It’s summer! How did that happen? I’ve been looking back through previous In Focus posts this morning, seeing how the pictures have changed since I started this feature. Time is funny like that, isn’t it? It passes so gradually that we don’t realise, but when we look behind us we realise months have elapsed and we don’t really have any recollection of where they went.
But let’s not get down! In the warmer months of the year we’re spoiled by the sheer choice of things to do, sand it seems like every weekend is stuffed full of potential. As always, I’ve tried to chose six of July’s best for you to enjoy, including what to eat in season, what to look out for in nature and the quirkiest of Britain’s celebrations to get involved in.
Have a wonderful time in July, and let me know which of today’s suggestions you’ll be trying!
A peculiar British practice called Swan-Upping takes place on the River Thames in July. This involves the rounding up, catching, marking and releasing of all mute swans on the river in the home counties of the UK. This annual ceremony dates back to the twelfth century, when all swans in the country belonged to the Crown.
Usually occurring in the third week of July, the Queen’s, Vintners’ and the Dyers’ “Swan Uppers” row up the river in skiffs (traditional wooden boats) and ring any swans with cygnets in order to keep track of how well the Thames breeding population is doing. It’s an almost unique example of how tradition has evolved into modern conservation: each swan given a full MOT before being plopped back onto the water and sent on his or her way.
Would you just look at these juicy fellas? I’m not the world’s biggest tomato fan (that accolade goes to my little sister), but I have to admit tomatoes are beginning to look pretty darn delicious now we’re into July. It’s this month of the year that they’re at their best, and it’s not hard to see why we’re flinging them into salads left right and centre.
Did you know that tomatoes were once believed to be poisonous? According to my favourite section of Countryfile magazine, prior to the use of ceramics for bowls and plates, Europe’s wealthy folk ate from pewter. The naturally acid-rich tomatoes leached lead from the dishes, poisoning the diners. It’s not surprising that this cheery fruit was associated with evil magic!
Why not try one of these top ten recipes from The Guardian? Tomato party!
Did you know just how many kite festivals take place in the UK during July? Kitecalendar.com tells me that there are no less than fourteen separate events happening up and down the country throughout the month, so there really is no excuse for missing one!
One of the biggest is undoubtedly St. Annes Kite Festival in Blackpool, which takes place on 26th and 27th of July. This free, family-friendly event aims to fill the skies of the seafront with colour, as display teams demonstrate their skills with a variety of kites in multiple sizes and styles. There will be stalls, entertainment for kids and even fairground rides, all on site.
Not only is July the time of the year for kites, it’s also an excellent opportunity to visit the gardens of stately homes here in the UK. Throughout the spring, horticulturists and gardeners alike have been tending to the green spaces of some of our most beloved castles, mansions and manor houses, and now that summer is here everything is in full bloom!
Off the top of my head, the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show looks to be an amazing display, and then there’s Plantasia at Kew Gardens as well. If you’re not in London, have a look at the English Heritage and National Trust websites to find listings of great days out with gorgeous gardens to enjoy in your local area.
Yes, it is real, and yes, it is exactly what you think it is. The annual Snail Racing World Championships takes place in Congham, Norfolk, and competitors are still trying to beat the record set by a zippy little chap called Archie in 1995. He cleared the stretch of thirteen inches in a surprisingly quick time of only two minutes, making him the unbeaten champ.
Last year first place was awarded to Racer II, owned by six year old Sue Ryder from Kings Lynn.
If you’d like to compete in the World Championships, all you have to do is turn up to Congham up with your snail on 19th July (make sure you pop a little blob of paint on his shell to distinguish him from the other competitors) and give it your best shot! For more information, take a peak at the official website. Ready, steady, slow!
The Whitstable Oyster Festival is a week-long celebration of all that is amazing about the sea. Kentish folk have been giving thanks for its plentiful bounty for generations, including a special mention for the humble bivalve that made the town so famous.
You can look forward to a week jam-packed with activities in the run up to the beginning of August, including a harbour food festival, street parade, seaside cinema, an oyster eating competition, Venetian carnival, and the building of the “grotters”, which I understand are constructed using the empty shells of the oysters and illuminated from inside.
As usual, have a look at the excellent official website for more information.