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Wanted: new bank holiday for rural England

Friday 09 May 2008

Our countryside commentator John Sheard, who admits to skulking on his allotment when bank holiday crowds swamp the Yorkshire Dales, calls for a new national day off to celebrate the English countryside

BACK in the 1980s, I went several times to the Isle of Man to cover the notoriously dangerous Manx TT motor-cycle races. And, on first crossing by steam packet, I remember being astounded by the number of people disembarking at Liverpool before the racing actually started.

It took me some time to make friends amongst the islanders but when I did, they explained that, come the TT, thousands of the locals left the island to escape the noise, the crowds and the traffic disruption.

Waterway Festival
Waterway Festival: Even better in June?

Last weekend, Skipton suffered or enjoyed - depending on your point of view – its May Bank Holiday Waterways Festival, when the Leeds-Liverpool canal is crammed with boats from all parts of England – and thousands of people who came to see and enjoy.

As a long-standing canal advocate, I'm delighted that this relatively new celebration has become such a huge success. It is certainly good for local business, the pubs and restaurants in particular, but – for locals like me – there’s the rub: I find myself getting a bit miffed when I cannot get to the bar of my local or a table at my favourite eating houses.

Fortunately, I don’t have to leave town like those Manx folk in TT week. Instead, I skulk on my allotment which has a fine view of the goings on because it is adjacent to the canal towpath: the waterways festival comes to me rather than vice versa and I can have a cold beer from the ice box on demand.

But I have another concern about this excellent festival and it has nothing to do with the organisers. It is the May bank holiday itself, to me an unwelcome un-celebration forced upon us by a previous Labour Government when they still sang the Red Flag at their annual conference and the most frightening TV pictures of the weekend came from the Russian Army parading its tanks and nuclear missiles in front of the Kremlin.

why not scrap the May holiday altogether – and replace it with something better timed and more

May Day in England should be, to me, about Maypole Dancing. Sadly, I am past the fertility rites or yore. But even that is not the point of my complaints. What bugs me is that there is another bank holiday in two weeks time and – had not Easter been ridiculously early in March this year – there would have been yet another a month back.

As it is, England has precious few bank holidays: only eight, compared with eleven in France, 13 in Germany, Spain 14 and, for lucky Italy, 16. Even the work obsessed Americans have 13 and they are spaced out more or less evenly across the whole year.

To have three of our miserable allocation in barely six weeks – as can happen with a late Easter – is a nonsense which isn’t even good for business. People, particularly those with young children, can’t afford three holidays so close together – and that’s a situation that will get worse as the credit crunch bites.

An ideal English national holiday should be St. George’s Day, which also happens to be William Shakespeare’s birthday, but as that also falls in April it would make matters worse. So why not scrap the May holiday altogether – and replace it with something better timed and more relevant.

Five thousand years ago, our ancient ancestors built Stonehenge and many similar monuments to celebrate the summer solstice. So why not have a mid-summer’s day bank holiday on the nearest Monday to June 20th? We could even call it Old England Day!

What do you think? Send us your views using the form below.


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