Monday, December 05, 2016

Our first trip to England and Scotland...

Months ago while perusing Irish Music Magazine, Haley and I saw an advert for the Scots Fiddle Festival in Edinburgh. We were in the process of sending out inquiries to other fall festivals and Haley thought it would be fun to go to Scotland so she sent them some info.

We never thought we would hear anything back from them, between the two of us we'd sent piles of inquiries and only heard back from a small percentage...but a little while later a representative from the festival messaged saying they were interested. We did not agree straight away but made some inquiries to find a few other places to play while over, figured out an itinerary, and then decided to give it a go even if only to have a chance to see Scotland.

Haley and I flew over on a Thursday night flight. (Can I just say I love British Airways? The plane seats were so comfortable, the crew allowed us on early so we could stow Haley's fiddle in the overhead while there was room, and the flight arrived early at London Heathrow.)

After coming through customs and immigration, we quickly found our host (John Whelan's dad), Denis, who picked us up at the airport. He drove us home where his partner, Sally, cooked us up a breakfast fry then Haley and I took a nap...we don't sleep well on planes. We woke in time for supper then Denis took us into London to The Auld Triangle for a wonderful local session.

No better way to begin a trip than a good session!!!

We met some wonderful musicians and heard lots of great tunes! Everyone was so friendly and the music was amazing!

The next morning after receiving our instructions on public transportation, Haley and I rode into London on the train then mastered the tube system to get around and see the things we wanted to see. It was a chilly, drizzly day but we didn't let good English weather slow us down.

We started off at Piccadilly Circus then walked until we came upon the National Art Gallery where we walked around for a couple hours seeing works by Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, and others. Amazing! We wished we had all day to see everything but we had a lot to get in. From the gallery, we walked to the Coliseum, Buckingham Palace, St. James Park, 

Phone booth at Piccadilly Circus

View from the top of the stairs at entrance to National Gallery

Van Gogh's Two Crabs...Daddy loves crabbing.

The Coliseum.

Buckingham Palace
We saw someone (possibly the mayor?) in a carriage with a mounted police escort heading to the palace then a parade of palace guards. Haley's phone died and with it our map. We made our way back to the subway and headed toward Big Ben. We found some food as it got dark then made our way to see Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. The architecture of the buildings is fabulous in that area of town!

The next morning we had to pick Dylan up at the airport then there was a session held for the kids at the CCE near Luton. At the session, we met some people we'd only "met" virtually prior to our trip including the man who once reviewed the kids' CD for Irish Music Magazine and the father of their accordion playing friend from Studio2Stage. The session was great and they had Haley and Dylan play a little set of tunes followed by food. It was a nice afternoon!

The next morning, we were up early. Denis drove us to the Luton airport where we picked up our rental car, a sporty little red Fiat. We drove first to see Stonehenge. I am fascinated by prehistoric structures. I like to imagine what life was like for the people of that time.

Our stop for the night was Bath. Haley is a Jane Austen fan and one of her "must see" places for the trip was Bath. What a fabulous town!! I will definitely get back there someday to experience and see more!

We didn't arrive in town until nearly dark so we checked into our perfect little B&B then took a walk into town to get our bearings and come up with a plan of attack for the next day. Anyplace we might want to visit was closed so we ate dinner at Sally Lunn's (on Sally Lunn buns, of course) then went back to the B&B.

The next morning, after an amazing breakfast, Haley got in a bit of practice, we packed up the car, then checked out before walking into town. We took a fascinating tour of the Roman baths (and tasted Roman bath water...yuck, warm mineral filled water that tasted like metal, visited the Jane Austen museum, walked around town a bit more, then went back to Sally Lunn's because we wanted to try a dessert bun (no room in our tummies the night before) before driving on through the Cottswalds to Painswick for the night. During that drive I saw a number of small towns I'd love to go back and take a closer look at. Painswick was a quaint little town. Our B&B hostess there made us dinner reservations at a nice pub and we spent a quiet evening.

Roman baths from the street level

Jane Austen museum

Bridge that was a whole street block complete with shops.

The next day was filled with driving (5 hours) from Painswick to Ravenglass in Cumbria where we had reservations to stay in the carriage house at Muncaster Castle for two nights.

Muncaster Castle probably has many visitors during the tourist months but this time of year it is rather isolated. Prior to our trip, we'd read it was haunted and when we arrived and very few people were around, we were spooking ourselves rather easily. Add to that a funny little experience and we spent our first night locked in our room with furniture moved in front of the door. 

Here's what happened... When we checked into the B&B (in the carriage house), we found out we were the only ones staying that night. We walked around a bit before dark then headed into the town of Ravenglass which also has some tourist attractions, but not this time of the year. We drove down a one lane road into town where the tide was out leaving boats in the muck around the inlet and there was not a car or person in sight. We found a large parking lot and were the only car parked in it. I parked in the middle, paid at the pay station, then put the ticket in my window before we walked two blocks to a pub we'd passed coming into town.

We entered the pub and the three people in there, the bartender, a man tending the fire, and someone drawing in the corner, just stared at us before the bartender eventually told us they were not yet serving food but we might find something to eat at the hotel on the next block. When we left the pub, Haley told us they only had a 2 of 5 health rating so she was glad they were not serving food. The hotel was also rather empty...three workers in the dining room and two men on computers. They agreed to cook for us even though it was early and we had a very nice meal. 

Walking back to our car, Dylan walked a bit ahead of Haley and I and disappeared around a line of trees near the parking area. I had a passing thought of what it might be like if he wasn't there when I rounded the corner but he was standing next to a car against a bus stop in one corner of the parking area. I quickly wondered why he was there then noticed our car was not in the middle of the lot where I had left it. Dylan said, "Why is our car here?" 

We were immediately freaked out. I gave him the key so he could back the car up and I could shine a light on it to check for damage. There was none. We could not figure out how a car in gear on a non- inclined parking area could have rolled forward and to the right, then come to a stop straight onto the bus stop without damage. We thought about ghosts and creepy townsfolk and scared ourselves before quickly getting into the car and driving back to lock ourselves in our room for the night. We decided to leave the next morning if anything else weird didn't and things looked better in the morning with people around working at the castle.

It was raining the next morning. We walked to the little restaurant and ate breakfast alone in it. We then took a walk around the grounds in the rain, visited the bird sanctuary to see the hawks and owls, had tea and cupcakes in the coffee shop, then watched an owl exhibition. Haley and Dylan practiced together for awhile then we walked some more, took a drive into town to conduct scientific studies and figure out how the car had moved the day before, then stopped at a little convenience store to pick up frozen pizza which we then cooked in the kitchen at the carriage house before some more practice and bed.

Haley loved the owl exhibition...owls are some of her favorite creatures and having them fly over our heads and scrabble around our feet was very fun. There was only one other family at the show because it was cold and rainy plus it's the off season. Our second night was much less eventful than our first and we rose early the next morning to head off to Edinburgh after breakfast...another five hour journey.

The drive was beautiful...snow covered mountains, sheep everywhere, little towns and farms!!! We arrived in Edinburgh in early afternoon. Dylan was tired from driving most of the way and rested in our B&B while Haley and I took a walk to stretch our legs, get our bearings, and figure out where we needed to be for sound check at the festival that evening. The concert was great! The people running the festival were extremely nice, the audience was full of fiddle enthusiasts, and Haley and Dylan played great to open the show. We enjoyed listening to the main act perform with great seats high up in the balcony. 

Drive through the snow.

Photo taken during their set by Eilidh Steel at Scots Fiddle Festival
Haley and Dylan during their set. Photo by Scots Fiddle Festival.

Haley and Dylan during their set. Photo by Scots Fiddle Festival.

The Queens Hall in Edinburgh...concert venue.
Here's a video of them playing that I took from the balcony...

After the concert, there was an after concert party in another venue called the Festival Club where various artists were asked up to play for about 20 min each. We walked over to listen and Haley and Dylan to played another short set for the audience there as well. It was a great night and we didn't get in until the early morning hours.

The next morning we got up and walked the Royal Mile, seeing shops and sights all the way up to Edinburgh Castle and meeting William Wallace for a photo op. We caught up with Dylan for lunch at the Elephant House where J.K. Rowling wrote much of the first Harry Potter book then went back to the festival so Haley could hear a performance of gypsy jazz.  Afterward we ate pies for supper at Deacon Brodies and walked back up to the castle to see it in the dark.

William Wallace showed Haley how to hold a sword.

Men in kilts were everywhere (due to a local rugby match) but  this guy played those bagpipes all day!!

On Sunday, Dylan wanted to sleep in a bit so Haley and I went to brunch at a cute place, South Pour, we'd noticed during our walks the day before...delicious. A wonderful Scottish fiddler, Catriona MacDonald happened to sit next to us with her family and after we'd talked for a bit, she recognized Haley. After breakfast we walked back to the festival to hear a talk that didn't happen because the man giving the talk was ill. There were various artisans and music shops with stalls set up in one room, a huge session going on in the middle of the room, and in another room a luthier was working on a new violin. He had a few of his violins set out for sale. Haley fell in love with one and played on it for awhile. She called Dylan to bring his guitar and play with her to see how it sounded and another fiddler joined them. Haley and Roger taught each other some tunes and fiddled around for almost two hours. Haley eventually decided she wanted to walk the other half of the Royal Mile to the Holyrood before dark so we took the walk then met Dylan back at South Pour for supper and went to the final concert of the festival that night.

Brunch at South Pour

Haley with Catriona MacDonald

Haley and Dyl jamming on a freshly made fiddle

Small jam session

Petting an owl

Holyrood Palace

Haley with Greyfrier's Bobby
We spent Monday driving from Edinburgh back to London. We made a stop off at Wallsend to see the end of Hadrian's Wall. There was a little museum which we walked through including an observatory to view the remains of the Roman fort at the end of the wall. Rain, fog, and traffic made for a difficult drive but we made it back to Denis' safely. 

Haley and Dylan had a gig in the basement bar at Green Note in London on Tuesday night. We took the train and tube into the city, walked around a bit, searched for someplace to eat, eventually found an open curry restaurant and went to the venue to eat our take-out. 

Dylan invited a new friend, Tad, to join them on bodhran. Green Note was a lovely little venue with an appreciative audience. The three of them sounded great.

The following day Denis took us on a tour of the Luton area. We then headed off to the Railway Tavern in London for an awesome session!!

Thanksgiving morning we woke early to get the airport for our holiday flight home!

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