After Sheffield, I had a day off, so I decided to take my time driving through the Peak District on my way to Snowdonia National Park in Wales. Outside of a run-in with a barbed wire fence that required a rather expensive tetanus shot, it was a beautiful day exploring some of the UK’s more dramatic landscapes. Winnat’s Pass was particularly memorable, with the narrow, winding road cutting through steep hillsides covered in grazing sheep, as were Swallow Falls and the ancient villages that dot Snowdonia.
Next up was a ferry ride to Ireland for my first ever headline show in Dublin. The gig was at a legendary venue called Whelan’s, and it turned into one of my favorite gigs yet. The crowd was fantastic and enthusiastic and I couldn’t have felt more at home. The sound in that old stone room was perfect, and while I’ve been battling some throat issues on this trip, my voice felt like it clicked into a nice comfortable place for the duration of the gig. I wish I’d had more time to play tourist in Dublin, but alas, the next day I was back on a ferry to Wales, where I was hosted by a generous family I’d met years ago on the Light of Day tour. They took me on a tour of the Colwyn Bay area, including a tiny 6-person church, the smallest house in Britain, Kashmiri goats, and a 100+ year old cable tramway that runs up a super steep and twisty incline.
Next up was three more headline shows in Liverpool, Oxford, and Billericay. Each was different and special in its own way. In Liverpool I was joined once again by London’s Alex Francis, who opened up the full band NYC blowout; in Oxford, I played in a quaint pub venue on the banks of the Thames and watched first year students in their robes and tails file in and out of a special opening ceremony at the University; in Billericay, I played a house show for the same promoter who put me on with Ricky Ross last year. In between I visited the birthplace of William Shakespeare in Stratford-Upon-Avon, but undoubtedly the highlight of my spare time was my visit to the Natural History Museum in Tring.
It would be hard to overstate just how insane the museum in Tring is. It was built in the late 1800s by Lionel Walter, 2nd Baron Rothschild to house his personal collection of animal specimens. At its peak, it included 2 1/4 million sets of butterflies and moths, 300,000 bird skins, 144 giant tortoises, and 200,000 birds’ eggs. The museum currently displays 2,000 complete mounted animals, plus 200 heads, 300 pairs of antlers, 2400 mounted birds, 520 hummingbirds, 680 reptiles, and 914 fish. Rothschild was eccentric to say the least: he used to ride around his property on the back of a giant tortoise, and he had a carriage pulled by a team of zebras. He kept pet kangaroos and dingoes, and he was particularly interested in crossbreeding different species to create new hybrids. In his lifetime he and the global expeditions he funded documented a number of species for the first time, and the museum contains numerous now-extinct animals. Interestingly enough, the collection of birds at the American Museum of Natural History in New York is drawn largely from Rothschild’s catalog (they bought it off him when he got into financial trouble). As a taxidermy enthusiast and a general fan of historical weirdos, this was heaven for me, so I picked up a biography of the guy that I’m reading now.
On to the continent next!