Wild danc­ing, river swim­ming and the rev­elry of re­gat­tas… the Sea­son’s glo­ries are best en­joyed out­doors, with a weather eye on the (hope­fully) golden skies


In praise of fes­ti­vals, fri­vol­ity and tra­di­tional Bri­tish fun in the great out­doors

The Sea­son rep­re­sents the tri­umph of Bri­tish op­ti­mism over the experience of our na­tional weather. When there may only be a hand­ful of fine days in a sum­mer, we have to rel­ish every mo­ment spent out­side. Even if it’s a lit­tle chilly, we love any excuse to put on our fin­ery, pop a bot­tle of fizz and make merry. Be­cause, let’s be hon­est, there’s noth­ing we like bet­ter than stand­ing about in a field. For the du­ra­tion, al­most every­thing that’s worth do­ing in Britain takes place out of doors, from the Hay lit­er­ary fes­ti­val, through lawn ten­nis at Queen’s and Wim­ble­don, to Glyn­de­bourne and Glo­ri­ous Good­wood. In the case of Glas­ton­bury (ly­ing fal­low this sum­mer, but back for 2019), Wilder­ness and the rest, what’s pop­u­lar is danc­ing to very loud mu­sic in a field. Some­times a very muddy field. Rain may stop play, but when the heav­ens open we gather cheer­fully in drenched pav­il­ions or soggy tents and wait it out. (Has any­one else no­ticed how the in­side of even the grand­est mar­quee al­ways gives off a faint smell of sausages?) Mud, mud, glo­ri­ous mud is as much a part of the Bri­tish sum­mer as buck­ets and spades and Mr Whippy ices. Not for noth­ing do many of our na­tional dishes taste of earth: think of river trout, Cor­nish new pota­toes, grouse.

From the cool green lanes of May, froth­ing with cow pars­ley, to Au­gust’s red­hot dahlia dis­plays, the Sea­son of­fers won­der­ful op­por­tu­ni­ties to ex­plore the coun­try­side. Gif­fords Circus, which pops up all over the Cotswolds, is a mag­i­cal experience. With dogs on horse­back and ex­otic jug­glers, it reimag­ines the in­no­cence and dare­dev­ilry of a Vic­to­rian not-very-big-top: if you’ve never been to Gif­fords, this is the sum­mer to roll up, roll up.

A day at the races on a warm sum­mer’s day is also hard to beat if you want to see some of the most beau­ti­ful, glossy young thor­ough­breds – and that’s just the spec­ta­tors. The flat sea­son (or the hat sea­son, for those who pre­fer to watch peo­ple) be­gins in early May at New­mar­ket; fol­lowed by the


Derby, Royal As­cot, then Good­wood, nestling in the South Downs, and fi­nally the marathon St Leger at Don­caster.

Yet you don’t have to leave the cap­i­tal to experience the Sea­son. The world’s most fa­mous flower show, ten­nis and cricket all hap­pen within the M25. A day at Lord’s is like be­ing at the jol­liest vil­lage fête, but in the mid­dle of Lon­don. Nowhere in the world feels so safe, so cosy (although the hab­er­dash­ery depart­ment of Peter Jones comes close).

For non-sport­ing book­worms, the Sea­son also of­fers plenty of cul­tural op­por­tu­ni­ties. Book fes­ti­vals have bloomed all through­out the land, from the world-fa­mous Hay to the more in­ti­mate Ways With Words, held in the beau­ti­ful Devon set­ting of Dart­ing­ton; or the Charleston Fes­ti­val in Sus­sex, at the farm­house made fa­mous by Blooms­ber­ries Dun­can Grant and Vanessa Bell. Port Eliot in Corn­wall and Cu­ri­ous Arts in Hamp­shire fea­ture as wide a va­ri­ety of writ­ers and mu­si­cians.

Wild swim­ming is also very much in fash­ion. The Ser­pen­tine and the Ladies’ Pond on Hamp­stead Heath at­tract bathers year-round, but im­mer­sion is even bet­ter in the coun­try­side. River swim­ming is one of the great joys of the English sum­mer. Once you’re at eye level, glo­ri­ous sights come into view: dragon- and dam­sel­flies darn­ing the air, fam­i­lies of duck­lings hug­ging the bank and the oc­ca­sional glimpse of a tiny, iri­des­cent blue king­fisher. On our farm, we’re lucky to have woods and river mead­ows that bor­der Shake­speare’s Avon, a hun­dred feet wide. Noth­ing is more ex­hil­a­rat­ing than step­ping from the grassy bank, part­ing a car­pet of water lilies to make your way, and strik­ing out into the sun­lit stream.

Water-lovers who pre­fer not to get their feet wet are well served by the Sea­son, with Hen­ley only one among a flotilla of re­gat­tas through­out the land. My own favourite is the Port of Dart­mouth Royal Re­gatta, at the end of Au­gust. It’s much less for­mal than Hen­ley, with a chil­dren’s pave­ment-artist com­pe­ti­tion (coloured chalks sup­plied), a pretty lit­tle fun­fair and the best fire­works out­side China. Every year the Red Ar­rows make an ap­pear­ance, swoop­ing into the har­bour like very noisy swifts, draw­ing pic­tures in the sky with their trails of rain­bow smoke. When they sketch a vast heart, high in the blue air above the town, the whole pop­u­lace sighs.

En­joy your­self – and don’t for­get to take your um­brella, just in case. ‘Af­ter the Party’ by Cressida Con­nolly (£14.99, Vik­ing) is pub­lished on 7 June.

Port Eliot pho­tographed by Harry Cory Wright. Be­low right: the fes­ti­val in full swing. Bot­tom: Wilder­ness

Right: boat­ing at Wilder­ness Be­low and bot­tom: Charleston, pho­tographed by Harry Cory Wright

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