A History of Wales, in an Afternoon!

From ancient castles to stunning scenery, there is so much to see in Wales that you could easily spend a week or two touring here; however if you have a limited time-frame and want to see England and Scotland too, many people spare just a couple of nights to get their taste of Welsh culture, and head for Cardiff, the Welsh capital city.  If this is the case for you then make sure you visit St Fagans National History Museum.

Cardiff Castle, Cardiff, Wale
Cardiff Castle, Cardiff, Wale

I had been to St Fagans several years ago, but only recently re-visited when some family friends were in the area.  Upon arrival, I was instantly reminded that it is a museum with a difference – there’s no peering at fossils through glass here!  In fact it is Wales‘ leading open-air, living museum located in over 100 acres of its own beautiful parkland and gardens in the grounds of St Fagans Castle, a 16th century manor house, on the outskirts of Cardiff and a stone’s throw from Cardiff Castle itself.

St Fagans Castle, St Fagans Museum
St Fagans Castle, St Fagans Museum

St Fagans aim is to provide visitors with a history of Wales throughout the ages from the earliest Celtic settlements through medieval history to our more recent industrial heritage.  And it does this not through stuffy exhibitions but by allowing you to actually walk through some forty real historic buildings, each of which was originally constructed in a different era of Welsh history and in a different corner of the country but painstakingly moved and re-erected brick by brick in the grounds of St Fagans.  The fact you can enter these buildings, restored to how they would have originally appeared with superb attention to detail, allows you to literally step back in time and immerse yourself in what life was like for the people of Wales.

Ironworkers Houses, St Fagans
Ironworkers Houses, St Fagans

Some of the highlights include traditional farm buildings (complete with their own animals!), functioning watermills, peasant cottages, a chapel, a school and various Victorian period shops including an operational bakery which still offers local Welsh treats prepared using traditional methods.  My favourite attraction however was the row of terraced workman’s cottages, typical of those you’ll find in communities throughout the valleys of South East Wales to this day.  At St Fagans however each of these six tiny identical houses has been laid-out and furnished to a different generation since the beginning of the industrial revolution.  As you wander into each cottage, into their little gardens and vegetable patches and along the changing cobbled path you can literally walk through the ages from the early 1800’s right through to present day and get a glimpse of Welsh life from previous generations and see how it has changed in such a short time.

So if you find yourself on a time budget in Wales next Summer, head to St Fagans National History Museum in Cardiff where you can experience centuries in half a day!

Top Five Reasons to Vacation in Scotland!

There are literally hundreds of good reasons to choose to Scotland as your vacation destination so you’ll understand my concern when I was asked to compile just FIVE for this blog post!  Well, you may call it cheating, but I’ll call it creative thinking when below I have listed five categories under each of which there could be dozens of other reasons, but you get the idea…

1. Scottish Festivals and Cultural Events

Edinburgh Military Tattoo - Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Military Tattoo – Edinburgh Castle

Whether it’s a traditional Highland Games event where kilted competitors toss the caber or dance a Highland Fling to the tune of the bagpipes or the stunning celebrations of seeing in the new year at Hogmanay, Scotland knows how to put on a show!  Nowhere is this more apparent than during the month of August at the Edinburgh Festival where the city comes alive with street entertainment, theatre, musical, visual arts and comedy events.  Not forgetting of course the internationally renowned spectacle of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo which takes place to the stunning backdrop of Edinburgh Castle itself.

2. Scottish Scenery and Wildlife

Puffins on Isle of Mull
Puffins on Isle of Mull

If the aim of your vacation to escape the hum-drum of life then there is nowhere better in the world to get close to nature!  One of Europe’s last remaining wildernesses, the Scottish Highlands, islands and coasts are a landscape lovers haven – rolling hills, unspoilt golden bays, shimmering lochs and heather-strewn glens in abundance.  And these landscapes, the invigorating air and the chilly coastal waters provide perfect unspoilt habitats for some wondrous wildlife from the red squirrel to roaming wild deer, from circling eagles to nesting puffins and from tiny seals to magnificent whales.

3. Scottish Castles

Eilean Donan Castle, Scottish Highlands
Eilean Donan Castle, Scottish Highlands

From castellated baronial manor houses to imposing fortified towers, few countries can offer the vast array of contrasting castles that Scotland has to boast.  Eilean Donan Castle, on a tidal island in the glassy waters of Loch Duich has become a Scottish Icon in itself having appeared in many films, most notably Highlander.  The dramatic ruins of Urquhart Castle near Inverness on the weather-beaten shores of Loch Ness offers an excellent look-out point for some nessie-spotting whilst Dunottar Castle, reputedly Scotland’s most haunted fortress clings to cliffs near Aberdeen overlooking the wild waters of the North Sea.  Possibly most famous however is the stunning Edinburgh Castle, once the royal seat for Scottish Kings and Queens; perched atop a volcanic rock in the heart of the city the castle offers stunning vistas and is still home to the Scottish Crown Jewels to this day.

4. Scottish Food and Drink

Scotch Whisky Dram
Scotch Whisky Dram

With its rich rural and coastal landscapes it is not surprising that Scotland produces its own quality foods such as beef, local game and the freshest of seafood. Traditional Scottish dishes are hearty affairs such as Aberdeen Angus steak, Cullen Skink, (a thick seafood broth), and Abroath Smokies (haddock smoked over woodchips for a distinctive flavour).  Not to mention Haggis, not a wild-animal as some cheeky locals will have you believe, but minced offal and oats cooked with onion and seasoning and served encased in a sheep’s stomach lining – perhaps not everyone’s ideal dish but should be tried at least once during your stay!  And of course if it’s a cold night there is no better a way to warm up by an open fire than with a nip of Scotland’s Water of Life – a “wee dram” of Whisky.

5. History, history and more history

Callanish Standing Stones - Isle of Lewis
Callanish Standing Stones – Isle of Lewis

The castles mentioned above are, of course, a stark reminder of Scotland’s turbulent past but there is so much history besides.  Why not visit the Scottish Borders to see the famous abbey ruins of Melrose Abbey, where Robert the Bruce’s heart is buried or the intriguing Rosslyn Chapel whose intricate carvings have been connected to the Knights Templar, freemasonry and the Holy Grail, most notably in Dan Brown’s the Da Vinci Code.  In Stirling you’ll find the towering Wallace Monument and the site of the Battle of Bannockburn, history that was brought alive in the 90s movie Braveheart whilst at Culloden Moor you can remember the infamous battle between Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Highland armies and the English forces.  And if this centuries-old history isn’t quite old enough for you then you can always travel to the Scottish Isles where you’ll find the beautiful Callanish Stones (Isle of Lewis) dating back to 3000BC or head to the Isle of Orkney to see the Neolithic dwellings of Skara Brae (predating the Egyptian Pyramids) the ancient tomb of Maes Howe and the Ring of Brodgar all built long before Stonehenge.

Scotland is a truly spectacular destination and the above five pointers are just the tip of iceberg – for further suggestions for your own voyage of discovery through Scotland ask your adeo Travel vacation expert and they’ll be happy to help.

Pride and no Prejudice! Jane Austen to appear on new ten pound note.

It was confirmed last week that Jane Austen will be the controversial new face of the British ten pound note when it is launched in 2017.  Why controversial you may ask – Austen seems a natural choice as one of England‘s most renowned authors whose works are enjoyed to this day and whose stories have been reworked for the television and movie screens time and again.  Indeed, she would seem to sit well in the long line of famous British historical figures to appear on our currency from William Shakespeare right through to Scottish inventor James Watt and nature scientist Charles Darwin.

How the new Jane Austen ten pound note may look.
How the new Jane Austen ten pound note may look.

However, the announcement takes on new significance when you consider that Austen will be only the third female ever, apart from her Majesty the Queen herself, to appear on a banknote of Great Britain.  And that the only other woman – prison-reformer Elizabeth Fry – to currently appear on our banknotes is due to be replaced in 2016, by a male figure (Winston Churchill).

It was this announcement of Fry’s replacement earlier this year which caused a storm of debate – an online petition demanding more female representation on our nation’s cash, aside from the Queen, gained 35000 signatures and there were even threats of court action against the Bank of England on grounds of equality and discrimination.  Austen had been suggested as a potential female figure and a social-media campaign of support was quickly galvanised.

Bath Abbey, Bath, England
Bath Abbey in Bath where Austen lived for much of her life.

Fortunately, last week’s confirmation that Jane Austen will indeed appear on our new ten pound notes has quelled some of the controversy.  The new Governor of the Bank of England seems to be more than happy with the selection saying that Jane Austen clearly “merits” a place amongst the other historical figures and that her novels are both “enduring” and with “universal appeal”.  And in response to the online petition he has also announced a review of the selection process for who appears on our bank notes to ensure improved diversity in the historical figures portrayed.

So soon it will be with great pride that we see Jane Austen represented on our banknotes and hopefully we won’t see this type of prejudice again!

Interested in Jane Austen, why not visit the Jane Austen centre in Bath or the museum set in her former home at Chawton near Winchester.

Andy Murray – Wimbledon Champion!

Few of us thought we would see the day; and once it arrived few of us felt we would survive it!  In a breathtakingly dramatic final, yesterday Scotland‘s Andy Murray clinched championship point to become Britain’s first male Wimbledon single champion in 77 years – and Britain couldn’t be prouder!

Wimbledon Logo
Wimbledon Logo

I blogged last year about our annual obsession with tennis during the Championships and this year was no different.  After seeing Andy Murray reach Wimbledon final in 2012 only to lose in straight sets to the ever dominant and seven-time champion Roger Federer, Brits were holding their breath yesterday when we had a second chance to see a Brit once again lift the trophy in London.  And the feat was to be no easier this year as he faced world number one from Serbia, Novak Djokovic.  The win was, on paper, a straight-forward victory with a 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 straight sets score-line; not a tie-break or fifth set in sight!  However in reality it was a tight tussle with Murray twice having to come back from a break down once in each of the second and third sets.

Andy Murray - Wimbledon
Andy Murray with Wimbledon Trophy

However, it was in the final game that the drama really unfolded; for the last few weeks we have cooked in one of our warmest Summers in a long while, but yesterday, in London‘s blistering heat, Andy Murray made us sweat for a whole new reason.  Coming out to serve for the match Murray made it to 40-0 and held three consecutive championship points only for the Serbian player, with a combination of bravery, skill and a hint of luck, to edge his way back in to the game.  Equalling at deuce all of a sudden what had seemed like a certain victory now hung once more in the balance.  The tension was tangible in the stadium, on Henman Hill and on sofas up and down the country from the highest of the Scottish Highlands to the tip of Cornwall in England as Djokovic enjoyed three break points before Murray steadied the ship and his nerves finally clinching the victory on his fourth match point.

As Murray roared in celebration so did the British public.  More than 20 million people in Britain, almost a third of the population, tuned in to watch the final –  a sign of just what this historic win meant to the nation!  Well done Andy Murray!

Liverpool – A Capital City!

“Why should you never swerve your car to hit a Scouser on a bike…?”  This is the beginning of a joke about Liverpool that I heard in the pub last week. I’ll tell you the punchIine shortly, but needless to say it is not complimentary of the city.  Incidentally the joker had never actually been to the city but it seems that here in Britain it is fair game to poke fun at Liverpool and the city still takes a good verbal bashing from the peoples of other areas of England.  So why was Liverpool named European capital of culture as recently as 2008?  What is the culture of Liverpool?  And what on earth is a Scouser?

Liverpool Captial of Culture, 2008.  Flag.
Liverpool Captial of Culture, 2008. Flag.

As a major port, Liverpool boomed during the industrial revolution from international trade and immigration from Ireland.  Lobscouse was the regional dish, a hearty Lamb Stew that was eaten by the Sailors and shipbuilders after a long day out in the cold dockyards and it is from this that the colloquial name for  Liverpudlian’s (people from Liverpool) is derived, Scouser and the name of the accent, Scouse.  By the 1980’s however the city’s heavy industries fell in to decline and in 1981 an area of Liverpool called Toxteth was the scene for some of the worst riots in England.  For many Brits, it is from this era that Liverpool and Scousers still hold their reputations, hence the jokes and stereotypes suggesting that Liverpool is high on crime and with many deprived areas.

Liver Buildings, Albert Docks, Liverpool.
Liver Buildings, Albert Docks, Liverpool.

So why was Liverpool named European Capital of Culture?  Well, Liverpool has bounced back from its eighties lows.  Aesthetically, Liverpool has always been very appealing; it is home to a number of iconic landmarks, as the only city in Europe with not one, but two Christian cathedrals, an elegant 18th century town hall and the stunning riverside Liver Buildings.  But in recent years this has only improved with the redevelopment of the cosmopolitan Albert Docks area, now home to trendy bars, boutique shops and popular museums and the addition of the “Liverpool One” commercial centre which offers some of the best shopping in the North of England.

But surely “culture” really lies within the people of a city and any city that has experienced the turbulent history that Liverpool has must have bundles of character.   In fact Liverpool has given birth to a hugely disproportionate number of Britain‘s best-loved actors, comics and TV personalities not to mention a few singer/songwriters that you may have heard of: John, Paul, George and Ringo.

Eleanor Rigby Statue, Stanley Street, Liverpool
Eleanor Rigby Statue, Stanley Street, Liverpool

The Beatles, of course hailed from Liverpool and catapulted the city into the international Limelight with their Mersey Beat and Pop/Rock sounds.  They were inspired by the city, it’s people and their humble surroundings such as Penny Lane, a quiet suburban street, and Strawberry Field, a local city orphanage. Indeed even the Cavern Club where the Beatles first performed together remains unassuming and fairly low-key. Today you will see a number of sculptures all over the city such as those of the Beatles themselves, the un-missable Yellow Submarine at Liverpool Airport and the, rather fittingly, little known statue of Eleanor Rigby sat alone on a bench tucked away on a quiet side street.

So if culture is about people then it is little wonder that Liverpool won city of culture in 2008; Scousers, are loyal and humble, abundant in personality and with unrivalled sense of humour even in hard times.  So, the joke I heard goes: “You should never Swerve your car to hit a Scouser because the chances are that the bike is yours…”.  However in reality this is an outdated view of this magnificent city – if you did knock a Scouser off his bike today he would probably get up, dust himself off, check your car wasn’t damaged and then offer to buy you a pint in the pub down the road. And if you don’t believe me, why not visit yourself!

Check out our blog from 2012 – 50 years of the Beatles.