This month marks Offbeat Oxford, our very own answer to Edinburgh Fringe, from 11-17 July — and you’ll be pleased as punch to know that it offers lots for free. On 15-16 July, Gloucester Green Market will be transformed into a feast of stories, arts, games and pop-up performances: screen-printing, mind-reading, and more. Also in Gloucester Green, on 16 July, there’s a free interactive, physical theatre performance about the weather, Once Upon an Umbrella. 17 July sees an immersive circle show about films taking place on Cornmarket Street, Blockbuster Factory. Then, back in Gloucester Green, there’s a charming muppets-esque puppet show about recycling, Riki Cycle.
It’s our very own Bucks Open Culture Weekend on 28-31 July! The theme this year is ‘trees and green’, and it entails a hefty crop of tours, trails, live music, performances, exhibitions and activities. In short: a celebration of our fine county’s culture and creativity, and mostly FOR FREE. There’s a Roald Dahl Tree Trek at the Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden, a walking tour of ancient trees around the 12th century St Peter’s Burnham Church, Planting and Gardening Workshops in Aylesbury (Southcourt), Aylesbury (Elmhurst), and High Wycombe, an outdoor performance about Nature and The Carribbean in Chesham, and more, still!
SEE AN EXHIBITION
Can we get a hell yeah for free exhibitions? There’s a tonne on this month. The Oxford Museum of Natural History has a fascinating display entitled Waste Land, which uses aerial photography by J Henry Fair to show the environmental damage caused by industries we rely on everyday.
Over at the North Wall, also in Oxford, there’s an exhibition on until 23 July displaying a varied collection of colour work by contemporary artists. Entitled Group 7: Connection, it explores the way colour can convey meaning and hold significance in itself. Cool stuff.
For more modern art, head over to the Modern Art Oxford to catch its exhibition Ruth Asawa: Citizen of the Universe. This is all about the visionary American artist, educator and activist Ruth Asawa, who specialised in signature hanging sculptures in looped and tied wire, and has some knockout visuals.
The grand dame of Oxford is of course the classical colonnaded Ashmolean Museum, where the permanent collections are free – so you can save your dosh for a champagne tea on the rooftop! There’s currently a free exhibition Young & Wild, all about 1980s exuberant German art. It’s a very cool look at a movement that rebelled against minimalism, and found inspiration in urban sub-cultures like the Punk and gay scenes.
South-east of Oxford is Albion Fields, a 50 acre sculpture park offering an acclaimed line-up of outdoor art pieces. The sculptures are for sale but visiting is free, and since much of the park has been rewilded, it’s also just an insanely beautiful place — mega bucolic vibes. Want more of this sort of thing? Check out the best of outdoor art in Bucks and Oxon.
Oh, and top tip: If you’re a Milton Keynes resident, the MK Gallery’s amazing Vivian Maier exhibition is only £1 entry on Tuesdays!
FREE HISTORY LESSONS
If you’re with the kids and the sarcophagi and mummies in the Ancient Egyptian gallery don’t get them excited, try the animal skeleton parade at the Museum of Natural History or the shrunken heads at Pitt Rivers Museum, round the back, which are all free but invite donations on entry. More free museums to take your pick from: The Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock covers the history of the county and has an amazing interactive dinosaur exhibit; Banbury Museum has permanent exhibits telling the story of the Civil War, life in a Victorian market town, and more; The Bate Collection in Oxford is a treasure trove of over 2,000 musical instruments; the Wycombe Museum details the town’s social history and stint as the UK’s chair-making capital; the Rollright Stones in Chipping Norton give Stone Henge a run for its money, and entry is only £1. The National History Museum’s outpost in Tring is also a fascinating and free way to spend an hour. That should just about do it!
PLAY AL FRESCO TENNIS
Game, set and match! With Wimbledon still going strong until 10 July, now’s as good a time as ever to don a little white skirt (or not) and thwack some rackets. There are plenty of tennis clubs and leisure centres in our ends where you can pay to book a court for an hour but we’ve scoped out some free options: all you need to bring is a bat and ball. (Or balls, plural, if your serves are as wayward as ours). Oxon haunts include Hinksey Park, which has four courts available to play on, and Botley Park which has two (booking essential). Whilst over in High Wycombe, there are three courts at Desborough Recreation Ground which are first come, first served – head over for an early morning match to nab a court with no queues.
PACK A PICNIC
Nothing says summer quite as much as a wicker basket packed full of strawberries, champagne and salmon sandwiches. And if you come prepared with umbrella, waterproofs and rainproof rug, you’ll have a good time whatever the weather throws at you. Head up to the top of Wendover Woods to make the most of the incredible views across to Buckinghamshire, while Abingdon Lock in Oxfordshire allows you to stare dreamily across the water, ignoring the wasps attacking your ice lolly. PLUS, you can still win £500 to spend at Ocado until midnight 9 July, so that’s your summer picnics sorted. Check out our guide to the loveliest picnic spots for ultimate al fresco inspo.