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Twickenham is the home of English rugby. Each year the Six Nations brings together England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Italy and Wales in a fiercely contested tournament, played over several weeks. One of the highlights of the event isn’t the game at all, but the picnicking in the car park beforehand. From the rear of Rolls Royces, Range Rovers, Bentleys, Jaguars and Aston Martins comes an array of food, drink and hip flasks as the participants kick off the season, and ward off the cold, in fine style.
For many traditionalists, the Chelsea Flower Show marks the ‘proper’ beginning of the season. This floral extravaganza is run by the Royal Horticultural Society, and usually attended on the first day by the Queen. It is phenomenally popular: numbers are now limited to 160,000 over the six days, and tickets are hard to get. However, one way is to become a member of the RHS, for whom tickets are reserved on Tuesday and Wednesday. At the close of the show, the exhibitors sell off their shrubs, trees and plants, as you can see by the human jungle making its way afterwards to Sloane Square tube station.
Dress code: Comfortably relaxed, with occasional hats, elegant dresses and linen suits/jackets on display.
Glyndebourne, a country house with its own theatre, stands in glorious Sussex countryside and is an exquisite way to experience opera. Its founder John Christie insisted on doing "not the best we can do but the best that can be done anywhere”. From the first curtain-up in 1934, this has remained as Glyndebourne’s touchstone.
The traditional way to enjoy Glyndebourne is to dress in evening dress, pack your car with all manner of delicious things and head for Sussex in good time for an excellent pre-performance picnic. While some sprawl on rugs, others seem to bring their entire dining rooms. Whichever you choose, to enjoy the garden and vista, glass in hand, and with the prospect of some divine opera to come, is one of life’s great pleasures.
Dress code: There is no formal dress code beyond ‘smart casual’, although most people observe the tradition of wearing black tie evening dress.
They say that the Derby and Royal Ascot are the first, and immovable, entries into the Queen’s diary each year. Everything else fits around them. But although this royal patronage is part of the Derby’s DNA, the race has always been the people’s race and ‘London’s day out’. Open-topped buses, bookies, fortune tellers and tens of thousands of people from all walks of life cluster into the centre of the course for one of racing’s five ‘classics’ of the season.
Dress code: In the Queen’s Stand, top hat and tails for men, and hats for women.
The equine theme continues in the ‘back yard’ of Her Majesty’s home at Windsor Castle. Although this is a feast of top class racing, spread over five days, for many (dare we say most?) the real attraction lies in fashion and celebrity spotting. The prime position is within the Royal Enclosure, to which you may apply for entry provided you are sponsored by someone who has been admitted for at least four years themselves. But there is another hurdle as well: the notorious dress code, which specifies everything from the length of ladies’ skirts to the colour of gentlemen’s top hats and shoes. Before racing, try to find a friend with access to the No. 1 Car Park: this is the coveted spot for your picnic, but berths are handed down from generation to generation.
Few sights are more English than a rowing eight, pulling in perfect harmony amidst the sun’s dappled rays on the River Thames. The Henley Royal Regatta is the pinnacle of the English rowing year. Founded in 1839, it is the most famous regatta in the world. But if you don’t know the famous rowing clubs or crews, don’t worry; you will be in very good company. Lining the banks of the River Thames are thousands who simply enjoy the tradition, the hospitality and the sight of rowing crews sweating in the sun while you do nothing more strenuous than lift a glass.
The prime spot here is the Stewards’ Enclosure: it is open only to members and their guests and, like Royal Ascot, has a rigidly enforced dress code.
Dress code: In the Stewards’ Enclosure, ladies must wear skirts or dresses - never trousers - and with a hemline below the knee. Hats are encouraged. Gentlemen must wear jackets or suits with ties or cravats.
Few dispute that Goodwood is the world’s most beautiful racecourse, and the highlight of its year is the five-day ‘Glorious’ festival. Unlike the stiff starchiness of Royal Ascot, Goodwood’s garden party atmosphere calls for linen and panamas rather than tails and toppers. Yet the horseflesh it attracts is every bit as prestigious as Ascot’s, and the view it commands high on the Sussex Downs is without equal. In the 19th century, Goodwood marked the close of the English season, whereupon society would up sticks and head for Scottish society balls, fishing and grouse shooting. (To be seen in London in August announced that you had not been invited, and was social death.) The members congregate in the Richmond Enclosure, and only they may buy tickets for guests for the Glorious Goodwood festival.
Dress code: Goodwood always attracts a highly fashionable following, and linen suits, panamas and fascinators are encouraged. However, in the Richmond Enclosure, the only requirement is for a casual smartness, with men requiring a jacket and tie or cravat
The Boat Race http://www.theboatrace.org/
The Grand National http://www.aintree.co.uk/pages/grand-national/
The Wimbledon Tennis Championships http://www.wimbledon.org
Polo at Windsor http://www.guardspoloclub.com/
Cowes Week regatta http://www.aamcowesweek.co.uk
The Last Night of the Proms http://www.bbc.co.uk/proms