Monday, 27 July 2015

The best of British Summer

Every summer is different, but some things about this glorious season never change. Sam Taylor celebrates some of the very best things of the British Summer…

Written by Sam Taylor
Sailing boats
From the naval victory of Trafalgar, to the adventures in Swallows And Amazons, wooden boats feature heavily in our history, infiltrating our culture, past and present. Whether you are sailing off down the Helford River or along the coastline, spending a summer’s day on a boat is idyllic.

Village cricket
English village cricket, like English tea, is a shared memory that has kept men going through wars and brought together countries in peace. The sound of the ball on willow, the red dye on the clean white trousers, capping, scoreboards, hearty lunches washed down with beer. Even heartier cricket teas provided by the ladies’ support team. There’s no finer way to spend an afternoon as a spectator.

Outside theatre
Amateur-dramatic performances in the rectory garden or five-star productions under the stars in Regent’s Park and the rocky headland of Minnack in Cornwall, there is nothing we like better than huddling under a blanket in silent awe. Shakespeare, the master of romance, is best enjoyed in the open air.

Donkey Rides
Rides on donkeys were first offered on the beach at Weston-super-Mare in 1886. There are now only 11 beaches left in the UK where you can indulge your childhood fantasy and be Don Quixote for the day. Once the superstars of the picture postcards, these hairy mammals of the sands are gentle souls who, contrary to myth, won’t nip you. Stroke them now before these icons of the British summer disappear.

Days at the seaside
Surrounded by sea, engulfed by cliffs and ancient rock formations, the opportunities for a beach-based holiday on the British Isles are limitless. Shingle, large pebbles and sweeping sand dunes, there’s a beach for every mood. Ideally, you would have use of a beach hut and be able to make that all-important cup of tea while watching the waves creep slowly in and out. Perhaps an overnight or two in a local B&B, working off the full English breakfast on the promenade afterwards. Everyone deserves to dip their toe occasionally.

The minute we step foot on a white sandy beach, for children and adults alike, the call to build a sandcastle is irresistible. Topped with a fluttering flag or miniwindmill, sandcastles, from simple to the more intricate, are a fun, family affair.

No longer a part of our seaside landscape, the deckchair is in need of a preservation order. It is being overtaken by trendy, wipe-clean ‘patio’ furniture, which just won’t do. Every garden shed should have at least one rickety old striped number that still gets pressed into service for a post-Sunday-lunch snooze in the shade. And if not, why not? Striped, folding, wooden, prone to collapse, accept nothing less.

Stately house visits
We are a nation devoted to country houses, stately homes and anything with the name castle attached. No British summer experience is complete without a sedate stroll along some threadbare carpets, past several knights in shining armour, some vast family portraits, ending with a sit-down in the tea shop before buying a fridge magnet in the souvenir shop. On the way out you can stop off and admire the ancient herbaceous borders and wonder how they ever cut the rolling lawns before the invention of the mower.

Cream teas
Jam on first or cream on first? Plain scone? Currants? Fondant fancies, cucumber sandwiches, tiered plates. Vintage tea sets. Tables set on the lawn or simple trays in the potting shed in a downpour, cream teas are the backdrop to lazy summer afternoons. On holiday or at home, with or without real leaves, pour and enjoy.

From the smallest patch to vast parkland, lawns are a peculiarly English preoccupation. We play games on it, win tennis championships on it (occasionally) roll around on it, get married on it. For the gardener, a real British lawn is an object of delight and despair. And nobody mention moles.

Garden Games
Croquet sets are moveable, easy to set up and give everyone a chance to win. Badminton is slightly more intrusive, requiring the setting up of a net and a larger stretch of outside space. Cricket is best left for those with a stately home; ditto tennis. But a basic game of bat and ball, rounders, or even croquet can be managed in any space. Just remember to duck occasionally.

Tents, like restaurants, are now pop-up affairs. One manoeuvre and you can be set up in a matter of minutes. But for the true British experience, it must involve a canvas that will get drenched, pegs that refuse to penetrate the rocky ground. A forgotten ground sheet, a soggy sleeping bag and a lamp that attracts enough mosquito bites to turn you purple. The upside is the campfire, sizzling sausages, starry skies and frightening ghost stories. The great British camping holiday remains a classic.

Wildlife walks
The sun sneaking through a canopy of trees, vast oaks, sweetsmelling pines, carpets of bluebells and decaying leaves underneath. Dogs with sticks so big they can barely run. Brambles that nip and snag, dark corners that offer shelter to wood-dwelling animals and the chance for children to channel their inner Bear Grylls and build a den.

Picnic hampers
The post-war boom in Tupperware gave birth to a new kind of picnic hamper, one that did not rely on an army of servants to carry the cutlery and best china. The traditional wicker ones are a symbol of long lunches or impromptu days out. Wait for the lid to lift to reveal the goodies inside: pork pies, egg-and-cress sandwiches, flasks of tea, bottles of squash, tins of biscuits and chilled bottles of wine or ginger beer. The perfect accompaniment to long summer days.

Regardless of the weather, a pair of Wellington boots (preferably jolly) are an essential part of any British summer kit. Walking across fields, down wooded tracks, climbing over sties. It’s bound to rain, so why take the chance?

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