This May, take advantage of the warm spring weather to get out and explore the quirks of the UK. Admire flowers (and celebrities) at the Chelsea Flower Show, tap your toes to big band music at Jersey’s Liberation Day celebrations, and cheer as people chase a giant wheel of cheese down a hill. No, really.
‘Obby ‘Oss Day
When: 1 May
Where: North Quay, Padstow, Cornwall PL28 8AF
What on earth is an ‘obby ‘oss? You may know it as a “hobby horse” (a toy horse ridden by children), but for the town of Padstow, it’s the main attraction of their ancient annual parade. For centuries, Padstow’s springtime festival has centred around two ‘obby ‘osses – one red and one blue – that dance through Padstow’s decorated streets. They are led by a “Teazer,” who leads the ‘osses and their cohorts in the dance. The streets are full of flowers and music, and tens of thousands of people line the streets of Padstow, hoping for a glimpse of the famous ‘obby ‘ossses. Get there early.
Royal Windsor Horse Show
When: 8-12 May
Where: Windsor Castle, Royal Mews, Windsor SL4 1NG
Cost: Tickets start from £7 with a student card
Equestrian enthusiasts will not want to miss this impressive four-day event. The Royal Windsor Horse Show is the only show in the UK to host international competitions in showjumping, dressage, driving, and endurance. It showcases amazing British and international talent in a number of events, as well as putting on a spectacular pageant.
The Royal Windsor Horse Show was started in 1943 as a local Horse and Dog Show to help raise money for British troops during World War II. It has since grown in both size and repute and now features some of the best competitors in the world.
This year’s pageant will be Victorian-themed, as it marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Queen Victoria. The 90-minute show, which will feature over 500 participants and over 400 horses, will revolve around memorable events and aspects of the Victorian era, including references to author Charles Dickens, the Industrial Revolution, and the advent of rail travel.
When: 9 May
Where: Saint Helier, Jersey
Every year, the island of Jersey commemorates the end of Nazi occupation with a series of events in Liberation Square. Jersey and Guernsey, also known as the Channel Islands, were the only parts of Britain that were occupied by Nazi Germany for five years during the Second World War. The Liberation Day (or, as they say in Jèrriais, Jour d’la Libéthâtion) is celebrated as Jersey and Guernsey’s national day.
Liberation Day is a bank holiday in Jersey. Browse food stalls and enjoy old-fashioned big band music. The re-enactment of British troops landing on Jersey’s occupied shores is a highlight, as are the concerts sung in English and Jèrriais. While it’s not all fun and games (wartime footage is screened, and a ceremony is held to commemorate war victims and slave workers), Liberation Day is ultimately a celebration.
Lost Sock Memorial Day
When: 9 May
Where: Laundry rooms across the UK
Why is it that you can put two socks into the washing machine, but only pull one out? Where did the other one go? And what are you supposed to do with a single sock? Lost Sock Memorial Day is a silly holiday, but also a serious chance to ponder the really big questions. And, more importantly, it’s a chance to finally throw out all those single socks you’ve been holding on to for years.
Scottish Highland Games
When: 12 May-21 September
Where: All across Scotland
They do things differently in Scotland and sport is no exception. The Highland Games – which are held in towns and cities across Scotland during the summer months – feature traditional events such as the hammer throw, the stone put, and the caber toss, all of which are designed to test the competitor’s raw strength. You’ll see plenty of kilt-clad competitors carrying huge boulders and throwing massive logs around the field.
The heavy athletic events aren’t the only star of the show. Highland Games also showcase traditional Scottish Highland dancing, food, craft stalls, livestock events, and of course the stirring sound of bagpipes. Visitors and competitors alike will be sporting traditional tartan garments, though you don’t have to.
Chelsea Flower Show
When: 21-25 May
Where: Royal Hospital, Chelsea, London SW3 4SL
Cost: Ticket prices range from £30 to £90 and must be booked in advance
If you want to cross off going to one of the most quintessentially British events during your time in the UK, then the Chelsea Flower Show is a must. Yes, it’s a five-day event dedicated to flowers; and yes, you may not be very interested in flowers. But the Chelsea Flower Show is about more than pretty plants. It’s about people-watching and rubbing elbows with celebrities and royalty.
The show is visited by well over 150,000 people over five days and has been held in the grounds of the Royal Hospital since 1913. Visit the Great Pavilion to see some of the most perfect flowers in the world and get advice on how to keep your desk cacti looking sharp. Wander nearly twenty different show gardens, each one wildly different from the last, and let the serene nature carry you far away from London’s busy streets.
When: 23 May-2 June
Where: Hay-on-Wye, Wales
Cost: Each event is ticketed, and prices vary; costs start at £8. However, students in higher education can get up to five free tickets.
Book fanatics may have already heard of Hay-on-Wye. Despite having only about 1,500 permanent residents, this town has over thirty bookshops, making it one of the literary kings of the UK. The Hay Festival is a literature lover’s paradise. Authors and thinkers from every genre will be there, giving speeches and leading workshops.
Cheese Rolling Festival
When: 27 May
Where: Cooper’s Hill, Gloucester, GL3 4SB
The British are famous for their eccentricity and the noble art of cheese rolling must rank as one of the weirdest events in the land. Every year, some 15,000 people gather to watch the annual event.
So what is cheese rolling exactly? Every year a group of brave – some would say foolish – people chase a large, round cheese down a steep 200 metre slope in Gloucestershire, in south-west England, at the annual Cheese Rolling event. In theory they are trying to catch the cheese, but they seldom do because the cheese gets a one–second head start and reaches speeds of up to 70 miles per hour. The winner is the man or woman who crosses the finish line at the base of the hill first. Their prize? The giant wheel of cheese that they were chasing.
Cheese rolling began several hundred years ago as an amusement for the inhabitants of the village of Brockworth. It may not be as dangerous as Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls – no-one has ever been gored by a hard cheese – but rollers have been known to break arms and legs. The event was actually cancelled in 2010 due to safety concerns.
Luckily for fans of British eccentricity, cheese rolling is back on the agenda. You’ll be able to see videos of the event online, but nothing compares to being there on the day.
Painting of Cheese Rolling Festival by Robert Collins (www.robcollinsart.com)