Jemma Slevin is a mother of three, and founder and editor of The Little Book. Despite being one of the busiest women we’ve ever met (she single-handly produces The Little Book herself), Jemma lives in Windsor with her family, making her the perfect parent to advise us on things to do in the home counties with kids. The Little Book is the family lifestyle magazine for parents with young children covering Berks, Buck, Oxon and Surrey.
I’m always excited to arrive at Cliveden. Sweeping along the drive through beautiful parkland and catching the first glimpse of the majestic house, it never fails to overwhelm me. So, whether it’s because Mr. S and I are escaping to enjoy a few hours together over dinner, or simply popping over en famille for a walk before Sunday lunch, it’s always a treat to go there. The maze is a highlight for our children; exquisitely pruned and one of the best examples of a maze I have ever seen, it enchants and entertains them for hours. And the gardens are breathtaking. Each visit is completely different to the last, as they change with the seasons and provide a fabulous backdrop for hide ‘n’ seek. The National Trust have a wealth of family events lined up throughout the year, including outdoor theatre in the summer and Christmas decoration-making in the winter. And, if this all gets too exhausting, head to the house for a sumptuous high tea by the enormous fireplace.
Toad, Ratty and Mole enthusiasts, (and anyone with an interest in The Thames), will adore this spacious and very family-friendly museum with it’s light and airy cafe. It provided the perfect introduction into Wind in the Willows for our children who have loved the various themed events and workshops that are regularly held during the year. From crafts to animation, there is something for all age groups and the finale of the year for children up to age 11 has to be Toad’s Christmas party – poop, poop!
I’m a huge advocate of enhancing a child’s reading experience by making stories come alive and, at The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, they do just that. This is where Roald Dahl lived and wrote for 36 years, and it’s true to say the magic of his imagination is well and truly alive there. Children who are familiar with such classics as The Twits, James and the Giant Peach, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, will marvel in delight as they recognise props and paraphernalia from the stories. Daily events are catered for children aged 6 to 12 and include crafts and other activities based on the books: how can they not be enticed by Witchy Wonka biscuit bars and Bogswiffling cloth bags? The village itself is charming and provides the perfect backdrop for a weekend walk with kiddies in tow.
Living in Windsor, we are fortunate enough to have the great park as our back garden – and not because we live in the castle! The park is so vast that anyone living in town or the neighbouring villages is only ever a few minutes drive from this immense estate and, for many, it is visited daily for dog walking, exercise and, in our case, the school run. This time of year is particularly special, as the children love to walk under the trees collecting conkers and kicking up the fallen leaves. It’s magical; the colours are breathtaking and, sometimes in the early hours, there is a low mysterious fog; every morning I feel so lucky to experience this and the children arrive at school so happy.
The Long Walk is easily accessible from Windsor town, but the park also offers a number of other locations where you can park and set off on a gentle walk, family cycle or intrepid ramble. The Savill Garden offers the perfect venue for a leisurely stroll, the perfect place to enjoy a coffee or even Sunday lunch. Close by, Virginia Water is a wonderful place to explore the antiquity of the landscape, including ruins imported from Tripoli in 1816. It is enhanced by the scattering of some of the great ancient oaks for which the Great Park and its forest are renowned. Two good family pubs for a welcome rest bite are The Fox and Hounds (reviewed in our latest issue) and The Baliwick, both in Englefield Green and backing onto the Great Park itself.
As it meanders out of London and becomes non-tidal, the Thames River passes through some delightful villages and towns with beautiful countryside in between. It’s heavenly spending a summer’s day pottering on the river. There are many locations where you can hire a boat, and the river is full of little islands and creaks that create a Wind in the Willows-esq adventure, as well as the perfect place to picnic. A lovely lunch destination up river from Windsor is the Oakley Court Hotel, with its sprawling lawns reaching down to the water and mooring facilities. You’ll be assured of a friendly welcome and a great lunch on the terrace during the summer months, where the children have space to play on the lawns next to you, or inside the main hotel for the wet, colder months.