Category: Travel Writing

Why the Chester Mystery Plays should be on your cultural radar this summer

Players, makers and stitchers of the 2023 Chester Mystery Plays Company (image: Chester Mystery Plays).

The Chester Mystery Plays return to Chester Cathedral this summer, the season coinciding with the Chester Heritage Festival.

The production comprises a huge cast of professional and non-professional performers (pictured above), many volunteering for roles on stage, in the choir, or behind the scenes.

I wrote a preview of the production, based around an interview with the actor Nick Fry, who shares the role of God with a female actor this summer.

The 24 plays, based on Bible stories, form an overarching narrative from The Creation to The Last Judgement, and are performed on a five-year cycle in Chester.

They originated in the city in 1300s, with small-scale church productions and a script in Latin. By the 1400s, the plays had been adopted by the Crafts Guilds, bodies of local tradesmen like a modern-day trade union, to be staged and performed in Middle English.

The plays formed part of the three-day Feast of Corpus Christi Fair with the players performing on pageant carts and the audience standing at fixed points around the city, such as The Cross and Abbey Gateway — locations still there today.

The Plays became associated with bawdy crowd behaviour and were banned after the Reformation, with last performance in Chester in 1578; making Chester home to the longest-running cycle in medieval times.

But the plays returned to the city as part of the 1951 Festival of Britain, and have been performed at Chester Cathedral since 2013.

Nick Fry, says:

“The Chester Mystery Plays reflect the history of both the cathedral and the city. And it’s a living history. The plays are steeped in history, yet remain of the community and for the community.”

Read the full article via The Church Times, The play that unites the city of Chester.

More info and booking: Chester Mystery Plays.

Why boutique Shrewsbury should be on your UK-staycation radar this year

A winter weekend in Shrewsbury? No, really.

My first assignment of the new year took me to the Shropshire market town for a UK staycation.

The town is closely associated with the story of the naturalist Charles Darwen, Shrewsbury’s most famous son [pictured above].

It hosts an annual festival of natural sciences, coinciding with the February 12 birthday of man whose 1859 book, On the Origin of Species, forms the basis of our understanding of evolution.

“Darwen was a human being with human failings, but he simply couldn’t stop himself asking questions all his life,” says Jon King, whose book, Charles Darwin in Shrewsbury – The Making of a Marvellous Mind was recently published by Amberley Publishing.

But the town is also booming as a hub for independent businesses with boutique galleries, cafes and shops doing a busy trade, notably along historic Wyle Cop.

The historic market town, set within a loop of the River Severn, first made its money from the wool industry in Tudor times.

Today the half-timbered shopfronts of Wyle Cop, said to be the street with the longest uninterrupted row of independent shops in the country, are again alive with home-grown businesses.

“Shrewsbury is booming with quirky, independent businesses,” says local shopkeeper, Simon Perks. “Like a rubber band, it keeps bouncing back.”

Read the full story via Telegraph Travel, Visitors Thought Shrewsbury was like Middle Earth for years

How to visit Pontcanna, Cardiff’s coolest district for a Welsh weekend like a local

My last story of the year is part of a round-up feature for Telegraph Travel.

I explored the Cardiff suburb of Pontcanna, the en-vogue neighbourhood for shopping, dining and drinking.

Here’s a taster of the text:

The Welsh capital packs heritage attractions and sporting heroes into the compact city centre. But the smart set heads for Pontcanna.

The leafy, northwestern suburb is, along with neighbouring Canton, home to green spaces, hipster hangouts and cool cafes. Crucially, it feels properly Welsh, and the locals outnumber day-trippers.

Better still, it’s just a 20-minute stroll into the city centre via Bute Park and the grounds of Cardiff Castle, part Norman fortress, part Victorian folly, following the river Taff.

Amongst my recommendations are brunch at Milkwood [pictured above] and the restuarant, Thomas.

The latter is the domain of Pembrokeshire-raised chef Tom Simmons, who blends French and Welsh influences for a true taste of the cosmopolitan Cardiff suburbs.

Read the full story via Telegraph Travel, Britain’s coolest 15 neighbourhoods — and how to see them like a local 

How ghost stories reveal the dark reality of life for Yorkshire’s ancient monks

A Halloween trip to the North Yorkshire Moors this autumn.

I took a trip back through time to Rievaulx Abbey [pictured above] to try a new ghost-story-inspired tour of English Heritage properties.

Revenants and Remains is a 90-minute walking tour of five monastic sites across the North of England, ranging from Cumbria to North Yorkshire.

The idea is to peer into the supernatural shadows, using ghost stories to shine light into the darker corners of the medieval sites.

Here’s a sample of the story:

The resident monks drew on ancient beliefs and local folk legends to compile a series of ghost stories, fused with medieval mysticism and the hellfire-brimstone of the Holy scriptures. The tours interpret these stories to explain the symbolism of the medieval belief system, a world dominated by terrifying tales of the afterlife and spooky stories of the undead.

Tour leader, Dr. Michael Carter, Senior Properties Historian at English Heritage, said:

“The stories reveal the lives of medieval monks were epitomised by a constant state of moral vigilance for the sin-stained souls of their patrons, easing their path to Paradise.”

Read the full story via i Travel, The ghost stories and medieval ruins that shaped the North York Moors