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!

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.

Halloween is here in eerie England, spooky Scotland and weird Wales!

Do you believe in ghosts?  You may well do after your Britain vacation!  In the wake of Halloween I have been asked about where to visit for a good fright-fest and in a nation with such a long history, it seems that there are eerie goings on whenever and wherever you visit! 

Pumpkin on Halloween
Pumpkin on Halloween

In Scotland you should start of course with a visit to the eerie waters of Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands.  For years there have been sightings of the famous Loch Ness Monster, an unidentified sea creature which reputedly lives in the depths of the murky lake.  After a cruise on the Loch with one of the local guides you’ll definitely come away believing there really is something down there!  From the Highlands to historic Edinburgh where there are a wealth of walking tours to choose from to hear the city’s ghost stories; only the bravest however will venture beneath the city’s old town itself to Mary King’s Close, a warren of alleys which were buried beneath the city and sealed from the outside for centuries and which are haunted by victims of the black plague!

London too is host to a number of chilling tales.  Why not embark on a tour which visits the sites of the grisly murders of a number of women at the hands of one of the most notorious murderers of England, Jack the Ripper; try to discover his true identity and solve one of Victorian England’s greatest mysteries.  For something a little lighter, you could take the children to the Harry Potter film studios to discover the secrets of the Dark Arts, see the study of professor Snape and meet the Dementors face to er… hood.  In the West Country of England the brave may choose to venture down 50 000 year old natural caves to unravel the mystery of the Witch of Wookey Hole who, according to local legend, was turned to stone and still stands lurking in the shadows of the caverns.

Mary King's Close - Edinburgh
Mary King’s Close – Edinburgh

Crossing the border, you’ll visit the ancient land of Wales which is renowned for its Medieval castles which were the setting for torturous killings and bloody battles.  Almost every fortress has at least one resident ghost and eerie tales of hauntings from the depths of the dungeons to the tops of the towers.  Conwy Castle in the north is haunted by a soldier whose wife and child fell to their deaths from the watch tower whilst at Cardiff Castle look out for the Marquess of Bute who roams the library and passes through a wall to the chapel where he breathed his final breath.

If you’re not scared yet, why not come and see for yourself if they’re real on your own Britrain vacation!  For further information on visiting any of the above locations or tours, let us know.  Or if you have your own eerie tale, why not leave us a comment below!