Some of the most memorable family day trips have incorporated our daughters’ favourite characters (Peppa Pig World and the Stick Man theatre show for starters). In London you don’t have to go far to find literary inspiration: from Sherlock Holmes’ Baker Street to Harry Potter’s platform 9 ¾ at Kings Cross and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre to name a few. But take a day trip out of the city and there’s plenty for book-lovers within a train ride or car journey from London. Here’s some of my top picks for kids and big kids alike.
1. Step onto the Harry Potter set with the Warner Bros Studio Tour
Can you believe it’s 20 years since the first Harry Potter book was published? Hard to remember a time without J.K. Rowling’s books. Together with the accompanying films they have become ingrained in our culture and children continue to be obsessed with the boy wizard and his friends and foes. For a fully immersive experience head to Leavesden studios for the Warner Bros Studio Tour. Step into the authentic sets from the feature films, check out the Hogwarts Express and the new addition, The Forbidden Forest, where you can discover fantastical creatures.
By car, the studios are three miles from M1 and M25 motorways. By train, from Euston get to Watford Junction where shuttle buses operate to the studios
2. Delve into the world of Roald Dahl in Great Missenden
With the stage musical Matilda performing to audiences in the West End and the BFG now a Spielberg film, Roald Dahl’s place on book shelves isn’t going anywhere. Take a day trip to the author’s home village, Great Missenden, where Dahl created many of his famous characters. Spend time at the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre which brings his quirky creativity to life. As well as his old writing shed and rooms detailing the story of Dahl’s life, there’s story telling and craft sessions and the opportunity to get creative by making up your own word or story. It’s on our list of places to go but Cathy from MummyTravels recently visited with her daughter.
By train, Great Missenden is 45 minutes from London Marylebone
3. Play pooh sticks like Winnie and his friends in Ashdown Forest
Fancy walking in the footsteps of childhood favourite Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends? Then take a trip to Ashdown Forest, East Sussex, where AA Milne created Hundred Acre Wood (in real life called Five Hundred Acre Wood). You can follow trails in the pine plantation and play pooh sticks on the same bridge as the real Christopher Robin.
Search for heffalumps and woozles and see if you can find the North Pole. The Pooh Corner shop in the nearby village of Hartfield will serve you cream tea and as much Winnie-the-Pooh paraphernalia you can afford. You can also pick up walking routes and maps there. Clare from Suitcase and Sandcastles has written a brilliant guide on visiting the area.
By train: Take the train from London Victoria to East Grinstead or from London Charing Cross go to Tunbridge Wells. From either town, take a taxi or ride the 291 bus to Hartfield Village.
4. Meet Peter Rabbit and play in his adventure playground
Childrens’ animal characters don’t get more iconic than Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit. While Beatrix Potterland in Cumbria is a bit of a journey from London, Peter Rabbit himself is just a short journey away. Head to Willows Farm where you can meet Peter and his friends and play in the world’s only Peter Rabbit adventure playground.
My daughter loved playing in the creative space while getting to meet Benjamin Button, Peter and Lily. As well as the playground, there are shows at the indoor theatre, animals to feed, trampolines, an inflatable slide, a huge soft play area and pretty much anything a child could wish for. The gift shop, filled with cute Peter Rabbit merchandise, will also be hard to resist.
By car, Willows Farm is just off the M25 at junction 22. By tube go to High Barnett and the 84 bus. By rail go to St Albans and 84 bus.
5. See Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales brought to life
It may have been one of the less popular texts to study at school but Geoffrey Chaucer was a literary pioneer referred to as the Father of English Literature. Learn more about the poet and his most famous work in the cathedral city of Canterbury. Take a guided tour with the Canterbury Tales visitor attraction which brings the text to life with costumed actors. This is a fun, interactive addition to stuffy classroom lessons for older children learning about Middle English.
By train: Canterbury is around 50 minutes from London’s St Pancreas.
6. Visit Shakespeare’s home in Stratford-Upon-Avon
Talking of greats, Stratford-Upon-Avon is the place to get your William Shakespeare fix. The Bard was born in the picturesque riverside town in 1564. Visit the house where he was born as well as the homes of his daughter and love interest Anne Hathaway. You can also visit Holy Trinity Church where he is buried and watch one of his works performed at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and Swan Theatre.
By train: Fastest route is from London Marylebone which takes 2 hours
7. Go on a Famous Five Garden Adventure at RHS Wisley
Enid Blyton’s child sleuths turn 75 this year. I was a huge fan of the series as a child and have written about places where you can create your own Famous Five adventure. One of those is Wisley Gardens in Surrey. Along with three other gardens owned by the Royal Horticultural Society, it will be celebrating the anniversary of the first book, Five on a Treasure Island. During the summer holidays (July 22 to September 3), Famous Five themed events will take place for Five Go On A Garden Adventure. It will include self-guided activity trails, crafts, shows and cookery (treasure biscuits anyone?).
By car, Wisley is off the M25 at junction 10. The nearest train stations are West ByFleet (4 miles) and Woking (7 miles).
8. Discover the door to Narnia in Oxford
The Chronicles of Narnia featured highly in my childhood (mainly thanks to the BBC adaptations). C.S Lewis lived and worked in Oxford where he had a teaching post at the university. If you’re a fan, don’t miss the magical door which leads into the world of Narnia. The real one has golden fawns on the frame, looking down on you. But, it isn’t a wardrobe door (sorry for the spoiler). It does mean you get to see it in all its glory at the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. For an in-depth guide of Lewis’ Oxford there are walking tours which take you through the architecture and locations believed to have fuelled the author’s inspiration. They include the pub, the Eagle and Child, where he’d have a pint with another well known author, J.R.R Tolkein. Imagine the conversations they would have had!
By train: Fastest route to Oxford is from London Paddington which takes just under one hour
9. Go Gruffalo hunting
Julia Donaldson’s books are a firm favourite in our house. To help bring her characters to life as well as get children out into nature, the Forestry Commission has created trails featuring her most popular characters. The Gruffalo is currently lurking in their deep dark woods. Nearest trails to London include Wendover Woods, Bedgebury Pinetum and Alice Holt Forest in Surrey. Download the Gruffalo spotters app before you go and see the characters brought to life with the aid of technology. Spotters Activity Kits are also available at the visitor centres (£3). For more Gruffalo fun, Chessington World of Adventures has the world’s first Gruffalo ride.
10. Discover Jane Austen in Bath
It’s 200 years since Jane Austen died but her books continue to delight and educate. Take a day trip to Bath where the author wrote Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. Visit the Jane Austen museum where you can dress up, have tea and learn about Austen and the Regency era she wrote about. If you are there in September, you may catch the Jane Austen festival which includes a costumed ball. If you are a super fan, read my must-see UK locations for Jane Austen fans.
Bath is an hour and a half train journey from London Paddington
See Paddington Bear at Paddington Station
If your day trips to the likes of Bath and Oxford mean you’ll be leaving from Paddington station, make sure you say hello to Paddington Bear. He’s sitting on his suitcase alongside Platform 1, waiting for someone to take him home. The bronze statue of the beloved bear takes on an added poignancy following the death of Paddington author, Michael Bond, earlier this year. I’d take him home….if I could lift him!
Have you visited any of these locations? What other literary day trips have you taken or would like to take from London?
*Disclosure: I am working with VisitEngland as part of the Year of Literary Heroes, looking at the best travel across the country for those who love books. Check out the #bookengland tag to discover more and share your experiences.
** Pictures courtesy of Wander Mum, VisitEngland and Pixabay