Festivals aren’t just for summer. Celebrate throughout the year with these 12 quirky festivals and traditions, all near classic British hotels.
Summer is coming to an end, but that doesn’t mean that festival-time is over. Brits love a festival, as witnessed by the fact that you’ll find fantastic events held throughout the year, many offering unique insights into great British culture and customs. Here’s our pick of 12 fascinating festivals and traditions from around the UK…
The tradition: Wild swimming
Britain has a long tradition of alfresco and wild swimming (think those hardy souls who brave the Serpentine on Christmas Day). The Big Chill Swim 2016 is a winter swimming gala which takes place on 10th and 11th December at Low Wood Bay Marina and sees enthusiasts brave the cold waters of Lake Windermere for different races… no wetsuits allowed!
2. The hotel: Chase Hotel, Wye Valley (Forest of Dean)
The tradition: Wye Valley River Festival
The Wye Valley River Festival is a celebration of the beautiful landscape surrounding the River Wye (an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty). Uniquely, torchbearers from the local communities join in to bless the waters of the Wye. The festival is comprised of smaller arts, theatre, music and community events, walks and installations taking place along the riverbanks from Hereford to Chepstow and usually takes place in late spring. Watch this space for the next festival dates.
3. The hotel: Dartington Hall Hotel, South Devon (River Dart)
The tradition: Ways with Words
Britain has a well-established tradition of literary festivals, and one of the best is Ways with Words. It’s a 10-day festival of words and ideas, taking place in May 2017 at Dartington Hall. The festival always draws heavyweight speakers (2016 participants included Joan Bakewell, George Monbiot and Melvyn Bragg). Where better place for a bibliophile than Dartington? It has an impeccable literary pedigree – after it was restored by Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst in the 1920s, it became a magnet for writers like TE Lawrence, HG Wells and Aldous Huxley.
The tradition: Dedham Vale Vineyard Walnut & Wine Festival
The art of wine-making has undergone a huge revival in England and Wales in the last 10 years, with British bottles regularly winning medals at international wine awards. Autumn means harvest-time in the vineyards and Dedham Vale Vineyard is celebrating with its annual Walnut and Wine Festival on 15th October, including a pop-up wine bar, family games and a vineyard walking trail. Why the ‘walnuts’? Wet walnut harvest is in full swing at Dedham Vale, too.
5. The hotel: Imperial Hotel, Llandudno (Promenade), North Wales
The tradition: Llandudno Victorian Extravaganza
Llandudno’s Victorian Extravaganza celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2016. This charming festival features a fairground with traditional rides, brass bands, and a parade of steam-powered engines and horse-drawn carts. 2017’s Extravaganza is planned for early May. The hugely popular Llandudno Transport Festival is held in conjunction with the Victorian Extravaganza. A good way to see the sights of Llandudno is to follow the town trail, which takes in the Victorian promenade and the Grade II-listed Victorian iron pier (the longest in Wales). Pause at Llandudno’s West Shore beach, the views of Snowdonia are stunning.
6. The hotel: Deans Place Country House Hotel, South Downs
The tradition: Lewes bonfire
Bonfires are lit all over Britain on November 5th, from big cities to tiny villages. But perhaps the best known is the Lewes bonfire in East Sussex. The population of this small market town swells from 16,000 to 80,000 or more on Bonfire Night, as people flock to see the procession of topical, often controversial guys (last year guys included Sepp Blatter and Jeremy Clarkson) making their way to Lewes’ towering bonfires.
7. The hotel: Milford Hall Hotel & Spa, Salisbury (City Centre)
The tradition: Salisbury International Arts Festival
The charming cathedral city of Salisbury plays host to various festivals throughout the year, including an autumn food festival and, the biggie, the Salisbury International Arts Festival, which will be held from 26 May – 10 June 2017. The festival attracts artists and creatives from around the world, and includes installations, theatre performances, puppetry and much more over a two-week period in late May/early June. Info on the 2017 line-up will be released in March 2017.
The tradition: Abergavenny Food Festival
Abergavenny Food Festival is one of Britain’s best-loved food festivals. Now in its 17th year, the festival lures big-name chefs and food writers to Abergavenny, a small market town beneath the Brecon Beacons, for talks, demos, forages and other events. This year’s festival (17-18 September) is headlined by Monica Galetti and Jose Pizarro. The area around the Welsh/English border is fertile-ground for festivals – Hay and Green Man also take place nearby.
9. The hotel: Hintlesham Hall Hotel, Ipswich, Suffolk
The tradition: Harvest celebrations
Harvest has always been marked around the UK with traditions and customs during September and October, perhaps none as prevalent as a classic harvest festival. Suffolk Harvest Festival takes place on 9th October in Bury St Edmunds. There’ll be a farmer’s market, with stalls selling the new season’s produce, plus a harvest service at St Edmunsbury Cathedral, where the traditional thanks are given for a good crop.
10. The hotel: Hythe Imperial Hotel, Golf & Spa, Kent Downs, Kent Coast
The tradition: National Apple Festival
A new season of crisp British apples is always worth celebrating and they do it in style at Brogdale in Kent. Brogdale is home to the national fruit collection, cultivating rare and heritage varieties of apples, cherries and plums. At its National Apple Festival (15-16 October 2016) there’ll be a record-breaking display of 1,000 apple varieties, activities for the kids, cooking demos and dozens of varieties available to buy.
11. The hotel: Lake Vyrnwy Hotel & Spa, Powys, Mid Wales
The tradition: Gregynog Festival
Classical music lovers flock to North Powys each year for the award-winning Gregynog Festival. The much-loved festival has been running since 1933 and features intimate performances from leading musicians. The 2016 festival took a journey through Irish musical culture. Experience the oldest festival in Wales and one of the UK’s premier classical music events. Watch this space for the 2017 theme.
12. The hotel: The Woburn Hotel, Woburn, Bedfordshire
The tradition: Afternoon tea
Afternoon tea is a British tradition known around the world. But did you know that the custom of stopping for scones (‘skon’) and tea actually began life at Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire? Afternoon tea became fashionable in the 1840s after Duchess Anna Maria, wife of the 7th Duke of Bedford, began requesting a pot of tea and a small something to eat in the mid-afternoon, especially when entertaining at the Abbey. Tea was already popular in Victorian England and the concept of afternoon tea soon caught on in high society. These days you can take afternoon tea in The Duchess’ Tea Room at Woburn Abbey.
Fascinating or downright weird (wife-carrying in Surrey), customs and traditions are a cherished part of British life. A melting pot of the quirky and quaint, there are few better ways to experience a generous slice of ‘British’ than by taking tea in the afternoon (add the milk after the tea is poured and stir back and forth), or diving in head-first with a spot of wild swimming.
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Images: Abergavenny Food Festival 2007: © Crown copyright (2016) Visit Wales.