February is often considered a month of love with Valentine’s Day on 14 February. And as 2020 is a leap year we have 29 February when, traditionally, women can propose to men (yes, I know this is an antiquated belief). But it’s not all about being loved up this month as there is a one-week school holiday in the latter weeks of February in England, Scotland and Wales. And I’ve found a wonderful selection of events happening across Britain to inspire everyone.
Wife Carrying Race
What says love more than carrying your wife to win a race? The 13th UK Wife Carrying Race is in Dorking, Surrey on Saturday 29 February 2020.
It’s thought that wife carrying dates back to 793AD when Vikings reached the northeast coast of England and carried off local wenches. The annual UK Wife Carrying Race began in 2008, and the winner gets to go to the Wife Carrying World Championship held every year in Finland.
The ‘wife’ doesn’t have to be a woman, nor do they have to be married to the runner, but they must be over 18 and over 50kg. The race is run over a 380m course, featuring 15m of ascent and 15m of descent. If that wasn’t tough enough, spectators are encouraged to throw buckets of water over the runners as they pass.
The overall winner gets £250 towards the trip to Finland and a barrel of local ale. Racers who come last win a Pot Noodle and some dog food. The oldest racer is presented with a tin of pilchards and some Bovril, and there’s a special prize of a pound of sausages for the carrier of the heaviest wife (who completes the course) for strength.
Six Nations Rugby
Six Nations Rugby is on from 1 February to 14 March 2020 with matches at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Twickenham Stadium in London and Murrayfield in Edinburgh (as well as Dublin, Rome and Paris).
This annual international Rugby Union competition is between the teams of England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales. (Italy joined in 2000.) There’s also a Triple Crown prize that only the four home unions – England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland – are able to win. A team can only win the triple crown if they beat the other three home sides.
The sport is named after Rugby in Warwickshire, England. It was invented at Rugby School in 1816 when a pupil called William Webb Ellis decided that picking up the ball during a football match would make things more interesting.
Rugby Union is played by teams of 15 players, with each team made up of eight forwards and seven backs. The players who are forwards are generally bigger and heavier, while the backs are faster and smaller.
London Fashion Week
London Fashion Week is the first of four global fashion weeks to invite the public into its world. (The other biggies are New York, Milan and Paris.) On from 14 to 18 February 2020, London Fashion Week is the ultimate fashion industry event, where the world’s top designers showcase their latest collections via catwalk shows, plus curated talks, designer shopping and trend presentations.
London Fashion Week takes place twice a year in February and September, showcasing over 250 designers to a global audience of influential media and retailers. It is estimated that orders of over £100m are placed during LFW each season.
Dark Skies Festival
The Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Parks, which remain some of the darkest places in England, are once again running a joint Dark Skies Festival this month. From 14 February to 1 March 2020 the star-studded winter skies are embraced with over 100 events.
The South Downs are getting in on the act too as the Festival celebrates their International Dark Skies Reserve designation with star parties, talks, observations and other family activities from 7 to 23 February 2020. (I’m going to the British Airways i360 in Brighton to stargaze on 9 February 2020, and I’ll use the trip to research a feature for Anglotopia magazine.)
As someone who lives in a city with impressive light pollution (London), I find the idea of seeing and understanding the stars fascinating. The Dark Skies Festivals are all about discovering, learning and enjoying the dark, which could mean a bike ride, guided walks or even caving at night as well as stargazing safaris using telescopes.
Jorvik Viking Festival
The annual Jorvik Viking Festival is back in York from 15 to 23 February 2020. Celebrating York’s rich Norse heritage, it is recognised as the largest Viking Festival in Europe, attracting more than 40,000 visitors. Now in its 36th year, it commemorates the traditional ‘Jolablot’ celebrations that the Vikings held each February to herald the coming of spring and the survival of winter hardships. This year’s festival remembers the role of the Viking women who schemed, fought and led their people through turbulent times.
Highlights include the Annual Best Beard Competition – open to all as natural and homemade beards can enter. And the Annual Strongest Viking Competition with rounds of hammer-holding, leg-wrestling, hand-to-hand combat and more.
Olney Pancake Race
Shrove Tuesday is celebrated with eating pancakes (the thin crepe style) and with pancake races – running with a frying pan and trying to flip/toss the pancake at the same time. Olney Pancake Race is on Tuesday 25 February 2020, and it includes the 71st Annual Pancake Race against Liberal, Kansas.
The England/US challenge began in 1950 when Liberal Jaycee President R.J. Leete contacted the Rev. Ronald Collin, Vicar of St. Peter and St. Paul’s church in Olney, challenging their women to a race against the women of Liberal.
The Olney Pancake Race, supposedly, dates back to 1445 when a local housewife heard the ringing of the bell summoning the congregation to church while she was making her Shrove Tuesday pancakes. In a rush, she raced to church carrying her frying pan.
The race is only open to female residents of Olney who are 18 and over, and resident in the town for at least three months. A maximum of 25 runners run the 415-yard course, and the pancakes must be tossed at the start and finish.
Museum of Liverpool
From 14 February to 1 November 2020, the National Museum Liverpool’s vehicle collection is on display at the Museum of Liverpool. Liverpool on Wheels: From Horses to Horsepower looks at the city’s proud transport history through an array of vehicles built in and around Liverpool.
The Museum of Liverpool is the first national museum devoted to the history of a regional city. It showcases popular culture while tackling social, historical and contemporary issues and demonstrating Liverpool’s unique contribution to the world.
From bicycles to horse-drawn carriages, the exhibition showcases those built by local companies such as Pickering Brothers, Harry Quinn and Fords. From a Rushton Velocipede (1870) to a Range Rover Evoque (2012), each object is used as a gateway to tell the story of Liverpool’s transport history. Don’t miss the bright yellow Ford Escort MK1 complete with fluffy dice.
The Natural History Museum (London)’s superstar dinosaur cast, Dippy, is currently on a record-breaking UK tour. He lands in Rochdale this month – the only stop in the northwest of England.
There is an accompanying family-friendly exhibition at Touchstones Rochdale, the Borough’s Arts and Heritage Centre, where children can explore all aspects of the natural world, from the dark swamplands of millions of years ago to our future planet and what it might look like.
From 10 February to 28 June 2020 you can meet Dippy at Number One Riverside, Smith Street, Rochdale OL16 1XU and then head to Touchstones Rochdale, The Esplanade, Rochdale OL16 1AQ for the exhibition. The Dippy Experience is free to attend, and there’s no need to book.
Many of the temporary ice rinks across Britain have gone by February, but the Eden Project in Cornwall still has ice skating until 23 February 2020. It is the only indoor ice rink in Cornwall and has parent and toddler ice-play sessions, family-fun sessions as well as general skating and lessons too.
Do note; there are closures on 3-4 and 10-11 February 2020.
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
Located one mile from the city centre, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is celebrating its 350th anniversary in 2020 with a year-long programme of talks, events and exhibitions. Established in 1670 as a physic garden near the Palace of Holyroodhouse, it received a royal warrant in 1699 and was the second oldest botanic garden in the United Kingdom.
Set in over 70 acres of beautiful landscape, the Garden offers superb panoramic views of the city skyline. A highlight is a tour of the Garden’s ten Glasshouses including the Victorian Temperate Palmhouse and Tropical Palmhouse. With different climatic zones, from steamy tropics to arid desert, the Glasshouses are home to over 3,000 exotic plants from around the world.
Other highlights include the Rock Garden, the Alpine Houses, Woodland Garden, Pond, the Arboretum or tree collection, the Chinese Hillside, the Rhododendron Collection and the Scottish Native Plants Collection in the Heath Garden.
Back to the Future Musical
The 1985 movie and pop culture phenomenon, that’s now more loved than ever, is transported to the stage by the film’s original creative team of Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis. The production has an all-new score alongside the movie’s iconic hits, including The Power of Love, Johnny B Goode, Earth Angel and Back in Time.
Back to the Future the Musical is directed by Tony Award-winning John Rando alongside a Tony and Olivier Award-winning design team including Tim Hatley (set and costumes), Hugh Vanstone and Tim Lutkin (lighting), Finn Ross (video design – previous credits include Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) and Chris Bailey (choreography).
A new film adaptation of Emma, starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn and Bill Nighy, is being released on 21 February 2020 in the US (and on 14 February 2020 in the UK). Jane Austen’s beloved comedy about finding your equal and earning your happy ending sees handsome, clever, and rich Emma Woodhouse as a restless queen bee without rivals in her sleepy little town. In this glittering satire of social class and the pain of growing up, Emma must adventure through misguided matches and romantic missteps to find the love that has been there all along.
Use this movie as an excuse to visit Hampshire (‘Jane Austen County’) to see where this literary heroine called home. Jane Austen’s House Museum, in the quiet village of Chawton, reopens from its winter closure on 1 February 2020. This was Austen’s last home and where she wrote and revised her manuscripts for Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Persuasion and Emma. It is the ideal starting point for anyone wanting to find out more about Jane Austen and her books, as well as her family and the life-and-times in which she lived.
Elsewhere in the village, Chawton House is the manor house that once belonged to Austen’s brother, Edward. The library, house and gardens are also open to the general public.
After starting her seventh (unfinished) novel – Sanditon – her health started to fail, and she agreed to move to Winchester. Jane was finally laid to rest in Winchester Cathedral in 1817 at the age of just 41. While the inscription on her tomb makes no reference to her literary talent, a brass tablet was added at a later date confirming that she was “known to many by her writings”.
If you make the pilgrimage to Winchester, do go to see Kings and Scribes: Birth of a Nation – a spectacular three-level (ground floor, mezzanine and the triforium) exhibition in the South Transept of Winchester Cathedral. It took nearly a decade to complete the transformation of the area at a cost of £11.2 million.
Visitors can discover over 1,000 years of history, and marvel at some of the Cathedral’s greatest treasures, including the 12th-century Winchester Bible. From the time of Alfred the Great (9th century) until after the Norman Conquest (11th century), Winchester was England’s capital, and the Cathedral was its royal chapel. Much of England’s early history was based here, and twelve English kings are thought to be buried here, allowing Winchester to lay claim to being the first Royal Mausoleum.
The Kings and Scribes exhibition is included with Cathedral admission, and a ticket allows entry for 12 months.
In 2020, Coombe Abbey Hotel in Warwickshire commemorates 25 years since it first opened its doors as a venue in February 1995. It has chosen a local charity (Zoë’s Place Baby Hospice) to fundraise for throughout the year, and there are new helicopter tours planned. A whole host of events and activities are set to take place to mark its silver anniversary including afternoon teas, medieval banquets, murder mystery evenings, tribute nights and more.
Coombe Abbey existed long before it was a hotel and has a rich history. During the 12th century, the hotel was known as the Abbey of Cumbe and was the largest and most influential monastery in Warwickshire. It has housed royals, been part of the Gunpowder Plot and was even surrendered to King Henry VIII as part of the dissolution of the monasteries. In 1966 the 150-acre park was opened to the public while the hotel underwent restoration and refurbishment to open in 1995.
I had the pleasure of visiting Coombe Abbey when I was researching a travel feature on Coventry for Anglotopia magazine.