The Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden is somewhere I’ve been meaning to visit for ages but I’ve just never really had a reason to be in that part of the world. Well, the Hollies lived around there once but that was before any of us had kids so I’m not sure that’s helpful. It did meant that the A41 looked vaguely familiar from all those bygone-age parties though.
Anyway, today I found an excuse. My brother and his family have moved to the south-ish and wanted to meet up somewhere midway between us and them. And it turns out that Great Missenden was almost exactly halfway. Score! Mission to Missenden was Go.
We weren’t sure where to park for the museum itself, so chose the first car park we came to, which was just on our left as we turned off the main road. We could use the RingGo app to park and it cost a very reasonable £2.75 for 4 hours. It was also right next to a playground, which I figured might come in useful later.
We met the fam just outside the museum, bought our tickets and went straight to the Lower Babbling Room for storytelling. Tickets are £7.95 per person for over 5s but are valid for a whole year so worth a revisit. Also, make sure you Gift Aid if you can.
The Lower Babbling Room was decorated with a woodland theme and references to lots of Roald Dahl stories around the walls. I forget how many of them feature a wood at some point or another but the story that day was from the one of most woodlandly Dahl tales – “Danny, the Champion of the World”. The storyteller told us a bit of context around the book and how we could go and see the petrol pumps that inspired the filing station as they were just up the road. And, of course, it was the woods all around Great Missenden that Dahl based the woodland setting on. Then she coached us in all the sound effects we needed to know for the story before reading the chapter where the pheasants escape. Spoiler: lots of cuddly “pheasants” get thrown around the room. It was pretty riotous, but in a good way.
After the storytelling, we started on the museum proper. The first room was, appropriately enough, themed around “Boy”:
Although it also had two giant chocolate bars at the entrance and smelt of chocolate too. I’m guessing this was a nod not only to Dahl’s most famous book but also the inspiration behind it – his childhood experiences of chocolate tasting for the Cadbury factory. There was a dressing up box in this room, so you could see how you’d look as a 1920s school child:
I think it kinda suits him. Obviously, Eva needed to get in on the act too:
She appears to have three legs in this one. I told her not to try the experimental candy from Wonka’s Inventing Room but did she listen? Did she Beauregarde.
I must admit, I find parts of “Boy” quite disturbing – the primitive surgery, the liquorice, the mouse in the sweetie jar – but this room didn’t delve too deeply into the book’s darker moments. Rather, there were photographs of Dahl’s life and family including some adorable dogs.
We later found out that one of the dogs was called Eva. You can guess who was pleased about that:
The next room was – you guessed it -“Going Solo”. And beware, there is a picture of a very large spider in between the two rooms. Not quite as adorable as the puppies.
Again, I think my kid kinda suits the retro look:
And his worryingly rapid growth spurt meant that he and I were both a “Miss Honey” on the Roald Dahl height-o-meter:
Eva was still a reassuringly small “Grand High Witch”. And oh yes, that’s a book that freaked me out even more than “Boy” did.
In the middle of this room was a recreation of Roald Dahl’s writing hut, which used to stand in the garden of Gipsy House before the contents of it were painstakingly transferred to the museum. It’s interesting to see that Dahl was a bit chaotic in his own personal space – squishing kitkat wrappers into a silver foil ball over the course of decades and rigging up a dangerously precarious heater by attaching to the ceiling with string. It gives hope to all us chaotic people out there.
Onto the third room and this was possibly the most interactive yet. Eva and CousinZ spent ages making a stop motion film involving toy dinosaurs:
And Reuben spent almost as long writing a story that is then projected onto the floor:
There was a BFG dream-recorder, a couple of fridges’ worth of fridge poetry and yet more dressing up:
There was also a version of the writing chair from the writing hut that the kids could try for themselves:
Wes Anderson fans will note that this carpet was faithfully recreated in “Fantastic Mr Fox”:
Although this behind-the-scenes shot made it look like Bill Murray voiced the badger by just following the model around very closely:
By this point, we’d been at the museum for around an hour and a half and it was pretty much lunchtime. We could have spent longer there but we were all pretty hungry and I had somewhere on theme in mind. On the way up the high street, we passed the petrol pumps we’d been told to look out for:
And just opposite the road we’d come in on was our lunch destination – the aptly-named Matilda’s. I’m still not 100% sure on whether the name was a coincidence or a deliberate Dahl reference but Eva certainly liked the idea of eating somewhere on-theme. And Reuben liked the fact that they did all-day breakfasts. It’s a smallish cafe but they managed to fit seven of us in, including wheelchair, so that was good. I didn’t see any loos inside but Roo and I walked to the public loos in the car park, which were only two minutes away. There was a bit of confusion around CousinZ’s order but eventually everyone got what they needed and very tasty it was too. The portions were a good size and the kids particularly liked the milkshakes.
After lunch we only had an hour or so left on our parking time so we went to the playground just by the car park, where the kids ran off all that sugar. It’s for kids 14 and under so there are some decently tween things to do, like a zipwire and an assault course. I think I saw a smaller toddler playground at the other end of the car park too.
So overall, a lovely day out in a very pretty village. Considering it’s only an hour’s drive from North-East London, it does feel like a complete change of scene. Driving through Chesham it blew my mind that you could hop onto the Metropolitan line from here – it really does seem like you’re in the Countryside Proper. Even more rural than Highams Park. We’ll have to get back there again in the next 12 months to make the best use of the museum tickets but I think there’s more to explore in the village as well – a walled garden and another park with a paddling river. All very idyllic and you can see why such a great writer found his inspiration here.
Doesn’t mean I’m over my countryside phobia though. It’s just nice to visit for a day.
For more information and tickets to the museum click here.