England’s Top Five Cathedrals.

Following the discovery of Richard III’s remains under a car-park in Leicester, the body is likely to be re-interred in the grounds of the nearby Leicester Cathedral – a situation which, combined with the opening of a dedicated exhibition, has seen a twenty-fold increase its visitor numbers.  Leicester Cathedral, however, is just one of a number of English cathedrals which remain incredibly popular with visitors looking to explore their history, wealth of cultural artefacts and some truly stunning medieval architecture. But which are England’s most beautiful and interesting cathedrals?  Here are some of our favourites:

Salisbury Cathedral.

Salisbury Cathedral
Salisbury Cathedral

A stunning gothic masterpiece, Salisbury Cathedral is a bit of a front-runner.  Built, as one of many English cathedrals after the Norman invasion of 1066, Salisbury is home to Britain’s tallest cathedral spire but also Europe’s oldest working clock dating back to the 1300s.  Visitors can view an original copy of the Magna Carta or climb the 332 step spiral staircase of the main tower, which leans almost two feet, and offers spectacular views over the city and the Salisbury Plain to Stonehenge and beyond.

Winchester Cathedral.
Near to Salisbury, Winchester Cathedral was once the site of a small Anglo-Saxon church but was later transformed in to the magnificent cathedral that still stands today.  Guests once flocked to here to visit the final resting place of St Swithun, whose remains supposedly offer healing qualities to the sick, whilst visitors today are more likely to enjoy the exhibition dedicated to Jane Austen who is laid to rest within the cathedral grounds.

Canterbury Cathedral.

Canterbury Cathedral Stained glass windows.
Canterbury Cathedral Stained glass windows.

Possibly England’s most renowned cathedral, Canterbury Cathedral is currently basking in the limelight following the recent enthronement of a new Arch Bishop of Canterbury.  The cathedral has been the destination of pilgrimages since the middle ages and the murder of the then bishop Thomas Beckett as related in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Today’s pilgrims come in the form of tourists who flock to see the magnificent 12th and 13th century stained-glass “Miracle Windows” and the cathedral’s surrounding medieval structures such as the monastic ruins and the revived herbarium.

York Minster.
The seat of the Archbishop of York, York Minster’s importance in the Anglican Church is second only to that of Canterbury.  The Minster is the largest medieval cathedral in Northern Europe, dominating the York skyline and, from the 602 metre tall central tower, offers stunning views over the surrounding countryside towards the Dales and Moors.  Guests can enjoy the intricate gothic architecture and the world’s largest area of medieval stained glass in a single window.

St Pauls Cathedral.

St Pauls Cathedral Interior
St Pauls Cathedral Interior

Burnt down twice in its history, most recently in the Great Fire of London of 1666, St Pauls Cathedral as it stands today was a 35 year labour of love of architect Sir Christopher Wren.  And its magnificent dome remains an unmistakable feature of London’s iconic skyline today.  At the time of building, the dome was the second largest in the world, behind only St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and in the interior is painted with intricate frescoes of the life of St Paul.  Visitors today can explore the cathedral from top to bottom from the crypt through the whispering gallery to the Golden Gallery at the very pinnacle of the dome.

These are five of our top selected English Cathedrals but there are many more besides.  In Wells the towering cathedral dominates what is essentially a small town, Lincoln Cathedral appeared in the “Da Vinci Code” film, Durham Cathedral enjoys UNESCO World Heritage status whilst Liverpool boasts no fewer than two cathedrals (both Anglican and Catholic).  If you want to explore England’s cathedral cities then why not tailor-make your own tour by contacting us here.

Celebrating Wales – St David’s Day!

What do leeks, small onion-like vegetables, and daffodils, beautiful glowing yellow flowers, have in common?  Well, quite a lot if you’re Welsh actually.

Wales Flag
Wales Flag – Welsh Dragon

Last Friday the little nation of Wales celebrated its National Day as it does every year on 1st March.  Whilst not as internationally well known as the celebrations of St Patricks Day, which come around just shortly afterwards, the festival of St David is celebrated just as vigorously by the Welsh, who are certainly a proud and patriotic bunch.  So who was St David and how do the Welsh celebrate?

A 6th century Welsh Bishop of Minevia, legend has it that St David made his way from Wales on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem where he was made an archbishop and returned home to become a renowned preacher and teacher setting up monastic settlements throughout the country.  His miracles include moving the earth itself as it rose up beneath him whilst he was giving one of his speeches.

Cardiff Castle, Cardiff, Wales
Cardiff Castle, Cardiff, Wales

Almost 900 years later, St David was pronounced a saint and today St David’s Day, which is celebrated on the date of his death, marks an unmissable highlight of spring-time in Wales.  Celebrations take place across the country in every town and village of this little nation but the centrepiece of the festival takes place in the capital city of Cardiff.  Here there are master-classes in Welsh culture and cuisine with language workshops of the ancient Welsh tongue and culinary expositions taking place offering tasty treats such as the traditional Welsh cakes, Cawl and Welsh Rarebit.  The hi

The Daffodil - National Symbol of Wales
The Daffodil – National Symbol of Wales

ghlight is a vibrant parade of red and yellow which marches through the city past the stunning Cardiff Castle and on to St David’s Hall.  Dancers and theatrical performers come together to create a grand spectacle showing off the symbols of Wales such as giant dancing red dragons, and children in the traditional dress of black chimney hats, frilly skirts and white shawls.  And of course no Welsh celebration would be complete without some fine Welsh music whether from the national orchestra, a rendition of the stirring national anthem, the traditional dulcet tones of

some of Wales’ world renowned male-voice choirs or some the country’s best known international divas such as Tom Jones or Shirley Bassey.

And of course the locals are out in force wearing their national symbols of Wales proudly on their breast – the lowly leek or the beautiful daffodil.

Forget St Valentine for Romance, think St Dwynwen!

People keep telling me that love is in the air at the moment as we approach Valentine’s day; but with the shops bursting with garish pink cards and florists trying to sell me bucket loads of roses at twice the usual price, for me, it’s just not happening…  Cupid seems less the god of love and more a plump little cherub attacking me with his bow and arrow and trying to steal my wallet!  So where do we turn for a bit of true romance instead of this plastic impersonation?  My suggestion is the lovely land of Wales!

Welsh Love Spoons
Welsh Love Spoons

In Wales we have an ancient tradition of the giving of love-spoons.  It may not at first sound particularly romantic, presenting your potential love interest with a kitchen utensil, but it is the thought and effort that goes in to them that provides the romance.  The age-old tradition is thought to have originated when sailors were at sea and would spend their lonely hours on board the ships meticulously carving and shaping these spoons from bits of wood whilst they lost themselves in thoughts of their loved-one at home.  Developing over the years from simple designs, many became skilled to achieve incredibly intricate carvings with a wealth of specific features which symbolized different meanings in their own relationships; everything from hearts and flowers to anchors, chain-links, wheels and key-locks can appear on a love-spoon.  After months of work the spoon would be presented to the loved-one, usually as the symbol of the start of a serious relationship.

St Dwynwen
St Dwynwen

Love-spoons are still given in Wales today and if you visit friends here, you will often see one hanging on the kitchen wall.  If you want to see carving in action let us know and we can point you in the direction of a fabulous family-run love-spoon workshop and gallery in Pembrokeshire, South West Wales.

Welsh myth is also bubbling with romance!  Forget St Valentine, we have St Dwynwen with St Dwynwen’s day celebrated on January twenty-fifth each year.  The legend goes that the prettiest daughter of a 5th century King, Dwynwen fell in love with a Prince named Maelon but the King had promised her marriage to another suitor.  Frustrated that he couldn’t be with his love Maelon forced himself upon her and she ran in to the woods to escape; as she fell asleep beneath the trees she was visited by an angel who granted her three wishes and told her that Maelon had been turned to ice for his wicked behaviour.

Llanddwyn Island, Anglesey
Llanddwyn Island, Anglesey

Dwynwen wished firstly that she would never marry, as her father wished her to, and that God would protect and meet the wishes of all true lovers.  For her third wish, she forgave Maelon and wish that he be thawed.  Dwynwen became a nun and a recluse setting up her own chapel on the remote island of Llanddwyn off the coast of North Wales and living out her days alone but for rare visits from star-crossed lovers.

So for a truly romantic trip, why not tour Wales; the nation’s majestic landscapes of dramatic mountains and untouched coastlines dotted with ancient castles offer the perfect romantic back-drop.  From Cardiff or Pembrokeshire, make your way to Anglesey in North Wales before walking hand-in-hand with your loved one across to the remote tidal island of Llanddywn and to the ruins of the very church where St Dwynwens stayed, and here you can present her with your love-spoon.  How’s that for romantic?  And not a tacky love-heart shaped box of chocolates in sight!

Scotland’s Scenic Rail Journeys

The British invented the steam locomotive, constructed the first subway system in London and just recently we announced plans for a massive new high-speed line connecting the North and South of England.  Due to this long railing history, it’s little wonder that train-spotting is a popular past time and that we have a wealth of picturesque rail routes around our little island, not least in Scotland where the journeys have been rated amongst the most scenic in the world!

The West Highland Line

Glenfinnan Viaduct on the West highland Rail Line.
Glenfinnan Viaduct – West Highland Line.

Awarded “World’s Best Rail Journey” by the Wanderlust Travel Awards in 2009, the West Highland Railway Line in Scotland is undoubtedly one of the most scenic railway journeys in Britain.   Running from Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, to Fort William and then to harbour town Mallaig the train ride takes you from a cosmopolitan cityscape to the stark contrast of some of Britain’s most remote and untamed landscapes in the Scottish Highlands.  With work commencing on the line almost 125 years ago and with little money behind the project to build expensive bridges and tunnels, the line winds its way around sharp turns and along steep gradients as it navigates the dramatic Highland terrain.  The result today is a relaxing ride of awe-inspiring vistas.

The North Highland Line

Highland Train
Highland Train

Another of Scotland’s stunning rail journeys is the North Highland line between Inverness, capital of the Highlands, and the coastal port of the Kyle of Lochalsh.  This line passes even further north through Scotland’s Highland wilderness and has been likened to a three part orchestra passing firstly through gentle, pastoral hills near Inverness, then through the mountain scenery of Achnasheen with views of the Torridon Peaks before dropping to the seascapes of Lochcarron and its coastal villages and ports.  Whilst taking in the scenery keep an eye out for the array of birdlife circling overhead and herds of wild deer which can often be seen from the train.

Fortunately, enjoying rail travel in Britain and these scenic rail routes of Scotland couldn’t be easier for overseas visitors who have access to a range of inclusive rail passes via the excellent Britrail system.  The Explore Scotland by Rail itinerary also takes you along both of the majestic rail journeys mentioned above.  The new high-speed line through England will reach speeds of up to 200 miles per hour but is not predicted to be ready to open for another 20 years so in the meantime why not sit back and enjoy the scenery at a more leisurely pace on one these scenic rail journeys!

Top Five Tips for a Self-Drive Tour of Britain

We are often asked by our guests for some hints and tips for travel in Britain, especially for self-drive tours where you have lots of independence and flexibility.  I jotted down a few of these that came up in conversation this week with some our guests who are travelling this Summer and thought I would share them with you…

1. Bring your Own GPS and buy a map.

adeo Travel - Edinburgh Map
adeo Travel – Edinburgh Map

It may sound obvious but buy a map!  Request one and we can stick one in with your vacation documents or you can pick up a good British road atlas when you get here at most service stations and book shops throughout England, Scotland and Wales.  It’s worth the investment and will help when planning your daily route and act as a back-up if your GPS battery dies.  A sat-nav or GPS system is useful in each town/city especially when finding your specific hotel or B&B as you can punch in the exact post-code/zip code.  If you own one already then I would recommend bringing it with you; you can usually download overseas maps/programs in advance and most modern GPS systems are small and can be easily packed.  Bringing yourown will not only save you money on renting one here in Britain but can also save time as new and unfamiliar systems can be confusing – you don’t want to spend half an hour each morning working out how to program it!

2. Enjoy the Scenic Routes.

Self Drive Scottish Highlands
Self Drive Scottish Highlands

We know you want to get to your destination and a GPS will send you the most direct route, but we advise that you get off the beaten track.  Avoid the commuter traffic on the boring highways and get on the back roads where you can take in the scenery and where you’re more likely to stumble upon quaint villages and towns and sights that you weren’t expecting to find.  Particlularly in Scotland, scenic routes to certain destinations are well sign-posted.  Remember, when you’re on your holidays the journey should be just as enjoyable as the destination itself!

3.  Look out for the brown road signs.

Here in the Britain all of our visitor attractions, heritage sites and historic buildings are clearly signposted from major routes by road-signs with a brown background.  Knowing this can help you reach the sites you plan to visit but can also highlight places you didn’t even know existed but will be glad that you didn’t miss.

4. Fill up the car at a supermarket.

Edinburgh Tourist Route Sign
Edinburgh Tourist Route Sign

Gas (or petrol) prices in Britain are generally higher than many other countries so it’s a good idea to fill up in the most economical way possible.  Large supermarkets generally have gas stations and often provide the best priced fuel in the area.  If you spot one fill up there rather than at a highway service station and you’ll save several pence per litre of fuel – it may not seem like much but over the course of your trip you’ll make some savings.

5. Park and ride in to town.

Most of Britain’s major cities offer park and ride schemes whereby you can park in an out of town car-park (parking lot) and take a short bus ride in to the city centre.  This saves the high cost of city-centre parking and the stress of driving in city centre traffic.  Most towns and cities can then be explored on foot or by hopping on the local open-top bus tour which will take you to the major places of interest within the town.

If you have any of your own travel tips or things that you have found useful to know when driving in Britain why not leave a comment below?