Outdoor Fun In The UK? Yes, It’s More Than Possible

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Popping over to the United Kingdom for a bit of fun in the sun, are we?

That isn’t quite the Herculean assignment it might sound like. Sure the UK is known for rain, fog, sleet, and general airborne yuk, muddy turf and toupee-grabbing gusts of wind, but that just makes the sunshine all the more valuable. Besides, just dress like the locals do – in lots of waterproof everything, especially shoes – and you will see that the UK has plenty to offer in the category of outdoor recreation.

Of course, up in Scotland specifically, the UK is known as the inventor of the game of golf. It is home to one of the four major tournaments each year, the British Open, and the country offers plenty of courses to try your luck swinging a stick at a small, hard orb if that’s your passion.

But Scotland, you may not know, is also home base for another global sports phenomenon, which is the art of fly-fishing.

It’s hard to say that fly-fishing in some form or another wasn’t practiced since ancient times, but the sport of fly-casting in rural streams to entice fish – trout, grayling, Atlantic salmon and the like – is often attributed to Scotland as a home base and if it isn’t, it darn well ought to be. After all, the limestone-based creeks in England and Scotland are among the most scenic in the world. And the locals know how to work the line pretty well. If you need an expert guide who will snicker at your efforts with an accent, try fly-fishing.

Soccer is the most popular sport in Europe – and in most of the world where American football and baseball is not played. So, there are plenty of opportunities to kick a ball around or watch the pros in action while you are in the UK. There is the international league called the Champions League and the English club league – famous for its very passionate soccer fans – that is called the Premier League. Both are under the auspices of the Union of European Football Associations, known as the UEFA.

UEFA Champions League tickets are affordable and attending a game will soon indoctrinate you to the wild and wooly life of a European soccer fan. You think Mets fans are passionate? You think college basketball fans are partisan? You ain’t seen nothing until you attend a soccer game in the UK.

That said, soccer is not – that’s right, not – the England’s national sport. No, it isn’t darts. No, it isn’t singing bawdy songs in taverns. The national sport of England is cricket.

Cricket seems like an archaic, peculiar version of baseball, because that’s what it is. There are no bases. Instead, the batter, using a long, three-faced stick (almost a bat), takes an upward cut at a low pitch from the pitcher, the swing somewhere between a batting stroke and the motion of someone playing croquet. If the batter connects, like in baseball, he takes off, but he runs in the direction of the pitcher, tags a stake in the ground and runs back to home. If the ball isn’t fielded yet, the batter keeps going, back and forth, building up runs by himself. (There are no bases, so there are no base runners – the batter, when he hits, is on his own, scurrying back and forth.)

The pitcher does have a chance to strike the batter out. But the ball has to get by the batter, then knock into a set of stakes in the ground upon which are balanced three smaller sticks. If the pitcher knocks the smaller sticks to the ground, the batter is out.

Cricket is kind of a relaxed game to watch – especially compared to soccer. But it is also relaxed compared to the other popular team sport in the UK, which is rugby.

If rugby seems like an archaic, peculiar form of football, guess what … that’s because it is. In rugby, however, the ball stays in motion and either team can steal it away and go on the offense immediately. There are no plays in the sense of American football. There are no downs. It’s mostly a free-for-all type of sport in which a football – larger than the American version – is treated like a coveted prize that must be held or thrown until it is brought across the opposite end of a field, while another team tries to steal it and bring it down to your end of the field.

The other reason it resembles football is that rugby players are permitted to crash into each other to stop the offense from moving forward. This resembles kids playing American football, but declaring that they don’t want to follow the rules – just the passing, tackling and broken bodies, but none of the formal football rules that create order and elegance in the American game.

Fly fishing aside, nobody said sports in the UK was elegant. Just check out the weather. How could it be?

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