Spring in Britain

Spring includes the months of March, April and May.  The days get longer and warmer after winter and the countryside starts to burst into life.  Think of Spring in Britain as the time of bees – buds, blossom, bluebells, butterflies, birds – as well as bees (did I mention them?). But you’ll notice loads of daffodils, too.  Spring weather in Britain is often calm and dry, with relatively warm days and cool nights.  However, showers are common and snow in April is not unknown.  It is generally warmer in the south than in the north of the island.

Spring, Britain, blossomWhat’s on in Spring in Britain?  Here is a selection of notable dates and events for March, April and May. Wherever possible, a link takes you to another website or page for more information.

March in Britain

Heritage attractions – many heritage attractions that have closed for winter open their doors again in March.

1 March is St David’s Day. St David is the patron saint of Wales. Britain’s smallest city, St Davids, is named after him.

Crufts – Crufts is the world’s most famous, if not the largest, dog show, normally held in Birmingham in early March and organised by the Kennel Club.  It was founded by Charles Cruft (1852-1938), who was general manager of dog food manufacturer, Spratt’s.  The first Crufts was held in 1891. Crufts’ website

5 March – Cornwall (St Piran’s) Day, celebrating the county whose county town is Truro.

Shrove Tuesday (Pankcake Day) – falls 47 days before Easter Sunday, so it is a moveable feast (pun intended). The date will be between early February and early March.

17 March – St Patrick’s Day – a Bank Holiday in Northern Ireland.  Although St Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, his day is often loudly celebrated in parts of Britain too. It is mostly associated with drinking too much; some places even have parades.

20 March – Durham (St Cuthbert’s) Day, celebrating the county and the city named after it.

British Summer Time (BST) – the clocks go forward 1 hour at 1am on the last Sunday in March, making the evenings lighter for longer. The clocks go back to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) at 2am on the last Sunday in October. Remember which way the clocks go, albeit by borrowing from the US – “Spring forward, Fall back.”

London MarathonThe London Marathon – The London Marathon is normally held on a Saturday in spring.  It was first run on 29 March 1981. In addition to being a top international marathon, the event raises millions of pounds for charities. London Marathon website

The Ideal Home Show – billed as ‘Britain’s longest running exhibition’, the Ideal Home Show runs for a fortnight or so, in late March/early April.  It was formerly called the Ideal Home Exhibition and was devised by the Daily Mail, who ran it from 1908 until selling it in 2009.  Ideal Home website

Mothers’ Day – Mothers’ Day, or, more properly, Mothering Sunday, falls in late March or early April on the fourth Sunday of Lent and three weeks before Easter Sunday. Come on – you can at least manage to send a card or some flowers, can’t you?!

The Boat Race – the annual rowing boat race between the universities of Cambridge (light blue) and Oxford (dark blue) takes place on the River Thames around Easter. The first race was in 1829 and it has been an annual event since 1856 (except for during the two World Wars).  The first women’s boat race took place in 1927 and has been held annually since 1964. The course is 4 miles and 374 yards (6.8 km) between Putney (close to the bridge) and Mortlake (near Chiswick Bridge).  It is free to watch, but get there early.  The Boat Race website

The Boat RaceEaster – the most important date in the Christian calendar.  The date of Easter varies depending on which calendar is used, and the moon.  The UK uses the Gregorian calendar and marks Easter on the Sunday following the first full moon that occurs after the first day of spring (the Vernal Equinox).  Thus, Easter falls somewhere between late March and April.  Good Friday is a UK Bank Holiday and Easter Monday is a Bank Holiday in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  Here’s a bit about Easter and Easter traditions.

Maundy Thursday is the last Thursday before Easter and marks the night of the Last Supper before the Crucifixion.  ‘Maundy’ derives from the Latin mandatum, or ‘command’, referring to Jesus’ command that we should all love one another. On Maundy Thursday in the UK is the ceremony of Royal Maundy, when the Monarch distributes coins, called ‘Maundy money’, to senior citizens.

April in Britain

1 April is April Fool’s Day. Watch out for spoof articles in the news media, or workplace.  April Fool’s Day possibly dates from the time when 25 March was New Year’s Day and 1 April, a week later, marked the end (or height) of festivities and fun (fooling). Another theory is that when the Gregorian calendar was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in October 1582, New Year’s Day changed to 1 January and those who didn’t hear the news, or forgot, were called fools. The Gregorian calendar was not adopted by Britain until 1752.

5 April is the end of the tax year. This bizarre date is another hang over from the change to the Gregorian calendar, which Britain did not adopt until 1752, by which time it was 11 days out of synch with everyone else.  The old tax year ended on 25 March (old New Year’s Day) so to ensure full 365 days revenue, the British Treasury decided the tax year would end on 5 April.

Cricket, match, Barrington CourtStart of the cricket season.  Cricket, the quintessentially English game, is played all over the UK as well as in top-flight (first-class) cricket nations like Australia, New Zealand, India, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Pakistan and the West Indies.  Cricket is a summer sport, played at local, county and international level in the UK, where the season starts around early-mid April and continues until September.  The ECB (English Cricket Board) gives details of county matches in England and Wales.  Cricket Scotland is the governing body for Scottish cricket.

16 April – Orkney Day (the feast day of St Magnus).

23 April is St George’s Day. St George is the patron saint of England – here’s a bit about him, and his day – For England and St George!

23 April is also  Shakespeare’s Day, though few mark the occasion except the more commercially-minded in his birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon – who celebrate all week.  William Shakespeare was baptized on 26 April 1564 and died on 23 April 1616. His birth date is unknown, though some believe it was 23 April.

25 April – Huntingdonshire Day, celebrating the historic county named for its county town.

May in Britain

1 May is traditionally May Day, a very ancient and joyous festival that grey and hung-up officials have tried to replace with boring Labour Day. You may find some liberated villages celebrating the original festival, complete with maypoles.  I’ve never met anyone that celebrates Labour Day, though someone must do.

Highland Games, tossing the caber

1 May – Staffordshire Day, celebrates the county named for its county town of Stafford.

The first Monday in May is the Early May Bank Holiday for the whole of the UK.

Well dressing festivals take place from May to August.  Well Dressing is a very old custom, possibly dating back to pre-Roman times, associated with the veneration of springs and water.  The dressing of wells and springs, when they are covered with flowers and other decorations, is now more or less exclusive to villages in the Peak District of England and the counties of Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Nottinghamshire.

Highland Games are held all over Scotland from May to September.  These competitions have a long history and include traditional Highland dancing, tossing the caber, hammer throwing and pipe bands.   Here’s how you find one.

8 May is VE Day, marking Victory in Europe during the Second World War. There may be locally organised events.  Here’s a bit about VE Day.

11 May is Somerset Day, in celebration of the county whose county town is Taunton.

16 May – Middlesex Day, celebrates the old historic county, which used to lie to the north and west of London, but which has now largely been absorbed by it.

Chelsea Flower Show – The Chelsea Flower Show, organised by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is held in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea for five days in late May.  It is arguably the most famous flower and landscape gardening show in the world, and accordingly attracts visitors from all over the world, as well as celebrities. RHS Chelsea website

Hay Literary Festival – The Hay Festival of Literature and Arts takes place over ten days in May/June in Hay-on-Wye, Powys.  It includes music and stalls, as well as workshops and presentations by well-known writers.  Hay is renowned for its many bookshops and was already known as ‘the town of books’ before the festival was conceived in the 1980s.  Hay Festival website

Glyndebourne – Glyndebourne Festival Opera is held from late May through to August at Glyndebourne, a country house opera venue near Lewes, in East Sussex. Glyndebourne’s website

The FA Cup Final – the FA Cup Final is the culmination of a knockout football (soccer) competition involving English and Welsh teams and takes place in May or June.  It is reckoned to be the oldest national football competition in the world; the first final took place in 1872 at Kennington Oval between the Royal Engineers and Wanderers; Wanderers won 1-0. The Scottish Cup Final competition has taken place in parallel since the 1873-4 season, when Queen’s Park beat Clydesdale 2-0.

FA Cup, Spring events

Whitsunday (Whitsun), or Pentecost, falls on the 50th day after the Easter festival and commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Some believe the term comes from the day being a favourite one for baptism and the practise of those being baptised wearing white, others think it is derived from wit or wisdom bestowed from the Holy Ghost.  It is a traditional day of festival, including Whit Walks (or processions), dancing and cheese rolling. Whit Monday used to be a Bank Holiday, but has been replaced by the Spring Bank Holiday.

The last Monday in May is the Spring Bank Holiday in the UK.

26 May is Kent Day and the feast day of St Augustine of Canterbury. The county town of Kent is Maidstone.

29 May is Oak Apple Day – also known as Royal Oak Day, Restoration Day, Pinch-Bum Day and Nettle Day – this used to be a public holiday in England, commemorating the restoration of the monarchy, in May 1660.  29 May was also Charles II’s birthday. Here’s the story of Charles and the Royal Oak.

If you spot any errors in these details, or want to suggest a spring event you feel has been missed, please get in touch using the contact page.

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