The Story Museum: Oxford’s Cutest Attraction
Wouldn’t you like to go to a city, and just see a list of the absolute cutest, quaintest, most twee things to do? Not necessarily the most Instagrammable, or the most aesthetically pleasing, or even the most historic – though all those things have merit. Just the cute stuff. Full stop. If so – I’m here to give you the goods.
I’ve been in Oxford for the last six days, experiencing a little bit of Kingston, Ontario deja vu. Oxford- small university city, lots of academe in the air, vibes of finals and high stress exams, and a bit of a Harry Potter meets elitist PhD sprinkled throughout. It’s nice, it’s fine – it’s probably better if you aren’t still experiencing a bit of PTSD from your own ten years of post-secondary study (I’ll be avoiding university cities for the foreseeable future!).
And then… I walked into a coffee/book shop in the covered market and saw a poster for a children’s performance happening at: The Story Museum. Super exciting if you’re a children’s book loving-primary school teaching-tired of old buildings kind of traveler. The Story Museum in Oxford is absolutely the cutest place to spend the afternoon and get a break from the exhausted looking twenty-somethings wandering around the city.
The Story Museum is on Pembroke Street in downtown Oxford, but your first clue won’t be the street sign. Rather, it will be the little White Rabbit perched on the sidewalk, directing you to what’s in store.
Then, you’ll be greeted by the Story Mouseum, which will be your second clue that you aren’t in Kansas anymore.
Inside, purchase tickets in the little shop. The website suggests booking ahead, and they’ll give you a time slot. I was there absolutely in the off season, so I didn’t need to, but if going on a weekend or during a school holiday or summer time, I’d suggest planning your visit. I shared the space with a grand total of zero visitors, but there were two classes of school children who’d been assigned names like ‘The Squirrels’ and ‘The Chestnuts’ and whose teachers kept apologizing to me for the noise. (Frankly, being in a Story Museum without children making noise would have been a bit weird I think).
I headed back through the Courtyard, and climbed the steps to enter The Portal, where I was magically transported into Story Land. I was even given a new identity (which I got to choose – I, naturally, went for the Carmen Sandiego/Sherlock Holmes combo pack). Then, I was escorted to The Whispering Wood. Each tree in the Wood told me a different story, and had a special treasure to go with it. There were fairy houses and a story circle, and I even got to make an effort to pull the sword from the stone and become King! (I was not successful. I am not the King. Please continue to subscribe to my blog).
Next, I traveled into the Treasure Chamber where I got to learn all about how to make a comic. This is fully an exhibit for children, but truly, as an adult, and as someone who was forced to (a) make comics in school and (b) learn to teach children how to make comics in teachers’ college, this was one thousand times more interesting AND better explained than any other description. I wish I could have just photographed the entirety of the explanation.
Really the key takeaway (and one perhaps all my teachers from twenty years ago would like to embrace) is that creativity is great, and there isn’t a wrong answer when your task is literally to make something up. My bitterness about my education aside – the children who were there were loving it. The staff were wonderful, and encouraged them to draw on things, and touch things and try things, and it was only the teachers who tried to curtail the kids’ use of markers and colour (20 years on! Things don’t change). Also, very cool to see how old comics were made, drawn by hand, and coloured in afterward- even if you aren’t a fan of comics.
And then, from the ridiculous to the sublime. I was brought into the Enchanted Library – and I’ve never met a library I didn’t like. The library takes you through three generations of story types, with a particular focus on those based in or inspired by Oxford.
Alice in Wonderland features prominently, as does Narnia and The Golden Compass. I popped into Alice’s world to get very big and very small, and got to listen to Philip Pullman describe Lyra’s Alethiometer from His Dark Materials. The Snowman is animated and put to a choral score, and I could enter the Hundred Acre Wood and watch Winnie play Pooh Sticks.
I went through the Wardrobe into Narnia, and visited with Mary Poppins and Paddington Bear, all the while learning about the development of children’s storytelling through history. Everywhere, the library is full of children’s books that you are welcome to stop and read along the way.
I visited lots of museums and churches and old things while in Oxford. But the Story Museum was by far my top choice. Whether you are a child, have a child, or would like to remind yourself that you aren’t a child anymore, there’s something for everyone. £10 gets you entry as a single person, but sometimes there are special shows or exhibits that might cost extra. For more information and to book your visit, you can check out The Story Museum here.
I’ve got lots more photos and video content from The Story Museum on Instagram, so pop over there to see more if you’re interested.