• Caerphilly Castle
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Welcome to the 100th issue of Britain Update, March 1 is St David's Day, and in honour of the patron saint of Wales, this issue of Britain Update will have a bit of a Welsh flavour!

David Ross, Publisher

Caerphilly Castle
Caerphilly, South Wales

Caerphilly is one of the greatest surviving medieval castles in Britain. With its massive gatehouses and water defences, its design heavily influenced the course of medieval architecture. The castle was begun in 1268 by the Norman noble, Earl Gilbert de Clare, in an attempt to curb the military actions of Llewelyn, the last native Prince of Wales. So successful did the design prove that it was later used as a model for Edward I's concentric castles in North Wales. Llewelyn seized Caerphilly when it was only partly finished, but it was retaken by the Normans. After Llewelyn's defeat and death, the Welsh threat substantially ended, and the castle became the administrative centre for de Clare's estates.

Edward II spent time at the castle, but when its military importance wained, Caerphilly was found to be too uncomfortable as a family residence. It eventually fell into disuse and decay. Stone was taken from the castle to build a nearby country house. Finally, during the Victorian period, the wealthy Bute family rescued and restored the castle. An informative Castles of Wales exhibition is located in one tower, and working replicas of siege engines are on displayed.

Caerphilly is managed by Cadw, and is located ΒΌ mile from Caerphilly via the A468, A469, B4263

Caerphilly Castle

Travel Tips and News

Wesley Anniversary Events and Itinerary
The 300th anniversary of the birth of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, is being marked by a variety of events in 2003, including an international conference at the University of Manchester (Jun. 15-18) and an ecumenical celebration in historic Lincoln Cathedral (June 17). The wide-ranging programme, which features special services, lectures, celebrations, walks, a choral festival and exhibitions, will span much of the year, from March to October. The British Tourist Authority has published a useful itinerary that follows in Wesley's footsteps and takes in many of the places associated with his life. Website:

Titanic Exhibition in London
A major exhibition about the ill-fated transatlantic liner 'Titanic' will be on view at London's Science Museum from May 16 to September. "Titanic: The Artefact Exhibition" will take visitors on a chronological journey, from the design and construction of the vessel to its maiden voyage in 1912; and from its sinking after collision with an iceberg to the scientific recovery efforts made by RMS Titanic Inc. in the 1990s. These expeditions recovered 6,000 artefacts from the wreck, and hundreds of them - including jewellery, crockery, clothing and personal belongings - will be in the exhibition.

Visitors will be given the name of a passenger, and explore what it was like to be a first- or third-class passenger - and then discover if they were among the 1,523 who died or the 705 who survived. Full-size recreations of some of Titanic's interior spaces, including a first-class cabin, also feature. The tragic story comes alive in the iceberg room, where visitors will learn what it was like to be in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic. Admission prices have yet to be announced - entry to the rest of the Science Museum is free. Website:

Burns Festival in Scotland
A festival celebrating Robert Burns, Scotland's greatest poet, will be staged in Ayrshire, the county where he was born in 1759. "Burns an' a' that" (May 3-11) follows an acclaimed pilot programme last year, and will be devoted to both traditional and contemporary Scottish culture.

The festival is centred on Ayr and nearby Alloway, where Burns was born in a thatched cottage which can still be seen today, but events will take place at a variety of other venues. It opens with a Holy Fair in the village of Mauchline, and includes a gala concert at Culzean Castle on May 9. There will be free open-air music stages in Ayr, a festival club, international street theatre and an extensive programme ranging from poetry and traditional and classical music to cabaret and pop. The final event is a firework display in the coastal resort of Ayr, 34 miles south-west of Glasgow. Website:

Peculiar Events in the West Country
North Devon and Exmoor – Lorna Doone country - in South West England is home to some of the country’s less well-known quirky events that have been taking place for centuries. Perhaps the most bizarre is the re-enactment of the Hunting of the Earl of Rone at Combe Martin over the late May public holiday weekend (May 23-26). It starts on the Friday evening, when villagers begin hunting for the ‘earl’, who is invariably captured on Monday and thrown into the sea. Much revelry takes place, with a parade of grenadiers, a hobby horse and a donkey – which the earl rides backwards.

If earl hunting seems a little cruel, the same weekend sees the Potwalloping Festival in the nearby seaside town of Westward Ho! (the only British town with an exclamation mark in its name). Participants throw pebbles from the beach on to a two-mile-long pebble ridge, from where they have been washed down each winter. The event is celebrated by whole families, with produce stalls, crafts and entertainment accompaniment. Website:

Historic Houses to Open
Regular readers of Britain Update will remember me extolling the virtues of a membership in the Historic Houses Association. Now there are even more reasons to consider joining the HHA. Almost one hundred historic houses throughout Britain will open their doors to the public for the first time this year. In many, visitors will be able to take afternoon tea or other refreshments with the owners, whose families have often lived there for generations.

The newly open houses are among 273 member properties of the HHA, taking part in a scheme to welcome small, pre-booked groups when the houses are normally closed. Included are medieval moated manor houses, castles and Edwardian country houses with beautiful landscaped gardens. Many have fine collections of furniture and artwork. The newly accessible properties range from Welford Park, a red brick country house dating from 1652 near Newbury, Berkshire, to Island Hall, an 18th-century riverside mansion at Godmanchester, Cambridge.

Details of the participating houses and the facilities they will provide are detailed on the HHA’s re-designed website:

Original "Alice" Photos on Show in Oxford
Glass plate negatives taken by author Lewis Carroll of the girl who inspired “Alice in Wonderland” will be shown in Oxford this summer. The photographs of young Alice Liddell and her sisters were taken by Carroll when he was mathematics don – and a pioneering amateur photographer -- at Oxford in the mid 19th century. The negatives will be displayed at the same time as original illustrations from Carroll’s two “Alice” books, in an exhibition at the Museum of Oxford. Visitors to “Looking in Wonderland” (August 1 – September 28) will be able to:

  • See the best of Sir John Tenniel’s illustrations to “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass”;
  • Discover how the story was dreamed up by Dodgson for the daughters of the Dean of Christ Church College during a boating trip in July 1862
  • Buy a town trail booklet which leads them to Alice’s Shop and many other locations which inspired tales and characters in the books.

The Museum of Oxford, St. Aldates, Oxford, is open daily except for Mondays, tel: 01865 252795. Website:

Wine Week
Vineyard tours and wine tastings are planned to mark English Wine Week this spring (May 24 – June 1). There are 379 vineyards and 115 wineries all over the country and English Wine Producers aims to promote wider interest in them. Website:

That's all for now. Until next issue, let me remind you that laughter is contagious. Be a carrier.

David Ross, Publisher, Britain Express

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