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?

Happy Birthday Tube You!

Some of us may take it for granted, some people complain about it as they make their daily commute, but it should be remembered that the London Underground is the oldest subway in the World and last week celebrated its 150th Birthday!

London Underground or "Tube" Train
London Underground or “Tube” Train

Amazingly, the London Underground’s first steam engine chugged through the tunnels between Paddington and Farringdon way back on January 10th 1863. However, within days of this maiden journey, the single line was carrying tens of thousands of people each day and had become one of the busiest routes in England.  Built to ease congestion on the busy London streets above ground, the tracks were originally laid by digging long trenches, constructing the tunnels and then refilling the ground above.  Over the years the construction became more sophisticated, with the famous English engineer Isambard Brunel assisting in developing much deeper tunnels and extending the network across London.  The trains themselves followed suit, modernising from steam engines to electrified lines by the late 1800s.  Previously run as separate entities, and giving us the interesting line names (such as Bakerloo, Jubilee and Metropolitan) that are still so familiar to us today, by the 1930s the lines were all brought together under one publicly owned management system and the London Underground or “Tube” as we know it today began to take shape.

Roundel Logo of London Underground
Roundel Logo of London Underground

A century and half after the first journey, today the tube boasts 270 serviced stations, around 400 miles of track and up to 3.5 million journeys made every single day!  Whilst many choose to complain of high-prices, overcrowding and old-fashioned trains, it is undeniable that the London Underground is not only an essential part of the city but has also become an iconic part of the fabric of London and an attraction in itself.  The roundel logo (the red circle with the horizontal blue bar across its centre) and the schematic tube map (whose basic layout remains almost the same as its original design in 1931) have both become famous symbols of the city.  And the tube stations and their unique names have featured in art works, literature and music across the years.

London Underground Map
London Underground Map

Throughout 2013, the London Underground’s anniversary will be celebrated with the release of a special two-pound coin by the Royal Mint and new honorary stamps issued by the Royal Mail so if you’re over here on your travels, don’t forget to look out for them.

Love it or hate it the underground is an idea that has caught on; today there are around 160 subway systems in cities across the globe all following the trend that was set by London more than 150 years ago.  With its role in city life more important than ever and with extensive investment planned for the coming years, who knows what the tube could look like in another 150 years time?