Blenheim Palace Shakespeare

Round & About

Wallingford & Didcot

Enjoy a Bard classic at Blenheim Palace pop-up theatre

The sumptuous surroundings of Blenheim Palace are playing host to Europe’s first-ever pop-up Shakespearean theatre over the summer. 

Four of The Bard’s most well-known plays will be performed in the 13-sided traditional Elizabethan Rose Theatre which features three tiers of covered seating for 560 and an open courtyard for 340 standing ‘groundlings’. 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, Richard III and Romeo and Juliet transport allow audiences to an intimate atmosphere full of breath taking, spine-tingling and heart-stopping moments courtesy of two companies of actors over a nine-week season which runs until 7th September. 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s funniest comedies. Four friends, all in love with the wrong person, set out into the woods and come across the fairy king and queen arguing. When the king, Oberon, decides to fix things using the juice of a magic flower, things start to go very wrong for everyone. 

In contrast, Macbeth mixes blood, tension, witches, ghosts and a kingdom in crisis in the tale of a toxic marriage, crushing ambition and murder. 

Richard III tells of a villain who murders his way to the crown. He woos the woman whose husband and father-in-law he has killed, has his two young nephews murdered in the Tower of London and is finally crowned Richard III, but along the way he makes some serious enemies. 

Warring families is also very much the theme of the most famous love story ever told – Romeo and Juliet. The son and daughter of two respective feuding noble families fall in love but know their love is forbidden and must marry in secret with fatal consequences. 

Pop-up theatre

The performances are daily at 2pm and 7.30pm. For details of which play is being performed when and to book tickets, visit

Open water swimmer

Round & About

Wallingford & Didcot

Lizzie Cox explains how she discovered the joy of outdoor swimming thanks to a trip to Berinsfield Lake…

The water calls to me, as she laps at the shore. Her soft trickling against the rocks and pebbles, that she has placed at her farthest edge, to give those who venture near, a foothold with a sharp- edged warning.

My feet are baby soft and too cosseted and vulnerable, as they crunch on the powdery sand nudging towards the sparkling waters edge.

The springtime sun is high in the sky but the wind is chilly and biting. I peep into the glittering mirrored shallows, excitedly scanning the lake bed, for nature holds secrets as ancient as the earth and as deep as the lakes reedy beds.

The birds and small creatures that amble on her banks and laze in pools of still sunlight on her dappled surface, feel familiar and safe and as I near the waters edge the sounds of the shore recede, the laughter of the playing children, the excitedly barking dogs and the bustling swimmers as they adjust their sports attire and stretch those toned torsos. The sounds fade into the distance as I stare mesmerised by the watery depths.

As I peer beneath the surface the minnows dart around in innocence and joy as I dip my toe into the ripples of the shore line and the warmth of my human frame meets the icy cold of the lake and our energy connects. I feel her age old body of water as it welcomes me into her vast pool, or at least she humours me as I wade in the shallows, but as I lift my gaze to the horizon where the tree line meets the water a chill enters my heart as I recall the reason for my visit to the lakeside this early  morning and the knowledge of how far into her depths I must swim to reach what I seek

I glance back at the swimmers now entering the water yards away, a babble of jolly women are wading knee deep into the wet, their swimsuits and swimming caps thin protection against the waters icy currents one of these women tucking her loose grey hair into her cap smiles at me and for a moment I want to ask her if she seeks what I seek and her deep belly laugh as she natters to her companion is a sign to me that this is a kindly soul – I open my mouth to call to her but too late I open my mouth to speak and she is already gone into the fresh cold waters of the lake and soon she is bobbing her head in the deeper water, front crawling her way to the first yellow bouy and I my first words of friendship are lost on the wind and carried away in the breeze across the treetops and beyond.

I do not wait for the other swimmers,but make my own solitary way into the icy waters as the reeds. Cling to my thighs I take a deep breath, and then I’m under, immediately a survival instinct kicks in, the waters cold and you must move to keep warm, and anyway one does not enter the water to simply paddle on a day like today one enter the waters to swim.

I can only use breast stroke or at least I feel it is fitting that I do and have never resolved to learn front crawl and so I make my way like an elegant legged toad or frog through the wake of the triathlon swimmers that power their way to fitness and beaming good health, I catch a slip stream from them and hitch a ride as it carries me further out, further to the far edge of the lake. As they stream past the swimmers disturb a cloud of mating dragonflies who flit like sparks of flurosecent blue around the surface of the water and then settle when the energy of them has passed onto the now settling waves.

As I glide through the water I sense I am getting further and further away from shore and I am solitary once more. I sense I need to cough and as I do so a little water entered my nostrils and I snort starting to panic, I was an asthmatic child and memories of cross country in Windsor great park and the lack of oxygen in my tight lungs and temper tantrums where I sobbed and gasped for breath as I bit down in anger on words I could not utter. As an adult I  suffer from panic attacks and over my41 years have been partial to the odd fag or two. As these memories came and went like passing shadows across the water I remembered my teenage years where as a young girl I dived through the pools of green jade in the south of France as lithe and as an egret and yet now here I am on a cold bright April morning in the Oxfordshire countryside in a cold lake and my 41 year old body creaking and groaning like a old rusty barge.

And yet something takes over the lake starts  to silence my struggling and her quiet teaches me more than the clammering noisy lessons of this world ever could.

My breathing becomes more regular as I tred  water I look down and see suddenly out the corner of my eye a silver flash I glance around at the other swimmers but I am not alone a kayaker floats past her eyes crinkled with a concerned smile but this annoys rather than soothes it is not the kindness of humans I seek but the cold hard wisdom of the lake and what hides in the water at her far edge.

What I have seen before and haunts my dreams and has called me back from my lap dogs and newspapers and coffee this morning to her shores then my attention falls again to the water that seems to pulse around me lapping at my hair as it escapes from my swimming hat and swirls in the water like tentacles. There it is again that swoosh and a clap And I see a silvery scaled f tail descend as a startled fish jumps out the water and lands again darting away further into the deep.

I let out a frustrated chuckle a fish ! Only a fish – but the realisation that I may have been deceived in my quest makes my heart heavy and as I turn wearily  from the far corner of the lake and start the long swim back to shore my shoulders begin to dip and I feel sleepy in the water as if falling into a deep trance my head starts to dip below the water line and for a second I slip under water my eyes are open and I see coming through the reed beds a woman or a fish I am not sure my vision is blurred the water has become suddenly murky and a cold current hits me in the torso but she or it is approaching fast and there is nowhere to go and suddenly she’s upon me her scales are indeed silvery and her webbed hands as she touches me face and whispers in my ear I can hear nothing but I know in my heart she is singing the sound of falling tears.

In that moment I think I tell my dreams my nightmares my fears and failures she looks straight on my eyes her hair swirling like seaweed and her face rosy and round not the face of a monster but a mirror image of my own I gasp and as water rushes into my mouth it startled me and I rise the the surface gasping in pure air as I break the waves I look above me and alone seagull flying high in the skies above cries out and again I am born of the lake.

I make my way towards the shore and do not look behind me as I climb the beach my legs like jelly my nose dripping just simply make my way back to my patient husband sitting waiting on the warm car to take me home.

Many drown in the wild of the water in the truth that is the secret of the lake

That you are what you seek and what you seek was in you all along.

That the wild calls you to discover this and the wild is indeed what you are.

Many take this knowledge to its watery grave many do not venture near again to the mystical depths of her sparkling waters.

But to hear the cry of the birds as they skim across her  surface and see the dragonflies dance

And hear the sound of the sirens and the nymphs as they sing their haunting song calling you to come and meet again the secret of the lake.

More info

To find out more about Queenford Lakes Open Water Swimming, OX10 7PQ, see their Facebook page below or contact 07974 369982

Normandy 75

Karen Neville

Wallingford & Didcot

A new exhibition marking the 75th anniversary of the Normandy campaign telling the courageous stories of soldiers who fought there and during D-Day, opens today.

Normandy 75: Oxfordshire to the Orne will go on display at the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum until 3rd November and will combine a travelling exhibition from the National Army Museum with stories staff at the museum have gathered from around Oxfordshire.

The stories will be told through objects, a map of key locations, quotes from Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire born soldiers who served on D-Day and beyond.

Soldiers from the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry were among the first to set foot in Normandy on 6th June 1944 and were instrumental in the capture of Pegasus Bridge in the early hours, before the beach landings.

Visitors can sit inside a life-size reproduction of a Horsa Gilder’s compartment and listen to recorded interviews with D-Day veterans.

The museum’s collections manager Peggy Ainsworth said: “In addition to our own regimental stories, we wanted to use this exhibition as a way to represent the local soldiers who contributed to the Normandy campaign.

“There have been many fascinating stories coming in from the public, which we will be telling through artefacts from our collection and information gained thorough our Stories of Conflict and County campaign launched last year.”

The exhibition of the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum in the grounds of the Oxfordshire Museum, Park Street, Woodstock, will end with a special collecting day on 2nd November. The We’ll Meet Again collections day will encourage the public to bring objects to the museum and tell their stories of Oxfordshire from the Second World War to the 1970s. Items donated or loaned will be used to form the Second World War and Reminiscence displays.


The Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum is open from Tuesday-Friday 10am-5pm, Saturday 11am-5pm and Sunday 2pm-5pm.

For more information

Presence, Cornerstone

Karen Neville

Wallingford & Didcot

Kate Aries

Four emerging Oxford based artists are showcasing their work in an exhibition at Didcot’s Cornerstone.

Presence is a group exhibition featuring the work of Kate Aries, Manon Franklin-Fraiture, James Lester and Jack Whitney.
Combining drawing, textile, illustration and digital artworks, the artists have created new works that question what is means to exist in the contemporary world, physically, sexually, virtually and digitally.

Visitors will be able to engage with works perceptually and/or physically, encouraging them to also contemplate these questions.
Kate Aries explores perception and illusion through experimentation with the camera, using different techniques to obscure and restrict her body. Kate’s practice focuses not only on embodied experience, but also the manipulated and processed image in our changing society.

James Lester
Jack Whitney
Manon Franklin-Fraiture

Manon Franklin-Fraiture’s quirky illustrations incorporate conversations and questions she overhears and brings them to life, shining a light on how human existence can be in our modern life.
James Lester is a portraiture artist whose work contemplates the shaping of humanity within a modern context. Throughout the duration of the exhibition James will be creating large-scale charcoal murals of an array of celebrity figures, offering visitors the chance to watch the artist in action.

Jack Whitney’s practice challenges normative notions of gender, sexuality and politics, for this exhibition Jack has used embroidery as a way of drawing humorous yet thought provoking images.


Presence runs from today, 6th, until 18th August and is free to attend.

Visit the Cornerstone site for more information about this or any of the other productions on.

Mum on stage

Round & About

Wallingford & Didcot

Peter Anderson chats with Jodie Nolan, the local mum who is starring in the hyper-successful musical Mamma Mia in the West End this summer

A sunny, funny tale of a mother, daughter and three possible dads set on an idyllic Greek island, has been celebrating the music of Abba and entertaining audiences the world over since 1999. Now a mum who took time out of her West End career has joined the ensemble cast once more. For about a decade Jodie Nolan has been enjoying married life in Chipping Norton, teaching dance and musical theatre, after herself starting to learn ballet at the age of two and a half at a dance school in Byfleet.

Who are her inspirations? “Both my parents, but especially my mother. I was brought up with the philosophy if you really want something go for it, and they were very supportive. Growing up, it was Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz and ballet wise Mikhail Baryshnikov in White Knight.

How did you get your first break in the West End? “I did not go straight into a musicals after leaving the Laine Academy in Guildford, I spent time working as part of the entertainment team on one of the Royal Caribbean Cruise ships, very quickly I had to get my head around all types of shows, and I was away from home. Then, I performed in a couple of tours of Chicago, and then the international tour of Mamma Mia. When I saw that there were vacancies in the West End show and so I gave it a shot and managed to get into the cast in 2008.

Was it hard ten years ago to decide to have a break from the West End? “At the time no, it had been a challenging time for me, I had got married to a lovely husband, but I lost my mother and decided it was time to take a step back for a while. Alongside having children – we now have two lovely daughters and live in idyllic Chipping Norton. I also trained as a teacher in ballet and musical theatre and opened the Nolan Academy. I just felt the time was right now for another shot at the West End and was pleased to get back into Mamma Mia – and supervise the teachers who are covering me in the academy.

Jodie is back on stage in Mamma Mia, but are there any other musicals on her wish list? “What a question! As I walk along The Strand to get to the theatre you see so many musicals that are on. But who wouldn’t want to appear in Les Miserables?”

Want to go?

See Jodie in Mamma Mia in the Novello Theatre in London’s West End – buy your tickets

Vinyl Revival

Round & About

Wallingford & Didcot

Watch The Vinyl Revival at Oxford’s Phoenix Playhouse

Billed as “a film about why the tables are turning again”, The Vinyl Revival is a 43-minute documentary exploring the renaissance of all things vinyl.

Released as part of Record Store Day 2019, it is now enjoying a limited cinema and festival run and you can catch it at the Phoenix Picturehouse in Walton Street, Oxford on Wednesday, 24th July.

In The Vinyl Revival you can hear from new passionate record shop owners as well as the established die-hards going strong and thriving.

The documentary also features musicians and music industry pundits, experts on culture and music history. The film discusses the importance of the record shop and vinyl as a whole. It addresses the why’s of vinyl’s revival, the human need for belonging, the love of history, and the stories of how the humble little record shop has shaped so many lives.

It follows on from the acclaimed Last Shop Standing and is again directed and produced by Pip Piper.

Contributors include Philip Selway (Radiohead), Jen Otter Bikerdike (Rock and Roll Historian), Nick Mason (Pink Floyd) and Ade Utley (Portishead).

After the documentary there will be a Q&A with Pip and Philip Selway of Oxford-band Radiohead. The event starts at 8.30pm.

True lovers of vinyl will be interested in the album, The Vinyl Revival, a gatefold compilation album released for Record Store Day 2019 and the book, The Vinyl Revival and the Shops that Made it Happen by Graham Jones, which inspired the film. Jones is famous for being the man who has visited more record shops than anyone ever.

Nick Mason, of Pink Floyd summed up vinyl saying:
“The vinyl record is the equivalent of whether you have the tea bag or the Japanese tea ceremony, the tea ceremony is the right way to approach music”.

To book tickets and for more information


Reading Fringe

Karen Neville

Wallingford & Didcot

Reading Fringe Festival is under way and over the next nine days you can enjoy comedy, drama, art, music, theatre, walks and much much more.

“The most eclectic line-up of events yet” is set to take Reading by storm as the Reading Fringe Festival hits town with more than 80 shows to choose from.

As well as surprising shows, they’ll be popping up at some surprising venues too with an orchestra at Reading station and yoga at the Abbey Ruins among others.

Reading Fringe features a host of local, national and international performers for 10 days of comedy, music, film, family fun theatre, art, walks and much more from 19th to 28th July.

This year’s festival has the theme of Into the Woods and Beyond and one of its stars will be the flagship venue of Reading Minster which will host everything from Irish dancing to ‘bring your own baby’ comedy afternoons for new parents.

A conversation with some of Reading’s refugees, a commission with artists from Norway and an evening of songs from musicals are among some of the other treats for visitors.

We truly believe there is something for everyone

There’s live music and family fun at the Oracle Riverside and the Vue Cinema will hold the film festival for the first time.

Cabaret, comedy and drama are on offer at the pentahotel, the Purple Turtle, After Dark, the Three Guineas, South Street and the Rising Sun. Music comes in genres to suit every taste including jazz, rap, steampunk, folk, soul, classic and a capella.

There’s plenty of entertainment too for younger Fringe goers who won’t want to miss out on the singing snails at the very least!
Festival director Zsuzsi Lindsay said they are “beyond excited” with the programme for this year’s festival. She added: “We truly believe there is something for everyone – whether you are a comedy fan, an art aficionado, a film fanatic, looking to keep the kids entertained  during the holidays or none or all of the above!”

Find out more

Visit the Reading Fringe Festival website for full details of the programme

Charlbury festival

Karen Neville

Wallingford & Didcot

Free festival fun down by the riverside in Charlbury

Head down to the river this weekend for free family fun in Charlbury at the ever-popular Riverside Festival.

Held on the banks of the Evenlode, it has grown over the past 24 years, attracting thousands of music lovers who this year will be able to enjoy the US rock band The Pixies among many others. For youngsters there will be free pixie fun activities to join in.

There’s a packed programme of music on Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st with more than 40 acts playing across four stages – rock, indie, jazz, and folk on the main two stages and all sorts on the Fringe and Buskers stages!

Headlining the main stage on Saturday is four-piece Oxford band Kanadia. Their big and bold alt rock sound and impressive stage presence has won them a growing fan base in Europe and a big following across the Atlantic in Mexico, the US and Canada.
Sunday headliner is popular upbeat garage punk band Self Help.

Other acts to look out for are Riverside favourites 2 Tone All Skas, The Knights of Mentis, Mighty Redox and eclectic Turkabilly band, Brickwork Lizards.

The second stage, run by independent record stores, Rapture in Witney and The Truck Store in Oxford has an impressive line-up of local bands including Peerless Pirates, Death of the Maiden and Ghosts in the Photographs.

The festival takes place in The Mill Field, Dyers Hill, Charlbury with entry opposite Charlbury railway station.

For more information and details

Festival of cycling

Karen Neville

Wallingford & Didcot

Cyclist all over are gearing up for this year’s Wallingford Festival of Cycling

When three dads set up a cycling club for talented 16-19 year olds in Wallingford in 2014, little did they know the chain of events that would follow.

A year later, they went one further and the town’s very own cycling festival was launched attracting more than 3,000 people and gaining a starring role on TV in what else but Midsomer Murders when the race featured in Breaking the Chain.

But ‘stardom’ aside the real aim for the festival is to be a celebration of cycling, encouraging more people to get on their bikes more often.

The festival begins on Friday, 12th July with the dual track course testing riders on speed and handling skills as they go downhill, over jumps, rollers and bermed corners and is suitable for anyone aged 5 and over with a mountain bike or scooter.

New to the festival this year is the Dirt Factory air bag for bike stunt jumps – check out the video on the website to see this in action, but it’s sure to attract a few daredevils!

Saturday 13th includes these as well as wheels for all taster sessions and pump track competitions. Sunday 14th is the day for all the rides with distances ranging from 13 miles to 100 miles to choose from. If you’re new to cycling or want to ride as a family then try out the five mile festival fun ride and if it’s cycling of a different type or to be precise from a different era you want to try out then how about learning to ride a penny farthing?

Find out more

For more details, entry information and costs, visit the Wallingford Festival of Cycling website


Love tennis!

Karen Neville

Wallingford & Didcot

Wimbledon starts today (1st July) so expect to see more people out with their tennis rackets and more strawberries being eaten.

There are so many ways to get involved in the sport with many clubs holding open days giving you the opportunity to give the game a try for yourself.


Among those encouraging you to do just that is Abingdon Lawn Tennis Club which aside from the physical benefits of the game is keen to stress the social side of the game too – whether you want to play competitively or just for fun, it really is suitable for everyone from three to 83.

The Lawn Tennis Association has served up a plan to widen the appeal of the sport with TENNIS Opened Up promoting its appeal to players of any age, ability, background and fitness level with various schemes available as well as mini tennis for youngsters. All of these can be catered for at ALTC.

A great way to try the game for yourself or as a re-introduction is to try out ALTC’s open day for free on Sunday, 23rd June at Southern Town Park, Lambrick Way, a week before Wimbledon starts and tennis fever grips the nation. Once you’re hooked the club offers twice weekly club nights for non-members as well as holding team matches, intra-club singles leagues and coaching sessions throughout the year.

Abingdon Lawn Tennis Club boasts five men’s, five women’s and five mixed teams in addition to formal and social tournaments and in 2018 was named Oxfordshire Club of the Year, recognised for its growth in player numbers, coaching, inclusion and innovation.
The friendly, welcoming club has no playing standard requirements just a great love for the game which they want to pass on.


Teach Me Tennis offer coaching for juniors from the age of three and a comprehensive adult programme based at Peppard Tennis Club just outside Henley-on-Thames. 
They run sessions based around low player to coach ratios so they can ensure all children get lots of quality instruction and feedback. Their belief is that all players should learn not only to hit a ball but also the skills and information needed to play a match whatever their age or on court experience. Term-time sessions run every day after school and on Saturdays starting from age three, with popular tennis camps running during the school holidays for children aged 4+. Play continues all year round on six all-weather courts with floodlights and a modern clubhouse.

Contact Teach Me Tennis for more information on  01491 728080, email [email protected] or visit the website at


Another opportunity to give tennis a try is available at Bradfield Tennis Centre at Bradfield College Sports Complex near Reading.
It offers world class coaching to players of all ages and abilities. The coaching team firmly believes in “tennis for life”, and welcomes children of all ages to engage in this truly enriching sport.

All of the highly qualified LTA accredited + coaching team have a desire to pass on their knowledge to inspire children to develop a love of the game through on court drills covering the four pillars of tennis – technical, tactical, physical and mental.

Tennis at Bradfield is a sport for everyone to enjoy and provides pathways towards representing the centre in local leagues as well as county, regional, national and international competitions. The team encourages juniors to come for taster sessions prior to committing to the programme and looks forward to welcoming players over the summer holidays in the fun and energetic camps.

Adult tennis players of all abilities are catered for at Bradfield Tennis Centre with courses for beginners, intermediate and team players.
Should you not wish to receive coaching, why not sign up to our extremely popular cardio tennis sessions, which are great for improving fitness levels, you could burn off up to 800 calories per session!

The world class Plexi – Pave indoor and outdoor clay court facilities are open for members and non-members to hire.
To book or for more information please call 0118 964 4600 or 0118 964 4603 or visit

Visit Wimbledon's website