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(2014 - Spring Issue)


“On his way to Paul’s house where they wrote lyrics together, John Lennon would cycle across Allerton Municipal Golf Club deliberately tearing up the greens,” says Phil Coppell, our Liverpool guide and acquaintance of Paul McCartney.

We’d just left John’s boyhood home. I asked why it didn’t look like the one in the Lennon biopic, Nowhere Boy.

“Because it isn’t,” Phil confirms. “Even though she had permission to film the house, the director thought it too posh for the working class portrait she was aiming for. In fact, it’s the other three lads who were working class, not John.”

After a quick peek through the gates of Strawberry Field, our 20-member group boards a luxury coach complete with laminate wood floors, intermittent Wi-Fi and a killer sound system then heads down Penny Lane, humming along to the tune of the same name. Phil points out the Barber Shop and the “shelter in the middle of the roundabout” before herding us into the Cavern Club where The Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Who, The Stones, Queen and more recently, Paul McCartney have all performed.

Soirée With the Locals

Local experts such as Phil, a travel photographer and Beatles aficionado of 20 years, are the mainstay of Trafalgar Tours along with their uber-professional travel directors and local hosts who open their homes to Trafalgar’s clientele.

Arriving for dinner at Whitwell Hall, an English country house outside of York, we’re greeted by the Bell family bearing trays of sparkling wine in a wide entrance hall complete with a grand staircase leading to the fully visible upstairs hallways. To escape the chilly October night, we crowd around the roaring fireplace in an adjoining sitting room filled with overstuffed furniture, plush carpets and full-size oil portraits of extended family members, past and present.

Invited to wander freely, I head into the main kitchen heated by a mammoth AGA cooker, popular in England since 1929, to chat with staff as they prepare the roast pork, mashed potatoes and braised vegetables. Overhead, Mrs. Bell’s 300 teapots decorate the shelves around the room. Fresh drink in hand and two rambunctious dogs in tow, I rejoin the group in conversation about our trip.

Earlier that day we’d stopped by Quarry Bank Mill, a well-preserved cotton mill and museum dedicated to the child apprentices of the Industrial Revolution before settling into historic York, home of the beautiful gothic cathedral, York Minster.

Castles: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

However it’s the remains of York Castle built by William the Conqueror that are most intriguing. Sitting outside our Hilton Hotel, the castle looms over York from atop a high grassy knoll, set against a brilliant blue sky. It has served as a prison, a royal mint and, most impressively, a display case for Henry the VIII’s dead enemies.

Better known as Hogwarts from the first two Harry Potter films than the current residence of the Duke of Northumberland and family, Alnwick Castle, second in size only to Windsor, receives more than 800,000 visitors a year. The pastoral surroundings feature sheep grazing on rolling hills and stately gardens including the popular Poison Garden.

Further north, Edinburgh Castle dominates the city—itself a World Heritage Site—from atop an extinct volcano. Mary Queen of Scots, unfortunate prisoners of war and hundreds of burnt “witches” along with the Scottish crown jewels all lay claim to the site.

Three days in Scotland’s second-largest city allow us time to explore the hilly, twisted streets filled with secret passageways and Georgian architecture; taste and stockpile single malts; and share a meal of mutton with Fergus and Gregor Wood, sheep farmers and bagpipers working out of a 17th-century barn on the beautiful shores of Loch Ard.

At the farewell dinner and tour aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia, we marvel at the Queen’s tiny onboard bed, prompting a New Yorker to quip, “I was expecting a California king.”

London Calling

Alas, not even at Buckingham Palace, if reports of a “double bed with curtains” by Michael Fagan, the Queen’s bedroom intruder, are true. The palace, a scenic walk through Hyde Park to our London base at Marble Arch, usually opens 19 staterooms to summer visitors when the Queen departs for Scotland.

Other notable stops near Marble Arch include the Diana Memorial Fountain where visitors are invited to sit and dip their feet, the Serpentine Galleries in Kensington Park and lively Oxford Street for power shopping.

In stark contrast to central London and Mayfair (the Beatles’ first London home) where we enjoy high tea at the Chesterfield Hotel, a walking tour of the east end, led by Mary, a long-time resident, illustrates how the city reinvents itself.

Former working-class neighbourhoods such as Shoreditch and Spitalfields have turned into hip creative hubs reflected in an endless array of street art, public sculptures and contemporary art galleries including Whitechapel. Specialized boutiques, vintage shops and colourful carts of Indian, Moroccan and Turkish food dot the landscape around Brick Lane, not far from where movies and television shows such as Downton Abbeyare shot. Chefs, TV personalities and artists such as Damien Hirst and Tracy Emin call the area home as well as musicians, most notably, Roger Daltrey. But it was Beatlemania that rocked the area 50 years ago when the Fab Four first performed at the Granada Cinema at nearby East Ham.

Travel Planner

For more information, visit:

Trafalgar Tours: trafalgar.com/can

Visit Britain: visitbritain.com/en/CA

Visit Scotland: visitscotland.com/en-ca

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