Cue the Coronation Street Theme tune! A long awaited visit to Granada Studios was one of the highlights of the trip. We also took the first of several day trips, this one to North Wales to explore the medieval castle and town of Conwy and get a glimpse of seaside resort Llandudno with a ride on a piece of history.
Did some errands this morning and later on headed out of the city though it took a little longer than anticipated due to one or two wrong turns trying to find the route he wanted. The road wound through the West Pennines where the hills were green and sweeping. Lovely views and pretty little villages with picturesque stone cottages, leftover from when some of these towns were filled with mill workers.
Our ultimate destination was the Old Rosins Inn (sadly, gone now), dating to the early 18th century, located near Hoddelsden, Darwen and Blackburn on a one track road over a hill. Graham found it by chance years ago and has been there often. It has several different dining rooms and a pub and is an inn with accommodations as well. They have three dining rooms including the Sun Lounge where we saw and the pub is cozy and warm. The vistas over the moors are stunning. The menu is a cut above a pub, more in line with the lovely country inn that it is and it's a really good menu, too. The portions were enormous and the food was absolutely wonderful. It's a bit tricky to find it but well worth the effort. The website has fairly good directions and they also do accomodations for reasonable rates.
The weather today was a bit sunny with a fair bit of cloud cover and a stiff, chilly breeze but no rain for a change. When we got back to Manchester, we headed for the beautiful Trafford Center. Even people that aren't fond of shopping must admire the work they did on this shopping mall. They put a lot of thought and money into the decor. It's changed since I was last there. The back end that used to have a lot of market stalls is now a John Lewis department store.
I dropped off 3 rolls of film at Boots to be developed and we met up with Graham's step-daughter Lisa and her daughter Suzannah in the food court for coffee and cakes. We had a great visit and really got on well. They are both delightful company, great senses of humour and we chatted for several hours before it was time to leave.
Tomorrow is a very special day for me! Through a friend who has connections at Granada Studios, we are going to have a private tour on the backstages and outdoor set of Coronation Street, my all time favourite tv show!!
To make the day even better, the sun is out and it stayed out nearly all day. We met up with my friend Christine and also Mark who is the editor of the former On The Air magazine at a pub, The Old Grapes, owned by one of the cast members, Liz Dawn who plays Vera Duckworth, for about 11 o'clock for a drink before we went to the studio. We found a 2 hour parking spot and got a little turned around but finally found the pub which is just behind the Opera House on Quay Street. The pub, the Old Grapes, is a nice one, with lots of pictures of Liz and Corrie cast members all over the walls. Food is decent though we didn't eat there today. Mark accompanied us to Granada and came in with us as well. We were to meet a man who is a liaison between the production staff and the public and he was our escort for the visit. We arrived in time for the lunch break so we would not interrupt any filming, that was the deal. We were led all over the place, both main studio buildings where various sets were set up, as well as outdoors on the exterior sets.
We were allowed to take as many photos as we wanted for our own personal use and we sure did take a lot! We saw most of the main sets including the pub, the cafe, the factory and the corner shop, quite a few interior living room/kitchen sets (for the fans out there, these included the homes of the Peacocks, Grimshaws, Barlows (Pic, right, the oldest set on the lot with some of the original furniture from 45 years ago), Websters, Platts, Harris's, Baldwins and Stubbs) an Italian restaurant and a ladies' toilet set! It was interesting to see the back stage area with sets that weren't completely set up or taken down, staircases that lead nowhere, the big tv cameras. The attention to detail, the props and look and feel of the various sets that reflect the people that "live" in them is amazing. All the items in the corner shop set are real groceries but of course they get older by the day so aren't edible. The magazines in the newsagent get changed periodically even though they usually aren't in the shot long enough for most people to spot whether they are new or not.
We were told that most of their studios have a cat on the set somewhere for luck. We looked up and saw a cat painted on a board high over the back corner of the set of the Rovers Return bar, (pic, right, me behind the bar!) named Marmaduke after the pet of one of the characters! Many of the sets are quite small. I knew they would be but they were even smaller than I expected in some cases. I was particularly amazed by the size of the pub and the cafe where, onscreen, you often see a lot of extras filling the space and the cast members moving about, serving people. I don't know how they manage all that coordination without bumping and knocking into things and people! The only disappointment was that our photos on the set of the pub were either over or under exposed because they were lit for filming and played havoc with the camera light meters. Some were salvageable though, luckily. We got lots of inside information and a few storyline spoilers along the way as well.
We got some time on the exterior set around the buildings and shops and behind the houses in the "ginnel". The houses are shells for the most part with just enough room for cast members to go in and out of the doorway and decorated just enough to match the door area of the inside matching set. The inside sets use large paintings that look like street scenes through the "windows". The buildings on the streets of the exterior sets are about 3/4 actual size because they always look a bit bigger on screen. Inside the older terrace houses and upstairs there is actually a conference room (which we didn't see) so that when people are seen looking out windows, that's where they are. It's accessed via one of the houses in the middle of the row. The inside of some of the buildings are actual filming sets. These include the garage, the bakery and I think, the butcher shop. Behind the doors of the little factory there is a new set for a police station including an interview room and a cell as well as the front desk area. This used to be the factory set but was so cold that they ended up building a brand new set, a huge room with all the trimmings in one of the studio buildings.
Another interesting thing we saw was a huge mural (pic, right) of a street with similar terrace houses. This is on the wall of Studio One. Down the side of the exterior Pub building, there is an arched bridge and you see what looks like more of the same street continuing past the bridge. What you are seeing is the mural! In the photo (right) you can see on the left the supports for the false back yards of what is supposed to be the houses behind the back of the terraced side of Coronation Street. In the opening credits though, you do see the houses behind and it's done with cgi. We didn't get to meet any of the cast members but we did see some from a distance.
Thoroughly satisfied, we departed and the three of us had a late lunch of fish and chips at Harry Ramsden's. A mistake in retrospect because we were also due to have an evening meal at an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet restaurant in the city center later that night and none of the three of us really were able to do it justice. The restaurant, No. 1 Oriental Buffet on Whitworth Street was excellent value for money and we got caught up with my good friends who live in the local Manchester area. We had a night cap at a nearby pub across the road but most of the others had to work or travel in the morning so it wasn't a late night. Awesome day!
We were hoping to go to Chester Zoo today but the weather was really crap when we left and it didn't look like it was going to let up by the time we got to the turn off for Chester so we made an swift executive decision and continued down the A55 into north Wales instead. Had some problems trying to find a toilet which entailed an aborted pit stop in a confusing small town and ended up having to buy a cuppa at a roadside restaurant that wouldn't let you use the toilets unless you were a customer. Grrrr!
Soon, though, we drove out of the bad weather and by the time we got to the old town of Conwy, the sun was out and breeze was blowing. We had brought a picnic of sandwiches and fruit to eat at the zoo so we ate them on benches by the walls of Conwy Castle and then went inside to explore. The Castle was built in the 13th century by Edward I and is an astounding structure that still has a lot to view. Most of the towers are still intact and you can go up a stone spiral staircase in some of them to access the battlements along with spectacular views over the old town and the estuary to the Conwy River, filled with both fishing and pleasure boats. Very picturesque. We wandered around the castle for awhile, taking lots of pictures. We weren't too keen on the stair cases as they looked a bit treacherous to us and stayed on solid ground. There is a little exhibit in the Chapel tower where the royal chapel was and you can still see a hearth in the area where the King's Apartments were. There was also an 80 foot well in a courtyard and of course there's a visitor center and shop.
The town of Conwy is still surrounded by medieval walls that you can walk around. Good views from up there too, I expect. We walked around the narrow streets, gawping at all the old buildings. We discovered one gift shop that had very Goth type items and gifts in a lower level and we took great delight in perusing the crystals, dragons and other fantasy type items. It's on Castle Street but I can't remember the name of it. Another shop we passed had amazing Celtic type jewellry and i think it was called The Pearl of Conwy on the High Street. There is one large old house that's a little worse for wear on the outside, Aberconwy House, thought to be the oldest town house dating from the 14th century which is a museum. There is also Plas Mawr, which means "Great Hall" and is an Elizabethan mansion in very good shape. This is also a museum. We really weren't planning to go to all the museums though, content to wander, window shop and take photos. The main town square has a statue of Llewellyn Ap Iowerth or Llewellyn the Great who founded the Aberconwy Abbey which was located in Conwy until Edward I moved it to another location when he built the castle. There are so many old buildings in Conwy and if you enjoy architecture as I do, it's well worth a stop!
We went outside the city walls onto the waterfront. Conwy was once a thriving fishing port but it's mostly home to pleasure and leisure boats now. There was a bit of construction or something going on so it was a little noisy but we wanted to and did find the oldest house in Great Britain. It's a little cottage painted red and built into the wall of the town. It measures 72 inches wide and 122 inches high, consisting of one room down and one up and costing 75p to go inside and have a look. A very pleasant lady in traditional Welsh dress was out front to tell us about the history of the house that was occupied up until about 100 years ago. The last owner, a fisherman, was 6'4"! The little room downstairs had a small table and a chair, a hearth and some shelves on the walls. Upstairs, the bedroom was reached via a narrow ladder through a trap door. There was a bed and a dresser and a few pictures on the wall there. Hard to imagine someone living in a place that small!
We walked along the beach a bit, admiring the boats and the views and then decided we would still have time to stop in Llandudno on the way back home. Llandudno is a lot more Victorian than Conwy and was and still is a popular holiday stop. There are a lot of hotels here, many of which are found in the elegant Georgian and Victorian terrace houses that stretch along the wide bay. There's a pier with a few souvenir shops and arcades. Llandudno is cradled between some high hills, one more popular is the Great Orme. It's a good place for hiking and there is a Victorian era tram line that will take you up to the summit though you can also drive there as well. That's no fun, is it!
We paid for the tram. You go half way up and change trains to go to the summit. It only takes about 10 minutes and the rails follow some little streets past some very pretty old houses on the way up to the half way stop. It was cold and windy up at the top and the café and visitor center was closed! Nearly 5 o'clock though so I guess that's why. We really enjoyed the views, however. Nearby on a hill you could see where hikers had written words and names and symbols using rocks.
We headed for the pier when we descended and walked to the end and discovered the bar and coffee shop there were both closed as well! Sheesh! Friday night and they rolled up the boards! Not very encouraging to tourists on the Friday of a bank holiday weekend! I think a return trip to Llandudno is in order, to see a bit more of the town and walk the Promenade. Unsuccessful yet again in a quest for a cup of tea, we gave it up for a lost cause and headed back to Manchester. Graham's sister-in-law was arriving for a few days' visit and he picked her up at the bus station. From a gloomy, grey start, the day turned out very nicely!
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