If you don’t have a badge for Ascot’s Royal Enclosure, fear not. The British summer season is less stuffy and more accessible these days – the It crowd is as likely to be seen partying at Wilderness in Oxfordshire, or camping at the Rock Oyster Festival in Cornwall as watching the Wimbledon singles final. “Contemporary arts festivals have joined the more traditional sporting ones,” confirms Lucy Hume of etiquette guide Debrett’s. “They’re the modern equivalent of the traditional season.”
These alternative fixtures attract the great and the good, but have a more relaxed, boutique feel, with casual dress codes, good music, artisan gin and coldbrew coffee – and they sell out fast. (If you fancied booking tickets for House Festival, the Soho House jamboree at Kenwood House in July, I’m afraid you’re too late.)
“I love Port Eliot,” explains stylist Sophia Hesketh. “It’s in a beautiful setting in Cornwall with a very relaxed vibe.” Designer Savanagh Miller, another Port Eliot fan, says it is “the most fun we have had as a family at a festival, ever” – even in the rain.
Adam Drew of satirical music duo Bounder and Cad, who performs at society events throughout the summer, enjoys the friendly, stylish Goodwood Revival. “There are vintage Jaguars roaring round the circuit and a Spitfire flyover,” he says. “It’s very impressive.”
Many of these newer social events are open to children – unheard of in the past when the whole point of these occasions was to introduce upper-class girls into society. At Wilderness and the River Cottage Festival, there are workshops for younger guests; others take your children off your hands completely. “For me the summer season has evolved into a jam-packed schedule of exciting things to do with the kids,” explains Maggie Bolger, founder of family lifestyle brand Maggie & Rose. “I’ve had to become much more organised – wet weather gear in my back pocket and a glass of prosecco not less than 3ft away.”
This is not to say, however, that the alternative season is any less glamorous than traditional, more firmly established offerings. Any occasion is an excuse to dress up, as Bolger will testify. “I tend to go for a flattering pair of culottes for convenience with a touch of style,” she explains. “They allow easy movement when keeping up with the little ones and I dress them up with a pair of heels in the evening.” Hesketh suggests Ralph Lauren-style stripes or an androgynous vibe for daytime festivities, and something statement and full-length for the evening. Where a hat is appropriate, go big this summer, adds Richard Dennen, Tatler’s new editor. “It’s all about the return of the Dynasty look,” he says.
Remember, though, that while the season might have evolved, the same basic rules apply: bring along a pair of binoculars, a hearty picnic (with no ugly plastic packaging) – and, this being the UK, don’t forget your waterproofs.
NEW SEASON HIGHLIGHTS
30 DATES FOR YOUR DIARY
1. Luna Cinema, venues across country, now to October
Bring a blanket and some extra layers and enjoy an al fresco film in the grounds of one of Britain’s stately homes, museums or gardens, starting with Dirty Dancing at Lincoln Castle tonight. Also launching this summer is Luna Kids’ Cinema, Britain’s first open-air cinema for children. Don’t forget your picnic.
Nell and Toti Gifford’s vintage-style circus, complete with ducks, rabbits and horses, has been travelling the Cotswolds for the past 18 years with an annual appearance in London, too. This year’s show My Beautiful Circus is, according to Gifford, the most bonkers, surprising, diverse and life affirming performance yet.
3. Handmade Fair, Warwickshire, May 11-13
Kirstie Allsopp’s fair at Ragley Hall, home of the 9th Marquess and Marchioness of Hertford, is all about appreciating the beauty of handmade and learning new skills to become a maker yourself. There are workshops, shopping, theatre and “grand makes” by some of Britain’s most skilled makers. Liz Earle and Patrick Grant were spotted there last year.
4. Charleston Festival, Sussex, May 18-28
At the former home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant in East Sussex, Jeanette Winterson will be giving her personal tribute to Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, in the novel’s 90th year, and there will be talks and debates featuring Sir David Attenborough, Alan Hollinghurst, Gemma Arterton, Robert Harris and Alexander McCall Smith. Explore the gardens, tour the house, and “search for truth in the spirit of the Bloomsbury group”.
5. The Royal Wedding, May 19
The highlight of the summer season, surely. If you didn’t receive an invitation to the bash, you can watch it on big screens at venues including the Northampton County Cricket Ground, the Long Walk in Windsor and Fortnum & Mason in London. And you won’t miss the FA Cup Final, which kicks off at 5.30pm that day.
6. River Cottage Food Fair, Devon, May 26-27
Telegraph columnist Tom Kerridge, Melissa Hemsley and Anna Jones are taking part in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s annual festival of food and drink at River Cottage near Axminster. Learn new culinary skills, meet Fearnley-Whittingstall’s animals and immerse yourself in a weekend of cooking, growing, relaxing and (most importantly) eating – there will be a pop-up restaurant in the farmhouse. Under 16s go free.
7. RA Lates, London, various Summer Saturday nights
Each Royal Academy exhibition has its own one-off Late party, where you can witness the RA magically transformed into the world of the exhibition, with curated entertainment. Past Lates have featured a 30ft inflatable cosmic installation, themed supper clubs, UV Garden of Eden life-painting, Klezmer dancing, Pollock-inspired paint splattering, and a cocktail party with “Peggy Guggenheim”.
More info soon at royalacademy.org.uk/lates
8. Longborough Festival Opera, Gloucestershire, June 6 to Aug 2
This intimate 500-seat theatre set amid the glorious rolling hills of the Cotswolds is the perfect alternative (or addition) to a visit to Glyndebourne. Each performance is a production created especially for the venue, with the best up-and-coming artists. The 2018 programme includes four new productions: Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer, Verdi’s La traviata, Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos, and Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea. Black tie optional.
9. Polo in the Park, London, June 8-10
Enjoy super-fast polo in the grounds of the Hurlingham Club (the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are members) in Fulham. There’s an England International match on the Friday, shopping villages, bars, grandstands and a Mahiki chill-out club (populated, presumably, by the cast of Made in Chelsea), plus a children’s “pitch invasion” on the Sunday. Find out more at polointheparklondon.com.
If you prefer tennis, the Aspall Tennis Classic tournament (June 26-29) is another opportunity to pass through the hallowed gates of the Hurlingham Club. hurlinghamtennisclassic.com
10. Daylesford Festival, Gloucestershire, June 9
The Bamfords’ bash at their farm near Kingham shows the finest organic food from artisan producers, with demonstrations and a market garden with pop-up restaurants in Airstream trailers and shepherd’s huts and enormous Argentine asados. There are also cookery competitions and, new for this year, a Daylesford Producers’ Market. You won’t go hungry.
11. Open Squares Weekend, London, June 9 and 10
For one weekend only, at the prettiest time of year, more than 200 parks, gardens and squares – many of which are usually closed to the public – open their doors to horticulture enthusiasts and nosy parkers. With the purchase of a weekend ticket, you can explore green spaces such as Markham Square in Chelsea and Branch Hill Allotments in Hampstead and can enter the ballot to visit the Downing Street gardens.
12. Queen’s Club Tennis, London, June 18-24
This pre-Wimbledon warm-up is far less brash than the All England Championships. You can watch the world’s best male players adjust their game to grass in intimate grandstands, up close to the action. Day five is when the most nail-biting clashes usually take place. Fever-Tree is the new sponsor this year, so expect G&Ts rather than warm Pimms. There’s also a Bunga Bunga pop-up, transporting spectators to the courts of Italy.
13. GWCT Scottish Game Fair, Perthshire, June 29 to July 1
This is the ultimate Scottish shindig; wilder, windier and hipper than the English equivalent, with gun dog competitions, falconry and cookery displays. The grounds of Scone Palace always look stunning at this time of year and the trade stands provide an opportunity to stock up on bona fide country garb and haggis.
American polo player Nic Roldan is hosting this sunset match for charity in the grounds of Cowdray House, with fireworks and equestrian displays by horse whisperer Monty Roberts. There’ll be a celebrity chukka – last year eventer William Fox-Pitt and cyclist Victoria Pendleton took part; expect more champions this year – and you can book a table for dinner in the main house. Polo lovers with a taste for the seaside should head to Sandbanks, Dorset, for the annual British Beach Polo Championships. In addition to the sport, there’s an Ibiza-style fashion show and, the website says, “legendary” beach parties (July 13-14).
15. Masterpiece, London, June 28 to July 4
If you’re not on the list for the Serpentine Summer Party, this art fair is the next best thing, with works of art, design, furniture and jewellery from antiquity to the present day. Chances are you won’t be able to afford to buy anything, but you can drink champagne and float around, admiring priceless paintings and sculpture, before heading off into Chelsea for dinner.
16. Hampton Court Flower Show, Surrey, July 2-8
You’ve probably missed the boat for tickets for Chelsea, so why not try Hampton Court? There are as many show gardens as Chelsea yet fewer people and heaps more space – and you can buy plants while you’re there. The preview evening on the Monday is an excuse to wear a floaty floral dress (it goes on until 10.30pm); Tuesday and Wednesday are when the serious gardeners go. Arrival is by riverboat down the Thames.
17. St James’s Place Barbury International Horse Trials, Wiltshire, July 5-8
Forget Badminton and Burghley, Barbury is the horse trials to be seen at this summer. The cross country course on the undulating Wiltshire Downs is a dream for spectators and there are chic trade stands and traditional white marquees for strawberries and afternoon tea.
18. Rock Oyster Festival, Cornwall, July 6-7
Pack up the Volvo and get down to Cornwall in time for this quirky family foodie festival. There are bands, circus acts, a forest school for kids plus lots of oysters (obviously) and a spa experience with wood-fired hot tubs with views over the Camel estuary. There are two campsites this year, both with sea views: one for families and one for all-night revellers.
19. Vitality T20 Blast, cricket, various venues from July 4
These short-form evening cricket matches are much more of a party than a full day at Lord’s. Each team has a single innings, each lasting around 90 minutes with a 10-minute break between the innings. Expect raucous spectators, loud music and lots of beer.
20. Pony Club Camp, various dates and venues nationwide
Still the social highlight of the summer for countless country mums and their pony-mad offspring. You get to lug bales and leg-up children on to barrel-shaped ponies; they enjoy gymkhana games, tack cleaning and water fights (if you don’t have a pony, you can borrow one at a Pony Club centre). Dress code: Pony Club tie, badge and breeches for them; steel toe-cap boots for you – ponies are notoriously good at treading on toes.
21. British Summer Time, London, July 6-15
Hyde Park’s summer concerts are a festival in an evening: dance under the stars then head home to your own bed. This year Roger Waters, The Cure, Bruno Mars, Michael Bublé and Paul Simon are performing – hurry, though, as tickets are selling fast.
22. King Pocky’s Derwentwater Regatta, Cumbria, July 7-8
The first Derwentwater Regatta was more than 200 years ago and in 2014 the National Trust decided to revive it – with huge success. There are no spectators; everyone is expected to have a go at canoeing, kayaking and sailing a Viking longboat, as well as stone-skimming and bathtub racing.
23. The Curious Arts Festival, Hampshire, July 20-22
Enjoy talks and performances by novelist Matt Haig, journalist Lynn Barber, chef Russell Norman and choirmaster Gareth Malone from a deck chair overlooking the Solent in the grounds of Pylewell Park. There will be midnight bat walks, snail racing, sonnets and music, plus artisan coffee, English wine, street food and Purbeck ice cream. The cool kids hire a vintage VW camper van for the weekend (see newforestsafari.com).
24. Port Eliot Festival, Cornwall, July 26-29
The poshest ticket of the summer. What began as eccentric performing arts hoedown the Elephant Fayre in 1981 has snowballed into a friendly, glamorous gathering with a focus on music, food and the written/spoken word. Join the hip and the stylish at the St Germans estate, drinking, dressing up, dancing at the boathouse and shaking off the cobwebs with a wild swim at dawn. There’s a Sipsmith gin palace, Cornwall’s roaming eco spa Kernow Springs, talks by the literati and a new restaurant, the Lawn, with southern-Mediterranean-inspired dishes.
Otherwise known as the It girl race, the Magnolia Cup sees 12 ladies, none of them professional jockeys (some may not even have sat on a horse prior to the training), bursting from the stalls in a flash of bespoke silks. A couple will hit the deck, others will be caught napping at the start (too busy chattering), but it is one of the most glamorous races of the season. This year’s field includes The Sunday Telegraph columnist Lady Alice Manners and dressage rider Lady Tatiana Mountbatten. For a different kind of horsepower, travel back to the golden era of racing and watch vintage Ferraris, Astons, and F1 cars speeding around the Goodwood Motor Circuit at Goodwood Revival (Sept 7-9). The event is the world’s only motorsport festival to be staged entirely in period dress: tweeds and trilbies for men, furs and frocks for ladies.
26. Wilderness Festival, Oxfordshire, Aug 2-5
The Chipping Norton set’s favourite festival is held in the grounds of Cornbury Park, with wild yoga, cricket, riding, fishing, wild running and boating. Groove Armada are playing this year and visitors can sing with the Wilderness Choir, plus there will be candlelit feasts by Ottolenghi, Patty and Bun and Café Murano. There’s endless entertainment for kids, too, but you might prefer to make this one “me time”.
27. Great Dorset Steam Fair, Dorset, Aug 23-27
For the past 50 years the West Country set has been flocking to this understated gem of an event to drink cider, eat hog roast and watch full-sized steam engines in action. There will be 500 engines this year – the biggest gathering of Britain’s industrial and agricultural history ever assembled.
28. Dartmouth Royal Regatta, Devon, Aug 30 to Sept 1
The yacht crowd moor up at Dartmouth this weekend for boat-related shenanigans including yacht racing, dinghy sailing, stand-up paddleboarding and rowing competitions, and late night partying on their vessels. Expect a carnival atmosphere in the streets and fireworks over the river on the Saturday night. There’s even an ice-cream eating competition this year for game children.
29. Upton Noble Beer and Cider Festival, Somerset, Sept 1-2
Upton Noble is one Britain’s hippest villages: not only is it a few miles from Bruton, the epicentre of rural cool, but the villagers have come together to harvest the abundant supply of apples in the area and make local Uptonogood Cider. Their annual cider festival is a no-frills affair with live music, street food and fireside acoustic music into the small hours. And lots and lots of cider.
30. Rolling Stones Havana Moon Screening, London, Sept 7
Relive the Stones’ 2016 Havana Moon concert at this one-night-only immersive experience at the super trendy Troxy in east London. The concert will be shown using the latest cinematic technology and concert-standard sound and lighting with method actors, sets and Cuban-themed food and drink to transport you from Britain to the streets of Havana. Very limited tickets.
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