Caroline MillsSee other Blog articles filed in ‘Travel and touring’ written by Caroline Mills
Life in early summer is often dominated by your children's hard-core revision, exams and end-of-year tests. If so, you might be plotting to enlist their grandparents' help, so that you can snatch a child-free break before the onslaught of the school holidays.
If your life does not sing to the tune of the academic calendar, a word of warning – there’s a six- to eight-week school summer holiday on its way! You might want to think about getting out and about in your motorhome right now, before school’s out. As if you need an excuse to leap into your ’van and tour the British Isles.
And, if you do fancy a cultural break or a rural escape, there are some fabulous events taking place this June and July – and beyond. Festivals and celebrations, marking anniversaries or just for the love of summer, you’ll find plenty going on to provide the highlight of a staycation.
Oxford Shakespeare, Oxfordshire
Stratford-upon-Avon doesn’t have a monopoly on Shakespeare when it comes to celebrations of the Bard’s works since his death 400 years ago. Shakespeare Oxford 2016 is now in full swing, with a vibrant range of shows and lectures taking place across Oxford this summer. Make sure to grab your picnic blanket, as actors will be taking to some of the city’s most beautiful locations for idyllic outdoor performances, with productions of a huge selection of Shakespeare’s plays.
Oxford has set itself the ambitious challenge of putting on all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays this anniversary year and so far the city has clocked up 25, including dance, operatic and contemporary rap adaptations. 'Shakespeare under the sky' events for June and July include Love’s Labours Lost, which throws five lovesick couples together on the banks of the idyllic River Cherwell from 28 to 30 June. There’s also a chance to see the same play performed by a different theatre company in Wadham College Gardens, from 28 June to 18 August. In this production the performers are let loose in the 1970s, with original music inspired by the decade. Meanwhile the Globe Theatre On Tour takes over the Old School's Quadrangle at the Bodleian Library for Two Gentlemen of Verona from 19 to 30 July.
The atmospheric backdrop of medieval Oxford Castle is the setting for The Taming of the Shrew (20 June to 2 July), Much Ado about Nothing (4 to16 July), The Tempest (18 to 30 July) and a double-bill of Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1 to 13 August).
Also in July and August, Shakespeare fans can venture deep into the University Parks, right up to the banks of the river, to see a troupe of travelling storytellers transform the park into the royal palace of Elsinore for Hamlet (13 July to 13 August).
For those who don’t have the time or inclination to see too many plays in a couple of months, Oxford Playhouse is staging all 74 onstage deaths. However, those who do manage to attend more than six performances before the end of July, will be rewarded with a prize copy of the iconic New Oxford Shakespeare, from Oxford University Press, due out in autumn 2016. Now there’s a reason to stay in Britain this summer.
There are lots of campsites within a few miles of Oxford, from tiny CLs to club sites and peaceful retreats. My pick is Greenhill Leisure Park, Bletchingdon, situated amid luscious greenery six miles from Oxford and close to the Water Eaton Park and Ride for easy access into the city centre.
Pick your own strawberries at Lotmead Farm, Wiltshire
Who can resist the heavenly scent of freshly picked British strawberries? As a child, I remember the sheer excitement every summer of seeing the 'strawberries for sale' sign go up at our local Pick Your Own farm. Crouched between the rows, picking plump juicy fruits, we looked forward to devouring them straight from the punnet as soon as we’d left the farm. That's what makes a true British summer.
Lotmead Farm, just off the Wanborough Road, near Swindon, is the current winner of the FARMA Pick Your Own Farm of the Year for 2016. It’s a real working farm that combines soft fruit and vegetable production with dairy farming. Strawberries are Lotmead’s speciality – grown on waist-height tables so there’s no bending down for the less agile among us. In addition you can pick other soft fruits, including gooseberries, raspberries and blackcurrants, along with seasonal vegetables like potatoes, courgettes, sweetcorn and runner beans.
Of course, there’s always some fresh but ready-picked fruit for sale in the farm store along with freshly baked biscuits and cakes, jams and honey. Plus, you can watch the cows being milked every day and, if you are taking children, they’ll enjoy the nature trail and small animal enclosure.
One of the best things about Lotmead Pick Your Own Farm is that campervans and motorhomes may stop overnight free of charge. That’s strawberries for breakfast then!
Capability Brown at Wimpole Estate, Cambridgeshire
2016 has been marked as the Year of the English Garden, notably because it’s also 300 years since the birth of one of Britain’s most noteworthy landscape gardeners, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. You’ll find Capability Brown events across the UK, particularly in Kirkharle, Northumberland, where he was born and lived until he was 23. More events take place at many of the great estates that he helped to create, such as Grimsthorpe Castle (Lincolnshire), Compton Verney (Warwickshire), Weston Park (Shropshire), Trentham Gardens (Staffordshire) and Bowood House and Gardens (Wiltshire).
But, of all the places that Brown landscaped, Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire – the estate that’s closest to his home and final resting place in Fenstanton – is holding the most events to celebrate his life and work. In particular, Wimpole Hall is hosting an entire Capability Brown Birthday Weekend on 27 and 28 August. There’s lots of entertainment, including a 'Capabili-Tea Tent' serving Georgian delicacies, a Georgian Cricket Match, dance performances and workshops of the period, theatre performances and traditional Georgian shadow puppets. If you can’t wait that long to visit, however, there’s a Capability Brown Literary Season throughout June, with several events looking at various aspects of Brown’s life and work.
Highfield Farm Touring Park is a convenient site to use as a stopover when visiting the Wimpole Estate, and the beautiful city of Cambridge. Pitches are situated in a garden setting; it certainly struck a chord with visitors who voted it into Practical Motorhome’s Top 100 Sites Guide 2016. Alternatively, The Seven Wives Nightstop is not far away, in Huntingdon.
Royal Yacht Britannia, Edinburgh
Regular visitors to the Practical Motorhome website may have come across Celebrate the Queen's birthday on tour, my blog suggesting a tribute tour to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday by visiting places throughout the UK that begin with ‘Queen’. Of course, you may prefer to visit somewhere that’s actually associated with Her Majesty, and where better than one of her favourite 'locations', The Royal Yacht Britannia?
'Home' to the Royal Family for more than 40 years, Britannia is now docked in Scotland, in Edinburgh’s historic port of Leith. Visitors can enjoy a fascinating insight into The Queen’s former floating palace, and the lives of those who lived and worked on board.
And, of course, Britannia is celebrating The Queen’s 90th birthday year in style. There’s complementary birthday cake and fizz, served on board to all visitors on 12 June, as part of Britain's celebrations of Her Majesty’s birthday. The Musical Mariners’ band, which includes former Royal Marines, several of whom served on Britannia, will be playing live music. While The Royal Deck Tea Room on board will be serving a very special menu over the weekend of 11 and 12 June, featuring some of The Queen’s favourite dishes.
Overnight accommodation is not a part of the Britannia tour so I’d recommend docking your motorhome at the coastal Seton Sands Holiday Village.
Clovelly Maritime Festival, North Devon
There’s little excuse needed to visit the enchanting coastal village of Clovelly at any time of year but if you’re looking for a reason, Clovelly Maritime Festival, in aid of the North Devon Hospice, could be your motivation. Taking place on 17 July, the day will be full of fun and packed with a programme of all sorts of activities and entertainment.
The 'Clovelly Gun Run' will start the event from the harbour to Victoria Fountain with two teams of sea cadets taking it in turn to beat the clock as they pull a large replica field gun up the steep village street. 2016 will also see the first ever Clovelly Cup Race with The North Devon Yacht Club racing outside the harbour and across Clovelly Bay.
Throughout the day there will be music, street entertainment and activities, including the opportunity to ‘build a boat’, arts and crafts with The National Trust, boat trips, and the opportunity to have a go on a gig, a traditional West Country activity, with the Clovelly Gig Team.
One of the nearest campsites to Clovelly is Stoke Barton Farm at Hartland Quay. With wonderful views of the coast, it’s quite a secluded spot to reach but the drive along relatively narrow Devon lanes is very much worth it once you’re there.
Church Explorers, North Yorkshire
Great Britain really does have an incredible collection of churches, and none more so than in North Yorkshire. So if you’re looking for a cultural break, exploring villages that you perhaps otherwise wouldn’t think to go, you might like Church Explorers. It’s a brand new initiative that’s involving between 20 and 30 churches over June, July and August.
Church Explorers is about uncovering the hidden history in buildings across North Yorkshire, discovering unexpected stories, places where you can see great moments of history, and amazing works of art for free. It draws in the archaeology of buildings, looking at clues hidden within the churches to find the truth about our past; with talks and tours provided by volunteers.
The vast majority of churches taking part are in beautiful villages like Bolton Percy, southwest of York, that you wouldn’t necessarily know about, so it’s a great way to find new places off the beaten tourist track. There’s a full listing of events on the Church Explorers’ website but one of the churches taking part is All Saints at Slingsby, a village that also happens to host a Practical Motorhome Top 100 Site, Robin Hood Caravan Park. Perfect for a short village stroll.