This review of the Shuttleworth Collection in Bedfordshire is actually the second one I’ve done off the back of a Dan Snow recommendation! Slightly random! The other is Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. We went to see him at the Waterside Theatre in Aylesbury and during the Q&A I asked him what his favourite day out was! I’ll get recommendations anywhere I can. Anyway, back to the review.
We actually picked a rotten day to review the Shuttleworth Collection. It is mostly indoors BUT there’s also some good outdoors spaces. I’d (stupidly) mentioned that there’s an adventure playground. So when torrential rain meant we couldn’t do the playground after-all, but we had looked around the gardens I was in trouble! Also the rain meant that a lot of the special activities and flights couldn’t take place. You’re not going to fly really old aeroplanes in strong winds and horrific rain if you don’t have to!
The house itself is mostly used as a wedding and conference centre, but it does open during the Bedfordshire school holidays for you to look around.
The Shuttleworth Collection Hangars
There are six hangars that make up the Shuttleworth Collection. All of the aircraft here still fly! Including the world’s oldest flying aeroplane, the 1909 Bleriot XI. Now, I’ll be honest, it looks like something the kids made with matchsticks and paper but on a much bigger scale. There’s no way you’d catch me in this thing;
Actually, a surprising number of the planes here that look so fragile I’m not sure how they’re still intact, let alone able to fly. But fly they do. The fact every single aeroplane you see if still capable of flying, is what what makes it unique. I think it’s the only museum in the UK that can say that.
One thing that was very cool here is that the boys got to operate a WWII anti aircraft gun. A genuine one – and they got to fire it! OK, it was only laser beams but they had to work together to turn it around and aim the barrel up and down. One child controlled left and right, the other up and down. They were a surprisingly good shot.
I can’t quite tell you why, but the overall this just felt less engaging in the hangars than the RAF museum. Hubby felt the same, maybe because there’s almost no interactive elements, whereas the RAF museum does at least have some. At the end of the day they’re both mainly focused on looking at aeroplanes, so why would it be so different?
Everything that isn’t a plane
They actually have quite a lot of other vehicles and things to see here. There’s a stunning collection of cars and bikes. Steam engines and even vintage buses. Of course, being part of the Shuttleworth Collection, they still run. On certain days you can hitch a lift on the buses. They also have this interesting “family” motorbike and sidecar. Apparently this is for two adults and a child (up to about 13!). I don’t think so.
There’s also a LOT of adverts for Shell. Which prompted me to tell everyone the little known story (again) of how the founders of Shell actually used to own Upton House in Oxfordshire and started off importing exotic seashells into Edwardian/Victorian London and by a quirk of luck ended up in oil! This is why it’s worth doing the guided tours of NT properties BTW, random but fascinating facts like this.
The Swiss Gardens
One of the main reasons that I wanted to do my review of The Shuttleworth Collection in February is because of the snowdrops in the Swiss Gardens. I knew they had a lovely collection (although I suspect their daffodils might be more impressive than the snowdrops) and wanted to check it out. These really are beautiful gardens. Full of beautiful little bridges (including one that is impossibly steep. I really struggled to walk up it, the kids though it was epic!).
There’s tons of other things dotted around. Map sure you get a map because it’s actually really useful. Everything is numbered and the map tells you what each number is. There’s little hidden houses, ponds, Dumbledore’s lectern (Ok, it’s not actually that but the kids thought it was and you’ll allowed to climb up behind it), a fernery and more. Despite the fact it was raining, we were in here for an hour.
There are also a pair of peacocks in here. Both boys, one blue and one white. Biggest Child is scared of peacocks, Middle Child adores them so I had one actively hunting and one actively hiding! Always makes for an interesting experience.
Woodland walk and lakeside parkland
I’m really annoyed that we didn’t get the chance to explore the woodland walk. There are seven sculptures along the walk and, quite frankly, they look amazing. It’s such a shame we missed them. The weather on the day of our Shuttleworth Collection review also meant we couldn’t explore the lakeside parkland either. Between these two I think we could have spent quite a lot of time exploring.
The adventure playground
The Jubilee Park adventure playground at the Shuttleworth Collection has been a bit controversial. For many reasons. 1) If the kids knew how good it was, and that they hadn’t been, I’d be the least favourite Mummy in the world! 2) Access used to be free most days but just after covid they changed that. Now only people who have paid site admission can access the playground. And people aren’t happy. What you can see from the entrance looks pretty small, just one climbing frame. Actually it’s lots of different, smaller playgrounds that are all interconnected. There’s some pretty good kit hidden in there. I’m sighing as I type this review up because I know I’m going to have to go back to the Shuttleworth Collection in the spring/summer just to do the outdoors bits!
Our Shuttleworth Collection Review
This review is written from a family day out perspective. As I mentioned, I don’t think we’ve actually got the best experience we could have today. If the weather had been better, if we’d been there during a show, I think it would have been amazing. It’s actually those extra elements, that the RAF museum doesn’t offer, that make it worth going. Is it worth paying £32 for a family of four if it’s not an event day and it’s raining? Hmmm. Maybe not, unless you’re a BIG aeroplane fan. Is it worth it if it’s dry and there’s an airshow on? Definitely!
And if you are a fan of aeroplanes? Then yes – this is absolutely a great place for you to visit!
Online – Adults £17.50 – tickets valid for 30 days when booked online. £19.50 on the door, which are not valid for 30 days. Children FREE. They do an annual membership for £50 (click the SVAS button at the bottom). If you’re local and think you’ll visit more than once, even if it’s just for the outside stuff it’s worth doing that.
2-4-1 Gardener’s World cards are accepted, except on event days. Double check before visiting if you’re unsure.
All prices are correct at the time this review of the Shuttleworth Collection was published / updated. Please double check their website for the latest prices before visiting.
Parking / How to get there
Parking – Free, on-site
Address – SatNav Postcode – SG18 9DT
Cafe on-site. Picnics allowed.
What else is there to do nearby?
Jordan’s Mill is nearby and free to visit, as is the Forest of Marston Vale and Ampthill Great Park. Wrest Park is not too far away, and free for English Heritage members. Wimpole Hall is about half an hour away, and free for National Trust members.
Hi, I’m Vicky. My husband and I live in Aylesbury with our three children; a 12 year old son, a 10 year old son and a 5 year old daughter. I (mostly) love spending time together as a family. We visit all kinds of places and we’re quite happy to drive a fair distance for a decent day out. A few years ago I decided to set up Free Time with the Kids as a way to share our experiences of these family days out.
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