The latest is a piece for the Best Loved Hotels group to write the Wales copy for their new brochure — out 2017.
The story ties into the theme of myths and legends, which Wales will celebrate in the year ahead.
Here’s a preview:
Walkers love Offa’s Dyke but few know the legends surrounding the linear earthwork that forms its 82-mile-long backbone. Offa, the 8th-century King of Mercia built the dyke as a Saxon statement of intent against rebellious Welsh tribes. The ditch and high-earth ramparts subsequently ran with blood for three centuries of border skirmishes.
I’m now planning some new ideas around Welsh myths and legends for forthcoming commissions.
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From school set texts to West End theatres, his stories have been translated into 58 languages and he has sold more than 200m books worldwide.
Many of his creations have already been adapted for stage and screen, notably Willy Wonka and Matilda, while Steven Spielberg’s new film of The Big Friendly Giant (BFG), staring Wolf Hall’s Mark Rylance in the title role, premieres on July 22.
But most people don’t realise that Dahl was Welsh — born just outside Cardiff to a Norwegian family on September 13, 1916. The day is now commemorated globally as Roald Dahl Day and Wales celebrates Dahl’s literary legacy this year with a programme of cultural events to mark the 100th birthday of the world’s favourite children’s author.
“I read Dahl for the first time with my two young children and Danny Champion of the World had me in floods of tears,” says Lleucu Siencyn, Chief Executive of Literature Wales, one of the festival organisers.
“Dahl’s appeal for me is to draw on his own personal experience to convey a real sense of humanity.”
I’ve come to Cardiff to follow in the footsteps of the great storyteller, exploring the formative places that fired the literary imagination of the young Dahl.
Dahl’s Oslo-born father, Harald, had come to the Welsh capital to seek his fortune in the late 19th-century iron-making and coal-mining boom. The latter established a successful ship broking business, Andresen and Dahl, from a rented office on Bute Street in modern-day Cardiff Bay [see map, above].
My first stop is the Norwegian Church, established by the Norwegian Seamen’s Missions, where young Roald was christened in 1916. Today the building is known as the Norwegian Church Arts Centre and plays home to concerts and exhibitions. Check out the upstairs Roald Dahl gallery for changing exhibitions.
Round the corner is Roald Dahl Place, home to the Wales Millennium Centre, a key venue for events this summer. It is close to here that, at the age of nine, Dahl set out for boarding school in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset. He would travel to and from school in on an old steamer ship from Cardiff Docks and suffered from terrible homesickness for his family in Wales.
Writing in Boy: Tales of Childhood, he says:
“On a clear day you can stand on the esplanade at Weston and look across the fifteen or so miles of water and see the coast of Wales lying pale and milky on the horizon.”
Dahl was born and spent his early childhood in the Llandaff district, a leafy community a couple of miles outside of Cardiff. He attended Llandaff Cathedral School, situated in the shadow of the towering Gothic cathedral, from the autumn of 1923 onwards.
It was here, aged just seen years old, that he developed his particular sense of mischief while admiring the Sherbet Suckers and Tonsil Ticklers at the sweet shop on the High Street.
Dahl recounts the legendary story of the Great Mouse Plot, a scheme to leave a dead mouse in a jar of Gobstoppers to frighten the misery-guts female proprietor. He writes:
“Mrs. Pratchett was a small, skinny old hag with a moustache on her upper lip and a mouth as sour as a green gooseberry.”
Today Llandaff remains a leafy enclave on Cardiff’s doorstep. After a stroll around the genteel village green, I join Dahl fans to admire a blue plaque, commissioned by the Llandaff Society, to mark the site of the former High Street sweetshop.
Somewhat underwhelming, the erstwhile sweet shop is now a Chinese take-away.
Dahl would often spend childhood holidays in the stately Pembroke shire resort of Tenby. The family stayed in the same property, The Cabin, every year.
The Grade II-listed property remains in the ownership of the Dahl family with inspiring harbour views and it is available to rent as a holiday home to this day through Coastal Cottages. The Blue Plaque outside now commemorates the Dahl connection.
Dahl also holidayed in Laugharne, Carmarthenshire, and is known to have visited Dylan Thomas’s writing shed on the estuary.
The tiny shed may even have inspired him to build his own writing hut at his home in the Buckinghamshire village of Great Missenden, Bucks, where the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre today welcome visitors from across the would
The city in England’s northwest has flirted with shopaholic footballers’ wives and Roman heritage fans over the years.
It remains home to the largest stone-built Roman Amphitheatre in Britain and to the Duke of Westminster, one of Britain’s richest men.
But the opening this year of Chester’s new flagship arts centre, Storyhouse, ushers in a new era as a cultural destination with its vibrant summer festival programme backed by a slew of new places to stay, eat and drink.
“Chester is bigger than it thinks sometimes and, as a returned Cestrian, I see it as an increasingly cultural, creative city,” says Alex Clifton, Artistic Director at arts producer Storyhouse [pictured above].
“Our new arts centre will be a beacon to light up the city after dark.”
The £37m building, adapted from the city’s 1930s Odeon Cinema with an added new wing, will feature two theatre spaces, an arthouse cinema, the new city library and exhibition space when it opens this winter.
Prior to that, the Chester Summer Music Festival returns in May, while the Open Air Theatre in the Grosvenor Park starts its run on July 1st with As You Like It and Stig of the Dump.
Roman legions founded the city of Deva as the largest fortress in Britain around AD70, encircling it with their trademark Roman city walls.
Today Chester wears its rich Roman heritage with pride (you can still walk around the city walls to soak up the historic ambiance), but it also celebrates its status as a living city through shopping, family attractions and a vibrant nightlife.
The centrepoint remains the ironwork Eastgate clock, Chester’s answer to Big Ben.
The clock was conceived for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, albeit not actually completed until two years later, and today towers above the shops and cafes of Eastgate Street, the main shopping thoroughfare.
The latter is also home to the Chester Grosvenor Hotel, which last year celebrated its150th anniversary and retains its Michelin-stared restaurant under head chef Simon Radley.
One of ten key features of the city centre is the distinctive split-level Rows, the two-tiered medieval shopping galleries finished in black-and-white timber.
The Three Old Arches that form part of the Rows in Bridge Street are said to be the oldest shop front in England, but these erstwhile medieval merchants’ shops are packed today with contemporary boutiques.
Heading north along St Werburgh Street, Chester Cathedral has dominated the cityscape since 1092.
Originally constructed as St Werburgh’s Abbey, the sandstone Benedictine Abbey was transformed into a cathedral in the 1540s by decree of Henry VIII.
An oasis of cool and calm, its cloisters and stained-glass windows are its most distinctive features, while a stroll around the cathedral gardens is perfect for some quiet contemplation.
It’s not Chester’s oldest holy site, however. That distinction goes to St. John’s Church, which is believed to date from the 7th century and today houses community events on the fringe of the Grosvenor Park.
Heading south via The Cross, where the town crier still delivers a regular proclamation of the day’s news during summer, Bridge Street leads to the River Dee.
The river was Chester’s best form of defence during medieval onslaughts from Wales and now boasts summer leisure cruises.
Strolling along The Groves, the tree-lined promenade that lines the riverbank, is a perennially popular mooching spot. From here, the city walls lead to Chester Castle, home to the Cheshire Military Museum.
The opening of new cultural attractions this year will keep Chester evolving but the residual charm of the 2000-year-old city is unlikely to change.
“For me, Chester has always been ahead itself for its size with quality attractions,” says Rachael Hill, owner of Heald Country House, a winner at last year’s Marketing Cheshire annual awards.
“Chester has everything a city has to offer without being too enclosed and is the gateway to glorious countryside.”
Side panel: Live like a local — Alex Clifton, Artistic Director, Storyhouse
When I’m not preparing for the opening of Chester’s new arts centre, I love:
Going for tapas at Porta, the informal sister restaurant to Joseph Benjamin
Taking the kids to the Falconry Centre at Chester Cathedral to admire the birds of prey
Nipping out of rehearsals for the Open Air Theatre for a lunchtime dip in the River Dee
Stopping for a pint at The Malborough and getting stuck into the huge list of whiskeys
Stopping for afternoon tea at Tea on the Walls, a hidden-gem cafe with elevated views
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This story was first published in Britain magazine this month.