Discover the heart of Wales on St Dwynwen’s Day – the Welsh St Valentine

You may not have heard of St Dwynwen, but Sunday 25th January is St Dwynwen’s Day, and all over Wales the Welsh patron saint of lovers is celebrated. The story is one of romantic celtic legend dating back to the 5th century. Dwynwen was the prettiest of the Welsh king of Powys’ daughters – all twenty four of them! She fell in love with a man called Maelon, but as she was already promised to another, could not marry him. She prayed to god to help forget him and an angel granted her wishes by giving her a magic potion. To show her thanks Dynwen devoted her life to god and helping other lovers.

This Valentine’s Day, take inspiration from Dynwen and look to Wales for a truly romantic break. With wild and beautiful scenery; stunning walks, and fine food, it’s the ideal destination to cosy up in front of a roaring fire at the end of the day.

Follow in the footsteps of Dwynwen to Anglesey

Holy Island, near Holyhead, Anglesey,

Holy Island, near Holyhead, Anglesey,

To continue the story, Dwynwen spent the rest of her life on Llanddyn Island in Anglesey. The remains of the church she set up are still there and have long been a place of pilgrimage. Legend has it the church well can predict the strength of your relationship so star crossed lovers be warned! Llanddyn is not quite an island and is easily reached from the Newborough Warren National Nature Reserve.

Walking through pine forest, sand dunes and across soft white sand make this a dream destination. Soaking up sublime views across the water to the Llŷn Peninsular and spotting the once endangered red squirrels in the forest make this relatively secret spot extra special. Don’t leave Anglesey without exploring further – the pretty town and castle at Beaumaris are not to be missed.

Find a dune of your own in the Gower

Rhossili Bay, Gower

Rhossili Bay, Gower

If pristine white sandy beaches are your thing, the Gower is the destination for you. The first place in Wales to be designated an area of outstanding natural beauty; it has accolades and admirers aplenty. TV programmes such as Huw Edwards’ BBC production ‘The History of Wales’ have featured the varied coastal habitats and birdlife. There are numerous blue flag beaches and in 2013 the magnificent 3 mile sweep of sand at Rhossili Bay was named Europe’s third best beach.

The Gower offers natural beauty and space by the bucket load so it will just be the two of you. Discover miles of footpaths and cycle routes, over 80 ancient monuments and some of the best surf in Wales. And at the end of the day you just need to look up to enjoy the famous Gower dark starry skies. Sigh.

Go off Grid in the Wye Valley

Chepstow Castle on the River Wye

Beautiful scenery on the River Wye

Now if you and your loved one really want to get away from it all – and that means away from mobile reception – the Wye Valley in Mid Wales is the place to go. The area has been charming writers and artists for centuries with the poet William Wordsworth and the artist JMW Turner particular fans.

These days the Wye Valley remains as unspoilt and enchanting as ever. The Lower Wye Valley has been an AONB for 40 years and the whole length of the river Wye is the first in Britain to be designated a site of special scientific interest. If you do want some distraction from each other’s company, this region is also a fantastic destination for an active break. Hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, canoeing and kayaking and horse riding are all on offer here.

Discover the different sides to Snowdonia

Sunrise on Snowdonia

Snowdonia National Park features the largest mountain in England and Wales and some of the best hiking and ruggedly romantic outdoor scenery in the UK. But it’s not all about high craggy peaks because it also boasts some of the best coastline in Wales, the stunning Llŷn Peninsula. This crooked finger of land is unmistakeable on a map and exceptional for its coves, headlands, beaches and bays. The villages of Abersoch, Llanbedrog and Nefyn are especially charming.

Once you’ve bagged the mountain (and taking the train does count), don’t miss Portmeirion a truly remarkable romantic location. This quirky private village is like a slice of the Mediterranean, all the more beguiling for its juxtaposition against this magnificent Welsh region.

Find a romantic ruin like Carew Castle

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Carew Castle

From abandoned abbeys to crumbling castles, Wales really has this one covered! Wales is the castle capital of Europe with some of the world’s finest castles and inspiring landmarks. There are over 600 of them beautifully illustrating Welsh history from roman times to the rich landowners’ follies of the 19th century.

Magnificent Carew Castle is well matched to its stunning waterside location in beautiful Pembrokeshire. The castle’s history spans 2000 years and the site incorporates an impressive 11th century Celtic cross and the only restored Tidal Mill in Wales. Carew is close to one of Wales’ prettiest and cosiest seaside towns Tenby. So after immersing yourselves in history and legend, you can come back to present day with a fish supper for two or an ice cream on the sands.

Cottage of the Week – Hen Wrych Hall Tower, Conwy

Happy New Year! We hope you had a fantastic Christmas and saw 2014 out in style. We’ve chosen one of our favourite featured properties as the first Cottage of the Week for 2015. Hen Wrych Hall Tower offers truly stunning accommodation where perfectly preserved features dovetail with contemporary comfort. So while you can relax and marvel at the majesty of your historic surroundings while you toast your toes by the open fire, you can also do so whilst watching a DVD and becoming the envy of your friends by sharing your status via Wi-Fi.

If you can drag yourself out of the heavily carved king-size four-poster bed and the additional comfort of your historic hideaway then you’ll find much to enjoy in the surrounding area, including a five minute walk to the beach, local pubs restaurants and shops just a mile away. Hen Wrych Hall Tower sleeps 2 and currently has great availability for 2015. Find out more and make it your next romantic getaway by visiting the property listing on cottages4you.

Cottage of the Week – Felin Hedd, Tregaron, nr. Aberystwyth

Felin Hedd, ref. 0N3

We now feature over 700 properties in our Green Scheme – including our lovely new Cottage of the Week.

To join our Green Scheme a property must be energy efficient, offer effective water and waste management and provide guests with plenty of information on shopping local and making the most of attractions in the area (so there’s no need to drive!). Felin Hedd ticks all those boxes and more. The fact that it’s also part of our Luxury and Baby and Toddler collection, offers a hot tub, pool table and comes fully decorated for a festive break is just the icing on a very nice cake!

Felin Hedd sleeps 8 and 2 pets. Find more info and make a booking on the property’s listing on cottages4you.

9 Perfect Ways to Unwind this Winter

The summer months may be behind us, but there’s a whole host of exciting activities and events for you to enjoy this winter. Whether you’re holidaying in a favourite corner of the UK or looking for new and exciting events nearer home, our fair isle has plenty on offer to keep you and the family busy over the winter months, whatever the weather. Click on the first image to start the tour.

 

8 Unique Christmas Shopping Experiences

Edinburgh at Xmas: a vibrant yet traditional festive experience

Christmas shopping – those who love it will tell you nothing could spoil the feeling of finding the perfect gift for someone you love. Hate it and you’ll no doubt be put off by the bustling crowds and stress. Whatever your feelings towards it, we’ve come up with some shopping destination alternatives to the multitude of high streets and malls that’ll leave even the biggest shopping Grinch feeling merry and in the festive spirit.

  1. The Shambles, York

Take a step back in time this year and visit the historic city of York for a Christmas shopping experience coupled with culture and sightseeing. While the city has plenty of fantastic places to grab your gifts, the highlight has to be The Shambles, a road so old that it was mentioned in the Domesday Book of William the Conqueror in 1086. Strolling down the narrow, charming cobbled road beneath beautiful, timber-framed buildings, you’ll find vintage boutiques, delicious chocolatiers and unique gifts. Voted ‘Britain’s Most Picturesque Street’ in 2010; it’s possible in some places to touch both sides of the streets with your arms outstretched.

  1. Llandeilo, Wales

While Cardiff and Swansea might be your usual destinations of choice for Christmas shopping in Wales, head out of the cities for more relaxing shopping. With a multitude of market towns in Wales you’re spoilt for choice. One of our favourites is the colourful town of Llandeilo, a chic Christmas shopping destination without a high-street shop in sight. Winding streets host many one off items from designer fashion, bespoke home furnishings and furniture, local crafts, produce and antiques. Right on the edge of the magnificent Brecon Beacons National Park, this is the perfect place to do a spot of Christmas shopping and get away from it all. Who said Christmas shopping had to be stressful?

  1. Carnaby Street, London
Christmas Decoration in London

Carnaby Street: An out of this world experience for festive shoppers

With such an array of diverse and fantastic shopping in the country’s capital, it can be difficult to know where to start. Stumble into a winter shopping wonderland and visit Harrods for a Christmas experience you’ll never forget or try the hip markets in Shoreditch and haggle with aspiring designers for one off fashion finds. Our top tip for London though is Carnaby Street in Soho, a shopping haven with independent boutiques and fashion retailers as well as bigger global brands and fantastic restaurants. You can get all of your festive shopping done here and have plenty of fun doing it!

  1. Northern Quarter, Manchester

If you like your Christmas shopping to come with a quirky twist then a trip to Manchester’s Northern Quarter certainly delivers. A hotbed of creative talents, independent retailers, record shops, cafes, restaurants and bars ensures the Northern Quarter has a charm that echoes Manchester’s illustrious musical and artistic history. A must see is the famous Affleck’s Palace with fashion retailers and outlets over four floors. If the chill of winter is getting too much then grab a drink or a bite to eat in one of the Northern Quarter’s fantastic bars or restaurants. If the shopping hasn’t tired you out then stick around a little longer to enjoy the vibrant nightlife on offer.

  1. Salisbury, Wiltshire

Recently voted by Lonely Planet as ‘One of the World’s Top 10 Cities to visit in 2015′, get there early for a quintessentially English Christmas shopping experience. There are hundreds of shops and, while Salisbury is famous for its local and independent traders, there are plenty of high street offerings as well. This medieval city is easy to get around making shopping a delight rather than a chore. Also included in the top 10 were Vienna, Toronto and Milan, so Salisbury is rubbing shoulders with some truly stunning places. A visit to Stonehenge is a must for any Salisbury trip (but don’t expect to find any shops there!)

  1. The Grassmarket, Edinburgh

Only a short walk from the popular Royal Mile, soak up the vibrant and medieval atmosphere at Edinburgh’s Grassmarket for a specialist shopping experience. Over 90% of the shops here are independent and locally run, and there’s year round entertainment and events to brighten up the day for even the most reluctant Christmas shopper. Eat and drink traditional Scottish and locally sourced produce whilst you enjoy spectacular views of Edinburgh Castle that towers above.

  1. The Lanes, Brighton

Enjoy another side of Brighton in the winter

You might want to leave your bathing gear behind for this seaside trip, but there are plenty of other reasons to visit this beautiful seaside town in winter. The Lanes are packed full of wonderful antique and jewellery shops nestled alongside contemporary and designer boutique fashion retailers, restaurants and eccentric cafes. If you have a sweet-tooth then pop into the famous Choccywoccydoodah and grab some deliciously indulgent stocking fillers. If you’ve still got some energy left at the end of the day then head to Brighton Pier for a fun-filled way to round off the day with rides, arcades and attractions.

  1. Christmas Markets

We’re cheating here but we can’t single out just one Christmas market. Combining food, drink and shopping, we think they create a fantastic festive experience that’ll get you in a marvellously merry mood. View our countdown of the 11 Best Christmas Markets in the UK for inspiration.

Mr. Turner’s Britain: 5 Destinations that Shaped the Artist

Timothy Spall as J.M.W. Turner

With Mr. Turner currently earning great notices and a retrospective of his late work exhibiting at The Tate, the life and work of artist Joseph Mallord William Turner has never been more talked about. But with a career spanning over 60 years involving the creation of countless sketches and paintings in several different countries, understanding where to begin an appreciation of Turner’s life and work can be a daunting prospect.

With Turner’s current prominence in mind, we’re decided to look at a few key works from his life and suggest where might be the best place to appreciate some of his works: the locations where they were painstakingly created.  As a renowned “painter of light”, Turner is regarded as the master of capturing the beauty, majesty and drama of history and the natural world so you can expect unparalleled beauty, stunning scenes and a few surprises as you embark on the Turner trail.

1. Otley and the Wharfe Valley, Yorkshire

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The beautiful Wharfe Valley

Turner’s dramatic portrayal of Hannibal crossing the Alps has its origins in the unlikely setting of a snowstorm rolling in over the Chevin, a rocky bluff that crests over the pretty Yorkshire market town of Otley. The artist spent a lot of time painting at nearby Farnely Hall and was a good friend of the Ramsden Fawkes family who live there to this day. Visits to the hall are by invitation only so we would recommend a walk up the Chevin ridge to marvel at the stunning views of the Wharfe Valley that inspired Turner and prompted him to return and paint throughout his life.

2. The Needles, the Isle of Wight

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Yachts off the Isle of Wight

Turner’s first exhibited oil painting at the prestigious Royal Academy was Fishermen at Sea, a moonlit portrait of men working tirelessly against crashing waves whilst the Isle’s dramatic Needles rise up out of the murk in the distance. Visitors to the west coast of the Isle who have marvelled at the craggy Needles rising from Alum Bay won’t be surprised that Turner was so inspired by them. In fact, the artists found a lot more inspiration in and around the Isle with fantastic portraits of Cowes, yachts at the Regatta, Freshwater Bay, Carisbrooke Castle and more still exhibited to this day.

3. Margate and Kent

White cliffs of Dover

The Kent coast was another location Turner would return to throughout his life. The artist would hone his skills as a young boy capturing local landmarks in pen, ink and watercolour. In fact, it was here that Turner first saw the sea, a subject that, like Margate itself, would recur throughout his life. Margate’s Regency flourishes were irreparably damaged during World War II, so filmmakers had to recreate Turner’s time in Kent elsewhere. Today his life and times in Margate are celebrated at the Turner Contemporary Gallery, and you may still find a few of his subjects still standing and awaiting your admiration!

4. Wales

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Caernarfon Castle: one of Turner’s Welsh subjects

Turner seemed to have a particular affinity for Wales and the Welsh landscape. Growing up in London in the late 18th and early 19th century, he was immersed in the creative atmosphere of the Piazza at Coven Garden – a hub of artists’ studios. The work of one particular painter would have a formative effect on Turner, Welshman Richard Wilson. Turner set out on a pilgrimage to the artist’s homeland and there would fall in love with the history and large array of stunning topographical features set within a relatively close space. During Turner’s five visits to Wales he would capture castles, lakes, mountains, cliffs and coasts all with an unerring focus on the rich majesty and natural drama they contained – a feature still evidenced in the delightful Welsh landscape today.

5. Twickenham, Richmond upon Thames

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The Thames from Richmond Hill

Turner received formal training in architectural drawing in his early years, and allegedly wished to train as an architect if he had the chance to have his time again. The artist’s structural paintings are a good indicator of his affinity for architectural design, but perhaps his greatest achievement in the field is Sandycombe Lodge, the Turner House in Twickenham. The home was built to Turner’s specifications and would allow himself, and his father ‘Old William’ a refuge from the pressures of London. Sketchbooks at the Tate in London show Turner’s design extend to the plot surrounding the home, which his father would later spend his days tending to. Turner himself was keen on exploring the surrounding area taking boat rides on the Thames, walking the towpaths admiring the views and taking guests on picnics.

Celebrate National Picnic Week! 

iStock_000012304156MediumPICNIC

In a world where we live our lives increasingly indoors, and where families eat together far less often than they used to, picnics offer the perfect chance to come together and enjoy some al fresco food and drink as well as each other’s company.

It’s also a great bonding opportunity away from the distractions of home and work. Even if the weather isn’t at its best, it can still be a hugely enjoyable and beneficial experience. Equally, if you have a large extended family and not that much space indoors, or if you don’t have a big garden, a picnic can be one of the best ways of relishing being outside spaces.

Taking place this year from June 16-22, National Picnic Week aims to give families the ideal chance to come together over an outdoor meal, with tips, advice, recipes and other information, so that you enjoy the perfect picnic. It encourages people to get outside and find great local al fresco dining sites, and the event has grown hugely over the decade it’s been around.

That’s because, while it may be a hoary old cliché, food really does taste better outdoors! There aren’t many better ways of making the most of the summer.

In the rush to get overseas for holidays and the like, it can be easy to forget how lucky we are in the UK to have a huge range of open areas for picnics, from forests and woodland to Britain’s dramatic coastline, hillsides, fields and meadows. Or how about having a picnic on an island, the grounds of a stately home or in a lovely country park? Your perfect family picnic spot may be closer than you realised.

Of course, like most things, a little preparation is required. As well as planning and making your food with care, you will need to choose your family picnic spot in advance, and give some thought to the decision.

Here are just some ideas. Even if they aren’t close to where you live, they could provide inspiration for the sort of spot you’d like to take your family to.

Country Parks 

In the UK, we are very lucky to have a good number of these. In Wiltshire, for example, the Avon Valley Country Park covers some fifty acres of gorgeous land right by the River Avon, and there’s stacks for grown-ups and children to do. Kids, for instance, will love the youngsters’ assault course and there are some great riverside rambles to do while you work up an appetite and decide where to unfurl your picnic rug.

Another good place is Wellington Country Park, with its 350 stunning acres of Hampshire countryside, not to mention a miniature railway, crazy golf, oversized snakes and ladders game, nature trails and more.

North of the border, Beecraigs Country Park in the Bathgate Hills near Linlithgow makes another idyllic location for a family day out. There are activities from kayaking to archery, a fishery and deer farm as well as a campsite, so you could stay a few days and enjoy not just one but several wonderful al fresco meals.

Still in Scotland, the Glenkiln Sculpture Park in Dumfries and Galloway has six sculptures in its eight miles of land.

Historic Sites 

Rievaulx Abbey

Rievaulx Abbey

Avebury Stone Circle in Wiltshire makes an unusual picnic spot, at Europe’s biggest stone circle, thought to be four thousand years old.

Alternatively, in North Yorkshire the ruined Rievaulx Abbey, surrounded by woodland, dates from medieval times and will give your picnic a unique atmosphere. Or what about picnicking in the grounds of Dorset’s Corfe Castle?

Open spaces

The heather and bracken of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall offer a dramatic backdrop to any outdoor meal, as do the North Pennines, from Northumberland’s Hadrian’s Wall into Cumbria. In Wales, the Clywedog Valley and Trail has seven miles of great walking and you could visit the local lead mines. Or take in the hills, woodland and Iron Age fort of Devil’s Dyke, East Sussex.

Beaches and Islands

Still in Wales, Barafundle Beach in Pembrokeshire is a little known spot, but discover it and you won’t want to leave. For island settings, think about beautiful St Herbert’s, Cumbria, or Dorset’s Brownsea Island, dotted with idyllic picnicking locations.

Stately homes

Ragley Hall in Warwickshire provides a superb family day out, with 400 acres to play in, an adventure playground incorporating a maze, climbing frames and a trampoline. You may want to spread out your picnic rug by the lake, where its’ nice and peaceful, and you may see the odd peacock strutting around!

London 

Finally, if you thought the city was no place for a picnic, think again. Somerset House lets you escape the chaotic capital with a massive courtyard complete with fountains, in front of this glorious eighteenth century palace. Another idea is the gardens next to the Horniman Museum, which have sixteen acres and where there’s always something going on.

With so much to enjoy, what are you waiting for? Pack up your picnic basket this summer and head off to enjoy the best of what the UK has to offer- and don’t forget to capture the moment for your Big Kid Bingo card!