Category: Travel Writing

How to celebrate St Dwynwen’s Day in Anglesey, North Wales

Today marks St Dwynwen’s Day, the Welsh equivalent of Valentine’s Day.

The love action is focused on Llanddwyn Island [pictured above], a remote headland off the tip of Anglesey, where Dwynwen founded her spiritual Shangri-La in the 5th century.

It’s a place to celebrate new-found love and soothe the soul after heartbreak.

I’ve done the walk to Llanddwyn Island several times, braving the elements and soaking up the ancient spirituality of the location.

I’ve trudged its Blue Flag beach for both contexts.

Llanddwyn is off limits to most this year under ongoing lockdown restrictions.

But my feature in the travel section of The Independent today celebrates its unique sense of spiritual calm at a time when, loved up or alone, we all need some saintly solace.

Here’s a flavour of my story:

Today that church may be ruined but it still swirls with the spirituality of the Wales’ age of the saints and has a presence that compels visitors to run their fingers along the ancient stone altar.

As the weather closes in, I find wave-smoothed pebbles [pictured below] tucked amongst the stones, messages of love lost and won scrawled upon them.

Read the full feature, A walk with ancient Celtic lovers for the Welsh Valentine’s Day via Independent Travel.

How to take a walk in the footsteps of the Northern Saints

* This post was written pre lockdown * 

One name keeps coming up in County Durham: Cuthbert.

“St Cuthbert is woven into the landscape of the Northeast. There were times when the pilgrims couldn’t get to his shrine as it was so crowded.”

Charlie Allen, Canon Chancellor of Durham Cathedral, is expainling Cuddy’s perennial appeal as we meet in the Cathedral cloisters, the sound of the choir practicing for evensong beyond the ancient walls.

“Today, pilgrims come for different reasons but the idea of making a pilgrimage remains a transition point in life. It’s a time to reassess.”

Durham is the visitor hub for six new, long-distance walking trails, collectively the Northern Saints project, which maps the spiritual heritage of Northeast England as the Christian crossroads of the British Isles.

The trails, following ancient pilgrimage routes, were first waymarked to coincide with the Association of English Cathedrals naming 2020 as the Year of Pilgrimage.

I’m walking The Way of Life, following in the footsteps of St Cuthbert north towards Durham via Bishop Auckland.

His body was carried by his devoted followers [pictured above as a statue in Durham] to a place of refuge following Viking raids on Northumberland in the 9th century.

One of the shorter of the six trails, the 29-mile hike divides conveniently into two or three sections for a weekend of autumnal walking and local history.

There are places to stay and eat along the route with more infrastructure to be added.

The route is well waymarked with circular symbols of a purple Celtic cross, although it’s worth downloading a route plan from the website for some sections.

Further waymarking is due to be completed by Easter 2021.

My features from The Way of Life will now be published in the spring. Check back for details.

Why a virtual tour of Manchester is the best way to celebrate Corrie at 60

A British institution reaches the age to collect its bus pass today.

It’s not a person but a TV series, one that has reflected the changing fortunes of Manchester from gritty, post-industrial monochrome to modern cultural colossus.

It has celebrated ordinary lives lived large, survived countless traumas and even launched a campaign to ‘free the Weatherfield one’ [see picture above].

As Coronation Street celebrates 60 years of kitchen-sink drama from the streets of Weatherfield, I joined a virtual tour of the key sites with tour guide Sue McCarthy of Tour Manchester.

My preview of tonight’s anniversary tour is published today in the i Newspaper.

Here’s a preview:

The Street has a long history of strong female characters from femme fatale Elsie Tanner to resident gossip Vera Duckworth.
Hilda remains the soap’s queen, her leaving party from 1987 still one of the show’s most-watched episodes with 27m viewers.
“Many of those classic female characters were based on Tony Warren’s extended family,” explains Sue.
“I admire the feisty female spirit that has been a trademark of the show throughout the years,” she adds.

Read the full story, How to join a celebratory virtual tour of Coronation Street.

More about Tour Manchester

The North Wales town expecting an unexpected I’m A Celebrity tourism boom

Never mind Jordan North’s happy place.

The only place to be right now is a small market in North Wales with a Grade I-listed castle.

The reason? Gwrych Castle on the edge of Abergele is hosting the ITV series I’m A Celebrity following a Covid-enforced relocation from the Australian jungle.

I was there just before the show launched to take the pulse on the streets of the small town anticipating a big tourist boom.

Here’s a sample of my feature:

Walking down Abergele’s high street [pictured above], I can sense the excitement building.

The former mayor started a competition for local businesses to dress their shop windows with a celebrity motif and the townspeople have really embraced it.

The barber shop, A Cut Above, has a grinning Ant and Dec with scissors above the catchy slogan:

“Who’s next for the chop?”

Across the road at The Veg Shop, the cheeky-chappie Geordies are sporting dinner jackets and holding aloft leeks, declaring:

“I’m a vegetable, get me out of here.”

The Ready Grass showroom (‘superior quality artificial grass at wholesale prices’), meanwhile, has installed a throne in its car park with two giant, inflatable figures of Ant and Dec, taking a bow in the bracing sea breeze.

Read the full story via Telegraph Travel.