Pack your best outdoor-art-appreciation outfit, cossies for wild swimming, glitter for the music fests – oh, and your broomstick for a spot of Quidditch. Sorted! Spring and summer in Britain await.
1. Lovely long days
When the clocks go forward on the last Sunday in March, it’s the official start of British Summer Time. This means longer, lighter evenings and the further north you go, the more you notice this glorious elongation of the days; at its peak, you can watch sunset over Hadrian’s Wall at 10pm. Celebrate the longest day – 21 June– at Stonehenge; the Summer Solstice celebration dates back thousands of years. And yes, at the first sight of sunshine you will see Brits strip down to shorts and singlets. It’s just a reflex.
2. Beautiful blooms
The gardens and green spaces of Britain become riotously colourful in spring, with millions of daffodils, seas of bluebells and pretty pink blossoms popping out all around the country. Head to Kent, dubbed ‘the Garden of England’ and take in floral spectacles at Hever Castle, Leeds Castle and – Jane Austen’s favourite – Goodnestone Park Gardens.
3. Open-top adventures
Now that Bridget Jones is all grown up – with a baby, no less – it’s with fondness that we remember her early dating adventures/disasters – like jetting off for a mini-break in dastardly Daniel Cleaver’s convertible and arriving at a posh country hotel with ginormous hair. Rent an open-top of your own with Great Escape Cars and drive around The Cotswolds on a romantic jaunt – just tie that scarf up tight.
4. Music festivals
Hit one of the many fabulous music festivals that take place over the summer in Britain; there’s a party to suit all preferences: Green Man in the Brecon Beacons has no corporate sponsors, no VIP areas and no advertising – just brilliant music and arty activities in a lush National Park. Latitude in Suffolk is the go-to gig for families – and those who love neon-painted sheep – while In The Woods in Kent is ideal for indie-music lovers, where you’re likely to spot ‘the next big thing’.
5. The Hay Festival
Described as ‘the Woodstock of the mind’ by Bill Clinton, over 12 days in May and June authors, world leaders, celebrities and thinkers descend on Hay-on-Wye in Wales, second-hand bookshop capital of the world, for the Hay Festival. The event was conceived around a kitchen table; three decades later 250,000 visitors from around the world come to have their minds stimulated, to eat delicious food and to party at nightly concerts, all in a gorgeous setting.
6. Outdoor movies
Settle into a deckchair or ‘loveseat’ for two and watch movies from a great height: Rooftop Film Club takes over several London locations from May onwards, with cult classics and new releases screened against incredible cityscapes. Across Britain, the Luna Cinema shows old faves like Casablanca, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Notting Hill at iconic locations including castles, stately homes and even – new for this year – Westminster Abbey.
7. Outdoor art
Why keep art locked up indoors? The Yorkshire Sculpture Park releases it into the wild, amongst flower fields and forests. See iconic works by British sculptors Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, as well as changing exhibitions featuring artists from across the world at this ‘gallery without walls’. The YSP is part of a wider ‘Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle’ that encompasses The Hepworth Wakefield, Henry Moore Institute and Leeds Art Gallery, all within a 30-minute drive of each other.
8. Edinburgh’s Festivals
Summertime = festival time in Edinburgh. The whole city celebrates life, art and laughter at its two most famous fests, the International Festival and the Festival Fringe, which run concurrently in August. The city’s major theatres and concert halls host incredible creators and performers from around the world for the former, while the Fringe takes over venues large and small – just follow the sound of belly-laughs to find the best shows.
A ‘summer tradition’ that you can enjoy at crazy prices if you’re lucky enough to be under 30, Glyndebourne is Britain’s most elegant festival (dress code: ‘evening wear’). Enjoy a leisurely champagne picnic in the picturesque grounds of the historic opera house, then be moved by world-class opera in the state-of-the-art auditorium, the lounge about swigging champers again for the 90-minute ‘long interval’, then watch the final act. It’s one hour 20 minutes by rail from London (the best-dressed train in Britain), and if you’re under 30 you can get tickets worth up to £260 for £30.
10. Colour craziness
Brits have taken a shine to Holi, the Hindu festival of colours that celebrates the end of winter and the start of spring with an explosion of neon dye. Birmingham hosts an annual Holi Rave festival and London Indian restaurant Dishoom hosts ‘play Holi’ parties, where you zip on a white jumpsuit and spend 30 minutes dancing and throwing coloured dye around until everyone looks like an artwork. The Colour Run in London, Manchester and Brighton isn’t Holi-related, but involves sprinters on a 5km being doused in dye every kilometre.
11. Al fresco eating
From street food markets to beer gardens, when the sun’s out and the days are long, eating happens outside. Head to Kings Cross in London, a neighbourhood that’s become quite the hotspot for fashion, media and music types lately, with The Guardian offices in the area and Google soon to set up; head to Granary Square, where London’s top fashion school lives, and dine outside at Grain Store or Caravan, or head to KERB on Kings Boulevard and find the best of the city’s street food.
12. Vineyard visits
‘English wine’ was once an oxymoron, but has become the darling of the viticulture world. Similar soils to France’s celebrated wine regions, plus an increasingly warmer climate of late, have led English wines to scoop awards and triumph against their rivals across the pond in ‘blind taste testings’ (wine buffs can get très competitive!). Visit Chapel Down in Kent, Ridgeview in Sussex and Biddenden in Kent, where you can tour, taste wines and dine. Cheers!
13. Super-cute wildlife
It’s not just us that think the spring and summer months are special in Britain – puffins are big fans. The adorable creatures spend April to July living on various islands off Britain. From Newcastle, it’s a hop, skip and a jump (or if you’re a puffin, an awkward crash landing) to the Farne Islands, where puffins come to breed and feed in the surrounding North Sea. Take a boat trip out and see thousands of the colourful seabirds.
14. Tour de Yorkshire
Pootle around on two wheels in Yorkshire, punctuating your trip with visits to the many historic pubs to fuel up on ale and hearty lunches before continuing your merry way through rolling countryside dotted with thousands of sheep. The region hosted the wildly successful Grand Départ for the Tour de France in 2014 and has since held an annual ‘Tour de Yorkshire’.
15. Wild swimming
Outdoor swimming has had a revival in Scotland recently, and August now sees the Great Scottish Swim turn idyllic Loch Lomond into a giant pool. Add some adrenalin-pumping fun to your Scottish road trip by taking a dip in its many inviting natural pools, from freshwater lochs to rivers and picture-perfect waterfalls.
16. Coastal strolls
In 2012, Wales became the first country in the world to have a walking path right around its coastline. Dip in anywhere for amazing views and exhilarating fresh air; the Pembrokeshire section is world-famous (National Geographic voted the Pembrokeshire Coast Path second in the world’s top long-distance paths) and encompasses historic St Davids – Britain’s smallest city – and breath-taking beaches like Freshwater West, which starred on-screen in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Robin Hood.
17. Historic homes
Buckingham Palace opens its State Rooms and Gardens in the summer months, so you can snoop around this historic palace right in the heart of London. Highgrove in south-west England is Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall’s private residence, and their drop-dead gorgeous gardens are open on selected days from April to October. Meanwhile the real-life ‘Downton Abbey’ – Highclere Castle in Hampshire – opens its doors to the public on selected dates from Easter to early September.
Photo © Richard Munckton
18. Summer cricket
The thwack of leather against willow is a common sound in the British summer, when cricket fever takes hold. Head to Hambledon in Hampshire, the ‘cradle of cricket’, whose club was founded in 1750 and was once the most powerful in the country. It still plays – two and a half centuries later – at idyllic Ridge Meadow. Watch a match and have a pint at The Bat and Ball pub, which is packed with cricketing memorabilia.
19. ‘The Season’
The summer in Britain is punctuated by fun sports events that see people gather on riverbanks, tennis courts and racing grounds to cheer on Oxford or Cambridge in the rowing, Andy Murray and Heather Watson at Wimbledon and horses with an array of exotic and amusing names at the Grand National, Royal Ascot and the Epsom Derby. All events provide an excellent opportunity to indulge your appreciation for Pimms.
Photo © Rex Features Limited
20. The Quidditch season
Pick up your broomstick and off you go! Alnwick Castle in north-east England was the setting for Harry Potter’s first Quidditch lessons in Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone and, from March to October, stages Broomstick training lessons for all – muggles included!