Today is apparently World Book Day and as a writer I would be seriously failing at my job if I didn’t produce something on today of all days. And it had to be book related as well which meant I couldn’t use one of the multitude of articles I’ve started writing but haven’t yet finished. There is a Charlie update on that list (at last!) But I don’t really want to release it yet (Oh for the love of…) So it had to be something new. And then I had the idea of writing a literary tourism guide… A guide to the places mentioned and featured in the Morfa-verse (We seriously need a better name for my literary canon), the places where ideas originated and the would be locations of the ones that don’t exist. I’ve included Charlie in here since I’m supposed to be taking you through the making of the book (Yeah… SUPPOSED to be) and I’ve included some that aren’t released yet but will be in the near future. Anyway… Enjoy and have a happy world Book Day!
Your first stop has to be North Wales and Eryri (In English known as Snowdonia… But we’ll use how it is in the books and stick with the Welsh.) This is the hub of the Morfa-verse, and where everything starts and ends. It’s so important they should have a sign saying ‘Welcome to Morfasson Country’ As a base for exploring you can do no better than Bangor for even if you don’t feel like heading off into the wilderness there’s still plenty of literary connections to explore. If you’re arriving by train you’ll be stepping into the city in the same way as Charlie does in Charlie Fuller, though you’re more likely to be arriving by electric train rather than steam these days. From the station you can follow Charlie’s route along the high street, stopping off to browse in some of the bookshops along the way. Once done be sure to stop in at Yr Hen Glen (commonly called The Yellow Pub) for a bite to eat (They do a lovely Mac and Cheese… The smothered Chicken isn’t bad either… If I didn’t tell you that a few people I know would complain.) You can’t miss the place because it’s bright yellow. Afterwards you can take a stroll around the Cathedral and the nearby Museum before heading back along the High Street and finding yourself on Orme Road. Somewhere towards the end (near to the road running down behind the swimming pool) you’ll be able to see the house I used to live in and where I was inspired to write The Rebels. I obviously can’t tell you which number it is (as there are people living there) but I’m sure you’ll understand.
Throughout the city you’ll see an awful lot of university buildings but the one that will catch your eye is the main building atop the hill. Here you can stand on the terrace and look out over the lower part of the city before making your way along College road to Upper Bangor. On the corner of College Road you’ll find the Belle Vue (The BV) where you can slip in for some fine drink and some fine company, a place in which I have spent many happy hours- Though it has changed a lot over the last few years. In Upper Bangor you’ll also come across a good selection of takeaways (if you’re feeling hungry) and just down the road from the BV you can find the Greek Taverna where the first half of Malvolio (currently unavailable) got its public presentation. And next door (almost) is Mike’s Bites, built on the site of the (fictional) opera house which features in Max and Anna.
Heading back along College Road and past the main University Building you’ll see a place that is now called ‘The Management Centre.’ (On the left side of the road). It was here that the Beatles were staying when they learned of the death of their manager, Brian Epstein. A little further along (this time on the right) you’ll come across the Rathbone building, home of Storm FM where I performed as an aspiring Radio DJ and where the radio version of Dark Legend was recorded and transmitted. Just opposite you’ll see a BBC building and a little further along, over the road, you’ll find a gate and a path that will lead you up to the highest point in the city, Roman Camp. Don’t be fooled though… It’s not Roman and it’s not a camp. The views over the city and the straits are worth the climb and whilst here the keen eyed amongst you may even notice something interesting that was mentioned in one of the books.
Going out along the coast road from Bangor you’ll soon come to Llandegai where the Morfasson Training camp is located in Charlie Fuller. Penrhyn Castle (site of my undergrad dissertation, mentioned as a ‘Neo-Norman monstrosity’ in Charlie Fuller as well and the site of a major art heist in Max and Anna) is well worth a visit but if there’s one thing you’ll want to do here it’s retrace Charlie’s stroll to Hendre Hall. Just follow the road past the village and the Abbeyfield Hotel and you’ll have no problems. Don’t forget to turn around and look at Penrhyn Castle in the distance when you reach the village just before crossing the A55. Hendre Hall is on the left after you have crossed the A55 (there’s a bridge so thankfully there’s no need to play chicken.)
Real Morfasson officianados will certainly want to head to Bethesda, not far to the south east of Bangor, where The Rebels opens. Busses from Bangor are regular and there’s numerous parking places. There is no church hall as such but on the main street you’ll find the Bethesda Chapel (from which the town is named) and if you really want you and your partner (if you have one) can hide alongside and imagine a fleet of black Jaguars pulling up on the road opposite. Not far from here you’ll come to a car park alongside the river. This is the former location of the fabled Queen Elizabeth and a little further on in the direction of Bangor is the local comprehensive, Ysgol Dyffryn Ogwen, where Otto and Carver were schooled for a short period. It is a working school so use some common sense when viewing, please. A walk past and a prolonged look is fine but don’t try and explore the place.
For a hiking challenge you could try and follow Otto’s directions to Cythry, heading up into the mountains by way of the road going north to Gerlan (be sure to take a map and follow sensible hiking procedures) but others may want to take the more sedate route to Cythry along Dyffryn Ogwen. Along the road you can marvel at the mountain scenery- Tryfan, featuring in Max and Anna is of particular note for it’s brooding, black Lord Of The Ringslyness. On the way you can also stop off into Nant Ffrancon where they filmed The Abominable Snowmen for Doctor Who as well as a part of The Inn Of the Sixth Happiness. Just don’t forget to drool over Ingrid Bergman whilst there. Somewhere past Llyn Ogwen you’ll find the carpark for a campsite and further down the road a little and opposite to the car park you’ll come to a road (with a gate and a stile) leading up into the mountains. Follow this and you’ll soon find yourself on the shores of Llyn Cythry. The castle and the village (and a few other things) which claim fame as the home of The Morfasson family are fictional but you can still relax on the shores of the lake and imagine it all towering above you.
And for those who really want to know, the stupid lump of rock that supposedly looks like Pitt the Younger (The Rebels) is called ‘Pitt’s head’ and can be found on the road between Rhyd Ddu and Beddgellert. But be warned, it really is just a lump of rock by the side of the road. Cobb Records in Porthmadog is also a real place and is still open today though it is quite far south from Bangor and the rest of the main sights in the area.
Chester is not too far away from Eryri. Direct trains from Bangor are frequent but driving the A55 (The Gwibffordd Gogledd) will allow you to recreate part of Harry’s route to Silbury in The Rebels. If you really desire you can stop off in Rhyl (Mentioned somewhere in The Rebels and also that place from whence I was conceived) along the way. Chester is home to DS Simon Proctor and his son, Corwen. In the heart of the city you’ll find The Grosvenor Hotel outside of which the body of Dewi Croft is discovered in D.S Proctor You can stop off at the Grosvenor for a slap up meal and champagne if you wish but you might prefer exploring the famous Rows and doing some shopping instead. At the juncture of the rows you’ll find Watergate and a little way along (on the left) you’ll find a curious wooden door underneath a flight of steps. What really lies beyond I couldn’t tell you but in the book this a service tunnel that provides access to Chwedl Security where Corwen and Luke work. Further along Watergate (over the main road) you’ll come across St Nicholas Mews and the fictional Deva Gazzette offices are to be found at the end of the first building block on the right. A walk back along Watergate will take you to Northgate and the large gothic building opposite the cathedral is the town hall. Down to the right of this is the police station where DS Proctor works.
Whilst here be sure to take a walk around the walls, stopping off under the clock at Eastgate and pretending to shoot at pedestrians with a bow and arrow. Duke Street, home of one of the suspects, is south of Eastgate before you reach the river and just past the end of the Roman gardens. Of note here is the church of St John the Baptist (mentioned in the book as being the burial place of King Harold) which can be seen between Newgate and Duke Street. If visiting the church just leave the walls here and follow the road around the amphitheatre (The ‘Coliseum thing’ mentioned by Mrs Croft.)
Within easy reach of Chester you’ll find Liverpool and it’s own wealth of literary heritage. Trains run regularly between the two but if you’re driving the easiest way is to head north along the Wirral and then through one of the tunnels. The more adventurous can take the northern route, diverting at Runcorn in order to cross the bridge (Stop the Cavalry). After the bridge head back east through Speake, Garston and Aigburth before turning left just before reaching Sefton Park (you may need a map or a sat nav to help) and driving into the city alongside the river that made it famous- Which in Liverinth (Not available for a while) is purported to be a gateway to the underworld and mentioned as being as ‘Sacred as the Ganges’ in Stop the Cavalry. More Liverinth related sights include Harrington Street (The bit south of North John Street) where the bar is located and the Catholic Cathedral at the end of Mt Pleasant. For another Beatles connection you can also visit the Cavern Club (be sure to get the right one 😉 ) and there are many of the other sites located around the city. Near to the Albert Docks you’ll also find a statue of Billy Fury (Whom Will dressed up as in Dark Legend: Volume 1)
Going north you’ll come to Wigan where you can experience life in a real Lancashire industrial town not too dissimilar to Worton, main setting of The Dark Legend saga, The titular Tales Of Worton and the short story Young’uns. (Worton is a lot bigger than Wigan though). Stop off here, chat to the locals and soak up the atmosphere if you wish. Wigan was also made famous by Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier and today you can take a stroll along the canal and visit The Orwell public house or even see the famous pier itself (which is near the pub… But be warned it isn’t exactly spectacular.) Wigan, however, is not an equivalent to Worton and you will certainly want to pay a visit to the real Worton. As Worton is fictional this is difficult but you can still get quite close to where it should be. The easiest way is to head north to Clitheroe and from there make the up climb nearby Longridge Fell. Those of you who have reached the end of Dark Legend 2 will know why the top of Longridge Fell is important but for those who haven’t I won’t spoil it (if you really want to know I suggest you go and read the book.) From the trig point you can look out across the valley and imagine the urban claw of Worton below you.
Leave a small offering by the trig point (If you’ve read the book you’ll know why 😉 ) and head down into the valley. You can stop off at Whitewell where there’s a nice inn (Whitwell is mentioned in Dark Legend 2 though if Worton actually existed Whitewell would be slap bang in the middle of the town). Following the road north from Whitewell you’ll come to Dunsop Bridge where DI Fisher lives (because he’s not stupid enough to live in Worton!). DI Fisher’s house is just south of the village centre, near to the war memorial. A bus (The Burnley and Pendle 10) runs at rough half hour intervals from Clitheroe and stops off at both Whitewell and Dusop Bridge. One of the stops in Dunsop Bridge get’s you off at the memorial by DI Fisher’s house. (Just to point out, neither DI Fisher nor his wife Muriel live there anymore so please don’t go disturbing the current occupants.)
Directly east of Worton you will come to York. Marsh Hall (From The Rebels) doesn’t exist but if you want to find where it would be it lies on the road between Shipton and Haxby. Related sights in the city include the Shambles from whence the name of that hideous pseudo-stalinist cult SHEMBLE originates. The name Shambles originates from ‘Flesh Shammels’ but in my more innocent youth I seemed to have developed some idea that it was from Shembel (That must have come from somewhere) and in the early days when Marcus was still the result of a one night stand between Mars and a woman he met in a kareoke bar (also where the name Morfasson originates… You’ll understand how if you’ve read DL2) I made the decision to give the bad guys a name that was also a little bit of an easter egg, a corruption of Shembel… SHEMBLE. As York is the origin for a lot of early ideas for the Morfasson there are plenty of places to see. You can hunt out the karaoke bar where Mars met Marco’s mum (I don’t know where it is but if you find one…) Or you could visit the university college of History and Archaeology which was located on St Sampsons square. To retrace the original ending start from the statue of Constantine outside York Minister and make your way to down Stonegate to St Helens Square where, inexplicably, all of the characters burst into song. Today the ending is likely to be very different due to the multitude of changes that have taken place within the Morfa-verse over the years and it’s unlikely that St Helen’s square will be the location for the ending… If there ever is a definitive ending that is. Places that actually feature in existing books (Or so far, The Rebels) are the Bootham School which is just outside the city walls to the west of the Minster, the Minster itself and Walmgate (between Dennis street and Merchant Gate) is where the Punk Store is located.
Heading southwards again you’ll pass through Lincolnshire. The Lincolnshire Wolds is where, in the Morfa-verse, you’ll find the town of Silbury. There is no equivalent in the area, unfortunately, but I hear Lincoln itself is still well worth the visit. There’s also Towcester in Northamptonshire, Charlie’s home town. Despite a few modern additions it’s almost as Charlie would have known it. It’s very small and most of the places in the town are associated with Charlie in some way. Of particular note is the church of St Lawrence outside of which Charlie first became friends with Jeremy.
Finally we come to London, capital of Britain and home to centuries worth of literature, fictional characters and stories… But not much of mine. The only connected places feature in Rebels, Max and Anna and one other book which I don’t want to mention just yet (Spoilers!). The former Nitidus Offices are to be found on the corner of Salisbury Court and Fleet Street. The building is very easy to spot is it is big, white and has a large, arched entrance. Shoe Lane (Where Harry parks the Super Jag) is just opposite. After this head in the direction of St Paul’s and you’ll soon come to the Old Bailey, the scene of the whole courtroom circus from Rebels (The phrase, ‘Are you aware you’re trying to discredit your own witness?’ springs to mind.) It’s free to enter and is open Monday to Friday although it is still a working court and from what I can see they don’t appear to do tours of the place. Electronic items are also prohibited but there are nearby places that will keep hold of your stuff for a small fee.
And there you have it… A tour of my literary Britain so far. No doubt more will be added as the years go by… Bangor is certainly set to expand as I’ve already started work on a new, James Joyce style idea. And Charlie’s going to be hanging around the place a bit more so there’s bound to be a few more places there to visit at some point. I definitely have plans to send Charlie fishing off the pier for instance. London is probably bound to feature again and somewhere along the line other places will crop up. Very soon you won’t be able to move in Britain without bumping into the Morfa-verse… Or whatever better name anyone can come up with.
– Also, if you want to send me any artwork (book related) I will feature the best in a special section at the top of the site. I may even make a special art critique spoof video if I get enough of them. You can send them to my twitter (@JPCrocks).