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A guide to Seeing Spring Flowers in Wales

Nia Knott

It's February and the days are getting longer in Wales. In Wales we relish this time of year, when we're reassured of the return of light in the spring with the first flowers making their appearance. Read on for a guide to enjoying the spring flowers in Wales. 

Photo by gehringj/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by gehringj/iStock / Getty Images

Snowdrops come first; pretty small white flowers whose name is not hard to decipher. They're quite widespread and can be seen across Wales from January until around the end of February. For a lovely winter walk through gardens and woodland with snowdrops all around, it's hard to beat some of the National Trust properties. Particularly good are Dyffryn Gardens, near Cardiff; Plas yn Rhiw, Lleyn Peninsula; and Bodnant Gardens, Conwy - where you can even help the gardeners to plant them!

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The Daffodil is one of the emblems of Wales, and it's no surprise then, that in March you will see them everywhere. They are widely cultivated so you'll see them in parks and gardens, as well as on the roadside, especially at the entrance to a town or village. They're popular in planters too. The daffodil display inside Cardiff Castle is wonderful. For wild daffodils you might have to look a little further - the Wildlife Trust woodlands of Llandefaelog and Coed y Bwl are good places to find them. 

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Ramsons or Wild Garlic as they're otherwise known are highly fragrant white flowers whose scent may have you planning dinner as you're walking through the woods. They can be seen in woodlands all over Wales usually between April to June. One of our favourite spots for enjoying these flowers is The Woodland Trust's Oxwich Woods, on the Gower Peninsula.   

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Bluebells are the most popular spring flowers, and many people will plan a trip specifically to see Bluebells. Their scent is wonderfully distinctive, and their blue-purple flowers carpet ancient woodlands and valley sides. We love the bluebell woods in the Wye Valley, and in Wenallt Woods, just north of Cardiff. The bluebells in Cwm Pennant, a quiet valley in Snowdonia, are found in a mountainside environment rather than woodland. They are usually out in April - May. 

All of our tours take in the best wild places where you can enjoy the Spring flowers - why not join one of our small group tours this spring! 

5 of the Best Castles to Visit in Wales

Nia Knott

Think of Wales and you probably picture green, rolling hillsides, beautiful coastline, pretty market towns, and.... castles. Some say that Wales has the most castles per square mile of anywhere in the world. Whether you want to indulge your childhood imagination of kings, knights and battles, quietly ponder on the tyranny of past leaders and invaders, or marvel at the ingenious feats of engineering from a pre-mechanised world; you'll never be far away from a castle in Wales. From deserted ruins on a remote hilltop, to near-fully intact imposing fortresses standing proudly in a town centre, we've put together a list of five of our favourite castles to explore in Wales. 

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1. Chepstow Castle

Standing proudly at the southern gateway into Wales, this is Wales' oldest castle at 950 years old. It's also the oldest surviving stone castle in Britain (post-Roman). Age aside, it's the precarious location, perched on a narrow strip of land on the banks of the river Wye that impresses. Once inside, the sheer size of the great tower is unfathomable. Interesting to note is the perhaps symbolic use of tiles from a nearby Roman settlement in the construction of the walls of the great tower.  There are some great photo vantage points from the upper Barbican looking back down, and also from the wine terrace looking up. Chepstow itself is a pretty town to explore, with a great little museum and lots of nice places to eat. Travel a few miles upriver and you'll reach the picturesque ruins of Tintern Abbey.

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2. Caerphilly Castle

Caerphilly castle lies a few miles north of Cardiff, and is Wales' largest castle, and second largest in the UK after Windsor. We like to take a moment to consider the need for such a huge fortress in this area - the physical remains tell you of the military might of the Normans, but it was the serious threat from the native welsh princes which led to the castle being built. Caerphilly's scale is impressive, and it's concentric design is easy to understand - it looks like a castle you might draw. Approaching the castle over a series of bridges over the moats, don't miss the leaning tower (apparently it leans at an angle greater than the tower of Pisa). The great hall is impressive - probably one of the largest non-royal halls ever built in Britain. Nowadays it is a popular place for weddings, so may not always be accessible on your visit. Our favourite part of the castle is the Braose Gallery - initially a defensive wall walk, later it was enclosed, which gives it a secret passageway feeling. Kids love running through the passage way, and its pretty fun for big kids too! 

Photo by leighcol/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by leighcol/iStock / Getty Images

3. Carreg Cennen

If Chepstow is the oldest, and Caerphilly the largest, then Carreg Cennen might be described as the prettiest. Tucked away in the rolling countryside of Carmarthenshire, in the west of the Brecon Beacons National Park, Carreg Cennen stands in ruins on top of a hill; a perfect defensive position. There was likely a native welsh fort here before the mid 1200's, when it was overtaken by English invaders. It changed hands several times before finally falling into ruin. Aside from the location, the coolest thing about this castle is the underground tunnel that leads to a natural cave - just remember to bring a torch and mind your step - and head! If the climb up the hill to the castle has worked up an appetite, we recommend a visit to Wright's Food Emporium in Llanarthne. 

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4. Harlech Castle

Harlech Castle holds some of the most important welsh history as well as a stunning location. Set up on a rocky outcrop overlooking Cardigan Bay, with views to the Snowdonia mountain range and Lleyn Peninsula. It is one of the medieval castles of King Edward I, which along with Caernarfon, Beaumaris and Conwy, make up an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The castle saw much action over the years, and in the early 1400's was seized by the newly proclaimed Prince of Wales, Owain Glyndwr. If you have a head for heights, climb up the narrow staircase leading to the wall walk that takes you around the castle. There are amazing views out to sea and over towards the Snowdonian mountains. 

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5. Dolbadarn Castle

Very little remains of this Welsh castle - just a footprint of the buildings that would have stood here during the 13th Century. Dolbadarn was built by Llewelyn the Great, to protect the kingdom of Gwynedd. It stands at the foot of the dramatic Llanberis mountain pass, in the shadow of Mount Snowdon. An amazingly intact round keep remains - and is said to have been used as a prison for Llewelyn's own brother, who he kept captive here for 20 years. There's so much to do in this area you're spoilt for choice. Caernarfon Castle is a short while away, or if you're on the trail of Welsh castles visit nearby Dolwyddelan. 

Have you been to Wales? Which is your favourite castle? Let us know in the comments below >

Explore Wales' castles with us! Join a small group tour from Cardiff or arrange a personalised tour

A Brief History of Welsh Wool

Nia Knott

A brief history of Welsh wool

The Welsh have used wool since prehistory. For much of history the wool was spun and knitted in cottage industry style; the beginnings of industrialisation came in medieval times, promoted by the Cistercian communities at Tintern, Margam and Neath, in South Wales in particular. With the adoption of the water wheel to power woollen mills the industry thrived.

It was the 19th and 20th Centuries, however, in which the wool industry held a huge importance for Wales. Raw materials were in plentiful supply, as was a good local workforce skilled in the production of wool. In areas such as the Teifi valley in Ceredigion & Carmarthenshire, the abundance of fast flowing water to power the mills, as well as good rail links for exporting, made it an important textile manufacturing region.

Traditional use for wool products was for local demand for tweed or flannel clothing such as shawls, shirts and socks, and for household items such as blankets and bed covers. Women would use their shawls as baby carriers. Much wool was shipped to London to be exported around the world. However, there was a dark side to the success of the industry. Welsh wool clothing, or 'plains' as they were known, became the preferred option for slave masters in the West Indies to clothe slaves. It's hard to imagine the Welsh, who have historically fought for justice for themselves and others, and recently campaigned to be the world's first Fair Trade Nation, supporting the slave industry in such a way, but the Welsh played a role, and it should not be forgotten. 

There was fierce competition for the industry from Northern England, and aside from a boost during the First World War, when the demand for soldier's clothing was high, the industry began to decline. Following the coal depression of the 1920s - 1930s, few woollen mills remained. 

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The Welsh Wool Revival?

The Welsh wool industry has continued, albeit at a small scale, to the present day. Due to regulations, wool produced in Wales is collected centrally by the British Wool Marketing Board, who have been in charge of collecting, promoting & selling all wool in Britain since the 1950s. Very much an international market, wool is exported as British, and in turn, weavers here in Wales often use imported wool. 

Over the last few years, there has been a resurgence in interest in Welsh Wool. Customers now want products that have a story behind them, are local and they are more interested than ever in the provenance and heritage of the items they are buying. There has been an increased demand for tapestry made in Wales. Woollen mills and individual weavers still create their own unique and distinctive patterns, and as well as producing the traditional blankets now produce a wide range of other items made from Welsh tapestry. 

Taking it a step further, the Cambrian Wool Initiative was recently established as a way to try to protect the origin and promote wool produced in the Cambrian Mountains area in rural West Wales. They have begun to produce, collect, and directly sell wool that can be used in a variety of ways to create beautiful, and importantly, sustainable, products. They are also working with one of Wales' best established mills to hopefully create fully Welsh-wool, Welsh-woven products. 

Discover more

Visit the National Wool Museum of Wales

Visit the Museum of Welsh Life at St Fagan's

Shop

Melin Tregwynt (Huge range of colours, styles and products, top quality)

Sian O'Doherty (Fresh designs and workshops)

Jane Beck Welsh Blankets (Large collection of vintage, antique & modern)

The Welsh Girl (Unique clothing and home textiles)

 

Want to learn more about Wales' wool industry? Immerse yourself in creativity on a craft break? We can organise you and your group a personalised tour including craft workshops, demonstrations, visits to working mills and craft museums. Just ask us how we can help you. 

 

 

 

Responsible Travel: 5 Ways to Reduce Your Plastic Footprint While Travelling

Nia Knott

 

Most people, especially travellers, are aware that plastic is a huge problem in today's world. It's bad news for our health and the environment. When you're travelling it may not seem easy to avoid plastic as well as you may be able to do at home - it is everywhere! Fortunately, there are some really simple steps you can take to lessen your plastic footprint while you're on the road. Here are 5 to get you started:

1. Bring a reusable water bottle

Plastic water bottles are one of the worst overuses of plastics that travellers are guilty of making. It's important to keep hydrated when travelling and you get through a load of water. Plus, you want to avoid getting sick so bottled water seems safer. The solution? Bring a reusable water bottle. In many places you'll be able to refill with safe drinking water. If you don't think this is going to be possible, consider investing in a special filter bottle. You can get some really amazing filters now which cut out all contaminants, bacteria, pathogens and viruses, making virtually any water safe to drink. The best have recyclable filters.

2. Ditch plastic straws and carrier bags

There are very few incidences in which plastic straws are necessary for the general population. They are an example of a completely avoidable use of plastic yet are so commonplace they're often provided even if you haven't asked for one. It's easy to make a small impact by quitting plastic straws! Simply refuse straws if they are offered to you, and don't be afraid of making a friendly suggestion to any bars or restaurants you visit that are still using them. 

To avoid needing plastic carrier bags, remember to pack a soft reusable bag - some of them fold up really small so are perfect for travel. 

3. Avoid tacky souvenirs

Do you really need another plastic keyring or fridge magnet? Although they may have pictures or words of the place you're visiting on them, chances are they were made on the other side of the world in a factory with questionable working conditions! Instead, ask around for ideas of local, sustainable crafts that will make a unique, durable and low-impact momento of your time in a country. 

Local tip: In Wales, we produce beautiful woollen tapestry, products, traditional love spoons (check for sustainable wood), and artisan slate products. 

4. Research your recycling options

Prevention is always better than cure and recycling does use energy, so avoiding plastic as far as possible is the ideal. However, where plastic use isn't easily avoided, try to find out what recycling facilities are available. Ask around - a local, a tourism information officer or a hotel concierge. Even if there aren't facilities available, simply asking the question can be powerful. Imagine the impact if every hotel guest asked about a hotel's recycling facilities! 

5. Do a 5 minute beach clean

So maybe you're on holiday and just want to relax, but how good does it feel to leave somewhere a little bit better than when you arrived? To be part of the solution and not the problem. Our oceans are teeming with plastics, harmful to marine wildlife, and to our health, as plastic particles have been found to get in to the food chain. Beaches and shorelines see marine litter from hundreds to thousands of miles away wash up every day, endangering shore animals and seabirds in the process. It can seem like an overwhelming problem but just taking 5 minutes to pick up a few pieces of plastic while you're at the coast is a positive step. You may inspire others who see you doing it too. Again, imagine if everyone who visited did this! 

Do you have any tips for reducing your plastic use while travelling? Please share your ideas with everyone by commenting below.

Please share this post - let's make an impact! 

 

Image Courtesy of Keattikorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net