On a recent trip to England we learned the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre was near where we were staying. We are fans of his books and we each have our favorites – mine is “Fantastic Mr. Fox”, my husband loves “The Twits”, and my son says he loves “The Twits”, “Fantastic Mr. Fox”, and “The BFG” equally. As a special early birthday gift for my son, my mother in law booked us tickets to see “Matilda” on stage in London. With our love of silly words, silly stories and the play tickets booked, we thought heading to the museum would help add to our experience, so we set off for Great Missenden to check things out.
The museum is quiet small but the price of admission reflects that (adults are £6.60, kids and discounted tickets are £4.40, children under 5 are free and they do offer a family ticket). We felt like there was a great deal of information and fun packed in this small museum (by American standards). It was well worth the money and time. I suggest that you make sure you double check the days they are open. We wanted to visit on a Monday and they were closed. The days and hours change when the English school children are on break and during those times it will be busy and you will want to book your tickets online ahead of time.
The village is historic and being so, there are no parking spots where you can leave your car in just outside of the museum. There are directions on the museum’s website if you wish to take the train (the station isn’t far from the museum either). We used a “pay and display” car park on Link Road which was only a few minutes walk away (use area code HP16 9AE if you have Sat Nav). From there we walked up to the High Street, turned left and went down a little ways and we saw the yellow bunting hanging from the building announcing our arrival.
You will notice a set of gates as you walk in, just past the cafe. I just loved the story about them. It turns out that Warner Bros Studios gave the museum the gates from the latest movie version of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” that the studio produced in 2005. Sadly the original gates they gave them were too big for the space, so the Studios built a special set of gates that were identical in appearance but smaller in scale and gifted them to the museum. The gates proudly welcome visitors to the museum and are displayed front and center (pictured above).
The museum starts with check in at the front desk which is located in the gift shop. If you buy your tickets online (which I recommended above) you will get your wrist bands here, along with a small “notebook” for the kids and a guide for parents with a map of the museum and 2 walking guides: one for the village and one for the woods near by. The walking trails takes you past many of the inspirations Mr. Dahl used in the books. It was fun to see them in person and to picture them as he wrote about them in the books.
Once you collect your tickets you are welcome to come and go all day which allows you to exit to have a wander in the woods or through the village and then come back to have another look at the museum. It was a bit dreary the day we were there, so when we noticed the rain letting up we headed out for our walk and then came back to explore the museum more. It is a really nice feature to the place.
As you start to explore the museum you will first come to the room is called “BOY” which talks about Mr. Dahl’s life growing up in Wales. You can dress up in clothes that looked like his school uniform, you learn about his love of chocolate and you can search for the mouse in the gobstopper jar. It is here that you are recommended to write in your note book about a great prank that you’ve either played or plan to and they encourgage you to invent a new chocolate bar and name it. The name of the game at this museum is “imagination” and you can find out which school experience it was that inspired “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”. This was a room we spent the least amount of time in, but we enjoyed finding out more about the young Roald Dahl.
The next room is called “SOLO” and takes us into his adult life where we learn about some of his many adventures. He was an RAF pilot and crash landed in Libya, which forever changed his life. You learn about his family and the small hut that was built just for him so he could write comfortably and in a quiet place. Did you know that he wrote everything on yellow legal pads, with Ticonderoga #2 pecils? He had to specially import each of these items from the US! You get to see his specially designed “writing desk” and chair. He altered each to put him in the most ergonomic position possible for his body so he wouldn’t hurt. You might recognize this chair from the movie Fantastic Mr. Fox by the way! In this room you will also learn extra facts about his many books.
You can also test your book knowledge in the SOLO room and learn how well you know each story. It is in this room that you learn a lot about Quentin Blake who was the illustrator for all of the Roald Dahl books. You learn how the two of them worked together creating many of the characters, including the scary Ms. Trunchbull from Matilda. There is also an activity where you can work with another person describing how you want a fish to look and they have to draw it. We really enjoyed that!
The Story Centre and Craft Room was really fun! You learn all about how they did the stop-motion photography for Fantastic Mr. Fox and you get to take all kinds of different faces and mix them up to make other faces and you get to create their stories. There is a story room where we saw a class having a tour and the guide was telling them all about Mr. Dahl’s life. There is also a dressing up area where YOU can become another character! We were quite impressed with the fridge magnets and the stories and poetry people before us had come up with.
In the craft room you get to create characters using pipe cleaners, feathers, sparkles and crayons. Many people leave their creations in the room, but some take them with them. It was fun to sit for a few minutes and to play with colors and use our imaginations some more! I designed a “Whangdoodle” while my son used the pipe cleaners to create flowers and little bumble bees. Lots of other kids joined in too, and we had a chance to sit and chat which is such a wonderful part of travel.
I mentioned that we did one of the walks. With the weather we decided not to venture too far off paved trails since we didn’t have the right shoes with us for that. We opted to do the village trail which took us around the beautiful small town of Great Missenden. I mentioned that some of the buildings in the area provided inspiration for his books. One of the buildings, which is privately owned, is this wonderful old house. Mr. Dahl used this home as his inspiration for the “Norphanage” in the BFG.
We decided to follow the trail up and out of the town center, towards the big church up on the hill (pictured above). The walk is about a half mile and there is a slight incline, but nothing even small kids wouldn’t be able to manage and there was a good sidewalk (aka pavement) to keep you away from traffic. The Church of England St. Peter & St. Paul church is still in use by the locals and was built in the 14th and 15th centuries with updates and expansions done in the 19th century, although the founding of the church in this area dates back to 1133 with the establishment of the abbey. It is a beautiful building.
We noticed a good sized cemetery next to the church and upon closer inspection we saw large foot prints placed in the ground. That was a very big clue that Mr. Dahl must be buried here so we had a little explore and when we knew this had to be where Mr. Dahl was laid to rest when we came across several papers on a grave stone. To find it easily, stand on the big feet and look to your left. You will see a big tree with a bench that surrounds it. Start walking in that direction being respectful of the surrounding graves and you will find it.
All in all this was such a wonderful day out and we really loved all aspects. The museum itself will only take about 2 hours if you maximize everything. There is a lovely little cafe attached to the museum for a nice little lunch or snack or cup of tea. We poked our noses in, but had brought food with us and didn’t take anything. In the future we would love to head back there and do the walks in the neighboring Chiltern country side and see the sites they mention in the pamphlet. It looks as though the entire walk would take about an hour (It is 3090m or just under 2 miles – that time seems a little long, but for people with shorter walking strides it might be about right). We highly recommend this!