Many tourists bypass the four major counties of the East Midlands – Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire – on their way to more obvious destinations, an understandable mistake given that the region seems, at first, to be short on star attractions. The county towns of Nottingham and Leicester, though undeniably bruised by postwar town planning and industrial development, have enough sights and character to give them appeal, and Lincoln, with its fine cathedral, is in parts at least a dignified old city, but it’s the surrounding countryside, sprinkled with prestigious country homes, pretty villages and historic market towns that provides the real draw in this region.
In Nottinghamshire, Byron’s Newstead Abbey is intriguing; the Elizabethan Hardwick Hall(just over the border in Derbyshire but covered in this chapter) is even better. Leicestershire offers Market Bosworth, an amiable country town famous as the site of the battle of Bosworth Field, and a particularly intriguing church at Breedon-on-the-Hill. The county also lies adjacent to the easy countryside of Rutland, the region’s smallest county, where you’ll find another pleasant country town, Oakham. Rutland and Northamptonshire benefit from the use of limestone as the traditional building material and rural Northamptonshire is studded with handsome stone villages and towns – most notably Fotheringhay – as well as a battery of country estates, the best known of which is Althorp, the final resting place of Princess Diana.
Lincolnshire is very different in character from the rest of the region, an agricultural backwater that remains surprisingly remote – locals sometimes call it the “forgotten county”. This was not always the case: throughout medieval times the county flourished as a centre of the wool trade with Flanders, its merchants and landowners becoming some of the wealthiest in England. Reminders of the high times are legion, beginning with the majestic cathedral that graces the county town of Lincoln. Equally enticing is the splendidly intact stone town of Stamford, while out in the sticks, Lincolnshire’s most distinctive feature is The Fens, whose pancake-flat fields, filling out much of the south of the county and extending deep into Cambridgeshire, have been regained from the marshes and the sea. Fenland villages are generally short of charm, but their parish churches, whose spires regularly interrupt the wide-skied landscape, are simply stunning; two of the finest – at Gedney and Long Sutton – are set beside the A17 as it slices across the fens on its way to Norfolk. Very different again is the Lincolnshire coast, whose long sandy beach extends, with a few marshy interruptions, from Mablethorpe to Skegness, the region’s main resort. The coast has long attracted thousands of holiday-makers from the big cities of the East Midlands and Yorkshire, hence its trail of bungalows, campsites and caravan parks, though significant chunks of the seashore are now protected as nature reserves, with the Gibraltar Point National Nature Reserve being the pick.
A few miles outside Northampton, in opposite directions, both Althorp, family home of the Spencers and the burial place of Diana, Princess of Wales, and Stoke Bruerne, an intriguing canalside village, make good stop-offs. Further out is the delightful village of Fotheringhay, where Mary, Queen of Scots was imprisoned and executed.
The Spencer family lived at the lavish country home and estate of
for centuries, which was of little interest to anyone else until one of the tribe,
, married Prince Charles in 1981. The disintegration of the marriage and Diana’s elevation to sainthood is a story known to millions, and the public outpouring of grief following Diana’s death in 1997 was quite astounding. Momentarily, Althorp became the focus of massive media attention as the coffin was brought up the M1 motorway from London to be buried on an island in the grounds of the family estate. Today, visitors still troop round the grandiloquent rooms of Althorp house, drop by the
in the old stable block, and then take the footpath that leads round a lake in the middle of which is the islet (no access) where Diana is buried.
Hard to believe today, but pocket-sized FOTHERINGHAY, a delightful hamlet nestling by the River Nene about thirty miles northeast of Northampton, is where Mary, Queen of Scots came to her untimely end. The castle where she was imprisoned and died has long gone, and the village has been left to its own devices for centuries, but its medieval heyday is recalled by the magnificent church of St Mary and All Saints, which rises mirage-like above the green riverine meadows.
ASHBY-DE-LA-ZOUCH, fourteen miles northwest of Leicester, takes its fanciful name from two sources – the town’s first Norman overlord was Alain de Parrhoet la Souche and the rest means “place by the ash trees”. Nowadays, Ashby is far from rustic, but it’s still an amiable little place with one main attraction, its castle.
Just a few miles away, Breedon-on-the-Hill is well worth a trip for its good walking and great views, and some fascinating Anglo-Saxon carvings at the Church of St Mary and St Hardulph.
It’s five miles northeast from Ashby to the village of BREEDON-ON-THE-HILL, which sits in the shadow of the large, partly quarried hill from which it takes its name. A steep footpath and a winding, half-mile by-road lead up from the village to the summit, from where there are smashing views over the surrounding countryside.
Breedon is also the site of the fascinating church of St Mary and St Hardulph, which occupies the site of an Iron Age hill fort and an eighth-century Anglo-Saxon monastery. Mostly dating from the thirteenth century, the church is kitted out with a Georgian pulpit and pews as well as a large and distinctly rickety box pew. Much more rare are a number of Anglo-Saxon carvings that include individual saints and prophets and wall friezes, where a dense foliage of vines is inhabited by a tangle of animals and humans. The friezes are quite extraordinary, and the fact that the figures look Byzantine rather than Anglo-Saxon has fuelled much academic debate.
At first glance, LEICESTER, some 25 miles south of Nottingham, seems a resolutely modern city, but further inspection reveals traces of its medieval and Roman past, situated immediately to the west of the downtown shopping area near the River Soar.
It’s probably fair to say that Leicester has a reputation for looking rather glum, but the centre is very much on the move, with the addition of Highcross, a brand new shopping centre, and the creation of a Cultural Quarter equipped with a flashy performance venue, Curve Theatre. The star turn, however, is the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery, which includes an exemplary collection of German Expressionist paintings. About a third of Leicester’s population is Asian – the city elected England’s first Asian MP, Keith Vaz, in 1987. The focus of the Asian community is the Belgrave Road and its environs, an area of terraced houses about a mile to the northeast of the city centre beyond the flyover, where people come from miles around to eat at the splendid Indian restaurants.
The Romans chose this site to keep an eye on the rebellious Corieltauvi, constructing a fortified town beside the Fosse Way (now the A46), the military road running from Lincoln to Cirencester. Later, the Emperor Hadrian kitted the place out with huge public buildings, though the Danes, who overran the area in the eighth century, were not overly impressed and didn’t even bother to pilfer much of the stone. Later still, the town’s medieval castle became the base of the earls of Leicester, the most distinguished of whom was Simon de Montfort, who forced Henry III to convene the first English Parliament in 1265. Since the late seventeenth century, Leicester has been a centre of the hosiery trade and it was this industry that attracted hundreds of Asian immigrants to settle here in the 1950s and 1960s.
Belgrave is the hub for two major Hindu festivals – Diwali, the Festival of Light, held in October or November, when six thousand lamps are strung out along Belgrave Road, and Navratri, a nine-day celebration in October held in honour of the goddess Durga. In addition, the city’s sizeable Afro-Caribbean community holds England’s second biggest street festival after the Notting Hill Carnival, the Leicester Caribbean Carnival, on the first weekend in August.
Reaching high into the sky from the top of a steep hill, the triple towers of LINCOLN’s mighty cathedral are visible for miles across the surrounding flatlands. The cathedral, along with the castle, are the city’s main tourist draws – although Lindum Colonia was an important Roman city, few fragments of this era survive.
For visitors, almost everything of interest is confined to the Uphill part of town, within easy walking distance of both castle and cathedral. In addition to the major sights, this part of town also features a number of historic remains, notably several chunks of Roman wall, the most prominent of which is the second-century Newport Arch straddling Bailgate and once the main north gate into the city. There are also several well-preserved medieval stone houses, notably on and around the aptly named Steep Hill as it cuts down from the cathedral to the city centre.
The key sights can be seen in about half a day, though Lincoln does make for a pleasant overnight stop, particularly in December during its lively open-air Christmas market.
High ground is in short supply in Lincolnshire, so it’s no surprise that the steep hill that is today surmounted by Lincoln Cathedral was fortified early, firstly by the Celts, who called their settlement Lindon, “hillfort by the lake”, a reference to the pools formed by the River Witham in the marshy ground below. In 47 AD the Romans occupied Lindon and built a fortified town, which subsequently became Lindum Colonia, one of the four regional capitals of Roman Britain. During the reign of William the Conqueror the construction of the castle and cathedral initiated Lincoln’s medieval heyday – the town boomed, first as a Norman power base and then as a centre of the wool trade with Flanders, until 1369 when the wool market was transferred to neighbouring Boston. It was almost five hundred years before Lincoln could revive, its recovery based upon the manufacture of agricultural machinery and drainage equipment for the neighbouring fenlands. As the nineteenth-century town spread south down the hill and out along the old Roman road – the Fosse Way – so Lincoln became a place of precise class distinctions: the Uphill area, spreading north from the cathedral, became synonymous with middle-class respectability, Downhill with the proletariat.
Not a hill at all,
is in fact a wide, short and level cobbled street that links Lincoln’s castle and cathedral. It’s a charming spot and its east end is marked by the arches of the medieval
, beyond which soars the glorious west front of
, a veritable cliff-face of blind arcading mobbed by decorative carving. The west front’s apparent homogeneity is, however, deceptive, and further inspection reveals two phases of construction – the small stones and thick mortar of much of the facade belong to the original church, completed in 1092, whereas the longer stones and finer courses date from the early thirteenth century. These were enforced works: in 1185, an earthquake shattered much of the Norman church, which was then rebuilt under the auspices of
Bishop Hugh of Avalon
, the man responsible for most of the present cathedral, with the notable exception of the (largely) fourteenth-century central tower.
The cavernous interior is a fine example of Early English architecture, with the nave’s pillars conforming to the same general design yet differing slightly, their varied columns and bands of dark Purbeck marble contrasting with the oolitic limestone that is the building’s main material. Looking back up the nave from beneath the central tower, you can also observe a major medieval cock-up: Bishop Hugh’s roof is out of alignment with the earlier west front, and the point where they meet has all the wrong angles. It’s possible to pick out other irregularities, too – the pillars have bases of different heights, and there are ten windows in the nave’s north wall and nine in the south – but these are deliberate features, reflecting a medieval aversion to the vanity of symmetry.
Beyond the nave lies St Hugh’s Choir, whose fourteenth-century misericords carry an eccentric range of carvings, with scenes from the life of Alexander the Great and King Arthur mixed up with biblical characters and folkloric parables. Further on is the open and airy Angel Choir, completed in 1280 and famous for the tiny, finely carved Lincoln Imp, which embellishes one of its columns. Finally, a corridor off the choir’s north aisle leads to the wooden-roofed cloisters and the polygonal chapter house, where Edward I and Edward II convened gatherings that pre-figured the creation of the English Parliament.
Legends had abounded for centuries about the Lincoln imp, carved high on a column in Lincoln cathedral, but it was the entrepreneurial James Ward Usher in the 1880s who turned the wee beastie into a tidy profit, selling Lincoln imp tie-pins, cuff-links, spoons, brooches and beads. Usher also popularized the traditional legend of the imp, a tall tale in which a couple of imps are blown to Lincoln by a playful wind. They then proceed to hop around the cathedral, until one of them is turned to stone for trying to talk to the angels carved into the roof of the Angel Choir. His chum makes a hasty exit on the back of a witch, but the wind is still supposed to haunt the cathedral, awaiting its opportunity to be mischievous again.
Heading east from Lincoln on the A158, it’s about forty miles to Skegness, the county’s biggest – and brightest – resort. From here, a thick band of bungalows, campsites and caravans marches up along the seashore beside and behind a sandy beach that extends, with a few marshy interruptions, north to Mablethorpe and ultimately Cleethorpes. All this bucket-and-spade and amusement-arcade commercialism is not to everyone’s taste, but small portions of the coast have been preserved and protected, most notably in the Gibraltar Point Natural Nature Reserve south of Skegness.
SKEGNESS has been a busy resort ever since the railways reached the Lincolnshire coast in 1875. Its heyday was pre-1960s, when the Brits began to take themselves off to sunnier climes, but it still attracts tens of thousands of city-dwellers who come for the wide, sandy beaches and for a host of attractions ranging from nightclubs to bowling greens. Every inch the traditional English seaside town, Skegness outdoes its rivals by keeping its beaches sparklingly clean and its parks spick-and-span. That said, the seafront, with its rows of souvenir shops and amusement arcades, can be dismal, especially on rainy days, and you may well decide to sidestep the whole caboodle by heading south along the coastal road to the Gibraltar Point National Nature Reserve.
The Fens, that great chunk of eastern England extending from Boston in Lincolnshire right down to Cambridge, encompass some of the most productive farmland in Europe. Give or take the occasional hillock, this pancake-flat, treeless terrain has been painstakingly reclaimed from the marshes and swamps which once drained into the intrusive stump of The Wash, a process that has taken almost two thousand years. In earlier times, outsiders were often amazed by the dreadful conditions hereabouts, but they did spawn the distinctive culture of the so-called fen-slodgers, who embanked small portions of marsh to create pastureland and fields, supplementing their diets by catching fish and fowl and gathering reed and sedge for thatching and fuel. This local economy was threatened by the large-scale land reclamation schemes of the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and time and again the fenlanders sabotaged progress by breaking down new banks and dams. But the odds were stacked against the saboteurs, and a succession of great landowners eventually drained huge tracts of the fenland – and by the 1790s the fen slodgers’ way of life had all but disappeared. Nonetheless, the Lincolnshire Fens remain a distinctive area, with a scattering of introverted little villages spread across the flatlands within easy striking distance of the A17. Several of these villages are distinguished by their imposing medieval churches – St Mary Magdalene’s in Gedney and St Mary’s in Long Sutton for example – and their soaring spires are seen to best advantage in the pale, watery sunlight and wide skies of the fenland evening.
Heading south from Lincoln, it’s about seventeen miles to the A17, which runs east across the Lincolnshire Fens bound for King’s Lynn. En route, it slips past the scattered hamlet of GEDNEY, where the massive tower of St Mary Magdalene intercepts the fenland landscape. Seen from a distance, the church seems almost magical, or at least mystical, its imposing lines so much in contrast with its fen-flat surroundings. Close up, the three-aisled nave is simply beautiful, its battery of windows lighting the exquisite Renaissance alabaster effigies of Adlard and Cassandra Welby, who, in death, face each other on the south wall near the chancel.
There’s more ecclesiastical excitement just a mile or two to the east of Gedney in LONG SUTTON, a modest farming centre that limps along the road until it reaches its trim Market Place. Here, the church of St Mary has preserved many of its Norman features, with its arcaded tower supporting the oldest lead spire in the country, dating from around 1200. Look out also for the striking stained-glass windows. Long Sutton once lay on the edge of the five-mile-wide mouth of the River Nene, where it emptied into The Wash. This was the most treacherous part of the road from Lincoln to Norfolk, and locals had to guide travellers across the mud flats and marshes on horseback. In 1831, the River Nene was embanked and then spanned with a wooden bridge at Sutton Bridge, a hamlet just two miles east of Long Sutton – and a few miles from King’s Lynn. The present swing bridge, with its nifty central tower, was completed in 1894.
The thatched cottages and Georgian houses of tiny MARKET BOSWORTH, some eleven miles west of Leicester, fan out from a dinky Market Place, which was an important trading centre throughout the Middle Ages. From the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, the dominant family hereabouts were the Dixies, merchant-landlords who mostly ended up at the church of St Peter.
The Dixies were not universally admired, however, and the young Samuel Johnson, who taught at the Dixie Grammar School – its elongated facade still abuts the Market Place – disliked the founder, Sir Wolstan Dixie, so much that he recalled his time there “with the strongest aversion and even a sense of horror”.
Market Bosworth is best known for the Battle of Bosworth Field, which was fought on hilly countryside near the village in 1485. This was the last and most decisive battle of the Wars of the Roses, an interminably long-winded and bitterly violent conflict among the nobility for control of the English Crown. The victor was Henry Tudor, subsequently Henry VII; he defeated Richard III, who famously died on the battlefield. In desperation, Shakespeare’s villainous Richard cried out “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse,” but in fact the defeated king seems to have been a much more phlegmatic character. Taking a glass of water before the fighting started, he actually said, “I live a king: if I die, I die a king”.
Spreading north from the banks of the River Nene, NORTHAMPTON is a workaday town whose modern appearance largely belies its ancient past. Throughout the Middle Ages, this was one of central England’s most important towns, a flourishing commercial hub whose now demolished castle was a popular stopping-off point for travelling royalty. A fire in 1675 burnt most of the medieval city to a cinder, and the Georgian town that grew up in its stead was itself swamped by the Industrial Revolution, when Northampton swarmed with boot- and shoemakers, whose products shod almost everyone in the British Empire. Errol Flynn kitted himself out with several pairs of Northampton shoes and boots when he was in repertory here in 1933, but he annoyed the city’s tailors no end by hightailing it out of town after a year, leaving a whopping tailors’ debt behind him.
Rural northern Nottinghamshire, with its gentle rolling landscapes and large ducal estates, was transformed in the nineteenth century by coal – deep, wide seams of the stuff that spawned dozens of collieries, and colliery towns, stretching north across the county and on into Yorkshire. Almost without exception, the mines have closed, their passing marked only by the occasional pithead winding wheel, left to commemorate the thousands of men who laboured here. The suddenness of the pit closure programme imposed by the Conservative government in the 1980s knocked the stuffing out of the area, but one prop of its slow revival has been the tourist industry: the countryside in between these former mining communities holds several enjoyable attractions, the best-known of which is Sherwood Forest – or at least the patchy remains of it – with one chunk of woodland preserved in the Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve, supposedly where Robin Hood did some canoodling with Maid Marian. Byron is a pipsqueak in the celebrity stakes by comparison, but his family home – Newstead Abbey – is here too, as is Hardwick Hall, a handsome Elizabethan mansion built at the behest of one of the most powerful women of her day, Bess of Hardwick (1521–1608).
Born the daughter of a minor Derbyshire squire, Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury (1527–1608) – aka
Bess of Hardwick
– became one of the leading figures of Elizabethan England, renowned for her political and business acumen. She also had a penchant for building and her major achievement,
, begun when she was 62, has survived in amazingly good condition. The house was the epitome of fashionable taste, a balance of symmetry and ingenious detail in which the rectangular lines of the building are offset by line upon line of windows – there’s actually more glass than stone – while up above, her giant-sized initials (E.S.) hog every roof line. Inside on the top floor, the
High Great Chamber
, where Bess received her most distinguished guests, boasts an extraordinary plaster frieze, a brightly painted, finely worked affair celebrating the goddess Diana, the virgin huntress – it was, of course, designed to please the Virgin Queen herself. Next door, the breathtaking
features exquisite furnishings and fittings from splendid chimneypieces and tapestries through to a set of portraits, including one each of the queen and Bess. Bess could exercise here while keeping out of the sun – at a time when any hint of a tan was considered decidedly plebeian.
Outside, the garden makes for a pleasant wander and, beyond the ha-ha (the animal-excluding low wall and ditch), rare breeds of cattle and sheep graze the surrounding parkland. Finally – and rather confusingly – Hardwick Hall is next to Hardwick Old Hall, Bess’s previous home, but now little more than a broken-down if substantial ruin.
was granted by Henry VIII to Sir John Byron, who demolished most of the church and converted the monastic buildings into a family home.
Lord Byron (1788–1824)
inherited the estate, which was by then little more than a ruin, in 1798; he restored part of the complex during his six-year residence (1808–14), but most of the present structure actually dates from later renovations, which maintained much of the shape and feel of the medieval original while creating the warren-like mansion that exists today. Inside, a string of intriguing period rooms begins with the neo-Gothic Great Hall and Byron’s bedroom, one of the few rooms to look pretty much like it did when he lived here, and then continues on into the Library, which holds a collection of the poet’s possessions, from letters and an inkstand through to his pistols and boxing gloves. A further room contains a set of satirical, cartoon-like watercolours entitled
The Wonderful History of Lord Byron & His Dog
by his friend Elizabeth Pigot – there’s a portrait of the self-same dog, Boatswain, in the south gallery, and a conspicuous memorial bearing an absurdly extravagant inscription to the mutt in the delightful walled garden. Beyond lie the main gardens, a secretive and subtle combination of lake, Gothic waterfalls, yew tunnels and Japanese-style rockeries, complete with idiosyncratic pagodas.
With a population of around 290,000, NOTTINGHAM is one of England’s big cities. A one-time lace manufacturing and pharmaceutical centre (the Boots chain is from here), today it is still famous for its association with Robin Hood, the legendary thirteenth-century outlaw. Hood’s bitter enemy was, of course, the Sheriff of Nottingham, but unfortunately his home and lair – the city’s imposing medieval castle – is long gone, replaced by a handsome Palladian mansion that is still called, somewhat confusingly, Nottingham Castle. Nowadays, Nottingham is at its most diverting in and around both the castle and the handsome Market Square, which is also the centre of a heaving, teeming nightlife every weekend. Within easy striking distance of the city is the former coal-mining village of Eastwood, home of the D.H. Lawrence Birthplace Museum.
Controlling a strategic crossing point over the River Trent, the Saxon town of Nottingham was built on one of a pair of sandstone hills whose 130ft cliffs looked out over the river valley. In 1068, William the Conqueror built a castle on the other hill, and the Saxons and Normans traded on the low ground in between, the Market Square. The castle was a military stronghold and royal palace, the equal of the great castles of Windsor and Dover, and every medieval king of England paid regular visits. In August 1642, Charles I stayed here too, riding out of the castle to raise his standard and start the Civil War – not that the locals were overly sympathetic. Hardly anyone joined up, even though the king had the ceremony repeated on the next three days.
After the Civil War, the Parliamentarians slighted the castle and, in the 1670s, the ruins were cleared by the Duke of Newcastle to make way for a palace, whose continental – and, in English terms, novel – design he chose from a pattern book, probably by Rubens. Beneath the castle lay a handsome, well-kept market town until the second half of the eighteenth century, when the city was transformed by the expansion of the lace and hosiery industries. Within the space of fifty years, Nottingham’s population increased from ten thousand to fifty thousand, the resulting slum becoming a hotbed of radicalism.
The worst of Nottingham’s slums were cleared in the early twentieth century, when the city centre assumed its present structure, with the main commercial area ringed by alternating industrial and residential districts. Thereafter, crass postwar development, adding tower blocks, shopping centres and a ring road, ensconced and embalmed the remnants of the city’s past.
To the east of Leicestershire lies England’s smallest county, Rutland, reinstated in its own right in 1997 following 23 unpopular years of merger with its larger neighbour. Rutland has one real place of note, Oakham, a pocket-sized county town with a scattering of elegant Georgian buildings.
The prosperity of well-heeled OAKHAM, 23 miles east of Leicester, is bolstered by Oakham School, one of the region’s more exclusive private schools, and by its proximity to Rutland Water, a large reservoir whose assorted facilities attract cyclists, ramblers, sailors and birdwatchers by the hundred. Oakham’s stone terraces and Georgian villas are too often interrupted to assume much grace, but the town does have its architectural moments, particularly in the L-shaped Market Place, where a brace of sturdy awnings shelter the old water pump and town stocks, and where Oakham School is housed in a series of impressive ironstone buildings.
The gentle waters and easy, green hills of Rutland Water have made it a major centre for outdoor pursuits. There’s sailing at Rutland Sailing Club; cycle hire with Rutland Water Cycling; and a Watersports Centre at Whitwell on the north shore. Rutland Water also attracts a wide range of waterfowl, which prompted the establishment of a nature reserve with no fewer than 27 hides and two visitor centres at its west end. The reserve is home to a successful Osprey breeding project.
Delightful STAMFORD, in the southwest corner of Lincolnshire, is a handsome little limestone town of yellow-grey seventeenth- and eighteenth-century buildings edging narrow streets that slope up from the River Welland. The town’s salad days were as a centre of the medieval wool and cloth trade, when wealthy merchants built its medley of stone churches and houses. Stamford was also the home of William Cecil, Elizabeth I’s chief minister, who built his splendid mansion, Burghley House, close by.
The town survived the collapse of the wool trade, prospering as an inland port after the Welland was made navigable to the sea in 1570, and, in the eighteenth century, as a staging point on the Great North Road from London. More recently, Stamford escaped the three main threats to old English towns – the Industrial Revolution, wartime bombing and postwar development – and was designated the country’s first Conservation Area in 1967. Thanks to this, its unspoilt streets readily lend themselves to period drama- and filmmaking, and although it’s the harmony of Stamford’s architecture that pleases rather than any specific sight, there are still a handful of buildings of some special interest.
One of the most enjoyable of Stamford’s several festivals is the Stamford Shakespeare Company’s open-air performances of the bard’s works in the grounds of Tolethorpe Hall, an Elizabethan mansion just outside town. The season lasts from June to August with the audience protected from the elements by a vast canopy.