With the erratic weather and pebble beaches, summer in England is a mixed blessing yet it still manages to give the Hamptons a run for its money, says Daisy Prince
With the erratic weather and pebble beaches, summer in England is a mixed blessing — yet it still manages to give the Hamptons a run for its money, says Daisy Prince
As summer drifts to an end, most people feel a bit depressed about the return to cooler weather, unless you are an American, in which case you might have spent most of the summer wondering when it starts.
When I first arrived in London, I couldn’t think of anything more thrilling than an English summer. I loved the formality of Ascot, the fun of picnics in the park and the freedom of garden parties. Sadly, the reality of English weather dispels the fantasy and it wasn’t long before I found myself moaning to other Americans at the aforementioned garden parties, though never to the Brits who have managed as a nation to delude themselves about their summer and remain patriotically defensive about it.
For most of my English friends (and husband, for that matter) England is the perfect place to spend the summer. They delight in the English countryside, no matter how cold it gets. They wear flimsy summer clothes from the first of May until the end of September. Certainly, the summer here has its charms, but inevitably an American will ask, ‘What about the beach?’ Not to worry, the English person will brighten immediately. ‘Oh, we have lovely beaches in Cornwall and Devon and there is a great place in Norfolk called Brancaster, which is known as Chelsea-on-Thames.’
I have been told about summer holidays on English beaches — or, I should say, warned about them. A friend described days of wet, windy weather where the main activity was walking on the beach, normally in jumpers and wellies. A brave soul might jump in the freezing sea, only to be rewarded by a refreshing picnic of sandy sandwiches and watery lemonade.
When he assured me, deadpan, that he really loved these summers as a child, I couldn’t help thinking that if he’d experienced proper summers on the East Coast of America, where people feast on ice cream and lobster and where a swim in the ocean is refreshing rather than excruciating, that he might have been tempted to turn in his British passport right there and then. However marvellous the reputation of a British summer holiday, I don’t remember many of my friends rushing to return to their childhood haunts in their twenties and 30s.
This is exactly the opposite of my friends in New York, many of whom still race out to the Hamptons every weekend. Getting a share in the Hamptons for the summer is a rite of passage in New York. It is something that every young Manhattanite needs to experience in order to know the city.
A ‘share’ is normally six to eight people who rent a house together for the summer. Frequently, the group renting the house might not know each very well but they are certain to be young, professional and probably up for a bit of summer fun. Shares are notorious places for summer flings.
The atmosphere in the houses is pretty informal — like a cross between The Great Gatsby and Animal House. I remember once arriving on a Friday night to find that my housemates were throwing a party for 300 the next day. It was fun while it lasted, but when you are in a house of strangers you do risk finding random couples making out in your bed, or having your new laptop stolen. Plus, those houses can get pretty disgusting by the end of the summer. One girl I know refused to take her flip-flops off the entire time, even in the shower.
Although the UK’s iffy weather may not be conducive to long summers at the beach, there are other consolations. One of the undiscovered secrets of living in England is how easy it is to rent a place in the country. My husband and I have been renting a cottage in Wiltshire for the past four years. It is a tiny place with only two bedrooms, but the house is Gothic Revival and exactly the sort of place I imagine Friar Tuck would have lived in.
It has a small garden, a long lawn covered with daffodils, and it overlooks a wheat field which looks like reflected gold in the afternoon sun. In short, it is very charming. Best of all, we rent the house all year round, so we always have a getaway. We share it with another couple who are so polite and clean that we never know if they’ve been there or not. It’s a better share than any I ever had in the Hamptons.