Exploring Roald Dahl country

Did you know Roald Dahl had his pencils shipped in from America?

The yellow Dixon Ticonderoga 2HB – dubbed the world’s best pencil by the manufacturer – matched the yellow lined paper he wrote on behind the yellow door of his writing hut.

If you’re noticing a bit of pattern here, yellow was his favourite colour!

These are just some of the gems we picked up on our tour of Roald Dahl country.

James, 9, and Sophie, 7, with their dad, Michael, outside The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Great Missenden.

Sharing a love of Roald Dahl

My children are just as obsessed with Roald Dahl’s books as I was at their age.

I distinctly remember first reading Fantastic Mr Fox in the classroom at Southwick Primary School and repeatedly watching Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka and Anjelica Huston’s terrifying Grand High Witch on VHS at home.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is James’ favourite too, while Sophie prefers Matilda and The BFG. We’ve read the books and seen the films!

So, we thought a trip to the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Great Missenden, where he lived for 36 years, would be a great way to start the Easter holidays.

Sophie and James with the famous Wonka gates, donated by Warner Bros.

Spot the stories in Great Missenden

We decided to stay in Aylesbury and get the train to Great Missenden, as parking is at a premium in the village and mostly for residents only.

The museum is just a short walk from the station – past Matilda’s library, the house that inspired Sophie’s orphanage in The BFG and the Red Pump Garage that inspired the garage in Danny the Champion of the World.

The building that inspired Sophie’s orphanage in The BFG

These and other points of interest are included in one of the museum’s trails. The other leads you into the surrounding woodlands – the setting for Billy and the Minpins.

You can easily spend a day in the area.

The Roald Dahl Museum

The museum itself has three gallery spaces dedicated to the life of Roald Dahl.

The first explores his childhood, including his life at boarding school and the pranks he used to play with his friends. You can see where the episode with the newt in Matilda came from!

Chocolate-scented doors at the entrance to one of the gallery spaces

I found it very amusing that his report cards for English were not in the least bit flattering, while one of his teachers described him as a “muddler”.

Well, that muddler went on to have a pretty amazing life, although it was tinged with tragedy.

He became famous for his heroics as a fighter pilot during the Second World War, which is explored in the second gallery space, which is more about his adult life, but suffered pain for the rest of his life after cheating death in a crash.

He married a film star, Patricia Neale, but had to nurse her back to health when she suffered a series of strokes. They also lost a child, Olivia, to measles encephalitis at the age of seven and their son, Theo was severely injured as a baby when his pram was hit by a car.

James outside the reconstructed Roald Dahl’s writing hut

Dahl first started writing about his wartime adventures and his first children’s book, published in 1943, was called The Gremlins, which attracted the attention of The White House and Walt Disney, who wanted to turn it into a film.

He went on to create some of the best-loved children’s stories of the 20th century, but also wrote macabre short stories for adults, as well as the screenplays for the James Bond film You Only Live Twice and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

My jaw dropped several times as I took in all this new information!

Swizzfiggling exhibits

There’s plenty of exhibits to interact with and we all enjoyed measuring ourselves against a height chart of Dahl’s characters and walking into his writing hut, reconstructed in the museum from Gipsy Cottage, his home in the village.

Naturally, I homed in on his notes and the letters he exchanged with illustrator Quentin Blake – my son’s hero!

A letter from Quentin Blake discussing the illustration of Miss Trunchbull

The magic continues in The Story Centre and James and Sophie were thrilled to see the puppets from Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr Fox on display.

So much of the detail in Mr Fox’s home is taken from Dahl’s writing hut, from the pattern on the floor to his specially-adapted chair to the items he displayed on a side table.

James and Sophie also got to sit on a replica of his chair, which Dahl sat in for four hours a day, scribbling away with his Dixon Ticonderoga.

Sophie sitting in a replica of Roald Dahl’s writing chair

Obviously, we bought some in the gift shop – and they are rather lovely pencils!

We also took part in a storyboard workshop with the education team at the museum and on our return to Aylesbury, visited the Road Dahl Children’s Gallery at Buckinghamshire County Museum.

There, you can climb through Fantastic Mr Fox’s tunnels, meet the creatures from James and the Giant Peach and ride in the Great Glass Elevator.

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