TFC volunteer Dave Ryan brings us on a journey through the South of England. The counties of southern England are recognised as a mouth-watering combination of rural tranquillity, coastal cliffs, nestled coves, forests full of intrigue, national parks and desolate moorland – all complemented by a rich historical and cultural heritage.
From left to right, 1. Hastings, 2. View of Pulteney Bridge in Bath, England.
If your travels ever take you to the South of England there is a wide variety of things to do all fuelled by a variety of gastronomic options showcasing the best of English food. A good meal is often followed, of course, by a trip to one of the many hundreds of lovingly preserved versions of the traditional English pub! They vary greatly in style and character and many serve local tipples, such as the scrumpy (a type of cider) that the county of Somerset in particular is famous for. There is also a wealth of regional cultural festivals to enrich your experience across many fields including music, food, literature, drama and the arts. In terms of gathering information on the options available, you’ll find that each county/town has its own official tourist information website as do the events themselves. The VisitEngland.com and artsfestivals.co.uk websites are also handy for information for your trip. There are so many choices – but here are a few examples to whet your appetite.
Minack Theatre If you are spending time enjoying the considerable charms of Devon and Cornwall, look out for the remarkable Minack Theatre hewn out of the cliff-face above the waters of Porthcuron Bay in the 1930s. It has seating for 750 people and presents plays, operas and musicals during the Summer months. Bring your own cushion and a warm blanket would also be a useful accessory. Newquay is host to multiple Summer /Autumn festivals (literature and film, not just surfing!) and the spectacular Eden Project is not just a daytime pleasure but also a location for performances in Spring and Summer held in a broad grassy arena much admired for its originality. Padstow in Cornwall is famed for its harbour and gastronomic charm – a destination for many given the fame of local restauranteur and TV chef, Rick Stein. It is also at the heart of regional cultural tradition. One of its variety of events is the famed Obby Oss Festival which is celebrated annually on May Day. It is thought to be the oldest dance festival in Britain involving troupes of local dancers, a maypole, costumes and general fun and merriment. The Hunting of the Earl of Rone festival takes place in Combe Martin, Devon, each year and re-enacts a 400-year old manhunt with full costumes and general chasing around. A must for Agatha Christie fans is the annual Festival in mid-September (in Torquay) with all manner of exhibitions, author talks, murder mystery dinners and jazz. Also of note is the literary festival held each May held in Fowey over three days with a concentration on the works of Daphne du Maurier.
The county of Somerset has always evoked England’s pastoral heritage but the tranquillity is breached every year or so (if the fields recover in time!) by the Glastonbury Festival. It has been in existence on Worthy Farm since the 1970s. With its roots in flower power, alternative lifestyles and of course music, the festival has evolved into much more than a rock music festival with all types of music catered for from classical, jazz and blues to folk, rock, dance and soul – a veritable feast for the senses. There are also many themed areas covering food, meditation, politics, comedy, literature and arts & crafts. Bring your wellies in case it rains and leave the mudsliding to the youth! Also, look out for music and literature festivals in Bristol and Bath – notably Bath’s annual International Music Festival in May/June featuring jazz, classical and world music; Bristol’s Upfest, Europe’s largest street art and graffiti festival and Bristol’s Slapstick Festival celebration of silent film and comedy held every January. The counties of Hampshire, Dorset and Wiltshire overlap with the ancient English kingdom of Wessex, the location of Stonehenge and the region where King Alfred saw off the last of the Vikings. The Isle of Wight, just off the coast, is host to festivals throughout the year – especially literature and of course sailing (Cowes Week in August). Also in the locale, Longleat House hosts not just the famous safari park but also events/concerts over the Spring/Summer months, while near Winchester The Watercress Line is one of the most famous steam-powered railways in England. The rather odd Tichborne Dole Festival takes place in the eponymous town each March and locals line up to be “doled out” an allowance of a gallon of flour in ceremonies dating from the 12th century. Recognised as the most traditional event in England, the annual Chippenham Folk Festival Weekend (May) carries over 200 separate events celebrating traditional English music, storytelling and dance – including Morris dancing, ceilidh and maypole ceremonies.
Sunny South East
The South-East comprising Surrey, Sussex and Kent has by tradition, been the holiday destination for Londoners from Victorian times with heritage coastal towns serving the multitudes including Brighton, Bognor, Margate, Ramsgate and Tunbridge Wells. Brighton is perhaps the best known destination and hosts a diversity of events throughout the year, the most notable being the Brighton Festival in May, now recognised as the largest festival in England. Also noteworthy is the annual Burning the Clocks celebration at the winter solstice. Nearby, Broadstairs is famed for its Folk Festival and Dickens Festival, while Canterbury runs a two-week Festival of Theatre and Music in October. Not to be missed is the annual Whitstable Oyster Festival in July – its oysters have been famed since Roman times and the festival incorporates parades, performances, fireworks, oyster-eating competitions and The Landing of the Oyster ceremony. If scallops are more your thing, the ancient town of Rye, overlooking Romney Marshes, hosts Scallop Week in February each year. Kent is the centre of the now-vibrant English wine industry with multiple tasting/tour opportunities in one of the 400+ vineyards producing more than four million bottles of wine per year. Hastings is not only the site where King Alfred lost England to the Normans, but also the location for the annual Jack-in-the-Green festival with three full days of festivities that culminate in the Release of the Spirit of Summer. Founded in the 1930s the Glyndebourne Opera Festival is recognised as the spiritual home of English Opera with a season running from May to August. The opera house sits amongst rolling green hills surrounded by luscious gardens and the season is at the centre of the high society calendar and an opportunity to dress up, mix with the gentry, listen to wonderful music and have a lavish picnic on the lawn.
Explore South England with The Freebird Club
From Devon to East Sussex our hosts are ready to lead you in one of the most attractive parts of England. Read the suggestions from hosts Catherine and Sara, on local attractions and “must sees” .
What are your top three “must see” things?
Catherine Scott , (Host, East Sussex) Coastal Currents (coastalcurrents.org.uk), is a fantastic open arts exhibition which takes place between the 2nd and the 10th September in Saint Leonard. It incorporates galleries, studios, private houses and even beach huts. You can enjoy this event as it sprawls along the coasts of Hastings, St. Leonard’s and Rother. We have many different music events over the summer months. Our choirs come together for the “concert in the park” event and in Haldon, a small coastal village in South Devon between Teignmouth and Torquay, the 28th Classic Music Festival takes place from 22nd to 25th June at St. Peter’s Church. I suggest a visit to the Smugglers Adventure in St Clements Caves. It tells the story of smuggling in a very interactive way. You can access this attraction via the original West Hill funicular railway which opened in 1891.
Sara Lawes, (Host, Devon) The coast, with its long sandy beaches and great surfing. Darlington Crystal at Great Torrington. Clovelly Court Gardens.
Where do you recommend for a traditional English afternoon tea?
Catherine Scott, (Member, East Sussex) Ashley Manor (outside Battle) is in a wonderful setting with beautiful grounds. The Orangery is the perfect spot to enjoy a cream tea.
Sara Lawes, (Host, Devon) The Hidder Treasure Tea Room in Exeter, it offers delicious traditional scones with homemade jam, to not mention the fascinating location.
Tell us about something that’s not on the usual tourist trail?
Catherine Scott, (Host, East Sussex) Hastings bonfire is a big winter event which will take place on Saturday 14th October 2017, with parades, music and dancing in the streets. The day ends with a fantastic pyrotechnic display. Burton St Leonard’s has wonderful architecture and like all of Hastings and St Leonard’s is steeped in history.
Sara Lawes, (Host, Devon) The Gnome Reserve, West Putford, Holsworthy. It’s something completely different!