Extreme eccentricity of the BritsJune 25, 2008
If you are looking for something to do this summer and you happen to find yourself in the green and pleasant land of Great Britain here is a sample of what the extremely eccentric Brits will be getting up to – so get along and have a laugh. Of course the sunshine cannot be guaranteed but you will see some very strange goings on and meet some interesting folk – but definitely no vampires!
1 UK NATIONAL SANDCASTLE COMPETITION
In its 15-year history on the shining two-mile strand at Woolacombe Bay, this competition has produced elaborate effigies of spaceships, Spider-Man and several of the Simpsons. The event is for teams of six; you get three hours and seven square metres of sand to work with. Anybody can dig in and entry fees go to the North Devon Hospice.
There’ll be 10,000 spectators splashing about on the Blue Flag beach, with samba music, face-painting and oceans of ice cream to keep them happy. And, this year, everyone will be urged to join in – by building a mile-long line of sandcastles in an attempt on a world record.
July 6; entry £75 per team; 01271 344248, www.northdevonhospice.org.uk
2 CONISTON WATER FESTIVAL
This is an imaginative mix of watersports jamboree and beach party, unbeatably located beside the lake that inspired Swallows and Amazons.
The event is launched on Friday evening with a 1,000-strong rubber-duck race, but Saturday is the big day, featuring a gaggle of aquatic events. These include the All England Stone Skimming Championships (record distance 63 metres); the Big Fat Canoe Race (teams of four, lots of bumping); and a raft-based It’s a Knockout contest, just in case anyone has failed to get drenched. It all ends on the jetty, with sizzling sausages and sounds from a local band, SuperCuba.
On Sunday, head a few miles west to Staveley, where you’ll find Britain’s unlikeliest “Brazilian carnival” in full swing – an extravaganza of psychedelic costumes and samba bands put together by villagers during eight weeks of workshops. The parade starts at noon.
“So Bracing” runs the town motto – so brace yourself for a weekend of manic surf and skateboarding action in the east coast’s breeziest holiday resort. The sporting highlight will be the British Kite-Surfing Freestyle Championship on Saturday, and even more eye-catching aerobatics follow on Sunday, with a spectacular “horse-surfing” show – lest there’s any confusion, the horse pulls the rope, rather than rides the board. On dry land, meanwhile, there are demos and dance-offs at the nearby skate plaza.
Hardcore stuff – but this is a cuddlier-than-average extreme-sports festival, promising lots of family entertainment: keep-fit sessions and pop concerts on the main stage, a lantern-lit beach barbecue on Friday night, even a continental market. Head for the climbing wall if you’re feeling intrepid, or for the beer tent if you’re not.
July 11-13; mostly free; 01754 898202 (office closed on Monday mornings), www.skegx.co.uk
4 WORLD PEASHOOTING CHAMPIONSHIPS
Who needs the Olympics? If the fancy takes you, you can spend the entire summer practising eccentric English sports: worm-charming in Willaston, Cheshire (June 28); snail-racing in Congham, Norfolk (July 19); orange-rolling in Totnes, Devon (August 21); black-pudding throwing in Ramsbottom, Greater Manchester (September 14) …
The World Peashooting Championships, however, beats the lot for homespun charm. Staged on Witcham village green since 1971, it is open to all-comers. Competitors contest the John Tyson Shield, named after the local schoolmaster who confiscated the peashooter that started it all.
Peas are puffed from 12ft at a 12in target, and entrants flock from as far afield as America and Australia, some brandishing laser-sighted shooters. The event also features a barbecue, a bouncy castle and bric-a-brac stalls, but it’s the peashooting that really gets the, ahem, pulses racing.
July 12; entry £1.50/50p; 01353 778178, www.witcham.org.uk
5 iVAMOS! LATIN FESTIVAL
This must be the summer’s sultriest arts festival – 10 days of music, movies, dance, fashion and picnicking, all suffused with a flavour of Latin America. There will be lots of opportunities for festival-goers to shake their skirts, too.
The Friday-night launch party sets the tone, with a boundary-bending show from the Canary Islands collective Electro Flamenko. On Saturday, iVamos! moves outdoors for a riverside do on Baltic Square, where you’ll get to swing your hips in the “World’s Biggest Salsa Session”. Practice begins at 10.30am, dancing at noon. Afterwards, decamp to Saltwell Park for a Portuguese picnic.
Next morning, head for the Georgian seaside town of Tynemouth, where there’ll be free music, a Brazilian-style carnival parade and a moonlit tapas party at Crusoes Bar, bang on the beach.
The big weekend is July 12 and 13, but the programme runs until July 20; prices vary; 0191 233 0007, www.vamosfestival.com
6 FESTIVAL OF HISTORY
And they mean the whole of history, from sparring gladiators to jiving teddy boys. English Heritage’s big summer shindig includes all the usual Sealed Knot nuttiness – the clash of the pikestaff, the pop of the musket – but outguns rival events by its sheer scale.
Crammed into the sweeping acres of 18th-century Kelmarsh Hall, the weekend is part special-effects show (for example, “Dropzone: D-day”, a full-scale dogfight between vintage Spitfires and Messerschmitts) and part time-travelling experience (wander around a working medieval street market). Brace yourself for chariot races, a jousting tournament and a first world war “trench experience”, with a 1,000-strong costumed parade as the climax.
There will be loads of hands-on, fancy-dressed action for kids, too, whether they are fighters (Roman drill, “Junior Battle of Hastings”) or fun-seekers (jesters’ workshops, a Victorian seaside zone).
July 19 and 20; adults £17.50, children £9.50 (£9.50/£5 for English Heritage members); 0870 333 1183, www.festivalofhistory.org.uk
7 INNOCENT VILLAGE FETE
Regent’s Park, London
This is the classic country day out, reimagined for postmodern townie types. The lineup includes tons of old favourites, from dog shows to duck herding, fancy dress to ferret races, welly-throwing to coconut shies. Or compare the size of your marrows at the fruit-and-veg show.
This being London, though, there’s also a massage tent, a “Pimm’s bus”, performance poetry and jazzy, bluesy chillout music from the likes of the James Taylor Quartet and Imelda May. If the product placement grates a bit, console yourself that all profits go to Wellchild and the Samaritans.
August 2 and 3; £7.50/£3.50; www.innocentvillagefete.com
8 BURES CORACLE REGATTA
Messing about in boats doesn’t get much messier than at the Bures Coracle Regatta, a madcap day of splashing around on a beautifully bucolic bit of the River Stour. Coracles are basically big wooden bathtubs made of woven ash and animal hide, and anybody can have a go; kids as young as seven have carried off trophies in past years.
The event is marshalled by master coracle-maker Quentin Page, a picturesque chap with floppy hat and Worzel Gummidge beard, who dispenses paddling tips and loans the coracles – including one with its cow-tail still attached. The races include the Whirling Dervish, in which you have to send your coracle spiralling.
August 2; free; 01787 313199, www.riverstourtrust.org
9 ISLE OF WIGHT GARLIC FESTIVAL
Newchurch, Isle of Wight
You have to hand it to the enterprising folks from Newchurch Community Association: they’ve turned their parish fair into Britain’s unlikeliest food event, and it’s a smash hit, with 300 stalls and 20,000 revellers expected.
You can smell the festival coming; gourmands can easily gather the makings of a full banquet flavoured only with their favourite bulb. Start with garlic prawns, move on to garlicky Dunsbury lamb or garlic sausages, then tuck into garlic ice cream or garlic fudge, washed down with a garlic coffee and garlic ale. Something for everyone, except perhaps vampires.
There is cheese, too, courtesy of Alvin Stardust, who headlines the music stage. Elsewhere, you’ll find stilt-walkers, belly-dancers, fire-eaters and a giant funfair. A word of advice: do the waltzers before you start sampling.
August 16 and 17; £7.50/£4; 01983 813813, www.garlic-festival.co.uk
10 ACTIVE 08
Linlithgow, West Lothian
Linlithgow Palace, birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots, is planning a rabble-rousing roster of living-history events all summer, where you can chat up kings, watch falcons fly and hear the clatter of mace on helmet.
But its showpiece day out will be Active 08, designed to get families off the sofa and sampling a menu of sports and activities arranged throughout the palace’s elegant grounds.
Pay the one-off entrance fee, then try your skills at sailing and kayaking on Linlithgow Loch, laser clays and archery on the stately lawns, juggling, orienteering, children’s golf . . . enough to stage your own family decathlon: mum and dad v the kids, perhaps.
There will also be Scottish dancing in the courtyard, as well as eco-quizzes, willow weaving, walking trails and loch-dipping. Dip in.
August 17; £7/£5; 0131 668 8885; for a full events programme at Linlithgow, visit www.historic-scotland.gov.uk
11 DAY OF SYN
The village of Dymchurch is currently seeking a new vicar, and the post involves a rather bizarre duty. Every second year, on bank-holiday Monday, the vicar is required to dress up in the 18th-century garb of Doctor Syn, dastardly leader of a gang of smugglers who haunt the shingly shores of Romney Marsh.
Doctor Syn is the disreputable rector from a 1915 novel by Russell Thorndike, set in Dymchurch and reenacted by the parishioners on their biennial fête day. It’s quite a production. First, smugglers and excisemen battle it out on the sea wall, with horses galloping, cannons blazing and much ketchup spilt. Then the action proceeds to the Ship Inn, where the protagonists are introduced to the crowd – including Syn himself, in his disguise as the sinister, sack-faced “Scarecrow”.
After more duelling, and an execution in the garden of the Ocean Inn, everyone parades to the recreation ground for morris dancing and cream-teas stalls. How frightfully British.
August 25; free; 01322 349803, www.dymchurchdayofsyn.org.uk
12 INTERNATIONAL STREET THEATRE FESTIVAL
A man catapults himself out of a giant egg. Another catches cabbages on a spike attached to his head. Nearby, somebody inserts an electric drill up his nose – and switches it on. Welcome to the Shrewsbury International Street Theatre Festival, probably the most traffic-stopping street-art showcase in the country.
World-class performers from Portugal, Canada, the USA and New Zealand wil l be carousing on the town’s medieval cobbles, which are closed to cars for the weekend. This year’s lineup includes “extreme ballroom dancers” Stickleback Plasticus, high-wire stuntman Flying Bob, a cross-dressing German “wheel acrobat” named Dominique, and Skate Naked, whose name pretty much speaks for itself. They should all be good, because the only cash they’re getting is whatever you put in their caps.
My thanks to The Times OnLine for bringing these extremes to my attention.