Simon Calder: Snakes alive, but not for long – in Texas at least

The man who pays his way

Today is an excellent time to plan your spring break. Most UK travellers will choose a destination in the British Isles or continental Europe. But it is also springtime in Texas, where the hills are alive with the unmistakeable sound of rattlesnakes. Their tails resonate like machine guns, while their teeth can deliver a potentially lethal bite (that's the snakes, not the locals). Yet as the yellow roses bloom and the reptiles emerge from winter to slither hither and thither, their life expectancy dwindles.

The biggest state in the continental US has America's largest population of these raucous and dangerous creatures. By 1958, the people of Sweetwater in north-central Texas had had enough: "The over-population of rattlesnakes was causing harm to local farmers and ranchers who were losing their livestock to these natural predators." So say the organisers of what is billed as "The World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up", which gets under way on Thursday.

Thousands of western diamondbacks (again, snakes, not locals) will be involuntary participants in the round-up. They will not, though, be invited to check in to a reptilian retirement home. Along with the right to bear arms, the US constitution appears to include an entitlement to cull critters. Once Miss Snake Charmer 2014 has been crowned, the organised snake hunts begin.

Europe has much to learn from Texan tourism. Where in this tired old continent can you join an excursion of the kind offered in Sweetwater? "Those wishing to participate in the guided hunts will need a container to hold live rattlesnakes and hand mirror, high-top boots, snake-bite kit and snake hooks or tongs." And, to ensure it is an equal contest, the rules conclude with "No Firearms Allowed!".

If you fancy a bite after your exertions, the dish of the day is rattlesnake, deep-fried – in snake oil, presumably. Charming.

Snakes on a plane

Should you want to witness the rattlesnake round-up, or hiss in outrage at the cruelty it metes out upon the western diamondback, go to see the snakes on a plane. On Monday, British Airways starts flying from Heathrow to the Texas state capital of Austin. The city is the same distance from Sweetwater, about four hours' drive, as Dallas-Fort Worth, to which BA already flies. But right now AUS is cheaper to reach than DFW.

New routes, like seedlings, demand nurturing. To build a strong link you need to get people on board and the only sure way to do that is to cut fares. The lowest fare I could find to DFW on BA next month is £770 return. Austin, which is around 150 miles further, is available at one-fifth less. But cheap tickets may not last for long. When I researched 48 hours in Austin, the citizens were as excited about the new link with Europe as they were about the imminent prospect of a Sweetwater snake snack – "considered a delicacy all over the world," the organisers claim. But you won't be offered snakes (or steaks) on the plane home; BA economy passengers from Austin will get either chicken or pasta.

Spring: a surprise

Snakes on the Texan plain aside, spring confers optimism and a flowering of new opportunities. On this side of the Atlantic, the brave new season brings some welcome new openings for travellers in Britain. Along the "Glamorgan Heritage Coast" in South Wales, the daffodil buds of March are out in timely fashion for St David's Day; my spy, Stuart Adams of Expedition Kit Hire in Cardiff, went to check on the shore in Llantwit Major.

Basingstoke rarely gets a mention in this column, but today the town begins to build its touristic reputation with the help of some plastic bricks. The Lego Lost World Zoo at Milestones Museum is an English riposte to the Rattlesnake Round-up. Rather than snaring snakes on either side of Interstate 20, the new attraction contents itself with representations of scaly creatures that, it is claimed, "historically roamed Hampshire". They are created from plastic and put on display close to the M3. Intriguingly, the official announcement suggests the Lost World begins on a Lost Day. "Opens from Saturday 29 February," it says.

Two weeks from now, The Pig – near Bath (yes, that's it's full name) opens. The location is the Mendip Hills – a corner of Somerset with a bit of altitude, unlike the "lakes on a plain" area of the county that has had to re-invent itself as a new aquatic paradise. The porcine property claims its style to be "shabby chic", though guests are not required to specify the category to which they subscribe. Every room has a "large monsoon shower", something that Somerset has experienced rather too much so far this year. The Pig also promises spa treatment in the Potting Shed and some good walks – though the Somerset Wildlife Trust warns about adders: "take care whilst out walking on Mendip".

Even the UK's rail industry has a joyful spring surprise for train travellers up its sleeve. From 9am on Monday morning, passengers who are no longer Young Persons but not yet Senior Citizens will at last be able to buy a National Railcard giving one-third off most train journeys. For example, the trip from Springfield to Springburn (via Edinburgh and Glasgow) falls by a fiver.

Inevitably, the spring treat comes with a tangle of strings attached (described in full in our special Q&A, online at

The main clue is in the railcard's name, Two Together. You must apply for the card with a companion, and the discount is available only if you both make the journey at the same time. Single passengers may respond with venom.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Morrissey pictured in 2013
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Field of broken dreams: Andy Bell visits Passchendaele
news5 News's Andy Bell visited the killing fields of the Great War, and his ancestor - known only from his compelling war diary - came to life
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In my grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel