Dispatches from the North: Top 10 Best of the British Summer

I realize that I’m posting this right at the end of the summer, possibly not the best timing for a post such as this but I’ve had so much excitement this summer from the process of getting my ILR Visa to the Tall Ships Races here in Hartlepool and Red Dreams Pitch Invasion music festival last weekend that I just haven’t had the opportunity to finish this post and publish it. Well, a bit late but I suppose it can serve as a tool for reminiscing or for planning for next summer.

Summer in Britain is glorious, while Brits will tell you it is “red hot” or “boiling” outside, in most parts of Britain it rarely gets above 80º F and even that is pretty rare. A normal “hot” summer day in Britain is in the low to mid 70’s. Sure you need to remember to put on your sunscreen, but it’s comfortable to stroll around and enjoy the sun without getting unbearably hot and ducking into the next air conditioned building you find. Here are the top 10 best things about Summer in Britain:

1. Ice Cream

A typical British summer afternoon usually involves stopping into a seaside shop for an ice cream or running for the ice cream van. The quintessential British ice cream treat is the 99 Flake or sometimes just called a “99”. It’s a regular soft serve vanilla ice cream cone with a Cadbury Flake stuck into the top. Most shops and ice cream vans usually offer the option of topping your 99 with “monkey’s blood” which is simply a raspberry syrup. Cadbury sells regular sized Flake bars, but the 99 Flake is specially produced by Cadbury for this ice cream application. There are many speculations about where the name “99” comes from and according to Cadbury it has been “lost in the mists of time” but regardless of the origins of the names it’s a simple, delicious and very British thing.

2. Fish & Chips

Right next to the seaside ice cream shop where you get your 99 you will usually find a fish & chip shop. On a nice day here in Seaton Carew you walk down the main street and there are two fish & chip shops, one “on the left” and one “on the right”. Over the years the people from the town have come to regard “the one on the left” as the best chippy in Seaton Carew, being a local and living just down the street I’ve actually discovered this commonly held idea is actually false and “the one on the right” is much better. Even though “the one on the left” has changed owners at least once since I’ve moved here, people still line up out the door at this chippy convinced that it’s the best. I would imagine this is a fairly typical situation in other seaside towns and villages across Britain. On a nice summer day people fill benches and squat on curbs with the curiously shaped “chip fork” in hand and a styrofoam carton of greasy fish and chips. It’s an essential ingredient to the British summer.

3. Going to the Beach

In the North of England going to the beach isn’t what it is in the US or in the warmer Southern parts like Cornwall. Here you must go to the beach fully clothed most days, there isn’t much sunbathing to be done and many people will bring with them a kind of half tent or simple bit of tarp attached to some wooden poles that act as a wind screen. You will see children darting in and out of the freezing cold water, but for the most part going to the beach here in the North East means sitting fully clothed on the sand and taking in the views. It might sound boring but there is no need to reapply sunscreen every twenty minutes after sweating it off, there is always a refreshing breeze coming off the water, it’s great people watching and there are lots of opportunities for outdoor activities like playing a game of soccer on the beach or some of the best kite flying conditions you’ll ever find.

4. Late Sunsets

I sometimes forget how far North I truly am until the winter when the sun rises after 9am and sets at around 3:30pm or in the summer when the sun rises at 4am and sets at 10pm. The British summer day is LONG and it’s one of my favorite things about living this far North!

5. Music Festivals

There are several outdoor music festivals over the summer, the most famous of course being Glastonbury but there is also Cream Fields, the V festival and many other small local festivals that will crop up anywhere you can find an open bit of land and permission to plop down a stage. For the second year in a row Hartlepool had its own music festival called Pitch Invasion which was organized by the music charity I volunteer for, Red Dreams. It was fairly small with about 6,000 people attending over the two days, but it definitely had the festival vibe and gave local bands a chance to participate in this British summer staple.

6. Parks & Gardens

Britain has some gorgeous parks and public gardens, even the smallest in the humblest of towns are lovingly maintained and groomed. Here in Hartlepool the largest is Ward Jackson Park which has a bit of something for everyone, there is a little “woodland walk” which is a dirt path that winds through the trees and brush, there is a traditional landscaped typical English garden area with perfectly manicured flower beds and there is a duck pond where hobbyists often bring remote control boats to zoom around on the calm water. There is also a children’s playground and lots of open space for playing frisbee or just lounging on the grass. Having a stroll through a well maintained park is one of the best parts of the British summer.

7. Barbecues

If you are lucky enough to have a back garden or know someone who does, a barbecue on a summer day is a great way to relax. A British barbecue isn’t much different from an American one although it’s definitely a lot more relaxed. Where American men usually have a state of the art grill or smoker or other very manly outdoor appliances and maybe plan ahead by marinating meat and other impressive culinary tricks, Brits like to keep it simple with a small grill and simple burgers and sausages and jacket potatoes (baked potatoes if you’re American) with all the fixins’ on the side. There will always be lots of cold lager and cider to go around as well!

8. Beer Gardens

When the weather starts to heat up in the Spring the first thing I start to look for is the beer gardens opening up. On a sunny afternoon pubs’ beer gardens are packed with people relaxing. It seems no matter the day of the week or time of the day, if the sun is out and it’s warm enough to sit outside there will be people in the beer garden enjoying frosty beverages. I’ve walked into a Wetherspoons pub at noon on a Tuesday for lunch to find the beer garden brimming with people enjoying a pint in the middle of the day. There is just no keeping people away if the sun is out and there is a beer garden nearby.

9. Caravan Parks

All over the UK you will find holiday caravan parks. Caravan parks are a collection of “caravans” or basically trailers that are specifically for the purpose of renting for a week like a cabin or hotel room and then in the middle of the caravan park there is usually a pub and lots of stuff for kids to do like pools and arcades. I haven’t been to one yet since I’m more of a tent and campground kind of person, but for families it’s a great way to get a camping-like experience in a more comfortable and kid-friendly environment.

10. Camping

The North of England is dotted with prime camping areas. The Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, The Pennines, and even just here in the Cleveland Hills. Britain has some serious campers and the natural beauty of this country is ready-made for some of the best camping experiences. The one thing about camping here that is much different from the US is that in this day and age it’s incredibly difficult to find a campground that has fire rings. I was shocked last summer when I was looking for a place to camp and only found a handful of places in the area I wanted to go that allowed fires. Blame the culture of Health and Safety, but I just can’t imagine a campsite without a fire at night for roasting marshmallows and telling stories.

That is my lineup of the Top Ten of the British Summer, it’s a bit late but we’ve still got a few more warm days to squeeze out of Summer 2010 and there is always next summer!

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  1. avatarJen says

    As a Thai living in the UK for 5.5 years, I agree! Though you forgot to add “festivals” – most if not all of the list put together in one :-)