The British are renowned for their odd collections of things; lead soldiers, novelty tea pots, Royal Wedding paraphernalia and the like, which sit in sheds and spare rooms across the nation, lovingly dusted by their eccentric owners. The Chiltern Open Air Museum in Buckinghamshire is a collection on a monumental scale. Founded in 1976, it was set up to rescue historic buildings at risk of demolition or decay. Set in a 45 acre site consisting of park land, meadows and woodland are more than 30 old buildings, ranging from a reconstructed Iron Age round house to a 1940s prefab. Each one has its own unique history, but represents a way of life that has died out.
Unlike museums where exhibits sit behind panels of glass, here you are invited to walk around the buildings, travelling back hundreds of years as you step over the threshold. Eager volunteers are keen to share their extensive knowledge with you, but the ones we encountered were not the kind of bores that you might associate with museum guides. Here, you are allowed to see a 19th century threshing machine up close, try on a milkmaid’s yoke and have a go at making your own beeswax candle, safe in the knowledge that you can go home to 21st century living with the luxuries of sprung mattresses, motorised vehicles and Freeview.
We visited on a beautiful spring day, when the sun was shining, the blossom was blooming and the first lambs of the season were making an appearance. I could have stayed for hours, or possibly even forever (I had eyed up a rather nice cottage on the village green with outdoor loos and sheep in the garden), but unfortunately the museum closes as night, and the unexpected heat had made us all desire a pint in a pub garden. In fact, a good old country pub was really the only thing missing from this rural idyll.
The museum is open from April til October, from 10am-5pm (although the last admission is 3.30pm, and you’ll probably want a bit longer than 90 minutes to wander round). The museum plays host to a number of events and courses throughout the season, from medieval pageants to heavy horse shows. According to the leaflet that came with our tickets, the museum needs to take at least £1000 a day to stay open, so make sure you say yes to Gift Aid when buying your tickets!