I never miss a chance to travel to Britain, I've been there a few times only this year - Yorkshire in March, Bristol in April and then a summer tour in July. I've seen much, but so much is still there to be discovered. I never have enough, in fact, and I consider Britain my second home country or, better,  the one where I feel - oddly enough - at home. It is the place of my favourite writers, my favourite books, my favourite drama series, my favourite heroes, my favourite language, my favourite actors ... do I have to go on?

Here are 10 of the best places I visited on my latest tour through Wales, the Lake District, the Borders and Southern Scotland. Only 10. Yes, there were more!

1. Tintern Abbey, Wales

Croeso Cymru! I haven't learnt much in the Welsh language while I was there for 5 days - siop (shop), araf (slow down), croeso (welcome), Cymru (Wales) - but I've seen many beautiful, interesting places.
Living in the craddle of St. Benedict's Rule, it is always gratifying and fascinating for me to get to appreciate the incredible achievements of his monks all over Europe. 
In my mind, then, Tintern Abbey is obviously connected to William Wordsworth's melancholic lines

(...) For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue. (...)

    Tintern Abbey was founded in 1131 by the Anglo-Norman lord of Chepstow, Walter fitzn Richard of Clare. Colonized by a small group of monks from the Abbey of L'Aumone in France, it was the second plantation in the British Isles. Tintern's greatest glory, the superb Gothic church which still dominates the lower Wye Valley, was begun around 1269. It was consacrated in 1301. Tintern continued to flourish all through the reign of Henry VIII in the early 16th century. It was surrendered to the king's visitors in September 1536. A few months later the possessions were granted to Henry Somerset, earl of Worchester. He and his successors were to
   lease portions of the site and soon the abbey environs were crowded of cottages and early industrial buildings. Tintern lay forgotten until the late 18th century when the ruins where discovered by Romantic artists and poets in search of the Sublime and the Picturesque. Wandering around the well-preserved site now is an unmissable experience for lovers of history, literature and art. 

   2. Cardiff  
Cardiff Castle
   The capital of Wales was surprisingly busy and more interesting than I expected. Lots of university students from all over the UK and Europe as well as  lots of tourists visiting the landmarks made the city joyfully crowded, a thriving place to discover and fully enjoy.  Innovative architecture sits alongside historic buildings and Cardiff  Bay offers entertainment for everyone.
   I particularly liked strolling around Bute Park, among gorgeous flowers, evoking stone circles, groves, squirrels and joggers.  Of course, I also enjoyed visiting the Castle and Wales National Museum.
    I experienced the thrill of hundreds of graduates, all proudly clad in black and red, in their clocks and hats,  when,   by chance, I found myself walking in the festive procession they formed with friends and families headed to  the City Hall.
   A fun (awkward?) moment was watching Bollywood at work at the Castle: soap bubbles, a romantic picninc, a mawkish song and chast kisses. 

   3. Blaenavon - Down the mine 

    Definitely the most thrilling moment of the entire tour. I'll always remember the day I went down the mine with George Orwell's words in my mind and the awareness - achieved through studying the working conditions of miners in the Victorian Age or simply watching a movie like Billy Elliot  or a TV show like Poldark - that  it would be somehow a descent to hell. The pit has been closed for 20 years now and transformed into the Big Pit National Coal Museum but you can still feel what it was like when it was open to activity.
    The kind smiling guy who was our guide tried to cheer me up -  "we are just going down 90 mt!" - while helping me get equipped for the tour. My anxiety must have been quite evident, you see. He told us he was very young, one of the youngest miners there, when Mrs Thatcher decided to close the place. He was a good story-teller and was helped by the presence of 3 kids in our group when he came to showing us the pitiful stories of children exploited down the mines. With no candles - they were too expensive for their parents - they were left in complete darkness near the doors in the tunnels. Their task was opening and closing those doors at an acoustic signal. We experienced that total darkness switching off the lights on our helmets. I felt breathless with a tight grip at my stomach. 

4. Hay-on-Wye,  The Town of Books

    Could I miss a place like this in my tour of Wales? The best part of the day was the journey by car through Brecon Beacons National Park, with a short stop at beautiful Llanthony Priory, to get from Blaenavon to Hay-on-Wye. It was a heaven of blue skies and green landscapes, and peace and quiet.
   We arrived at Hay a bit late in the afternoon and couldn't do much harm, I mean,  buy too many books, since shops close  at  5 or 6 p.m. even in summer. That's Britain! We strolled around and spent some time in just one big book shop selling second-hand books. What a shame!
    Hay was a quiet run down market town in 1962, when Richard Booth opened the first bookshop. Ten years and 40 bookshops later, the town has become a Mecca for book lovers from all over the world.

    5. St. David's 

    I finally discovered why leeks are one of the symbols of Wales visiting St David's. I greatly prefer the red dragon as the image of the nation, but it was interesting to hear that leeks were linked to the story of St David, considered Wales's patron saint,  who as a very poor monk only ate leeks, berries and roots.
St David's is in Pembrokeshire,  west Wales, and it is a beautiful and unique town surrounded by some of the finest coastline in Europe.
St David's is a vibrant town, a favourite location of artists, travellers, pilgrims and surfers. Its landmark's are the cathedral and the Bishop's Palace. However, the sun, the sea and the natural scenery were the features I most appreciated, as well as a tasty cream tea!

  6. Fishguard

I loved walking on the pier and along the beach at sunset while staying in Fishguard for only one night. What was special in it? Nothing or everything: a beautiful quiet place by the sea can cast its spell on me.

 7.  Conwy

Our last day in Wales was spent in one of the most popular tourist sites, Conwy. The magnificent castle and  Plas Mawr, the finest surviving Elizabethan town house in Britain,  were worth visiting before we moved north headed to our final destination, Glasgow airport.
8. The Lake District 

 A home within a home

our love within a love

This is how the poet William Wordsworth described his beloved Dove Cottage, set within its own "home" of Grasmere Vale in the Lake District. This area is enchanting and to the young poet who chose it as his home, it was a place "made for itself and happy in itself, perfect contentment, unity entire". It is there that he was inspired to write some of the greatest and most influential poetry in the English language.
Wandering in the same places as Wordsworth was like experiencing in first person the sensation of comfort and joy  Nature gave to him. One could but be gay in such jocund company!

9. Traquair

It is Scotland's oldest inhabited house and a very beautiful one. Once  a pleasure ground for Scottish kings, Traquair later became a refuge for Catholic priests in times of terror. The Stuarts of Traquair supported Mary Queen of Scots and then the Jacobite cause, no matter the cost. Imprisoned, fined and isolated for their beliefs, their home, untouched by time, reflects now the tranquillity of their family life. Traquair was the first place I visited in Scotland - after Gretna Green which was quite disappointing - and it just embodied the place I had been figuring out in my Scottish day dreams.

10. Glasgow

I can't say I've seen much of Glasgow, the capital of Scotland, but what I saw, I liked. It is a modern city with the typical urban chaos and skyline of modern big cities, which can disturb visitors like us who get there with their eyes and mind filled with memories of bucolic landscapes and tiny villages. Despite a first moment of shock, once you are in the heart of the city, you start enjoying the multiplicity of historical and artistic sites, its Victorian and art nouveau architecture, its shopping areas and its venues, its pubs and restaurants.
Glasgow is home to institutions including the Scottish Opera, Scottish Ballet and National Theatre of Scotland, acclaimed museums and a thriving music scene. There's so much to do and see! 

Unfortunately, we didn't have much time. We arrived there in the afternoon and went for some pre-departure shopping, then had a good pub meal and, in the morning of the last day, we visited Kelvingrove Museum & Galleries

I'm back home now with lots of great memories and one certainty: I must go back and see more of Scotland. Verra soon, Alba. 


Anonymous said...

Awwwww, it's been a pleasure sharing all these sweet memories with you, MG: we are becoming quite good at arranging unforgettable UK tours, aren't we? :)
xx K/V

dstoutholcomb said...


Maria Grazia said...

Yes, K/V! All our tours have been quite memorable. They wouldn't have been without any of you. Thank you!

Thanks,dstoutholcomb, for reading my post. Glad you liked it!

Fanny/iz4blue said...

What a fantastic trip! I always love traveling virtually along with you :)

Charlotte Frost said...

Hi Maria - So pleased your holiday went well. For years I've promised myself a visit to Glasgow, and I'm going in September. Where did you eat? Sounded like a tasty, substantial meal!