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Cultural Guide to Buckinghamshire

Image © Wesley Gransden via Flickr

Buckinghamshire, like many of the Home Counties, has a great mixture of town and countryside. The Chiltern Hills marks the south as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, whilst towns such as High Wycombe, Beaconsfield, Aylesbury and Milton Keynes combine history with the features of modern busy commuter towns. We’ve collected our favourite bits of art, culture and leisure; aiming to help first time visitors and Buckinghamshire natives looking to experience more locally.

Heritage

Buckinghamshire’s fabulous array of country houses each has their own unique style and story. Waddesdon Manor is an eclectic 19th century house built in the style of a French chateau. Their impressive events programme mean it’s worth visiting both in the winter, for the Christmas fair and the festive lighting installation, and in the summer, for the evening concerts and Feast Food Festival. Hughenden Manor is the former home of Victorian Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. Inside you can browse his personal memorabilia, as well as exploring the secret wartime history of the house, including a World War Two bunker. The theatrical West Wycombe Park was built by Sir Francis Dashwood; one of the most notorious partiers of the 18th century. The extensive grounds are the highlight, including the man-made Hellfire Caves on the edge of the property, rumoured to be the meeting place of Dashwood’s infamous Hellfire Club. The caves now play host to frequent ghost tours, paranormal investigations and Halloween fright nights. A more recent piece of history is Bletchley Park, home of Britain’s codebreakers during World War Two, which is now a museum, heritage site and an education centre. The operation remained a secret until the 1970s, so it feels quite a privilege to explore the rooms where enigma was broken and visit the office of Alan Turing. Also on site is the National Museum of Computing, which features the largest collection of functioning historic computers in Europe.

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Image credit: The Dining Room, Waddesdon Manor  | Mike Fear

Theatre and Performance

Buckinghamshire is home to several top regional theatres. Aylesbury Waterside Theatre is an impressive new building overlooking the river which hosts touring musicals and plays, as well as ballets, operas and an annual panto. The Wycombe Swan presents a similar mix of shows, as well as hosting a large scale youth musical every summer, which manages to squeeze an impressive 250 local people into the cast. And Milton Keynes Theatre is known for staging wide range of technical productions each year, partly due to its impressive auditorium that can raise and lower the ceiling, and alter the capacity from 900 to 1,400. During the summertime you can also find open-air performances in beautiful locations across Bucks. Cliveden has some of the most explorable grounds around (including an impressive hedge maze) and hosts an outdoor theatre in the picturesque Water Garden. The Chiltern Shakespeare Company set up in the grounds of the historic Hall Barn in Beaconsfield. Their Shakespeare performances are staged with the emphasis on traditional set, costume and surroundings (hopefully without the ‘traditional’ British rain!). For opera fans, the Winslow Hall Opera stage their summer production in a marquee in the grounds of 17th century Winslow Hall.

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Image credit: Aylesbury Waterside Theatre

Music

When it comes to music performance, the Stables Theatre is leading in numbers, with over 350 concerts each year and around 250 education events. You can see classical, jazz, blues, soul, folk, world and many others in the two performance spaces. Bucks also has it’s own festival; PennFest in the village of Penn, now in its 6th year, and last year’s line up included big names such as Razorlight, Union J and the Happy Mondays. The event is family friendly, with arts and craft workshops, a global artisan market and numerous food outlets. Plus, like many local festivals, tickets are significantly cheaper!

Art

If you fancy some contemporary visual art, then Milton Keynes Gallery has you covered. The building’s exterior is one of the highlights and is frequently redecorated with new artist commissions. For something a bit more classical head to the Art Gallery at Buckinghamshire County Museum which hosts an ever changing collection of fine art, costume and crafts showing a visual record of Buckinghamshire.

Kids
Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre is a brilliant little museum in Roald Dahl’s former hometown Great Missenden. Interactive galleries take you through the story of Dahl’s life and in ‘The Story Centre’ you can be inspired and work on your own creations. There is also a drop-in crafts workshop, storytelling and a café serving Dahl inspired food. Bekonscot Model Village is the oldest original model village in the world and is the perfect day trip back in time. It houses two acres of charming miniature 1920s and 30s towns and villages, featuring racecourses, moving railways and windmills.
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