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7 weird British customs and traditions

We Brits are a bit of an odd bunch – we like to roll cheese down hills and dance around with bells, sticks and handkerchiefs. In fact, a lot of our modern culture is awash with a myriad of myths, legends and bizarre traditions that date back hundreds of years. But where did they all originate and why do we still celebrate them?

Cheese-rolling in Gloucester

Cheese rolling festival, Gloucestershire, England

With records of cheese-rolling in Gloucestershire, South West England, dating back hundreds of years, the annual tradition is still a world-famous event. Why the locals first decided to roll a cheese down an extremely steep hill all those years ago is highly debated. Some believe it was a requirement to maintain grazing rights on the common, whereas others suggest it stems from a pagan ritual of rolling objects down hills to encourage a successful harvest.

Jack in the Green, Hastings

The Jack in Green festival, Hastings, England

If you visit any May Day procession in Britain, don’t be alarmed if you see someone covered head to toe in foliage – that’s Jack in the Green. The custom began in the 16th century, when procession-goers became more and more competitive with making garlands for the parade – so much so that they started to cover an entire man in greenery. Hastings, on England’s south coast, has an entire annual festival dedicated to Jack in the Green.

Pancake races, Buckinghamshire

Pancake races, England
On Shrove Tuesday, people across the UK tuck into pancakes, and the residents of Olney in Buckinghamshire gear up for their annual pancake race. The race-goers run through the town whilst also flipping a cooked pancake in a frying pan as they go. The story goes that this started in 1445 after a wife who was cooking pancakes heard the church bells shriving (indicating parishioners were expected in church) and rushed out with the frying pan still in her hand.

Ottery Tar Barrels, Devon

Ottery Tar Barrels festival, Devon, England
Every 5 November the people of Ottery in Devon set barrels of tar alight and carry them on their shoulders through the packed streets of the town. The reasons behind this daring tradition, which has been taking place for hundreds of years, are disputed. It’s most likely to be connected to the gunpowder plot of 1605 but may have been a way to warn against the Spanish Armada.

Lady Godiva, Midlands

Lady Godiva legend, Coventry, England
According to legend, Lady Godiva rode naked through the city of Coventry on horseback, with only her long hair to cover her modesty, as a way to convince her husband to lower the taxes for the people of the town. Although, as with most legends, her story has had its historical accuracy questioned, the love for the tale of Lady Godiva’s generosity has remained.

King Arthur and Excalibur

King Arthur's Excalibur legend, England
The legend of King Arthur is one of the most famous in Britain, with many stories of bravery and romance featuring in his character. Although his existence is debated, his tales live on in British folklore. Probably the most famous is the tale of the sword and the stone, which sees Arthur pull the sword of Excalibur from a stone and, in doing so, reveals himself as the rightful King of England. Some believe the London Stone is in fact, the stone that Arthur drew his sword from, and you can see it for yourself at the Museum of London(link is external).

Morris dancing

Morris dancing, England
With their bells, sticks, swords and all-important handkerchiefs, there’s something distinctly English about Morris dancing. The traditional folk dance is thought to have originated in the early 15th century and derived from a Druidic fertility dance. The dance remains popular, with many believing that it has magical powers to ward off evil and bring good luck. Throughout the years, different regions of the UK have developed their own styles and nuances of Morris dancing – whether that’s the wearing of clogs in the North West or the use of short sticks and feathers in the Borders.

This article was contributed by Premier Inn(link is external), with 700 hotels all over the UK.
All images courtesy of alamy.com

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St George’s Day: What does it mean and why do we celebrate the patron Saint of England?

St. George’s Day takes place on April 23rd every year, recognising the patron saint of England apparently made famous for slaying a dragon and saving a distressed maiden

St-George

It’s the one day of the year, apart from major football tournaments, when you are guaranteed to see English flags being waved proudly across the country.

April 23 is a national day of celebration about all things English.

But St George’s Day isn’t honoured as widely as those of other patron saints – St Patrick being a notable example.

Very little is known about St George, his annual feast, or why we celebrate him.

Here are all the facts you need to know about England’s national day.

St George’s Day is celebrated on April 23 every year.

It is honoured by various Christian churches and by the several nations, kingdoms, countries, and cities of which St George is the patron saint.

St George’s Day was named as early as 1222 – but only one in five people in England actually know what day it’s on.

In 1415 St George’s Day became a national feast day and holiday in England. But after the union with Scotland in the 18th century it ceased to become a national holiday.

Now most people only mark the day with a flag.

Historically people would wear a rose on their chests. Roses became a symbol of the patron saint because a beautiful bloom is thought to have grown on his grave. This also came from a tradition in Catalonia in Spain – of which St George is also a patron saint – where women would give men a book and receive a rose in return on the feast day.

William Shakespeare is thought to have been born and died on the same date as St George, so you can celebrate with games and acting workshops at the Globe Theatre as well as traditional hog roasts and medieval-themed frolicking.

Who was St George?

The patron saint of England has become famous from stories that he slayed a dragon and saved a distressed maiden.

But actually very little is known about his life that is not myth and legend.

He is believed to have been born in Palestine in the 3rd Century AD to Christian parents and is also the patron saint of many other places around the world.

St George is thought to have first lived in Lydda, near modern day Tel Aviv.

He was a soldier in the Roman Army like his father and quickly rose up the ranks. He was later tortured and a number of medieval tales detail the awful punishments he was said to have endured – including being boiled and crushed between spiked wheels – because he refused to give up his Christian faith.

He was executed on the 23rd April 303 AD for refusing to stop being a Christian when asked by Emperor Diocletian – who had begun a campaign against Christians.

St George is believed to have been dragged through the streets of Lydda in Palestine and then beheaded for refusing to renounce his faith.

His life and suffering also inspired medals for valour and bravery.

The George Cross is the highest such award that a civilian can earn and is awarded for extraordinary bravery and courage in the face of extreme danger. The George Medal is second behind it.

Both medals depict the patron saint slaying the dragon atop his mighty steed, as detailed in myths about the patron saint.

Other things St George is the patron saint of include farmers and other agricultural workers, butchers, horses, horseriders and saddlemakers, and also soldiers.

He was also later made patron saint of Scouting because of his ideals.

And, unfortunately he has also become known as the patron saint of a number of diseases including herpes, leprosy, skin diseases and syphilis. Some legends state this is due to him helping others.

Why is he patron saint of England?

St George represents traditional English chivalry and bravery, but he was not actually English at all.

In fact, he never even set foot on British shores.

The heroic story of St George became popular in 1483, when it was published in a book called The Golden Legend.

The decision to make him patron saint was made by King Edward III when he formed the Order of the Garter in St George’s name in 1350. The badge of the order depicts George slaying a dragon.

April 23, supposedly the date of his death in 303 AD, was adopted in the early 13th Century, as the date of the annual celebration.

The cult of the St George was further advanced by Henry V at the battle of Agincourt.

Before the armies clashed, Shakespeare had the immortal phrase: “Cry God for Harry, England and St. George.”

Many believed they had seen the saint fighting for the English – further cementing his place in history. In 1415 St George became the official patron saint of England.

England’s flag is the emblem that Saint George famously wore on his shield or banner.

Richard the Lionheart adopted it in the 12th century, and soldiers wore the Red Cross to distinguish themselves from the enemy in battle.

St George is also the patron saint of several other countries – including Germany, Portugal, Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, Palestine, Ethiopia, Serbia, Slovinia, Lithuania, Portugal, Malta and Montenegro.

Did he really slay a dragon?

In a word, no. It’s easy to forget, but dragons don’t actually exist.

The legend tells of a single well in the village of Silene, guarded by the ferocious beast. Villagers had been giving it sheep to stop it attacking people, and then started sacrificing humans.

St George arrived just as a princess was about to be offered and like a true hero saved her in the nick of time, according to the Golden Legend. The King is then said to have set up a church of Our Lady and St George.

Medieval chronicler Jacobus de Voragine compiled similarly bizarre stories about other saints in his book Golden Legend and is entirely to blame for his association with the story.

The book was something of a bestseller.

Read the full story in The Mirror Online

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Happy birthday Your Majesty! Celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday in Britain

Britain’s longest-serving monarch met Britain’s longest-serving postman today as she shared the start of her 90th birthday celebrations with Royal Mail’s 500th anniversary.

Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh arrived at the main sorting office in Windsor, after making the short journey from Windsor Castle, to begin the first official engagement of her birthday week.

queen

The Queen arrives at the Royal Mail in Windsor CREDIT: GEOFF PUGH FOR THE TELEGRAPH

The Queen, whose birthday is on Thursday, was greeted by a cheering crowd of hundreds of invited guests who had gathered in the car park to wish her an early Happy Birthday.

One of the biggest events will be The Queen’s 90th Birthday Celebration, in the private grounds of Windsor Castle (12 – 15 May); the town of Windsor is reached in 30 minutes by train from London. Queen Elizabeth II’s 90 years will be celebrated in 90 minutes of music, dance, song and equestrianism, involving more than 1,500 participants and 900 horses.

 

Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from The Queen’s Wardrobe will celebrate the Queen’s reign through three exhibitions of more than 150 of her outfits. The exhibitions will be staged at Her Majesty’s official residences, with each collection carefully selected for its particular association with the place. ThePalace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh will highlight the use of tartan in royal dress (21 April – October). London’s Buckingham Palace will cover fashions from the 1920s to the 2010s with outfits representing the Queen’s childhood, wedding, coronation, royal tours and state visits (August – September), while Windsor Castle will contrast the Queen’s magnificent evening gowns with the fancy dress costumes she wore for wartime family pantomimes (September 2016 – January 2017). www.royalcollection.org.uk

The Queen’s official birthday weekend in June will be another highlight. As usual, the Queen will attend a service of Thanksgiving at London’s St Paul’s Cathedral (10 June), and the traditional Trooping the Colour ceremony will be on 11 June. To get your hands on tickets (£30) for Trooping the Colour, apply in writing in February. Alternatively, there are two rehearsal events – The Major General’s Review (free; 28 May) and The Colonel’s Review (£10; 4 June) – or you can join the flag-waving crowds lining the procession’s route from Buckingham Palace along The Mall and Horseguards.www.householddivision.org.uk/trooping-the-colour

The climax of the office birthday weekend will be a host of classic British street parties across the country on 12 June. The biggest one, and the first of its kind, The Patron’s Lunch, will be on The Mall in London. Most of the 10,000 tickets for this have already been allocated, but the remaining tickets will be made available by public ballot in March (£150; www.thepatronslunch.com). Otherwise, pack a picnic and head to one of thelive sites in Green Park and St James’s Park and watch proceedings from big screens. Expect a festival atmosphere!

In Edinburgh, The Royal Yacht Britannia will throw two parties fit for a queen. On 21 April and 12 June there will be complimentary birthday cake, Britannia fizz and music from the Musical Mariners on board the yacht, which was, according to the Queen, “the one place I could truly relax”. www.royalyachtbritannia.co.uk

The Queen has attended RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London more than 50 times since 1949 so it’s no surprise that the show is planning something special to mark this occasion (24 -28 May). A photo exhibition will portray the Queen’s many visits to Chelsea, and a floral archway built to commemorate the Queen’s birthday will be one of the first things the Queen sees when she arrives at the show. www.rhs.org.uk

There will be plenty of celebrations in the equestrian world too. As well as jumping, dressage and endurance events, the Royal Windsor Horse Show (11 – 15 May 2016) will be a chance for visitors without tickets for the 90th Celebration to see some of the acts; it will be in the same venue as The Queen’s 90th Birthday Celebration (from £16; www.rwhs.co.uk). Windsor Racecourse will hold HRH Queen Elizabeth’s 90th Birthday Racenight on 16 May, with music after the racing (from £9). www.windsor-racecourse.co.uk

Articl source: Visit Britain and Daily Telegraph

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Bill Bryson on Great Britain

Bill Bryson must surely be one of Britain’s biggest fans – and in his latest book From The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes from a Small Island, he sings the country’s praises once more. Here are some of his quotes about Britain we can’t help agreeing with:

London is the best city in the whole world.’ (source: Visit Britain Blog)

‘Britain is just about the perfect size for a country – small enough to be cosy and embraceable, but large enough to maintain a lively and independent culture.’

Audience watching a play at Regents Park open-air theatre, London

‘There isn’t a landscape in the world that is more artfully worked, more lovely to behold, more comfortable to be in, than the countryside of Great Britain.’

A panorama in the Lake District

‘The makers of Britain created the most superlatively park-like landscapes, the most orderly cities, the handsomest provincial towns, the jauntiest seaside resorts, the stateliest homes, the most dreamily spired, cathedral-rich, castle-strewn, abbey-bedecked, folly-scattered, green-wooded, winding-laned, sheep-dotted, plumply hedgerowed, well-tended, sublimely decorated 50,318 square miles the world has ever known.’

Cottage in English countrysideFLPA/imageBROK/REX Shutterstock

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2016 commemorates 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare

Death of most performed playwright in the world to be marked in Stratford-on-Avon, London and across the globe.

The world shares him and London claims him, but Stratford-on-Avon intends to spend 2016 celebrating William Shakespeare as their man: the bard of Avon, born in the Warwickshire market town in 1564, and who died there 400 years ago.

shake

Portrait of Shakespeare, 1598. Photograph: Alfredo Dagli Orti/The Art Archive/Corbis

Stratford remained hugely important throughout Shakespeare’s life, argues Paul Edmondson, the head of learning and research at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. “People have seen Shakespeare as a Dick Whittington figure, who turns his back on Stratford and his family, goes to London to earn his fortune and only comes back to die,” he said.

“[But Stratford is] where he bought land and property, where he kept his library, where he lived and read and thought. We are going to spend the year re-emphasising the importance of Shakespeare, the man of Stratford.”

The 17th-century diarist, antiquarian and gossip John Aubrey, born 11 years after Shakespeare died, was at pains to point out there was nothing so very special about the bard. Aubrey, university educated unlike Shakespeare, said that he acted “exceedingly well” and that “his Playes took well”.

The world has not agreed with Aubrey. The anniversary of the death of the man from Stratford, the most famous and the most performed playwright in the world, will be marked across Britain and the globe.

Macbeth is about to open in Singapore, Romeo and Juliet in Brussels. Shakespeare’s Globe is completing the first world tour in the history of theatre, in which it has taken Hamlet to almost every country – North Korea is still holding out. The production will arrive back in London for the anniversary weekend of 23-24 April. They are also creating a 37-screen pop-up cinema, one screen to showcase each of Shakespeare’s plays, along the South Bank.

The National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company and virtually every other theatre production company in the country will be marking the anniversary. Interpretations will range from the resolutely traditional to the Brighton-based Spymonkey’s Complete Deaths, a romp through the 74 deaths – 75 including a fly squashed in Titus Andronicus – by stabbing, poisoning, smothering and smashing across the plays. There will also be hundreds of lectures, recitals, international academic conferences, films, concerts, operas and major exhibitions.

For a man famous in his own lifetime there is little documentary evidence for Shakespeare’s life and times. The plays would scarcely have survived if his friends and fellow actors had not gathered together every scrap of every play they could find – drafts, prompt scripts, scribbled actors’ parts, and 17 plays not known in any other version – into the precious First Folio published in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death.

The actor Mark Rylance has called it his favourite book in the world, and most of the surviving First Folios will be on display – including those belonging to the British and Bodleian libraries, and a tattered copy recently discovered in France.

Some of the most precious surviving documents will be gathered together in an exhibition at Somerset House in London, opening in February and jointly organised by the National Archives and King’s College London, including four of his six known signatures, which are all slightly different.

By Me, William Shakespeare will include his will, the court papers relating to the audacious move when Shakespeare and his fellow actors dismantled a theatre on the north side of the Thames and rebuilt it as the Globe on the South Bank, and accounts showing payments from the royal treasury for Boxing Day performances of James I and Queen Anne.

The outgoing Globe director, Dominic Dromgoole, recently jokily claimed Shakespeare as a true Londoner – albeit conceding “some spurious claim” by Stratford-on Avon. Stratford, however, will be insisting that the town made and educated Shakespeare His old school room is being restored with a £1.4m Heritage Lottery grant, to open as a permanent visitor attraction.

Shakespeare bought the splendid New Place, the second best house in the town, where he died according to literary legend on St George’s Day, 23 April, the same day as his birth. “You don’t buy a house like New Place and not live there,” Paul Edmondson said. “The general public and many academics have consistently underestimated the importance of Stratford to Shakespeare.”

Shakespeare bought the splendid New Place, the second best house in the town, where he died according to literary legend on St George’s Day, 23 April, the same day as his birth. “You don’t buy a house like New Place and not live there,” Paul Edmondson said. “The general public and many academics have consistently underestimated the importance of Stratford to Shakespeare.”
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2016 commemorates 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare; this special anniversary year is a truly unique opportunity to visit his home town Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire to celebrate the lasting legacy of the world’s greatest playwright. Start planning your visit to Shakespeare’s England in 2016 to see one of his plays performed at the Royal Shakespeare Company, tour his Birthplace, pay your respects at his grave at Holy Trinity Church or simply walk in his footsteps and explore the place he called home.

Our popular Bards and Battles Day Tour visiting Stratford upon Avon departs daily from central London and our private customised tours can easily be arranged fro small groups and families.

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Escape London and Explore Britain’s Countryside

London is one of the world’s most exciting destinations, however, the surrounding countryside is brimming with beautiful villages, ancient cathedrals and amazing historical sites. Explore the historic charms and wealth of English culture that lies outside the capital and explore the ‘Real Britain’.

Country Lane Exploration

Country Lane Exploration

Escape the city in style with one of our coach a ‘small group’ mini-coach guided tours. Follow the River Thames as it winds it’s way through Royal Windsor and Britain’s oldest university town, Oxford. These famous destinations are suitably close to London and ideal for day trips.

Go further afield and discover the delights of Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford Upon Avon, set back upon the banks of the weeping River Avon. Head from there to Warwick and see the countryside unfold before you like a fairytale kingdom from the towers of England’s finest medieval fortress. Soothe your aches and pains with a trip to the beautiful spa town of Bath or discover the remarkable monuments of Salisbury and mystical monoliths of Stonehenge. Let us be your guide to the treasures of the English countryside.

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10 ideas for a great trip to Orkney.

The beautiful islands of Orkney, lie just north of the main coast of Scotland. If you want to speak like a native, remember that the islands are called “Orkney”, not “The Orkneys”. The biggest includes the capital city of Kirkwall and is (confusingly!) called Mainland.

Standing stones Orkney

GETTY Some of the standing stones in Orkney are older than Stonehenge

1. Marvel at the stone circles and tombs that are even older than Stonehenge. Orkney was a very important place 5,000 years ago, and the islands are littered with them.

2. Tuck into crab and lobster – Orkney is famous for seafood. You’ll also see thousands of sleek cattle grazing on the islands and Orkney beef is delicious. Excellent restaurants to try local foods include The Foveran near Kirkwall or The Ferry Inn in the enchanting little port of Stromness. thefoveran.com and ferryinn.com

3. Go seal watching. Seals can often be seen bobbing around offshore, and if you are lucky you’ll come across some basking on the rocks. You can often see them lying around on the little islands that lie in the harbour of Stromness, called Inner and Outer Holm. You can walk across to these islands in a few minutes at low tide but be careful not to get stranded and check the tide times first.

Sandy beach on Westray

4. Pop into a welcoming Orkney pub and sample some of the real ales brewed on the islands, such as Red McGregor and Dark Island. Or, try a dram of superb Highland Park Single Malt Whiskey, distilled on Orkney for over 200 years – illegally in the early days. It has been voted ‘Best Spirit in the World’ three times. sinclairbreweries.co.uk and highlandpark.co.uk

5. Discover what life was like 5,000 years ago on these islands and explore the stone age village of Skara Brae. It was only revealed when it was uncovered by a raging storm in 1850. The cosy stone-built homes are complete with their beds, cupboards and fireplaces. Some even have an en suite toilet. To find out more, search for Skara Brae on the website historic-scotland.gov.uk

6. Most people stay on the biggest of the islands, which is confusing called Mainland. But it is fun to take a ferry to Westray if you like bird watching. During summer, the dramatic cliffs here are alive with thousands of guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes, and this is the best place to spot puffins. The ferries don’t have room for many cars, so book a few days ahead if you have a vehicle. orkneyferries.co.uk

Neolithic houses at Skara Brae

GETTY Stone Age houses at Skara Brae. They were uncovered by a storm in 1850

7. Looking at prehistoric tombs doesn’t sound very exciting – but on Orkney, it really is. The most spectacular is Maeshowe (you must book to see this – call 01856 761 606). The most fun is The Tomb of the Eagles on South Ronaldsay; to enter this you need to lie on a wobbly trolley and drag yourself in by a rope. Guaranteed to raise gales of laughter. Maeshowe: historic-scotland.gov.uk (then search Maeshowe). Tomb of the Eagles: tomboftheeagles.co.uk

8. Walk on water. The Brough of Birsay is a little tidal island off the west coast of Mainland. It boasts the remains of a Viking town, a lighthouse and spectacular cliff walks. But you need to check the tide times – you can only walk across the causeway to the island for about 2 hours before and after low tide. To check tide: surf-forecast.com

Old Man of Hoy

GETTY The Old Man of Hoy looks out on to Scapa Flow

9. Look up to see the towering, dramatic cliffs on the island of Hoy. Here, you’ll find the famous 145-foot sea stack known as The Old Man of Hoy. The island looks out onto the huge natural harbour of Scapa Flow, which was the Royal Navy’s main naval base during both World Wars. Hoy is also scattered with wartime buildings. Find out more about wartime Orkney at the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre. scapaflow.co.uk
10. Come to Orkney on a day trip from John O’Groats on mainland Scotland if you’re short of time. The ferry only takes 40 minutes to get to Orkney, and then you travel on by coach. There are several itineraries to choose from taking in many of the main sights. jogferry.co.uk

By Anne Gorringe Express (Source)

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