Culture lovers: Museums, galleries and forests to spend Valentine's Day in

| 14 February 2014

Undecided on how to spend Valentine's Day? Whether you're single or loved up, it's a fine excuse to indulge your cultural passions

A photo of a large red plant
The heart-shaped leaves of Disanthus cercidifolius at Westonbirt, The National Arboretum in Gloucestershire© Gina Mills, Forestry Commission
Natural History Museum, London
A special version of the museum’s popular Night Safari. The Beautiful Tour sees curators discuss the beauty of nature with specimens. Conversely, the Ugly Tour features expert talks on nature’s most gruesome and stomach-churning work.

York’s Chocolate Story, York
A romance-filled evening for couples under the tutelage of chocolatiers. Learn how to master the fine art of chocolate-tasting, then make a heart-shaped chocolate box while enjoying a glass of wine.

Grant Museum of Zoology, London
An after-dark, drop-in introduction to seduction in the animal world. Valentine’s-themed labels feature.
A photo of two unicorn fish types looking towards each other
Lovelorn labels at the Grant Museum© Grant Museum of Zoology, UCL

M Shed, Bristol

Female capuchin monkeys flirt by throwing stones at the male they fancy. This, and other randy revelations, will be among the highlights in M Shed's animal kingdom-themed evening, with specimen handling tables, curators explaining courtship and mating habits and a refreshment or two.

De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea
The temple of art-deco lays on a special screening of From Here to Eternity, a wartime romance which won eight Academy Awards and, in a beach scene with Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr, stars one of the most risqué cinema moments of 1954.

Portsmouth City Museum, Portsmouth
A singles night in a museum with French-inspired architecture, including champagne, soft drinks, canapés and tours of the museum at night.

Churchill War Rooms, London
Swing dance workshops, wartime love letter writing in an officers' mess and the chance to try Winston Churchill's favourite champagne.

A photo of a man and woman in glamorous black suits strolling through a history room
Valentine's Late at Churchill War Rooms© Courtesy London Collections: Men, Savile Row and St James Presentation
National Arboretum, Westonbirt
Take a woodland walk through the cherry collection at the 600-acre Gloucestershire site. Reciting the poem “Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief” while counting a cherry stone until you reach your last one is said to reveal your future spouse’s profession.

More Valentine’s Day traditions from Westonbirt:

  • Declarations of love have been expressed through the exchange of love tokens. In Wales, it became popular to make a specially carved love spoon for your beloved – although acceptance of a spoon did not necessarily lead to marriage.
  • Want to know if your relationship will stand the test of time? Find two acorns (one for you and one for your partner), then drop your acorns into a bucket of water at the same time. If the acorns float towards each other, then your romance will go from strength to strength.
  • The winged seeds of the ash have long been used by people to find out what their future love life has in store. If winged seeds did not appear on the branches of an ash tree, the owner of the tree was thought to be unlucky in love.
  • It was also believed that if a lady placed an ash leaf in her left shoe, she would be fortunate enough to meet her future spouse within minutes.
  • It is said that if a person wants to entice another, they should sleep with an apple under their arm. If they can persuade the person to eat the apple the following day, the person will fall in love with them immediately.
  • The hazelnut is a symbol of fertility. A bag of nuts bestowed upon a bride will ensure a fruitful marriage. Hazelnuts can also be used for love spells. Assign the name of your passion to a nut and throw it in the fire whilst saying: “A hazelnut I throw in the flame, to this nut I give my sweetheart’s name, If blazes the nut, so may thy passion grow, For twas my nut that did so brightly glow.”
  • Hawthorns are thought to increase fertility and was often incorporated into weddings, especially those performed in the spring. It is also said that if a young woman wishes to remain beautiful forever, she should bathe in the dew of the hawthorn tree at dawn on Beltane (the first day of May) while chanting this rhyme: “The fair maid, who on the first of May, Goes to the fields at the break of day, And bathes in the dew from the hawthorn tree, Will ever strong and handsome be.”
  • Unlike other trees with romantic links, the willow tree has a dark side. For although many cultures include the willow in their love stories, its weeping branches have often led it to be associated with the sadness that can come with love - from the broken heart of unrequited love to the loss of a loved one.
  • Poplar buds can be carried in tiny red bags to help mend a broken heart. These buds should be kept as close to the heart as possible. They can also be placed under a pillow and slept on to the same effect.

More on Valentine's Day:

Museum of London to expose erotic tiles in City of Seduction one-off for Valentine's Day

Picture Gallery: Insulting Valentine's Day cards from bygone Londoners

Wives and Sweethearts: Love Letters sent During Wartime revealed by Army Museum
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