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Family Fun In Britain

by Bob Barton

Author Roald Dahl (1916-1990) once told his young daughter: “Adults will try to fool you into thinking they have important things on their minds when, in fact, they are thinking about what to have for supper or when they are going to wash the car.”  He might have added: “…or where to go on their next holiday.”

Families who choose Britain for their holiday have two wonderful new attractions to visit, adding to the long list of theme parks, steam railways, museums and so on. This is the land that brought you some of the great children’s novelists, who created a host of timeless characters, from Winnie-the-Pooh and Thomas the Tank Engine to Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland and the residents of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia…

Born of Norwegian parents, Dahl - author of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and many other well-loved books - spent most of his adult life in the quiet Chiltern village of Great Missenden, 32 miles north-west of London. Here, not far from his home, The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre opened in June 2005. It’s not exactly Charlie’s Chocolate Factory, though it does have ‘chocolatey’ doors and is crammed with manuscripts, letters, photographs, his Ideas Books and other treasured possessions. From the figure of the BFG (Big Friendly Giant) on the wall outside, to the bench that turns out to be a crocodile, the building is themed to his characters and stories.

Galleries tell the story of Dahl’s life and work using audio-visual and touch-screen aids.  Perhaps of most interest to younger visitors are a collection of his favourite jokes and limericks - and there is a full-size replica of his writing hut and its contents, standing in an ‘orchard’ made of giant versions of Quentin Blake’s illustrations.

Dahl’s fans are likely to grow in number with the new (summer 2005) movie version of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, starring Johnny Depp. Knowing his outspoken nature, what Dahl would have made of another new family attraction is anyone’s guess. What is clear, though, is that Seven Stories, the Centre for Children’s Books, is full of surprises: from unconventional exhibitions to entertaining activities.

The first centre of its kind in Britain, the attraction, opened in August in Newcastle upon Tyne, is the culmination of seven years of pioneering work to develop a national home for children’s literature. The motivation was to treasure the original work of British authors and illustrators within the UK and preserve an important part of national heritage. As well as seeing manuscripts and original artwork, visitors can climb into the “artist’s attic” (the attraction is situated in a tall building close to a Victorian mill) to meet ‘real’ writers and illustrators and discover the art of story making.

Also here is a complete collection of Ladybird Books, which were sold at pocket-money prices for 60 years from 1940-1999; and the personal archive of the late Kaye Webb, editor of Puffin Books until the late 70s, containing many children's classics, such as, Stig of the Dump, and The Hobbit. The café boasts a menu inspired by children’s books - so don’t be surprised to find green eggs and ham as dish of the day!

While these new attractions are admirable, sometimes it is even more fun to visit the actual places linked to favourite books. The village of Hartfield in Sussex is the focal point of Winnie-the-Pooh country. The bear who has a fondness for honey and condensed milk was invented by A.A. Milne and Hartfield, on the edge of Ashdown Forest, has the Shop at Pooh Corner. It sells a map of Pooh Country, enabling you to explore the nearby footpaths to find the Five Hundred Acre Wood, the Enchanted Place and, most importantly, the Poohsticks Bridge. Playing the game of tossing sticks into the stream and seeing which one gets to the other side first is rewarding at any age.

In the elegant North Wales seaside town of Llandudno, families can dive into the ‘rabbit hole’ to discover the magical world of Ali Life size, animated displays of the Mad Hatter, March Hare and other cameos from Lewis Carroll’s classic story are enhanced by sound effects and narration in one of five languages.

Why Llandudno? This is where young Alice Liddell (the author’s inspiration for the original tale, told one summer’s day on the river near Oxford) came with her family in 1861 for the first of many holidays. A statue of the White Rabbit is a feature of the town.

There are relatively few authors’ homes open to visitors, though one exception is the Scottish birthplace of Peter Pan creator J.M. Barrie. His modest house At 9 Brechin Road, Kirriemuir near Dundee, now looked after by the National Trust for Scotland, includes the little wash house which became his first theatre. Could it have inspired the Wendy House in Peter Pan?

It is not just tales of adventure and tomfoolery that excite children: candies and chocolate do the job equally well. Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate, a recipe perfected by George Cadbury, is 100 years old in 2005 and visitors to Birmingham in the Heart of England can find out all about it at the Cadbury World attraction (advance booking is advised). Set in the model village the company established at Bournville, it allows visitors to discover the story of chocolate making in a fun way. New this year is an ‘Aztec jungle’ with boardwalks and waterfalls, an interactive ‘happiness dance room’ and a three-dimensional cinema show.

No roundup of family attractions would be complete without mentioning the capital. There is lots for families to do, from a ride on one of the River Thames cruise boats, to a trip to a theme park. The latest new attraction is a walk-through monkey forest at the London Zoo in Regent’s Park. Billed as an ‘urban eco-safari’, visitors can stroll among a breeding group of black-capped squirrel monkeys -- in a habitat resembling the Bolivian rainforest.

At the Science Museum in South Kensington, try out technology in the interactive galleries, conduct experiments in the Launch Pad, or visit the IMAX cinema. In the East End is the Museum of Childhood at Bethnal Green: one of the largest collections of toys, games, nursery objects, dolls’ houses, puppets and teddy-bears - dating from the 17th century.

South-west of London, near the orbital M25 motorway, are two of the country’s favourite theme parks, Thorpe Park and Chessington World of Adventures. With white-knuckle rides and entertainment, there’s enough for a full day of fun at each. Younger children will enjoy Legoland, with rides and miniature land fashioned out of thousands of Lego bricks, at Windsor (better known for its royal castle), 25 miles west of the city.

Useful websites

Roald Dahl Museum: <>
Seven Stories Centre: <>
Winnie-the-Pooh country: <>
Alice in Wonderland Centre: <>
J.M. Barrie birthplace: <>
Cadbury World: <>
London attractions: <>
Legoland: <>



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