know the place well. There are several trails available in Oxford; read our reviews of the Spy Trail around University Parks and the Oxford Canal and Jericho treasure trail.
12. Blackwell’s bookshop
The front of Blackwell’s bookshop gives no clue to the huge numbers of books the shop stocks. I always make a beeline for the travel section, leaving the kids to browse in the varied children’s department. It’s not exactly a tourist destination but you can easily while away a couple of hours browsing the bookshelves.
13. Botanic Garden
Oxford’s traffic can sometimes detract from its beauty so it’s great to be able to step away from the manic High Street into the peaceful calm of the Botanic Garden.
The oldest botanic garden in Great Britain is relatively small but perfectly formed. I particularly enjoy warming up in the heated glasshouses on a cold winter day. Featuring plants from tropical jungles, desserts and alpine environments, you can read more about one of our visits here.
It’s also famous as a literary hangout. J.R. Tolkien and Lewis Carroll were frequent visitors, whilst Phillip Pullman features the bench at the back of the garden in His Dark Materials books. Admission charge applies.
14. Look out over the dreaming spires
I have two favourite views. Firstly from the tower of St Mary the Virgin church on High Street which provides a fantastic panorama over the Radcliffe Camera. Secondly from the cupola of the Sheldonian Theatre, the magnificent Christopher Wren designed building which is open when not in use by the University. Admission charges apply to both but it’s money well spent.
15. MINI plant tour
The MINI plant is located just outside of the city and is Oxfordshire’s largest private sector employer. My children aren’t old enough to visit yet but if yours are 14+ they can tour the MINI plant. The tours last 2.5 hours and visit the assembly area where you can watch MINIs being made. Admission charge applies.
16. Oxford University Museum of Natural History
In my view the best museum in Oxford for young children. The family friendly Museum of Natural History contains dinosaur skeletons, rocks and minerals, a bee hive, fossils and so much more. There are plenty of hands on exhibits and lots of family activities and events at the weekends and during school holidays. Free entry.
17. Go for a walk in Port Meadow
The largest area of common land in Oxford. Running alongside the River Thames it is easy to access from the city centre and is a popular area for walking. See if you can spot the ponies and cattle that freely graze the meadow.
It’s best visited on a summer day. If you visit in winter you may well find it flooded!
18. Go punting
An Oxford tradition. I know it’s touristy and expensive but it is fun too. Choose a warm summer day, glide along in your flat bottomed boat and enjoy the sights and sounds of the river. If you have small children you might want to hire a chauffeur to do the hard work (about £25 for 30 minutes) whilst you keep an eye on your brood.
Alternatively just watch the tourists from Magdalen Bridge as they tentatively leave the safety of the boathouse. Always fun watching to see if anyone falls in!
19. Cutteslowe Park
As you would expect there are lots of parks in Oxford. The one with the most varied family attractions is Cutteslowe, located in north of the city. As well as the usual play equipment and sports facilities there’s a miniature railway, paddling pool, mini golf, orienteering course and kiosk. Some of these are summer only attractions so check before you travel.
20. Check out a college
Whilst you won’t want to drag your kids around every college it would be a shame to miss out on visiting at least one. Even if it’s just so you can tell them that if they study hard this may be where they can end up!
There are 38 colleges to choose from. Christchurch is one of the most popular and has links to Harry Potter but it’s expensive too (up to £22 for a family). Magdalen College is probably my favourite, primarily for its deer park and gardens. New College and Merton College are good options too but always check opening hours before you visit. Admission charges apply.
21. Museum of Modern Art
This attraction can be a little bit or miss, depending on the exhibition but it’s free so certainly worth popping in to see what’s on. We’ve been to a couple of good ones and some strange ones. The most notable one was an exhibit made entirely from oranges. Visitors were encouraged to take away an orange to eat.
22. Celeb spotting at the Randolph Hotel
Admittedly this is more for the adults than the children. The city centre Randolph Hotel (which strictly speaking, is now the Macdonald Randolph Hotel but no local ever calls it this) has hosted many famous visitors over the years. I once saw Bill Clinton, returning from a jog around the streets of Oxford surrounded by his entourage. If you’re a fan of Inspector Morse or Lewis the hotel will look familiar as it has starred in several of the programmes. (You might also like to pop down to the police station in St Aldates where a sign in one of the windows proclaims it is Inspector Morse’s office).
23. Run around the Radcliffe Camera
This is my favourite building in Oxford. Sadly I’ve never been inside as it’s the main reading room for the Bodleian Library and is accessible to registered students only. It’s particularly beautiful at sunset when the stone turns a lovely orange colour; best views are from the church mentioned above. Alternatively tire the kids out by getting them to run around the perimeter (but watch out for bicycles and tourists).
24. Visit a board games cafe
Playing board games at Thirsty Meeples cafe, near Gloucester Green bus station, is a great way to while away a wet afternoon. Pay a cover charge and play as many games as you wish for 3 hours. There are hundreds available for all ages; the staff will recommend games and explain rules if necessary. Book a table in advance if visiting at the weekend.
25. CS Lewis Nature Reserve
This small reserve consists of a wooded area and large pond and is located in Risinghurst, a couple of miles from the city centre. The land was once owned by CS Lewis and provided the inspiration for the Chronicles of Narnia.
The pond is a flooded Victorian clay pit, alive with dragonflies, toads and birds. Towards the back, up a steep woodland bank, is a tree swing which is a popular attraction for children. The former home of CS Lewis backs onto the reserve and is sometimes open for booked tours but I’m pretty sure the kids will enjoy the reserve more!
I hope you’ve found this list useful. Please do leave a comment if I’ve missed out your favourite place to visit with children in Oxford.
Sometimes less is more. But not in the Land of Lost Content, a museum dedicated to British popular culture in sleepy Craven Arms. Its three floors are stuffed full of everyday household items collected from the last century. A less kind description might liken it to a hoarder’s house but whilst it might look haphazard the owner, Stella Mitchell, has collated her life’s collection into 32 themed areas.
No photographs are allowed in the museum so I’ve chosen to describe 10 parts of the collection that stood out for me. The museum is so full of memorabilia that if you visit you probably won’t even see these. Yet I defy any adult not to walk into this museum and immediately recognise something from their childhood!
1. Scratchy toilet paper
A bowl full of the awful scratchy stuff I remember from school days in the 1980s. I never thought I’d see this again. Certainly not missed but compellingly tactile.
2. 1960s Kenwood chef food mixer
A design classic. I’ve always wanted a Kenwood Chef, but cannot justify the outlay. Out of interest I looked up the model they have in the museum and you can still buy restored versions today – for more than the cost of a brand new one!
3. Woolworth’s corner
A shrine to Woolworths with closing down posters, a child’s top from the sale and newspapers with headlines announcing the demise of Woollies.
4. Sinclair C5
One man’s view of our future transport; which didn’t quite go to plan. Attached to the ceiling above the stairs. Could you imagine a world where we all drove C5s?
5. Politically incorrect items
A signed Jimmy Saville photograph, Robinson’s golly models and Hitler youth memorabilia. Some may question the continued inclusion of items no longer considered acceptable. But to exclude these would be to deny the past. Better we reflect and appreciate that society has moved on.
There’s an entire section dedicated to sweets. A half full jar of Roses, a cutout cardboard Milk Tray man and packets of Spangles. There’s even a modern One Direction themed sweet bag. I’m sure it will soon blend in with the rest of the exhibits.
7. Christmas decorations
I’m so used to modern decorations that I had forgotten how bad they were when I was a child. Paper chains, green tissue paper bells and spindly artificial Christmas trees.
8. Mobile telephone from the 1980s
It really was a brick. And only mobile in that it was physically possible to carry it and the battery pack if you had strong arms.
9. Stuffed Jack Russell
Realistically lifelike sitting on a chair. Evidently it arrived in a big box in the post one day. Whilst I’m tempted to send the museum some of my 1980s items, who would send a dead pet through the post?!
It’s often technology that ages the fastest and this is proved perfectly in the museum. A Nintendo gameboy, ZX spectrum, black and white TVs, typewriters; all cutting edge at one point but dated and near enough obsolete now.
As you can see from the above review I was primarily drawn to those items I remember from my childhood. There’s plenty (understatement) to see in the Land of Lost Content museum for all ages although younger children might find some of the dolls and mannequins scary. Our older children enjoyed it as they like to take every opportunity to remind us how old we are and this provided them with plenty of ammunition!
The Land of Lost Content museum in Craven Arms, Shropshire is open daily except Wednesday from 9am-5pm from February to November. It is closed in December and January. You’ll struggle with a pushchair or wheelchair as there is very little room between exhibits but there is a stairlift between floors. An adult tickets costs £5, a child’s ticket £2.50.