A small village in Buckinghamshire that would otherwise be totally unremarkable, is now a heritage centre for one man. The man is Roald Dahl, who lived the village for roughly the second half of his life, and it’s the village that inspired many of his most famous children stories.
When an entire village and the woods around it are an inspiration for a world-famous man, it’s not surprising that the village will do something to satisfy the visitors who will inevitably come, and so there’s a museum, a walking trail, and a grave.
The museum opened in 2005 and apart from housing the man’s archive, has a couple of rooms given over to telling the story of the man — and preserving the shed where he worked.
The highlight for most people who know the history of the man is “the shed”, at least the interior, for what they did was to replicate the building, then move the entire inside of the shed into their replica building. Preserving every single object, right down to paperclips, and marking exactly where everything was — it is a tour de force of the art of heritage preservation.
In the exhibition, much of his life in the Army and USA is talked about, his open anti-Semitism is not.
However, most of the space the museum occupies is given over to children’s activities, which is great if have children, but it can make the £7 entry fee seem a bit steep for an adult, as you just get two rooms to visit.
The Roald Dahl museum is a short walk from the town’s railway station. What they also have in the museum is a countryside trail for the walks around the town, and a town trail.
The post office is pointed out where thousands of fan letters arrived, and is now a cafe with a distinctive postbox on the outside, and further down the road is a very noticeable former car garage with the old petrol pumps still preserved. Even if you didn’t know they’re Dahl related you’d stop to look at them.
Highlighting the home that used to be a butchers they shopped at, the rather ugly library they used and the home that inspired a story are stretching the trail a bit thin.
However, do go to the church, which is down an exceptionally picturesque road. It used to be a church on a hill surrounded by lots of green and quiet, but now there’s a huge scar in the land and a major road runs right past the church in a deep cutting.
The church looks lovely from the outside — closed on my visit — and the trail guide says to look for the tree next to the memorial bench to find the grave. I wont note that this is a churchyard, which is full of trees and benches, but when you spot the memorial bench, it becomes very obvious where to go.
Some BFG footprints lead off from the tree to the grave which is nearby. It’s plain, quite simple, and rather oddly, had some coins on it on my visit – tokens of luck perhaps?
If you have kids who love Dahl’s stories, then it seemed that they were having a fantastic time in the museum, and that makes it worth a visit.
The village’s other claim to fame, which they don’t do much to talk about is that a number of Hammer Horror films were filmed in the village, as was ITV’s Midsomer Murders series. Curiously for such a small — if quite wealthy village — it was also home to two Prime Ministers, Clement Attlee and Harold Wilson.
To get to Great Missenden:
Chiltern Railway trains depart from London Marylebone to Great Missenden station every 30 minutes at weekends, and trains take 40 minutes to get there.