The 12 Best Things About Summer in the UK
Summer is surely the best time of year to visit the UK, and at Oxford Royale Academy we know how to enjoy it. At our summer schools, whenever you’re not in the classroom there’s a plethora of exciting excursions and activities to take part in, and of course the locations of our centres to explore. In this article, we’ve taken a look at the best things about summer in our four key UK locations: Oxford, Cambridge, London and St Andrews.
1. Going to G&Ds
Oxford has many places to get ice cream, but the three branches of G&Ds (George and Danver, George and Delila, and George and Davis) are deservedly the best known, with their use of fresh, local ingredients to make the best ice cream they can. Their flavour names are worth looking out for as well, such as the locally-themed “St Clements” (oranges and lemons, from a well-known nursery rhyme about City of London church bells – “oranges and lemons/say the bells of St Clements”) or the punning “Twas mint to be”. Plus all three locations are open until late every day, so you can get ice cream any time you fancy.
Speciality ice cream might not be the first thing that you’d associate with Oxford, but for students and locals here, summer and a trip to G&Ds are synonymous – followed, perhaps, by a stroll through the city centre or along the river. And if it drizzles, as it sometimes does in summer in Oxford? Get a waffle and hot fudge sauce to warm you up instead.
Ask just about anyone what the quintessential Oxford summer activity is, and they would surely say punting. The River Cherwell, which winds through Oxford as a tributary of the Thames, is sufficiently shallow that it allows for this relatively unusual means of transport, where you push the flat-bottomed boat along the river by means of a pole that reaches the riverbed. That’s not the case for many places in the UK, though the most obvious other example is the River Cam.
Punting – at least with a bit of practice – is inherently tranquil, away from busy roads, and often the only traffic you’ll encounter is other people punting, and perhaps the occasional duck. That makes it easy to take drinks, a picnic, a serving of strawberries and cream, or even a G&Ds’ ice cream with you to enjoy on the river. You’ll also get to see Oxford from a new perspective; once, the river would have been vital to people to get food and goods into the city, rather than using uneven and dangerous roads. Now, you can glide past colleges and enjoy getting close to nature on a summer’s day. It’s reliably one of our students’ favourite experiences on our Oxford summer school.
3. Walking in Port Meadow
One of the best things about Oxford is the sheer amount of green space within the city. If you’re living in a college, you’re likely to have large and beautiful college gardens to enjoy. The gardens of St Hugh’s are particularly well known for their size and attractiveness, but the vast majority of colleges have at least some gardens where you can sit on the grass and relax. But there’s also a lot of public parkland to enjoy, such as South Park, the University Parks, and perhaps most notably, Port Meadow.
Port Meadow is an ancient area of land, with rights for the Freeman of Oxford to graze horses and cattle there that go back at least a thousand years, which are still recognised. The meadow hasn’t been ploughed for at least the past four thousand years, and therefore, probably never. It’s about three hundred acres, bounded by the river on one side. If you’re tired of the hustle and bustle of the city, heading out to Port Meadow feels like getting out deep into the countryside, even with Jericho just a few minutes’ walk away.
4. Fairs and festivals
Summer in Cambridge can feel like a never-ending run of fairs and festivals, typically taking place on or around the river, or on parks like Jesus Green and Midsummer Common. There’s Midsummer Fair, a funfair that is now celebrating its 800th years; the Strawberry Fair, a music and arts festival that attracts over 30,000 people; the Town and Country Fair, which brings rural life into the centre of the city; the newly launched Cambridge Pride, celebrating the LGBT community; and the Cardboard Boat Race, where students build boats from cardboard and race them down the river.
That’s just a sample of the celebrations that take place every summer. The collective effect of all these different fairs and festivals is that the city has a carnival atmosphere most weekends from June through to September, and you’re never too far from some live music or other open-air fun.
5. Outdoor Shakespeare
One festival that deserves a special mention is the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival, which in 2019 runs throughout July and August. Selected Shakespeare plays are performed outdoors, come rain or shine, in the beautiful setting of Cambridge college gardens.
The approach taken by the festival is traditional, with performers in period costume, with minimal sets and live Elizabethan music. Audience members are encouraged to come with chairs and blankets, and to bring a picnic to eat before the performance starts. In combination, that makes for a theatre experience that’s not so very different from how these plays would have originally been performed – except with the added bonus of wonderful settings like King’s College’s Fellows’ Garden (not normally accessible even to most members of the college) and St John’s College’s Scholars’ Garden to enjoy.
6. The Botanic Gardens
The 16 hectares that make up Cambridge University’s Botanic Gardens are home to over 8,000 plant species, and a wonderful, relaxed place to enjoy in the summer. On some summer evenings, a series of music events called Sounds Green takes place in the gardens. During the day, there are different zones to explore: the bee borders, the bog garden, the dry garden, the lake, the magnificent glasshouses and more besides.
Students taking the Photography & Sketching option of our New Perspectives course have the opportunity to visit the Botanic Gardens in order to hone their skills in the visual arts by capturing the beautiful plants that can be seen there. For everyone else, the Botanic Gardens are simply there to wander through in the sunshine and enjoy.
7. Outdoor swimming
Oxford and Cambridge both have their celebrated outdoor swimming spots for the summer – Hinksey Outdoor Pool in Oxford, and Jesus Green Lido in Cambridge – but London is particularly known for outdoor swimming, and the larger city tends to trap in a couple of degrees more heat to warm you up outdoors as well.
The capital has a plethora of outdoor pools and lidos, from the famous swimming ponds at Hampstead Heath, to the Serpentine Lido where you might find yourself swimming alongside a duck or swan, to assorted smaller community pools and lidos located across the city. Even if swimming isn’t your thing, relaxing with an ice cream by the pool – and maybe venturing some paddling – can be wonderful on a hot day.
8. Buckingham Palace
London has no shortage of landmarks, but surely one of the most important is Buckingham Palace, the best-known royal residence and the Queen’s administrative headquarters. This vast building, with its nearly 800 rooms including grand State Apartments, hosts not only the Royal Family but also magnificent decorations and works of art. The forecourt of the palace is famously used for the ceremony of the Changing of the Guard, in which the Queen’s Life Guard hands over responsibility for protecting the palace to a new set of Guardsmen.
Visiting Buckingham Palace is particularly a treat in the summer because while the Changing of the Guard happens throughout the year, the palace itself is only open to visitors during the summer months. The rest of the time, you can look from the outside, but you can’t go in. And it’s well worth visiting, not just for the sake of the artworks and the interiors, but because Buckingham Palace is a working building. It isn’t like visiting many other royal palaces in Europe, which might not have been lived in for a hundred years; it’s where even today, every week the Prime Minister goes for their weekly audience with the Queen.
9. Summer shopping
While many people visit London for its art and culture, another key reason why the city is so popular is because of its outstanding shopping opportunities. There’s bustling Oxford St for the flagship store of a dozen household name brands, or Mayfair for designer wares. Or you might like to head to Knightbridge for the luxury of shopping in Harrods.
All of these destinations are much the same in summer as winter, though. Where London shopping really comes into its own in summer is when you head off to Carnaby St, Notting Hill or Camden to explore independent shops and outdoor markets. It’s easy to make a day of it without even spending lots of money, as you can wander from stall to stall, listen to buskers, soak in the atmosphere, and stop for some street food as the fancy takes you.
In St Andrews
10. The beach
Unlike the other destinations on our list, St Andrews is on the coast, which gives you the option of going to the beach. The best known of St Andrews’ beaches is West Sands, which is two miles of flat, open sand. The north end of West Sands overlooks a nature reserve, where you can see seals as well as various seabirds. In fact, this whole area is a paradise for nature – keep an eye out for osprey, peregrines and deer when you’re further inland. Slightly nearer the centre of town is East Sands.
At both beaches, you can enjoy kayaking, surfing, swimming or just walking along the sands. St Andrews is in a sheltered location, and is typically warmer and drier than you’d expect for Scotland, though the sea itself can be a bit on the chilly side.
Alongside the university, the other thing that St Andrews is best known for is golf, and when better to enjoy it than on a sunny summer’s day? Scotland, and St Andrews Links in particular, are known as the Home of Golf; it’s here that the sport was first played, back in the 15th century, on what is now referred to as the Old Course, or sometimes the Cathedral of Golf. The Old Course was pivotal to the formation of the way golf is played today – for instance, the fact that it had 18 holes created the 18-hole standard now in use. The Open Championship has been played there 29 times since 1873, and the next time will be in 2021.
But if you don’t necessarily need to choose the most historic course, it’s worth remembering that there are another six public courses to choose from, as well as several private ones. Even without all that weight of history, St Andrews remains a popular golfing holiday destination for good reason.
12. Spectacular ruins
The most remarkable landmarks in St Andrews, aside from the university, are all spectacular and beautiful ruins. St Andrews Cathedral, the largest church ever to have been built in Scotland, was partly destroyed by a mob in 1559, during the Reformation, and by 1561 was completely abandoned. The smaller ecclesiastical ruin of Blackfriars Chapel, once part of a busy friary, was abandoned at the same time. St Andrews Castle, once home to the bishops of its Cathedral, fell into disrepair and was abandoned about a century later.
All now remain as dramatic ruins that are stable enough to be open to visitors, giving a sense of the remarkable and sometimes violent history of the town of St Andrews, and of Scotland as a whole. Exploring them and finding out more about what happened there is one of the best ways to spend a summer’s day in St Andrews.