Friday, November 30, 2012

UK Trip Part VII: Manchester & Morrissey/Smiths Tour

From Keswick it was on to Manchester to meet up with our close friends, Neil and Susie.  It has been 10 years since we met them while living in London back in 2002.  We started planning to meet up in England to celebrate that anniversary last year when they were out in California visiting from Toronto.  So happy we were all able to come together and make it happen!

After all these years listening to music based out of Manchester, we were finally there and the best part was we went on a private Smiths tour!  Neil and Susie found out about the tour.  I had no idea that there was a company specializing in music tours of the area (Joy Division, Oasis, Stone Roses, general Manchester music tour, etc.). 

Manchester Music Tours is run by the Craig Gill, the drummer of the Inspiral Carpets.  He had to go to London on business the day our tour was scheduled so another guy, Glenn, took us on the tour instead. It was everything I hoped it would be!  I will always remember the name of our guide by thinking of the lyrics to Death at Ones Elbow.  He did a great job showing us around and we were with him for somewhere between 3 to 4 hours!

After meeting up at our hotel, the four of us took a cab to the meeting spot, The Star and Garter.  This is where the monthly Morrissey night is held which is why it was a good starting point for the tour.  From there we hopped in the car with Glenn and took off to go by many sights any Smiths fan would recognize from Morrissey’s lyrics as well as others of musical history significance.

I am sure I am leaving something out, but from my photos I can remember:

-          Piccadilly Station
-          Free Trade Hall (Sex Pistols first gig)
-          The G Mex (The Smiths played here and there is a famous photo of fans ripping Morrissey’s shirt apart)
-          Site of The Hacienda (original structure unfortunately no longer there and has been replaced with flats)
-          The Ritz (site of first Smiths gig)
-          The Apollo
-          The Holy Name Church (Vicar in a Tutu)
-          Platt Fields (where the fair is held annually, mentioned in Rusholme Ruffians)
-          Southern Cemetery (Cemetry Gates)
-          The Iron Bridge (Still Ill)
-          384 Kings Road (Morrissey childhood home)
-          Building where Morrissey worked his only job
-          Salford Lads Club
-          Strangeways Prison

We actually got to go on a tour of Salford Lads Club given by the man in charge there, Leslie.  It was so amazing!  This club has so much history dating back to 1903 and is continues to be an important part for the youth of the area.  There were so many interesting parts but of course our favorite was the boxing gym and the Smiths room.  There is actually an entire room dedicated to the Smiths and their connection to the club.  It is plastered with photos and notes people have left as well as other artifacts, such as an intact shirt of Morrissey’s.  We sent the photo of us in front of the club to Leslie and he said he would put it up with the others so we’ll always be present in the Smiths room at Salford Lads Club!  I got a shirt form there as well.  All proceeds go directly back into the club.  They need help maintaining the place as it is more than 100 years old and an active club for both boys and girls.  There is an amazing little concert hall there as well.  Billy Bragg has played there and The Hollies got their musical start there.  This Smiths tour is a must for Morrissey fans, but also enjoyable for those who may not be as much of a fan since it is just an overall great tour of the Manchester area.

That evening after the tour we met up with an old friend that was part of the BUNAC crew when we lived in London back in 2002, Jareau!  The five of us went for Chinese food.  Great to catch up after all these years.  So strange for the five of us to be back together again!  Jareau then had to leave us shortly after dinner and we then met up with Neil’s best mate, Neil.  He was super nice.  We just got one drink with him before he had to go, then the four of us ended the night at The Britons Protection pub.

The next morning we went to a nearby town where Neil grew up, Warrington, and his mum cooked us a fry up and his dad made us tea before we hit the road for London.  Ben and I loved getting to see where Neil grew up and his parents are fantastic!  So glad we had the chance to visit before moving on down the motorway.  Driving into London was the most dreaded part of the trip as far as driving was concerned but there was an end in sight as we were finally going to get to return the rental car!  No more driving, only public transport for the last few days of the trip!

road sign for Manchester and Salford

meeting spot for tour outside the Star and Garter
(note the lovely pile of garbage to the left)

Piccadilly Station

Sex Pistols first gig was here

G Mex

former site of the Hacienda

music timeline behind the Hacienda flats

site of first Smiths gig

site of recent Morrissey gigs

the holy name church

cemetry gates at Southern Cemetery

platt field

not quite under the iron bridge we kissed...

my tag on the iron bridge

384 Kings Road

no I never had a job because I never wanted one...

inside Salford Lads Club

our notes left in the smiths room
(I had to go with a quote Morrissey used from A Taste of Honey)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

UK Trip Part VI: Lake District - Stay in Keswick

From Edinburgh we headed directly towards Keswick in the northern Lake District in England. It was sad knowing our time in Scotland was over but we still had much to look forward to. Along the way we had quite a laugh when I noticed something on the map referred to as the Devil’s Beef Tub. That has to be the strangest name we had come across by far. Right before we got to Keswick we stopped at the Castlerigg Stone Circle. Really glad we did. We have been to Stonehenge which is larger, more crowded, and roped off for protection. The stones of Castlerigg are smaller but still impressive with a rich history. We were the only people there which made it even more enjoyable. Again, so great to have a car since I do not think tour buses could ever come to this place.

In Keswick we stayed at the Dunsford B&B. This has to be the most perfect place we have ever stayed in all of our travels. Once again, thanks to the suggestion of Rick Steves. It is a small B&B with maybe four rooms. The woman who runs it is so lovely and even called us while we were driving down to wish us safe travels and to see if we needed anything. She has not missed a detail with this place. The rooms and bathrooms were in absolute perfect condition and had no flaws. This has to be the only place without a spot of mold or mildew which is very hard to combat in such damp environs. She also cooked an amazing breakfast, complete with veggie bacon and sausage to accommodate my vegetarian ways. Best fake bacon I have ever had as well. Again, not a detail was missed. I wish we could have stayed here another night.

Keswick is a really cute village with a ton of pubs for such a small place. Our first stop, which Ben had been planning all along, was the Dog and the Gun pub for lunch. Really nice pub and as an added bonus, tons of dogs! I loved it! Afterwards we walked to the nearby lake and also to another nice pub, the Pheasant Inn. We had a fairly relaxing evening which included a couple more pubs and a search for some place to watch the Arsenal match. We did manage to find a pub showing an illegal stream of the match and we were pretty much the only people in there. Not the best pub but at least we caught the second half.

I would love to go back to the Lake District someday and explore since we really did not do much there and it looks like such a beautiful place. We also still need to make it to the Withnail and I locations or at least do some reenactments! Ben did see one man who reminded him of Uncle Monty but that was when we were still in Scotland.

It was now time to leave the beautiful country and fresh air for the city. I was finally going to Manchester, the birthplace for so much music I have listened to most my life, to meet Neil and Susie and go on our Smiths/Morrissey tour!

Castlerigg Stone Circle

our B & B in Keswick

nearby lake

the very cozy Pheasant Inn

we LOVE the off season!

UK Trip Part V: More Driving & Edinburgh

From Glencoe it was on to Edinburgh for the night. Another beautiful drive. We stopped at the Dalwhinnie Distillery and picked up a bottle. Then on to the village of Pitlochry for a little wander before driving down a tiny one lane road to the smallest distillery in Scotland, Edradour. I really wish we could have had the time to do the tour here but instead we just hit the shop. When trying to do as much as we did in 11 days, you have to cut a lot short when you do not want to.

We have been to Edinburgh a few times before so we were only going to be there for one evening this time. It just made us realize how much we love it and want to go back again. Old town Edinburgh may win for the worst place Ben had to drive us through. The small cobblestone streets do not have many noticeable markings and we were usually not sure if the streets went one or two ways and how many lanes there were supposed to be. Ben got us there without a scratch though and I think we may have only been honked at once. Once we checked in to the Travelodge (only 28 pounds per night with a view of Arthur’s Seat from our window!) we headed straight for the Cadenhead Whisky Shop. This place has their own casks of whisky so we bought two small bottles as we had planned. Cask strength whisky, which I have never tried, bottled and labeled right in front of you. One of many places we learned about from Rick Steves, the man helping Ben and I in our travels since 2000.

The night we were in Edinburgh was also Bonfire Night (Guy Fawkes Night, 5th of November). We thought we would see more fireworks than we did but still managed to catch some random ones while we were up at the castle overlooking the city. Managed to find some new places on a little self-guided walking tour that we did. Hit some pubs as per usual. One of the best being the Halfway House. This is a tiny little pub down Fleshmarket Close off Cockburn. Ben had stumbled upon it 5 years ago with his parents. Very cozy.

Edinburgh was out last stop in Scotland. It was then off to England to stay in Keswick located in the northern Lake District.

on the road to Edinburgh

Dalwhinnie Distillery

another bottle to take home

The Edradour Distillery - smallest in Scotland

and another bottle...

crossing the bridge to Edinburgh

view of Arthur's seat from our window

picked up 2 more small bottles straight from the cask at this shop

Edinburgh Castle

UK Trip Part IV: Scottish Highlands & Glencoe

The road to Glencoe was fantastic and we made some great stops along the way.  The freedom of having our own car was so wonderful.  We could stop whenever we wanted if something of interest came about.  On this leg of the journey besides random stops along the road, we stopped at Glen Lochy, Kilchurn Castle, and a coffee shop overlooking Castle Stalker (if you have seen Monty Python’s Holy Grail, then you have seen Castle Stalker near the end).  I was so impressed with the wellingtons I was wearing.  I stood in the middle of an ice cold stream and felt no change in temperature.  Whatever that mystery material crocs are made of works very well.

Once we got to Glencoe, we had to follow a one lane road away from the town to the 300 year old Clachaig Inn.  It was a bit nerve wracking but at least it was still light out.  The setting of the B&B was amazing and the room was very nice.  Glencoe, despite its bloody history, is such a beautiful place. We were surrounded by high mountains dusted with snow with waterfalls coming out of the side and a stream ran by not far away from us as well.  We did not have too much time before dark so we went on a bit of a walk up the hill to an area with what looked like some sort of stone monument.  No idea what it was in the past but it seemed like it must have been a good place to seek shelter at one time.  We then followed another path down to the stream.  Then it was back to the Clachaig Inn to settle in the pub with some dinner and whisky. 

There were two bars, one that was family friendly, then the pub called the Boots Bar.  You can guess which we chose.  The food was great and the bartender recommended some nice whisky.  I had Benromach Organic, which I am now on a mission to find, and Ben enjoyed an Ardbeg.  As if this did not already rule, there was an open mic jam session that was amazing.  This one guy in particular had the most beautiful voice it brought tears to your eyes. 

After watching the sun rise behind the mountains from our window the next morning we enjoyed breakfast before hitting the road to Edinburgh.  I got to try vegetarian haggis and I loved it!

least favorite road sign ever!

random roadside waterfall

random ruins

big hunk 'o' peet

would love to know what all of these plants are

Kilchurn Castle

Castle Stalker

having tea overlooking the above mentioned castle

Clachaig Inn - Glencoe

view outside the Inn

jam session at the Boots Bar

mmmm...vegetarian haggis