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Saint David isn’t quite as well-travelled as his Irish counterpart – you can’t leave the house on March 17th without hitting a shamrock wielding St. Patrick’s Day celebrant. But on home territory, the patron saint of Wales is just as much loved and revered by the people who really matter, the Welsh. And March 1st is St. David’s Day, so from Cardiff to Colwyn Bay there are parades, parties, feasting and a great deal of singing – it’s Wales, of course there’s singing. Don’t expect the pub-crawl antics anyone with a drop of the Irish gets up to on March 17th, St. David was a 5th century monk known for his teachings and abstinence so his day is a little more sedate in style. It’s not an official holiday either, but hundreds of Welsh schools and businesses have an ‘unofficial’ half day and travelling round larger towns and cities is happily slowed down by organised – and impromptu – celebrations. If you want to join the merry throng, here’s a quick guide to releasing your inner Welsh spirit on March 1st.
Naturally, the epicentre of all things St. David on March 1st is Cardiff where just about everything goes red and yellow for the day – a combo of the fiery scarlet dragon on the Welsh flag and the yellow cross on the flag of St. David. There’s also a huge street parade winding through the city centre for hours with dancers, acrobats, musicians and performers dressed up in wild costume entertaining a crowd of thousands. You can see concerts and theatre everywhere from small halls to mighty stadium. And, while abstinence might have been the sainted one’s preferred path, several Welsh breweries mark St. David’s Day with limited edition beers and you won’t come across a single Cardiff pub, café or restaurant unwilling to join in the festive fray.
Throwing some fabulous Welsh coastline into the mix, Aberystwyth and Llandudno are almost as mad for St. David’s Day as Cardiff. Their parades are great fun and both towns are famous for choirs, so you won’t be disappointed in the singing.
But to really enter the heartland of St. David’s Day, you need to visit St. David’s City in south west of Wales. This is the smallest city in the UK and the site of St. David’s Bishop Palace, an incredible ruin and one of Europe’s most sacred sites. St. David himself is buried in the nearby cathedral and the city holds a delightful mini-festival every year on March 1st.
And if that doesn’t satisfy your craving for heritage, you’ll be pleased to note there’s free entry to historic homes, castles and monuments all over Wales on St. David’s Day.
The national emblem of Wales is the leek and you’ll see plenty of them about on St. David’s Day. They’re woven into every Welsh Regiment badge and one of the main ingredients in Cawl (Welsh lamb stew). But, good to eat and traditional as they are, not even the staunchest Welsh nationalist can claim leeks are the prettiest Welsh symbol. All that credit goes to the gorgeous daffodil and happily they’re everywhere in March. So, if you want to honour St. David in your own way this year, put leeks where they work best, in food. And take a woodland walk through the alternatives.
This nature reserve in lush and leafy Vale of Glamorgan has 2.5ha of daffodils in full bloom before anywhere else in the country and it’s only half an hour’s drive from Cardiff city centre.
Wrexham in North East Wales is another deeply historic Welsh town celebrating St. David’s Day with parades, parties and events on March 1st. It’s also where you’ll find Erddig Hall for fantastic daffodils in 500ha of wood and parkland – it’s managed by the National Trust so visiting’s allowed.
You can see the floating magnificence of Caerphilly Castle for free on St. David’s Day. It’s just 20 minutes from Cardiff and one of the most thrilling castles in the UK. If you can tear yourself away, the grounds are reliably good for glorious displays of daffodils.
You won’t be short on offers of Bara Brith, Rarebit and Bacheldre Bread on St. David’s Day, along with Welsh Cakes and Cawl, they’re the traditional recipes that keep the party going until well into the night. But Hay-on-Wye, is taking things a step further with a mini-food festival at The Globe from 7pm on March 1st. So if you’re hungry after all the parades, this is where to be – go a bit earlier and you can browse the brilliant Hay-on-Wye bookshops too.
Happy St. David’s Day or Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus, if you’re feeling bold on March 1st.