Every season brings a certain charm to Cambridge but if there was a perfect time to visit our favourite city, then it would be during the long, balmy, summer months when the pace is a bit slower and the city is a bit more relaxed.
Unique British Traditions
Cambridge is full of exciting things to see and do in the summer, whether you opt for a leisurely punt down the River Cam to take in the city’s stunning views, or choose to sample a delicious cream tea in the legendary Orchard Tea Room in Grantchester. You can even join the locals and take a refreshing dip in the city’s much-loved Jesus Green Lido.
When it comes to tradition no one does it better than the Brits! We have chosen five uniquely British cultural traditions that you might come across during your stay.
1. Morris Dancing
Morris dancing is a traditional English folk dance accompanied by music. It has been performed in England during festivals and celebrations since Mediaeval times, and earliest written records of Morris dancing dates back to 1448. Its origins are closely linked to the changing of seasons.
Morris dancing is a celebration, a unique display of dance and music performed at festivals and holidays to banish the darkness of winter, to welcome the warmth and abundance of summer, and to bring in autumn's golden harvest.
The dance is based on rhythmic stepping and it is carefully choreographed by a unique group of dancers, who usually wear bell pads on their legs, and use sticks, handkerchiefs and pipes to make some noise. The dancers are accompanied by an energetic group of musicians playing all sorts of portable instruments including accordion, pipes and drums.
Traditionally, Morris dancers were farm labourers who, when the harvest was gathered and work dried up, earned their money by dancing and performing during the long winter months. Their faces were often painted black to be in disguise but this tradition has slowly been phased out. The word Morris is said to derive from ‘morisco’, meaning ‘Moorish’, which refers to the ritual of painting their faces black.
Traditional Morris dancing can be seen throughout the month of May and in the summer. Morris dancers usually practise their performances throughout the dark winter months, but the popular Mill Road Winter Fair in Cambridge is often visited by the cheerful sounds of Morris dancers in the depth of winter.
2. Maypole Dancing
Maypole Dancing is another ancient British tradition. It usually takes place on May Day in many towns and villages across the country.
The tradition is believed to have started in Roman Britain around 2000 years ago, when soldiers, to celebrate the arrival of spring, decorated and danced around trees to thank their goddess Flora.
These days, the trees have been replaced with a tall pole that is planted in the ground and dancers weave colourful ribbons around it to create a beautiful pattern. The weaving dance is an intricately choreographed routine where dancers are positioned in pairs of boys and girls. Their mesmerising dance creates a multi-coloured pattern that slowly creeps down the pole. The dancers then reverse their steps to slowly undo the ribbons. This is said to signify the lengthening days and the arrival of the abundance of summer.
Some maypoles are a permanent feature of the landscape and they can often be found on village greens or town squares. The tallest maypole in Britain can be found at Nun Monkton in North Yorkshire and it measures a whopping 88 feet!
3. Travelling Fairs
Travelling Fairs are a very British tradition and they trace their ancestry all the way back to Mediaeval times.
Back then, towns, villages and settlements were granted royal charters and privileges by Kings and Queens to set up travelling fairs. These were primarily established for trading purposes and to collect extra income for the Crown. Between 1199 and 1350, over 1500 charters were said to have been issued to various places, granting them the rights to hold markets and fairs.
The tradition of travelling fairs is still alive today. They have been a welcome focus for local leisure activities and fun in village greens, towns squares and the seaside for hundreds of years. Once, the only affordable holiday destination and entertainment for working class families, today, travelling fairs are a much-loved feature of the holiday calendar for many, attracting crowds from far and wide.
As the name suggests, most travelling fairs are not a permanent feature. Their appeal largely lies in the anticipation of their arrival during the summer months to dazzle and entertain the crowds. The music, glittering colours, roller coaster rides, dodgems, groaning sweet stalls and games brighten up the summer calendar for hundreds of children and adults alike.
Hull Fair, in the East Riding of Yorkshire is one of Europe’s largest travelling funfairs, but Cambridge also has a long standing tradition of pop-up travelling funfairs on Jesus Green and Midsummer Common.
4. Summer Solstice
The Summer Solstice is the time of maximum light when daylight is at its longest, nighttime is at its shortest and the countryside revels in colourful bounty and beauty.
Each year, the 21st June marks the Summer Solstice in the calendar, an event known in the Druid tradition as Alban Hefin, ‘The Light of Summer’, or ‘The Light of the Shore’ when the hours of light are as long as they will ever be.
For hundreds of years, the Summer Solstice has been celebrated in sacred rituals all across the Celtic World, a tradition that has spanned generations and has stood the test of time.
In Cambridge, Summer Solstice is celebrated in different ways and people can enjoy organised get togethers and picnics such as the one on Stourbridge Common, or take part in lovely events such as the opening of Jesus Green Lido from sunrise to sunset to enjoy this magnificent time of year.
5. Strawberry Fair
Strawberry Fair is the largest and oldest fair in the UK. It is fully independent, run by volunteers (affectionately known as Strawberry Fairies) and it is entirely free to enter.
Strawberry Fair has been held every year since 1974 on the first Saturday in June on Midsummer Common in Cambridge. It has grown from humble beginnings into the most popular free for all fair attracting over 30,000 visitors each year. It is a delightful day of music, arts, fun and frolics celebrating the vibrant and creative city of Cambridge.
Experience Cambridge with Us
At St Mary’s School, we are delighted to offer international students the chance to experience British culture in the beautiful city of Cambridge.
Our popular illuminate Cambridge summer study abroad program is specifically designed for girls aged 13-17 to immerse them in British culture, to introduce them to unique traditions, to push their limits and expand their academic and social potential.
During their two-week stay in Cambridge, students will explore a series of intriguing academic themes devised by our outstanding Oxbridge-educated course leaders.
Beyond the classroom, exciting educational and cultural visits, such as behind the scenes tours of Cambridge and stimulating days out will bring their learning to life.
Join us this summer and make memories of a lifetime!