It’s nearly Easter and across the county there are Easter events to celebrate new life in churches and other venues too, and for the parents amongst us, they’re prefect entertainment to fill the long days of the school holiday with delights and magical memories of egg-activities and bouncing bunnies.
The first Easter bunny is thought to have first been sighted in America in the 1700s once German Christian immigrants had settled in Pennsylvania taking with them fifteenth century tales of an egg-laying hare called Osterhase who laid coloured eggs in nests specially-created by children at Easter time. Hares are particularly apparent in the spring, leaping and acting crazily in the fields as if mad or enchanted. Interestingly in Switzerland, Easter eggs were delivered by a cuckoo and by a fox and a stork in parts of Germany, but the long-earred delivery bunny won out in the end.
A more recent and unsubstantiated ‘ancient legend’ about the Bunny’s roots trace his origins to a pagan Saxon goddess, Eostre, who found an injured bird who would never be able to fly again, so she turned it into a rabbit which continued to lay eggs.
In Woodstock, Blenheim Palace’s Great Easter Egg Hunt is a cracking weekend of outdoor fun in the pleasure gardens with vintage fairground rides for all the family and story-telling with an egg-flavour on a grand scale (admission charges apply).
For a family day out that’s easier on the pocket, over at Fairytale Farm near Chipping Norton, the tiniest children can decorate egg-shped cookies, make an Easter lamb in the craft corner and visit a Giant Rabbit Burrow over the Easter weekend (19 to 22 April) and there they’ll find the Easter Bunny telling an Easter story and giving away chocolate eggs to children.
Here you can also hunt for Golden Eggs along their Enchanted Walk, laid presumably by a legendary goose. The story of the Golden Goose tells of a man whose goose laid an egg of solid gold each day so that the man became rich. Even so, he became impatient waiting for the next day’s golden egg, so he killed the goose and cut her open expecting to find the source of the gold inside her. Inside, however, she was no different from any other goose, and that was the end of the man’s golden eggs. The moral of the story – to be content with what you have as if you are too greedy you may lose everything – might be a good one to keep rotten teeth at bay!
There are other characters to discover too at Fairytale Farm including Sleeping Beauty slumbering peacefully as she awaits rescue in another story of revival and resurrection. And while you wait girls and boys equally should enjoy swashbuckling in the adventure playground’s castle and clambering on the wooden combine harvester.
Looking ahead, Oxford’s New Theatre is presenting a first taste of the magical world of ballet for the over-twos as Sleeping Beauty takes to the stage at the end of May – and its best to book ahead. Set to a shortened version of Tchaikovsky’s score, there’s a narrator to help small children follow the story, from baby Aurora’s christening in the grand hall of the palace, to a finale of jubilant wedding celebrations.
Sleeping Beauty can be seen awakening too in the more grown-up setting of Buscot House (opens from 1st April), a beautiful privately-owned manor set in gorgeous landscaped gardens on Oxfordshire’s western edge on the road between Faringdon and Lechlade, just a stone’s throw from the river Thames. It’s the home of the present Lord Faringdon who looks after the property and its collection of art and furniture on behalf of the National Trust. Inside you’ll find a room with walls lined by four large-scale paintings that tell the story of Briar Rose in classical style. Painted by Edward Burne-Jones, one of the last pre-Raphaelites, they are accompanied by a poem by William Morris who spent much of his life in neighbouring Kelmscott.
‘The Briar Wood’
The fateful slumber floats and flows
About the tangle of the rose.
But lo the fated hand and heart
To rend the slumberous curse apart
‘The Council Chamber’
The threat of war, the hope of peace,
The Kingdon’s peril and increase.
Sleep on, and bide the latter day
When fate shall take her chains away.
‘The Garden Court’
The maiden pleasance of the land
Knoweth no stir of voice or hand,
No cup the sleeping waters fill,
The restless shuttle lieth still.
‘The Rose Bower’
Here lies the hoarded love the key
To all the treasure that shall be.
Come fated hand, the gift to take
And smite the sleeping world awake
And whereas the charm of many old piles lie in their crumbling rambling nature, (open from April) Buscot Park is immaculate, from the house’s insides to the manicured gardens that surround them. It’s another option for a perfect afternoon out on a sunny Easter weekend.
And there’s also peace and tranquillity to be enjoyed, just upstream on the Thames at Kelmscott where designer William Morris lived out his days and where the Manor now houses a wonderful collection of his work, and by the river in Henley where the River and Rowing Museum are hosting An Earthly Paradise (until 14th July), an exhibition about William Morris and his connections to the Oxfordshire Thames, as the water flows serenely by.