If you say the name Roald Dahl to most people of my generation, those swiftly moving towards the big 40, we fondly remember our childhood growing up reading the ‘Twits’, ‘Georges Marvellous Medicine’ and of course ‘Matilda’. But the love of Roald Dahl’s book is more widely spread than my generation alone and this year we celebrate 100 years since his birth. So there isn’t a more perfect time to dust of those books and reignite your passion for his curiously creative tales.
When I was approached by Visit England with an offer of visiting the Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden, I can honestly say I was thrilled. I have often deliberated about visiting the museum, but with Hugh being only 4 I felt like it was one to keep for the future. When I spoke to a good friend about my visit, she said that I would love it. She had visited the museum with her Mum and they had both walked away having had a wonderful insightful day. This only helped to raise my expectations and the museum would have a lot to live up to!
I arrived at Great Missenden by train. It’s an easy journey from London, only 40mins from Marylebone. However, being located in the Chilterns it’s a short hop from the M40 so ideal location for many. The village itself is beautiful, old buildings and picturesque cottages line the streets. As you head towards the museum which is clearly signposted, you also walk past some key buildings which fuelled Roald Dahl’s imagination. You can see the library where Matilda used to visit and the window where he envisaged Sophie meeting the BFG for the first time.
You are welcomed into the Boy Gallery by the smell of chocolate, yes the chocolate factory doors are there in pride of place. The gallery itself introduces you to the person that is Roald Dahl. It walks you through his childhood and really helps you to understand how he became a writer. In the Solo Gallery you get the chance to explore where he got his ideas from, most importantly his actual writing hut. Originally at the bottom of his garden and where he wrote his stories, the hut has been transported and is preserved, dust and all, as the centre of the Solo Gallery.
Both galleries are interactive for children and have great displays and videos to watch but it wasn’t until I got to the Story Centre that I could definitely see its appeal. Rather than all being about Roald Dahl and his amazing life, the Story Centre is designed to inspire the next generation of writers. The room is a hive for creativity including dressing up, stop-frame animation activities and cut and sticking.
But the one I loved the best was the replica writing hut including chair and artefacts. A great opportunity to see what it would have been like to be Roald Dahl!
The museum was great but I did worry that the space is small and with excitable children it may seem a little restraining. This however has been solved by the museum. They have created self-guided walking tours which will show you more of the local area and help you to understand the reason why Dhal fell in love with Great Missenden.
The Country Trail sets off into the woods which border Great Missenden. It is in these woods that Dahl found inspiration for ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’ and ‘Danny Champion of the World’. The guide also suggests activities to do in the wood, a great way to counteract time in the museum. How far you go is entirely up to you, be it a quick stroll or the whole circular route taking an hour. It really is as much or as little as you wish.
The village trail takes you past some notable locations which inspired Roald Dahl but also to his final resting place. His head stone lies in front of an amazing tree and around its base is a quote from ‘Pelly and Me’. From the tree you follow the huge BFG footprints, to find his head stone, a real tribute to an amazing author.
My day was inspiring, thought provoking and really made me appreciate how much Roald Dahl has had an impact on my childhood. I am therefore pleased that his 100th year is going to be celebrated in style with a whole host of activities including the launch of the Stephen Spielberg BFG film later in July, Dream Jars installed on the South Bank and the on the 17th and 18th September Cardiff, the birth place of Dahl, will be transformed into the ‘City of the Unexpected’.
The museum will inspire the next generation of Dahl readers; I would thoroughly recommend the museum to those with school aged children, especially those who have experienced Dahl’s books first hand. Though Hugh seems a little young at the moment, after my day there I am reading him The BFG. I want him to grow up appreciating how wonderful Roald Dahl was.