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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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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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Britain’s real-life Game of Thrones

So Game of Thrones Season 5 is here at last! HBO’s colossally successful show is set to hurl us through more scenes of plotting and intrigue, bloody battles and epic twists as the fight to rule the Seven Kingdoms and secure the Iron Throne rages on.

Real-life British history

With British accents dominating the cast, it’s genuine British history that inspired the epic and often gory spectacles on the screen, confirmed by George RR Martin, the author of the books.

Britain’s history is very vivid and very visible. You can step inside castles and courtyards and wander the corridors of power in the footsteps of kings and queens or stand in the middle of ancient battlefields that saw thousands of sword- and shield-wielding warriors changing the course of history.

The warring houses of Stark and Lannister in the series are compared to the real-life 15th-century battles between the houses of York and Lancaster in the War of the Roses; a bloody civil war which thundered on for decades.

So where to see it for real

Events & Traditions

Bosworth Field Visitor Centre brings the site of one of the war’s most decisive battles to life with fascinating displays.

Struck by a rainbow 2

To the north, Dunstanburgh Castle was taken twice by the Yorkists and now remains as dramatic looking ruins perched along the Northumbrian coastline – a pristine location dotted with castles.
Landscapes

Head further north still and you’ll come to Hadrian’s Wall, an incredible UNESCO World Heritage Site stretching right across northern England and southern Scotland. Building began back in AD 122 under the orders of Roman Emperor Hadrian to separate the Romans from the Picts who were seen as “wild” and “barbarian”. Giant wall? “wildings”? Sound familiar?

VB34133157

And of course Game of Thrones has Daenerys Targaryen – Mother of Dragons – exiled and then building an army across the ‘Narrow Sea’. Compare to Henry Tudor who, during the War of the Roses, was over another narrow sea – the English Channel, building an army of his own.

He’d later return with his troops to Wales, the land of his birth, gathering more support before tearing into the action and claiming the throne.

Wales, a country with more castles than anywhere in Europe, has a rather iconic national flag. It’s emblazoned with an enormous snarling red dragon.

In fact, you can pretty much pick any period and place in Britain and you’ll find enough battles, seiges and conspiracies to inspire plenty more fantasy series from a land with an epic past.

View the full story and follow the excellent Visit Britain Travel Blog here

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The prettiest streets in Great Britain

What could be more appealing than a row of beautiful houses in a picture-perfect setting? Caroline McGhie explores the country’s roads to happiness

In the pursuit of wealth, status and privacy, we sometimes forget that some of the prettiest streets in the country are as heart-stopping as our greatest country houses and cityscapes.

Largely built many centuries ago, they make the most of local materials and topographical quirks, and the houses along them rise and fall as rhythmically as the notes in a song.

They attract house buyers as surely as bees to pollen, but prices don’t always have to break the bank.

MERMAID STREET, RYE, EAST SUSSEX

You can’t shake off the world of E F Benson’s Mapp and Lucia in Rye: tea shops, choirs, am-dram societies and artists, and everyone knows everyone else’s business. People are drawn by the delightful Georgian and half-timbered houses, cobbled streets, pretty harbour and quirky shops. Mermaid Street is storybook lovely, with cobbles running steeply downhill and historic houses either side.

Phillips & Stubbs is selling a Grade II-listed heavily timbered house with 16th-century origins, four bedrooms, leaded-light windows and crown post roof for £1.4 million. It lies in the heart of the Conservation Area, along from the famous Mermaid Inn, which is one of England’s oldest and is stuffed with four posters and secret passageways. Turn the corner and there is Lamb House, home of E F Benson when he was writing his novels, and earlier by Henry James, who wrote three masterpieces there, The Wings of a Dove, The Ambassadors and The Golden Bowl. It is now in the hands of the National Trust.

GOLD HILL, SHAFTESBURY, DORSET

So romantic, so steep, flanked by thatch and brick and quintessentially English, no wonder Gold Hill was the backdrop for that famous Hovis advertisement (directed by Ridley Scott). It also starred in the 1967 film of Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd. “The value increases as you go up the hill,” says Sam Lillington of Connells. “There is a Hovis loaf monument at the top and a very good restaurant, The Salt Cellar, with fantastic views over the Blackmore Vale.”

Many houses are bought by weekenders who don’t mind the lack of parking or the sloping gardens. Connells is selling for £235,000 a three-bedroom brick semi at the bottom. On the other side of town it might be worth £35,000 less. At the top of the hill is a museum, and beyond the historic walls that enclose it is Shaftesbury Abbey, built by Alfred the Great.

BROAD STREET, LUDLOW, SHROPSHIRE

“Broad Street is without doubt one of Ludlow’s finest addresses,” says Helen Lowery of Strutt & Parker.

For Pevsner it was one of the most memorable streets in England. “At the top,” says Lowery, “is the 18th-century Buttercross, built as a classical town hall. At the bottom is the Broadgate, a medieval gate with an 18th-century castellated house above. Properties on this street are often admired and therefore highly desirable, so tend to sell well and quickly.”

She is currently selling at £300,000 a four-storey building on the street, which has been used as offices but which could be converted into a stylish town house.

The town heaves with shops promoting locally sourced and artisan foods, so you can live like a king on pork pies, black pudding and handmade breads, or eat out in the Michelin-starred restaurants.

RAVENSDOWNE, BERWICK-UPON-TWEED, NORTHUMBERLAND

A polite Georgian street with the Nicholas Hawksmoor-designed military barracks and parade ground at the top and massive Elizabethan defensive walls at the rear, Ravensdowne represents all the charming contradictions of the town. These days it is utterly gentrified, but over the centuries it has been taken and retaken by the Scots. The massive medieval embankments were the most advanced defensive military technology of the time and are so big you can go for walks on them. Barbara Pentecost of Smiths Gore, who is selling a Grade II-listed house at £225,000, says Ravensdowne attracts a good clutch of ex-clergy, artists and musicians as well as holiday home owners. You can emerge in the morning and sniff sea salt and kippers in the air as you walk along the walls and drink in the view of the Tweed estuary, the beaches, and across to the red-and-white-lighthouse and Lindisfarne in the distance.

CHURCH HILL, KERSEY, SUFFOLK

Church Hill begins at the Church of St Mary at the top of the hill and drops down to the ford called The Splash at the bottom. Along the way it passes pink thatched cottages and wobbly timber houses before veering off into an elbow called The Green. At the bottom is The Bell Inn, a pub that locals love, and the Church of England primary school, which Ofsted has rated outstanding.

A classic Grade II-listed village house called Green Gables is for sale in The Green, with early 15th-century origins, exposed beams and studwork and gorgeous gardens. “The prettiness of Church Hill carries on into The Green, which is a huddle of cottages,” says Caroline Edwards of Carter Jonas, who is selling Green Gables at £650,000. She says prices here can be more than in the star Suffolk village of Lavenham because it is closer to commuter stations, yet it doesn’t get mobbed by tourists in the same way.

HIGH STREET, STOCKBRIDGE, HAMPSHIRE

It might be small, but it is extremely smart. The River Test glints with trout while the old Grosvenor Hotel, together with the Houghton Club, the oldest fishing club in the country, front it rather grandly. The Thyme & Tides deli, bistro and fishmonger caters for young trendies who have moved out from London, and the whole place has become a haven for foodies.

Set back from the street is Old Church House, a gem of a converted church with three bedrooms, minstrel’s gallery, office in the garden and decking over the river, being sold by Knight Frank at £1.175 million. “There can’t be many prettier streets than Stockbridge High Street,” says Tom Wood of Knight Frank. “It is surrounded by beautiful countryside with the River Test funnelling through it. There are shops which sell fishing tackle, fine butchers and dealers in game.”

LOWER CASTLE ROAD, ST MAWES, CORNWALL

Some of the colour-washed houses in Lower Castle Road have front-row seats to the sea with views towards St Anthony’s Lighthouse and Falmouth Bay. Further along the road is St Mawes Castle, while around the headland is St Just in Roseland church, which Sir John Betjeman described as “the most beautiful on earth”. The seascape is full of locally-built boats tugging in the wind, and crab boats returning with their catch. In summer the passenger ploughs to Falmouth and back.

At The Moorings you cross the road to reach the terraced gardens with steps to the water and the foreshore (which comes with the house). St Mawes is known for Olga Polizzi’s Hotel Tresanton and Idle Rocks, which attract the smart set. The Moorings has four bedrooms and is priced by Savills at £2 million. Jonathan Cunliffe, who is handling the sale, says the road commands a premium of 15 per cent to 20 per cent, plus another 30 per cent to 40 per cent at the water’s edge.

THE CIRCUS, BATH

The residents of this world-famous address owe their splendid surroundings to two men, John Wood the Elder and his son John Wood the Younger. The Elder, described by Pevsner as “one of the outstanding architects of his day”, had the drive and vision to change his city through classically-inspired architecture. The resulting crescents and squares have made Bath a World Heritage Site.

The Circus was designed by the father who never saw it completed – it was finished by the son between 1755 and 1767. The idea came from the Colosseum in Rome. A recently restored five-bedroom Grade I-listed stone house is on at £4.25 million through Savills. Luke Brady, who is selling, believes the premium for The Circus is 20 per cent above the rest of central Bath.

STEEP HILL, LINCOLN

Spectacularly atmospheric and ancient, this street is a stiff, cobbled climb to Lincoln Cathedral, a one-in-seven gradient at its steepest. It is flanked by Norman houses and clusters of drunken medieval buildings with timbering and half-jetties, all in the shadow of the cathedral. There is a wonderful mix of shops, tea rooms and restaurants, designer boutiques, antiquarian books and antique shops. A four-bedroom house is for sale through Pygott Crone at £314,950.

THE HILL, BURFORD, OXFORDSHIRE

One of the prettiest towns in the Cotswolds is Burford, on the River Windrush. The view from the top of The Hill is a great treat. The town was ranked sixth in Forbes magazine’s list of “Europe’s most idyllic places to live” and is the setting for Cynthia Harnett’s children’s book The Wool-Pack.

The four-arch medieval bridge and the water meadows haven’t changed in centuries. It was after a visit to the town in 1876 that William Morris rushed off to found the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

On The Hill is The Old Court, which was built as the magistrates’ court in 1869 by William Wilkinson (who is best known for the Randolph Hotel in Oxford). It has four bedrooms, a Grade II listing and is priced at £1  million by Jackson-Stops & Staff.

Full article and credit to The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/property/buying-selling-moving/11365629/The-prettiest-streets-in-Britain.html

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Can you beat this Great British bucket list?

After Barack Obama knocks a visit to Stonehenge off his bucket list, what else is there to do in Britain before you die?
Top of the list is eating fish and chips on a seaside pier

Image 1 of 2
Top of the list is eating fish and chips on a seaside pier  Photo: Alamy

When Barack Obama ordered his helicopter pilot to make an unscheduled stop at Stonehenge on Friday, following the Nato summit in Wales, he explained that the prehistoric landmark in Wiltshire was something he had always wanted to see.

“Knocked it off the bucket list,” he said.

A visit to Stonehenge also features on the “Great British Bucket List”, published in April – 50 feats to complete in Britain, which includes things as mundane as watching a box set of Only Fools and Horses to more active experiences, such as walking the Lake District and sailing around the Isle of Wight.

Top of the list was eating fish and chips on a seaside pier followed by whale watching in Wales.

Having a pint in the Rovers Return, the fictional pub in ITV’s Coronation Street, is one thing Britons apparently must do before they die, as is seeing Morris dancers at a country pub.

Others said people must take a ferry across the Mersey and see the Christmas lights in Oxford Street in London before they die.

The Great British Bucket List was compiled by Ask Jeeves, the search engine, which asked 1,000 people what they would like to do before they die.

The phrase “Bucket List” comes from the idiom “kick the bucket” – meaning to die.

The phrase became increasingly popular after the 2007 film The Bucket List, staring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman as two terminally ill men who escape from a cancer ward to go on a road trip with a wish list of things to do before they die.

Their adventures include skydiving, visiting the Taj Mahal, riding motorcycles on the Great Wall of China and going on a lion safari in Africa.

In contrast, Ask Jeeves found that Britons would be content with having a picnic, seeing inside the Houses of Parliament and going to a test match.

A spokesman for Ask Jeeves said: “It may take some time to do all 50 but at least you will not have to pay thousands to travel the world to do so.

“Most of these bucket lists include the kind of ambitions that look wonderful on paper but are out of reach for millions of us.

“Instead, we thought it would be good to look closer to home to find the kind of experiences Brits think everyone should try at least once.”

The Great British Bucket List in full

1. Eat fish and chips on a seaside pier

2. See whales off Wales

3. Go to a night at the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall

4. Visit Giant’s Causeway

5. Have a picnic at an open air concert

6. Go up in the London Eye

7. Travel Scotland’s West Coast by rail

8. Watch a Shakespeare play in Stratford-upon-Avon

9. Dine in a Gordon Ramsay restaurant

10. Go to a British Grand Prix

11. See inside the Houses of Parliament

12. Get the Ffestiniog railway in Snowdonia

13. Go to Glastonbury festival

14. Hold the FA Cup trophy in your hands

15. Take in the view from the top of the Shard

16. Be at Stonehenge on longest day of the year

17. See the Trooping the Colour

18. Go to a cricket test match

19. Visit ‘The Prisoner’ village in Portmeirion, Wales

20. Have tea at Betty’s tearooms, Harrogate

21. See a traditional Christmas pantomime

22. Watch a British player at Wimbledon

23. Do a ‘Wainwright’ walk in the Lake District

24. Drive round Brands Hatch motor racing circuit in Kent

25. Visit a whisky distillery

26. Go to a Six Nations rugby match

27. Go on a Jack the Ripper guided walk in London’s East End

28. Have a pint in the Rovers Return, the fictional pub in ITV’s Coronation Street

29. See Lake Windermere by boat

30. Go on a historic London pub tour

31. Experience the Notting Hill Carnival

32. Try a deep fried Mars Bar

33. See the fireball ceremony at Stonehaven, Scotland, on New Year’s Eve

34. Sail round the Isle of Wight

35. Attend the Grand National, Guineas and Gold Cup horse races

36. Go to a World Darts Final

37. Take a selfie at both John O’Groats and Land’s End

38. Take a ferry across the Mersey

39. Climb Ben Nevis

40. See Tower Bridge raised

41. Visit Borough food market, London

42. Eat Haggis on Burns Night, in Scotland

43. See Morris dancers at a country pub

44. See the Christmas Lights on Oxford Street

45. Be at a recording of The X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent

46. See Blackpool Illuminations

47. Watch a boxset of Only Fools and Horses

48. Watch the Boat Race

49. Attend first day of Harrods sale

50. Watch the London Marathon live

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