Britain’s best days out, festivals and traditional events in May

Make the most of the month of May with our pick of the best days out, May Bank Holiday events and festivals taking place across the UK.

Performers take part in the Hal-an-Tow dance as they celebrate Helston Flora Day

May marks the start of warmer weather and blossom filled trees and flowers. Here is our pick of the best days out, May Bank Holiday events and festivals taking place across the UK in 2019.

Beltane Fire Festival: 30th April, Edinburgh

On the evening of the 30th April, several thousand people will congregate at Calton Hill in the centre of Edinburgh to celebrate the Beltane Fire Festival. The spectacle will involve dazzling fire displays, drumming, processions and plenty of body paint. The fire festival of Beltane is a revitalist celebration of Celtic culture. Beltane tradition involved preparing cattle that had been penned in all winter for the high pastures where they would spend summer. It also included courting rituals that would result in matches and of course, fire, that was thought to cleanse, purify and increase fertility. Edinburgh’s festival will involve around three hundred voluntary performers, marking the end of the Scottish winter and welcoming the summer season ahead with optimism. www.edinburghguide.com

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Obby Oss Day: 1st May, Padstow

Padstow’s equivalent of May Day, ‘Obby ‘Oss Day, comes alive with the sound of music and merriment and the wild dancing of two ominous-looking ‘Osses on 1 May. The stars of the day are the two ‘Obby ‘Osses – each one consisting of a 6ft wide wooden hoop draped in black sail cloth and hoisted onto a fearsomely, masked local chap. They prance through the town followed by a troupe of musicians, singers, drummers and dancers. In Minehead, Somerset, a 500 year-old tradition sees three separate Hobby Horses (‘Obby ‘Osses), like brightly coloured ships, parade the streets during the May holiday, culminating in Boogie night. www.visitcornwall.com

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Crowds around the maypole at the Padstow May Day ‘Obby ‘Oss Day Festival, Cornwall (Getty)

The history and traditions of May Day

The celebration of May Day dates back to ancient times, when Romans celebrated the festival of Flora, the goddess of flowers and spring. In Britain, Celtic people celebrated the festival of Beltane on the first of May to mark the halfway point between spring and summer, in contrast to the festival of Samain that fell hallway between autumn and winter on 1st November.

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Cerne Abbas Festival: 21st April – 1st May, Dorset

Get up bright and early on 1 May to watch the Wessex Morris Men dance on the old maypole site above the head of the Cerne Abbas Giant. The Giant is a mighty, 180ft, chalk figure that exists on this Dorset hillside. Local folklore has long held the Giant to be an aid to fertility. As the dawn breaks, the Morris Men will perform a routine and then make their way back down to dance in the quaint, village square for a well-deserved breakfast. www.dorsetforyou.com

Riding of the Bounds: 4th May, Berwick-upon-Tweed

Berwick’s bounds date back to 1438 when representatives from England and Scotland agreed where one country would end and where the other would begin. The bounds of Berwick were patrolled as early as 1542. This was to protect the town against encroachment by the Scots. Today, Riding of the Bounds Riding of the Bounds is a traditional ride-out of the boundaries of Berwick, to keep them known to the Scottish and the English. 2019 date for Riding of the Bounds is Saturday 4th May. The Riding of the Bounds now regularly attracts around 100 riders. berwickridersassociation.co.uk

Walk the plank at Brixham Pirate Festival: 3rd – 5th May, Brixham

It’s time to walk the plank and join in this years’ Brixham Pirate Festival from the 3rd to the 5th of May. Celebrate with food, drinks and music while the children can discover the mermaid cove and see with their very own eyes a beautiful mermaid. No doubt will there be a lot of beer drinking, foot stomping and sing along music to take part in.

Jack in the Green Festival, 3rd – 6th May, Hastings

Taking place during the Bank holiday weekend, the unique Jack in the Green Festival in Hastings is an exciting and historic costumed parade featuring live music, Morris dancing and food and drink. On the Bank holiday Monday, the parade begins at 9.45am, setting off from the Fisherman’s Huts in Rock-a-Nore Road in the Old Town, and finishes on the West Hill. www.hastingsjitg.co.uk

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Morris dancers perform during the parade through the Old Town at the annual Jack In The Green festival. (Getty)

Clun Green Man Festival: 5th – 6th May, Shropshire 

At noon on 5th and 6th May, crowds will gather on Clun Bridge to witness the Green Man defeat the Frost Queen to ensure there is a summer in the valley. The leafy face of the Green Man represents nature, fertility, and the cycle of death and rebirth. After his victory the Green Man will lead a garland-festooned parade to the grounds of Clun Castle. Here, there is a craft and festivities fair for you to explore, or if you are feeling more adventurous, venture on a walk into the mesmerising Clun Valley. www.clungreenman.org

The Black Prince Flower Boat Procession: 7th May, Millbrook, Cornwall

The Black Prince Flower Boat Procession takes place this year on 7th May in the villages of Millbrook, Kingsand and Cawsand in in Cornwall. The flower-decorated boat, the Black Prince, will be ceremonially carried shoulder-high through the villages. The vessel will be accompanied by South-West town criers, processional dancers, musicians, children and villagers. All will be clad in traditional dress with red ribbons, sashes and red flowers in their hair. At the end of the day, the Black Prince is launched into the sea from Cawsand Beach. www.visitcornwall.com

Dress up and dance at Helston Floral day: 8th May, Cornwall

In the Cornish market town of Helston, the streets are filled with colour and flowers each year on 8th of May for Helston Floral Day. Each year, Helston hosts the famous ‘Furry Dance’. The town will conjure a carnival atmosphere and be decked with beautiful flowers. Dancing begins early, followed by the seasonal folk play, Hal-an-Tow, which is staged at several venues throughout the town. www.helstonfloraday.org.uk

May Queen Festival, Brentham: 11th May, London

On 11th May, Brentham’s May Queen Festival will begin with a procession, accompanied by a marching band, around the streets of the suburb. Included in the procession will be, Britannia, Jack-in-the-green and 150 young girls dressed in white and adorned with flowers. The crowning of the May Queen takes place at 3pm, followed by traditional dancing around the maypole. The May Queen becomes guest of honour at the evening’s festivities. It is believed that the May Queen tradition stems from the Roman tradition of celebrating the goddess of beauty, Diana. The May Queen was chosen from amongst the local and unmarried women and was crowned with greenery. On 1 May it is also common for many Catholic parishes to hold a May crowning, dedicated to Mary, Mother of Jesus. www.brentham.com

Dogfest: 11th – 12th May, Hertfordshire

Dogfest 2019 takes place at three different locations: Hertfordshire, Cheshire and Bristol.  From the 11th to the 12th of May, Hertfordshire will be hosting the first Dogfest of the season with dog shows, dog walks, kid arenas, and dog activities that you can try with your dog; such as hay bale racing, dog diving, temptation valley and more. www.dog-fest.co.uk

Garland of Flowers Parade: 13th May Abbotsbury

On 13th May, this Dorset village will celebrate Abbotsbury Garland Day, a tradition that has been taking place since around the early 19th century. The custom used to involve the making of a wild flower and garden flower garland by the children of the village in order to bring luck to the fisherman of the village. These were held aloft on poles and paraded from house to house in the village with the intention of collecting money, which the children would keep.The garlands were blessed in a church service and some were then rowed out to sea to be tossed into the water. Today, the large garlands are used to raise money for charity and are placed beside the war memorial in the churchyard. www.dorsetinfocus.co.uk

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Devon County Show: 16th – 18th of May, Exeter

Devon County Show is a fun family weekend event taking place near the city of Exeter. During the three days, watch showjumping events, scurry racing and shetland pony racing, plus see more than 2,000 animals. Also hosting one of the biggest dog shows in the West Country, plus various craft and gardening stands and local food and drink. www.devoncountyshow.co.uk

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EXETER, ENGLAND - MAY 18: Cattle are lead as they are judged at the 122nd Devon County Show at the Westpoint Arena and Showground in Clyst St Mary near Exeter on May 18, 2017 in Devon, England. Established in 1872 it has grown into one of the South West's biggest county shows and is often seen as a curtain raiser for the whole showing season. Although primarily a agricultural livestock and produce showcase, it is also seen as a barometer for the health of the whole agricultural industry in general, which is in a state of uncertainty and flux following the UK's vote to leave the European Union. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
Devon County Show –  (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Events taking place during the late May Bank Holiday

Hay Festival: 23rd May – 2nd June, Hay-on-Wye

Set in the beautiful Brecon Beacons National Park in the book town of Hay-on-Wye, the 32nd Hay Festival takes place from 23rd of May to 2nd of June 2019. There are 390 events to choose from, including music, talks and workshops. For the full schedule and to buy tickets for the various talks and events, visit: www.hayfestival.com/wales/home

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Chelsea in Bloom, London: 20th – 25th May 2019

An annual event, the Chelsea in Bloom Festival in London coincides with the Chelsea Flower Show.  The alternative floral art transforms the streets of Chelsea with breath-taking floral displays. 2019’s theme is ‘Under the Sea’ to raise awareness of the need to conserve and protect our oceans. www.chelseainbloom.co.uk

The Scottish Boat Race, River Clyde, Glasgow: Saturday 25th May 2019

Line-up along the banks of the Clyde and enjoy the annual Scottish Boat Race between the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, which has been running since 1877. Festivities begin at 10am with the races starting at 11.20am. www.whatsonglasgow.co.uk

Chipping Steam Fair, Preston: 25th, 26th and 27th May 2019

View an array of steam engines and classic vehicles with the beautiful backdrop of the Forest of Bowland. In addition, expect a variety of crafts, demonstrations of local practices, food and drink, a train ride and a bouncy castle to amuse younger visitors. www.chippingsteamfair.com

Cheese Rolling, Cooper’s Hill, Gloucestershire: expected 27 May 2019

Join in with the annual festivities – join the masses at the top of the hill and roll down the steep slope chasing the cheese! For the faint-hearted, stand by and watch the madness which begins at midday.

Tetbury Woolsack Races, Gloucestershire: 27th May 2019

From 10am be treated to a variety of entertainers along with a street market, village fete and charity auction before the race itself kicks off at 2pm. Watch the participants haul bags of wool along the streets, celebrating the area’s thriving wool background, in this annual event. tetburywoolsack.co.uk