How to avoid the summer of sport: Britain’s outdoor highlights

·9-min read

With the European Championships, Lions Tour and Olympics under way or expected to commence soon, the long-anticipated summer of sport is finally here.

Not a sports fan, however? Here are some recommendations from key cultural figures for what you can do to avoid the wall-to-wall coverage.

Emily Eavis.
Emily Eavis. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

Emily Eavis, co-organiser of Glastonbury festival

New exhibitions at Hauser & Wirth, Somerset

We’re so lucky to have an internationally renowned modern art gallery in Somerset, particularly as entry is free and they put on so many activities for families. This summer the gallery is exhibiting the work of Gustav Metzger – the colourful projections look incredible – and in the beautiful grounds they’re showing Eduardo Chillida’s sculptures. We’ll definitely be going along.

Stourhead open-air theatre

Stourhead is always worth a visit – it really is one of the National Trust’s most stunning properties. This summer they’re doing open-air theatre in the evenings on the South Lawn. They’ve got a theatre group called Three Inch Fools who use music and comedy doing productions of Romeo & Juliet and Robin Hood. It looks like it’ll be really lovely.

The Bishop’s Palace Garden festival, Wells

I went to school in Wells and always enjoyed the chance to have a wander in the beautiful Bishop’s Palace gardens. As I’ve been doing a lot of gardening since lockdown came along, I’m really looking forward to checking out this year’s garden festival. They’re going to have lots of demonstrations, stalls, workshops as well as food stalls and live music.

Worthy Pastures

As we couldn’t have a Glastonbury festival for the second year running, we’ve decided to open the farm as a pre-erected campsite during the summer holidays. It’s a great chance for us to give some work to our crew as well as a bunch of the food traders who’d usually be at the festival. And our three supported charities – Oxfam, WaterAid and Greenpeace – will have a field where they’re offering all kinds of activities and workshops for all the family. My Dad (Michael Eavis) actually did camping on the farm before he put on the first festival in 1970 so, in a way, we’re going back to our roots!

David Greig.
David Greig. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

David Greig, playwright and artistic director of the Lyceum theatre, Edinburgh

Pitlochry Festival theatre’s outdoor summer season

Of course I’m biased because I have a play on here – Adventures of the Painted People. But while most theatres in Scotland are closed, they have built an amphitheatre in the woods, and you can hear the birds tweeting and the river below becoming part of the story, which makes for a glorious experience.

Sound Stage virtual theatre

The Lyceum has commissioned eight new audio plays, which audiences can listen to online but include a virtual bar and after-show discussions to make this more of a social event. The plays include Lynda Radley’s The Mother Load, about the friendship between three first-time mothers, as well as Black Diamonds and the Blue Brazil, based on the trials and tribulations of Cowdenbeath football club and what it’s like to support the underdog team.

Visit your local hillfort

I would recommend the Atlas of Hillforts, which maps hillforts across the UK, including many in Scotland. My favourite thing about visiting a hillfort is that it is a much shorter walk than a munro, but you still have gorgeous views. Kings Seat, near Dunkeld, has been recently excavated. You can connect to people who stood there 2,000 years ago.

Night Fever exhibition at the V&A Dundee

If, like me, you are at the stage of reminiscing about going to night clubs in the past, you’ll greatly enjoy this exhibition which explores the relationship between clubbing and design from the 1960s onwards. And what better place to see it than Dundee, home of Average White Band and the Associates.

Jackie Kay.
Jackie Kay. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Jackie Kay, writer

Outdoor theatre, Glasgow
There’s something really special about experiencing theatre outdoors. Not only because it reassures people who are worried about being indoors at the moment, but because it takes us back to the way that theatre was often first seen. You get that same sense that the ancient Greeks would have got. It’s amazing – and even if the weather isn’t perfect, most venues will have protection with canopies. Strangely enough, certain aspects of what the pandemic has provoked has actually returned people to ancient traditions – in modern forms. One recommendation is the Citizens theatre and Scottish Ensemble production of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors as part of Glasgow’s Live at No 40 outdoor festival, which has live music, theatre and opera.

Go to a garden

Another thing the pandemic has given us in a rise in community gardening projects. A lot of people find gardening fundamental for mental health – those who feel like outsiders can join in. And for some, gardening is their sport. It’s a kind of alchemy, a mix of the solitary and the communal. You can flare in your own way. It’s exercise, but unlike some exercise that can feel like it’s going nowhere fast, gardening always produces something.

I can’t wait to visit the new RHS Bridgewater gardens in Salford. I’m fascinated because I see so many local people have been involved in the reconstruction of it. It’s really exciting that it’s in this working-class area like Salford, instead of Kew or somewhere like that. I’d recommend visiting any garden nearby – this country has so many beautiful botanical gardens. Just a couple of weeks ago I was in the botanical gardens in Aberdeen which was very moving. The idea of this creation of something from the 19th century that’s still the same in the 21st century is quite healing.

Arts and books festivals

Edinburgh International Book Festival (14 -30 August) will be mixture of digital, indoor and outdoor events this year. There will be about 250 events and I’ll be going to as many of them as possible. The programme, curated by Nick Barley, is yet to be announced, but it’s always exciting. There’s also Manchester International Festival (1 – 18 July), which is always wonderful and full of surprises. It has a different way of bringing people from all over the world, but at the same time reintroducing us or introducing us to local people.

Outdoor poetry, Mancheter

HOME in Manchester is building an outdoor space to accommodate people who are worried about coming indoors to watch film or or theatre. I’m programming some events myself – poetry, music, cheese and wine on some Mondays in July and August. I love the combination of poetry and music. Each event will have a musician, a new poet and an established poet, and I’ll be hosting.

The pandemic’s put everybody under an untold amount of pressure, with so much anxiety about, so it’s quite nice to think of different ways that people have to enjoy themselves together in a safe way. Having said all that, I do like football. People aren’t either-or – I think we can be a bit bisexual about it and like both sport and culture.

Mark Wallinger.
Mark Wallinger. Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian

Mark Wallinger, British artist

Jean DuBuffet: Brutal Beauty, Barbican

DuBuffet is a bit of an outlier. He didn’t start making art in earnest until he was over 40-years-old and he ploughed his own furrow, but in his butterfly assemblages and giant colourful canvases, there’s elements of outsiderdom and psychoanalysis.

I’ve not seen a retrospective of his work and so I’m intrigued to see what I make of it. The exhibition also features works from Dubuffet’s collection of Art Brut (a phrase he coined, which translates literally as “raw art”).

Michael Armitage, Royal Academy of Arts

I saw his exhibition at the South London Gallery two or three years ago and I’m really looking forward to seeing his latest work. The Kenyan-born artist draws from Titian and Gaugin to explore East African culture and identity in an incredibly beautiful and sophisticated way.

His colourful, dreamlike paintings are made using Ugandan Lubugo bark cloth which creates these disruptions between the imagery and the substance they’re painted on. He builds his images with a flair and authority that belies some of the shocking content.

Matthew Barney, Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre

In his new film, Redoubt, Barney is exploring the Diana myth, which is close to me in that I was in a Diana-inspired show at the National Gallery as part of the Olympiad in 2012. Barney’s a bit of a one-off in terms of these epic film cycles he creates (the film is shown on a loop but approximate screening times are available online) and I’m excited to catch his first solo UK museum exhibition in over a decade.

If you don’t know what to expect, I’d say you have to be very open minded. Don’t expect it to obey the rules and grammar of a feature film. It’ll be quite lengthy, around two-hours long but there will be plenty of exposition and colour material at the gallery to help one get a grip on things.

Globe Theatre

Away from museum spaces, I had the privilege of going to the Globe Theatre in 2018, to see a wonderful production of Othello with André Holland and Mark Rylance. It was an incredibly inspiring and unforgettable experience that made me wonder why it took me so long to get around to going. They’ve got As You Like It, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest on this summer and I can’t recommend it enough.

There’s something about being at the Globe that gets right to the heart of the theatrical experience. It’s this ersatz building that could be off-putting and elitist, but they carry it off so brilliantly and there’s an unparalleled degree of engagement with the audience. I’m just thrilled to be able to watch actors live!

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