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A quite indifferent day turns into a beautiful but chilly May evening. Wisps of steam are visible in the distance, rising from the picturesque station at Llangollen, the very distinctive smell of coal in the air.

Instantly transported back in time whilst being whisked through the glorious Welsh countryside, the journey on board the amazing Llangollen steam train is an enchanting experience. But tonight, expectation and excitement is riding high, with further thrills promised as as the plot of the Baker Street murder mystery is revealed.

Luckily for us, there is just enough time on route for a visit to the lovely Cottage Tea rooms.

Sitting next to the huge black range that would have been the heart of these cosy old cottages, our tea pot arrives. To my absolute joy, it is leaf tea, and contently, we sip away as delicious Welsh Brew is the blend. Absolute bliss!

At Llangollen’s glorious vintage station the warmth of the enchanting real coal fire in their tea room is an inviting distraction from the cold.

The date is 8th May 2010 and as our glorious steam engine pulls us gently out of Llangollen station, history echoes at the amazing coincidence – it’s exactly 145 years to the very day a steam train first travelled down the track. The spectacular countryside is framed in the old carriage windows. The steam hisses, rather cleverly warming the carriages. The engine whistle sounds, such an evocative noise…

But we’re here to solve the Baker Street Murder Mystery. The Victorian characters appear, the plot unfolds.

Sherlock Holmes is under arrest for murder. His only chance for clearing his name is for his loyal friend Ron H Wotsit (a lovely humorous take on Watson!) Wotsit must find out who has committed the crime! Engaging and totally entertaining, the talented actors from Interact (Wales) transport us to another Victorian era, and it does not take too much imagination, surrounded by the noise of the wonderfully authentic steam engine.  As the plot thickens, we journey on. After a quick stretch of the legs at Corwen station, the train turns around to head back.

It is getting dark as we speed back to Llangollen. All too soon our nostalgic journey, replete with Victorian murder mystery, is almost at an end.

There is no doubt for me though, the real star of the show is the glorious steam train, and the wonderful station at Llangollen. Tea with Mary Kate adores the nostalgia of the Llangollen steam train, its vintage station transporting you on a journey to cherish. The next murder mystery “Murder onboard the Abbey Express” is on 17th July – Tea with Mary Kate’s advice – don’t miss it!

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Gazing out to Caldey island, sunlight  flashing on the aquamarine blue sea, Tenby beach is an absolutely beautiful, idyllic place. There is a tranquillity to this old fashioned beach and it is one of my favourite places in all the world.

The wonderful view of Caldey Island from Tenby South beach

The cool shelter of the dunes gives way to the glorious expanding vista of Tenby beach

The vista to the monastery stands unchanged over time. I remember that very first time I ever walked onto the beach emerging from what feels like a secret, magical tunnel through the dunes, the sky seemed to stretches out forever.  It was like stumbling across some magical place – suddenly, the cool shelter of the dunes gives way to the blinding glorious light and expanding vista of the beach. The twinkling of the sun on the sea, the therapeutic sound of the waves, there’s a timelessness that is beyond words, you know you have arrived in a more restful place.

A glimpse summer by the sea is the setting for an enchanting afternoon picnic tea

Even time appears to slow down, who could wish for a more perfect venue for an afternoon picnic. Feeling the sand between your toes as the deck chairs are set up. Yes, glorious, old fashioned deckchairs! What can I say but they are an essential component to this beach picnic Tea. If you are caught short, as luck would have it, you can hire them. Though my recommendation for the more organised is one from deckchairstripes. The dilemma is what glorious strip to choose. All I know is that mine will be red! The chairs with the overhead shades are an absolute favourite. I am transported back to a very old memory when I first saw these glorious inventions as my great grandmother had one. I so loved being allowed to sit in it!

Striped sun canopy

As there is always a bit of a breeze, or the sun to contend with, I adore the very practical beach shlter but my absolute favourite is the beach tent – a wonderful and very practical addition!

The very practical deco beach tent form deckchairstripes

Brewing the tea is a delicate operation, balancing the tea pot, and avoiding sand getting in the picnic.

Flasks filled with boiling water. And a tea pot is of course an essential, there is a certain standard and protocol to be maintained after all – and do remember your tea!  Gorgeous cakes and yummy sandwiches – traditional ham, cheese and pickle, and no picnic is complete without the ubiquitous egg mayonnaise and cress! The wonderful advantage of a beach picnic is ice cream for pudding!I will concede that making a brew is a delicate operation, balancing the tea pot, avoiding sand getting in the picnic but it’s so worth it for the gentle lapping sound of the waves, the glint of sunlight on the water.

There is a magic to this old fashioned beach that somehow connects you to the vista.

The afternoon seemed like it would last forever, but all too soon, armfuls of chairs and picnics baskets are being carried home. Tea with Mary Kate seeks to highlight how precious such occasions are, to embrace the feeling of endless loveliness when you are sitting there but to know  the fleeting nature of such times, and appreciate them before they have ended.

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Wandering through the ancient heart of Wales, we seize the moment for a magical visit to Powys Castle, with its magnificent architecture in a truly breathtaking setting.

Now, up front, I’ll declare an interest – I’m passionate about the National Trust (and the Scottish National Trust) . Both organisations do such a splendid job of looking after our national treasures in Britain, including Powys Castle. But suddenly I realise that our membership tickets are not with us – and oh, the kindness of strangers – the National Trust do a quick check and we are in!

Powys was built as a 12th century stronghold against English invaders, and you can understand why when you are there, you can see for miles! Its history is steeped in that of the Welsh Princes, and while there is still an Earl of Powis, the title is on its third creation.

Welsh afternoon tea at Powys Castle

While Powys Castle is amazing, the jewel in its crown are its glorious gardens.

Melding seamlessly into the imposing hills, the garden’s are spectacular, even outshining the idyllic setting of the magnificent hills that surround it. Apple blossom floats in the fresh spring air. There is a sence of enduring nature, particularly of the Yew trees, planted and clipped since the 1700s, now belonging to that ancient vista.


I happen across a favourite portrait, that of Lady Henrietta Herbert, painted in 1777 by Sir Joshua Reynolds, still hanging at her ancestral home

I adore this painting, its captivating and her beauty radiates. Lady Henrietta lived life, and I am inspired by her adventurous nature, by all accounts, she was quite a character. Her collection of Indian artifacts remain at the Castle. It reminds me I have yet to visit India…..

Who could resist having afternoon tea and gorgeous butterfly cakes at Lady Violets Tea room.

It is warm enough to sit outside under the soft blue sky, surrounded by the first flush of the brightest scarlet red tulips, my sweet tooth satisfied by afternoon tea, who could wish to be anywhere else in the world.

Butterfly Cakes at Lady Violets Tea room - Glorious afternoon tea at Powys Castle

I am delighted to find my favourite ethical company Zimbolic are also here at Powys Castles’ lovely Garden Shop.

Their beautiful and ethical garden sculpture is enchanting, and I’m particularly taken with the cormorants that stand guard on the battlements.

Tea with Mary Kate seeks to connect us to the ancient beauty that radiates around us, where we are often in danger of just rushing past.

There is a palpable sence of belonging at Powys Castle, to its history and to the spectacular and ancient lands that surrond it. If only for the gorgeous afternoon tea, but for much more, do visit as soon as you can!

Tea with Mary Kate's Beautiful Tulips

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Tea with Mary Kate is passionate about celebrating St David’s Day. Most will know that St David is the patron saint of Wales – what most struggle to comprehend is why it matters so much to the Welsh & all those with Welsh lineage. So although Mary Kate has her roots in Ireland, I’ll let you into a little secret…..her blog creator has the same roots but was born in Wales, yes, the land of our fathers. & I am fiercely proud of that heritage. The Welsh are passionate, have deep rooted traditions & a beautiful ancient language which is growing in Wales but incomprehensible to many – an aspect exploited frequently when English speakers are within ear shot.

Passionate Welsh women in national dress

There are strong symbolic associations also, the leek & daffodil being amongst these. According to legend St David advised the Britons on the eve of a battle with the Saxons, to wear leeks in their caps so as to easily distinguish friend from foe.  This helped to secure a great victory. Today Welsh people around the world wear leeks on St David’s Day.  It is also a surviving tradition that soldiers in the Welsh regiments eat a raw leek on St David’s Day. The Welsh for leek (the original national emblem) is Cenhinen, while the Welsh for daffodil is Cenhinen Pedr. Probably over the years they became confused until the daffodil was adopted as a second emblem of Wales.

Daffodils & leeks

Image by flickr user Barbara Rich, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 license

Another strong association is with the harp, and is regarded as the national instrument of Wales.  By the end of the 18th century, the triple harp – so called because it had three rows of strings – was widely known as the Welsh harp on account of its popularity in Wales.

St. David is unique amongst the patron saints of Great Britain in that he is the only one to be born in the country that he represents. The shortage of real historical evidence about him is more than made up by the colourful legends that abound about his life and work. What is known is that he was born at Henvynwy in Ceredigion sometime between 462 and 512 and is believed to have studied under St Illtud at Llantwit Major. He became a prominent figure in the Celtic church and founded a monastery at Menevia in Pembrokeshire, which eventually became known as St David’s. His most famous act is the miracle of Llanddewi Brefi and was related by Rhyfygarch, a monk writing in the 11th century. St David is said to have made the ground rise up so his words could be heard by the huge crowds. A white dove was seen settling on his shoulder. St David is believed to have died on Tuesday March 1 in 589 at St David’s in Pembrokeshire. Amongst his final words was “do the little things in life” which is now a very well known phrase in Welsh.

So although March 1st is a day to celebrate the life of St David, its real resonance now is that it’s a celebration of Welsh Culture – with national dress worn, leeks, & schools having celebratory concerts. I remember as I child the tricky but skillful way in which leeks & daffodils were pinned to jackets – a real art I can tell you!

The Welsh Flag is a Red Dragon (or in Welsh Y Ddraig Goch) & was granted official status in 1959, but the dragon itself has been associated with Wales for centuries. Some say it’s the oldest national flag still in use, and that it was used by King Arthur and other ancient Celtic leaders.

The Splendid Red Dragon that adorns the Welsh Flag

Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (translated in English as ‘Land of my Fathers’) is the Welsh National anthem. It was written in 1856 by Evan James and his son, James James, from Pontypridd in Glamorgan. It is traditionally sung before national sporting events but I have sung it on many a bus trip home.

Lyrics

Mae hen wlad fy nhadau yn annwyl i mi,
Gwlad beirdd a chantorion, enwogion o fri;
Ei gwrol ryfelwyr, gwladgarwyr tra mâd,
Tros ryddid gollasant eu gwaed.
Gwlad, Gwlad, pleidiol wyf i’m gwlad.
Tra môr yn fur i’r bur hoff bau,
O bydded i’r hen iaith barhau.
How will you be celebrating St David’s day this year? Do visit the Wales blog for exciting events taking place – or better still, bake a few Welsh cakes to have your own Welsh Tea, they are really delicious when still warm just off the griddle . For me, St David’s Day is all about identity, just as those Welsh soldiers used leeks to recognise each other, & it’s all about belonging & connecting  to a community, whatever that community may be for you. My hope for this St David’s Day is that this blog will inspire you be part & take part in that possibility of connection.

A Traditional Welsh Tea

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