Oxfordshire must rank as one of England’s most beautiful counties. Its wonderful countryside runs into the Cotswolds, while the historic city of Oxford forms the jewel in its crown. Let’s not forget England’s oldest and the world’s most renowned centre of learning either – the University of Oxford.
As you would expect, this venerable institution looms large over the city, but it’s by no means the only historic building worthy of attention; Oxford is awash with museums, galleries and ancient buildings.
I’ve been speaking to local experts Experience Oxfordshire to find out what’s to see and do in the county, and learning why Oxfordshire should be on everyone’s half term to-do list.
Where better to start than in the countryside?
Hands-on farm fun
Farmer Gow’s is set in the heart of the Oxfordshire countryside and is a veritable animal haven. I visited a few years ago with my two sons and we had a brilliant day.
This is a fully hands-on experience: Farmer Gow’s is all about getting to know and nurture the animals. Adults as well as children are encouraged to join in with the handling and feeding experiences. Who can resist bottle feeding a young goat or tickling a squirming piglet? Treasure hunts, tractor rides and adventure play on the haybales are all part of this glorious rural experience.
The farm’s Happy Halloween event takes place over half term from 18th October – 2nd November. Traditional autumn fun comes free of charge: apple bobbing; hunt the coin; pin the heart on the skeleton and an age-appropriate Halloween quiz including a hunt across the farm and a small treat for each child. I trust you will enjoy your day on the farm just as much as we did.
Take a stroll through Waterperry Gardens
Waterperry Gardens are located in the small, picturesque village of the same name. Situated on the banks of the River Thames and just seven miles from the city of Oxford, Waterperry is home to a gift barn and gallery, a gorgeous tea shop serving snacks and dishes and eight acres of ornamental gardens. There is a nursery and orchard and a museum full of ancient tools and implements. I know my boys would be intrigued by the 19th-century clockwork crow-scarer, which fired blank 12-bore cartridges.
This half-term the ornamental gardens have been invaded: Halloween pumpkins are hidden all around, and for eagle-eyed hunters who spot all ten, there will be a special seasonal prize. The Great Pumpkin Hunt takes place from 25th October – 2nd November.
An Oxfordshire road trip
A great way to appreciate Oxford and the surrounding area is by taking a tour. Sho4 Travel prides itself on its local knowledge and specialises in laying on tailor-made, chauffeur-escorted tours. Whether it’s off the beaten track or hitting up popular tourist spots, owner Steve Hodgkinson will create the perfect tour for you.
If, like my eldest son and I, you’re a fan of the Midsomer Murders series, you’ll relish the Midsomer tour. You’ll get the chance to explore over 100 locations where the heinous and thankfully fictitious murders were filmed.
Should you wish to journey further afield, Discovery Tours start and finish at Oxford Information Centre. With routes including the Cotswolds, Stratford-upon-Avon and Regency Bath, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
Wherever your road trip may take you, I’m sure that Steve’s knowledge of the local area will furnish you with lasting memories and a new insight into Oxfordshire.
Crocodiles in Oxfordshire?
Crocodiles in Oxfordshire? Absolutely! At Crocodiles of the World in Brize Norton, a unique animal encounter awaits. This recently-relocated zoo is dedicated to crocodiles and their conservation. Home to 14 species of crocodile, alligator and caiman, it will captivate you from the moment you arrive.
A visit to Crocodiles of the World is near the top of my half-term list as my boys can’t wait to boast to their friends of how they came face-to-face with some of the planet’s most fearsome predators. Nile crocodiles; American alligators; black caiman – they’ll provide great fodder for playground tales.
Whilst visiting, you’ll have the opportunity to view these magnificent creatures underwater and in clear water habitats. You can watch in awe from every angle, gaining an understanding of the power and presence they exude.
There’s so much to see and do with crocodile encounters, keeper experiences and group tours, so snap up the opportunity to visit this half-term.
Steam trains and history
My children view train journeys as a real treat. Even on the busy Underground they feel as if they’re embarking on an epic adventure. I have found a rather less hectic train journey for you to enjoy while in Oxfordshire however.
A former Great Western branch line, the preserved Cholsey and Wallingford Railway is as scenic as it gets. Starting from Wallingford Station, just half a mile from the historic market town of Wallingford, the route encompasses stunning countryside. Red kites can be seen hovering over the open fields, while Cholsey Church, as pretty as any picture, is the resting place of Agatha Christie.
Once home to the monarchy, Wallingford has several historic sites worth visiting. The ruins of a medieval castle that the historian Nicholas Brooks described as “one of the most powerful Royal castles of the 12th and 13th centuries” is here, complete with Saxon fortifications and a charter first granted in 1155. You can learn more about the town’s history at the Wallingford Museum.
Wherever possible, the railway lays on steam-hauled trains. There are many events throughout the year, along with the opportunity to become a driver for a day. The railway operates at weekends and some bank holidays. For more information on times and what’s on, take a look at the website.
For more ideas of what’s on and where to visit, Experience Oxford has a comprehensive guide on their website. Here are a few suggestions they’ve supplied with October half-term in mind:
Cotswold Wildlife Park: A fantastic family attraction with many animals (including farmyard animals which may be petted, and exotic species including several special cubs), stunning gardens and adventure playground.
Fairytale Farm: A unique attraction built with disabled children in mind. All parts of the farm are fully accessible and offer sensory and learning experiences for all abilities. On weekends in October and November, they will be open late and the farm’s enchanted walkway will be illuminated.
Cogges: Starring in the latest Downton Abbey series as Yew Tree Farm, this venue is a big draw for all fans of the show. Many animals, a vegetable garden and the ancient monument of Cogges Manor with its millennia of history all make a visit a great day out for all the family.
Oxford Castle Unlocked: Discover the fascinating history of Oxford Castle, including its time as a prison, and meet some of the former inmates. Throughout autumn, Ghost Fest will bring frights and delights for all ages, with many extra events.
The Story Museum: Dive deep into the world of your favourite literary characters. Many workshops and events take place throughout the year, with ever-changing exhibitions.
There should be something in that list to suit everyone. If you haven’t contemplated a visit to Oxford before, you’ve got no excuse for not going now. So much to see, so much to do – how are you ever going to cram it all into one trip? I’ll leave that for you to wrestle over. Good luck and, whatever you get up to, have a great half-term.
Half-term family fun
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