Thanks are due first to Hugh Jones, Editor of Proximity Led Zeppelin Fanzine, for his kind invitation to tell of our tales in Zepland during the summer of 1997. Diane, Ann Marie, Rita, and your faithful servant set off with the intent of seeing as many Zep-related sites as possible in a two-week trip. We were motivated by the fact that place and atmosphere always formed so much of the creative process for Zeppelin. It was our goal to gain a better understanding of the music having experienced the sites associated with the music and its creators. We planned to spend a good part of our time in Wales because of the importance of Bron-Yr-Aur and its surrounding countryside not only to the creation of Led Zeppelin III but the recurring significance of this area as evidenced by sites used for the Page/Plant "No Quarter" video.
We spent several nights in Machynlleth, the nearest village to Bron-Yr-Aur. We unexpectedly found the town celebrating its annual carnival, which proved to be a cross between Mardi Gras, Halloween, and New Year's with all the ensuing looniness and excesses. Needless to say we wholeheartedly joined in the festive spirit. After many questions, lots of advice, and armed with an ordinance map we intrepidly set out on a beautiful Saturday to find Bron-Yr-Aur. Our first obstacle came at a turn-off cleared marked "Unsuitable for Motor Vehicles." Not to be deterred, we forged ahead, opening and closing several sheep gates which we had been told we would encounter. We had also been told that this road "went to nothing" and sure enough if did. We then hiked for the better part of an hour before finally coming upon the cottage. I can not describe either our elation at finding the spot or the air of absolute serenity that surrounds the place. We popped a bottle of champagne to celebrate our encounter with this bit of Zep lore and spent a glorious afternoon simply soaking up the beautiful views and peaceful atmosphere, only disturbed by the occasional bleating of sheep from the hillside. We had packed a walkman with speakers and played the third album while trying to imagine the genesis of the music in that very locale. You haven't really heard LZ III until you've heard a chorus of sheep chime in with "Gallows Pole"!
The next day we went not too far down the road to Corris, site of the slate quarry where part of the "No Quarter" video was filmed. The place is indeed desolate and the scale of the mining operation is quite massive. We scouted out the spot where Page/Plant filmed "Nobody's Fault But Mine" and "Levee" and all remarked that it seemed an unlikely spot (due largely to overhanging electrical cables), thinking that others areas of the quarry would have made for more interesting backdrops, i.e. abandoned mine shafts, mountainsides of unmined slate etc. It was not until we popped the "No Quarter" CD into the walkman that we all immediately realized why that spot had been chosen. The area where the band stood was directly across a small access road from a huge mound of slate which provided near perfect acoustics even from four-inch portable walkman speakers. We all turned to each other at once and said, "Jimmy", remarking of course on the little wizard's acute sense of recording acoustics. Well, with that mystery solved to our satisfaction, we drove onto the pristine and lovely Dolgath Falls, where Page/Plant set for the acoustic performance of "No Quarter" in the video of the same name. This site is actually too lovely for words. A long, winding trail from the car park runs along a mountain stream. The day of our visit was beautiful with dappled sunlight playing among the dense foliage. The thunderous sound of falling water increases as one nears the Falls themselves. We soon sighted the spot among the trees on the bank above the falls where the video had been filmed. We scaled the heights and had a lovely picnic beneath the trees with thick moss as a natural blanket beneath us.
Before resuming the zeptrek we spent several days exploring castles and the coastline in Western and Southern Wales. We were blessed with lovely weather and came to more fully appreciate the beauty and mystery of this largely unspoiled part of Britain. We eventually made our way to the Forest of Dean on the Welsh border where we put down roots for a couple of days in an isolated village called The Narth. From there we explored southwest Wales and Clearwell Castle where rehearsals for "In Through the Out Door" took place. The castle is actually a privately-owned neo-gothic mansion nestled back from the main road and entered through two sets of walled, arched entries that seem to emulate medieval city walls. Our views and visit here were limited since it is now a private residence.
Moving on to the Birmingham/Kidderminster area, fondly known on the trek as "Plant Country," we spent an afternoon at John Bonham's grave site in Rushock. It's a lovely and very isolated setting which filled us with both a sense of peace and a lingering sadness and sense of loss. We each made a charcoal rubbing of the gravestone and left flowers to pay our respects. The church at the cemetery is quite small but its guest book is filled with greetings from Zep fans from all parts of the world including Britain, the US, Japan, Canada, and many countries of continental Europe. We had a picnic near the grave and listened to "Moby Dick" from the LA Forum 1977 on our ever-trusty portable walkman. While in the area, we stopped by the Bonham farm to pay our respects to Pat but she had gone to London to help her daughter move into a new apartment. We then drove on with hopes of finding Robert Plant's farm. After lots of directions from gracious people and many winding back roads we arrived at the farm. To our great surprise Robert was at home and answered his door when we knocked. He was most gracious as we told him about our trip, discussed his recent trip to China, and played with his dog, "Black." He kindly consented to a few photos and a bit of video as we were leaving. He wished us "happy trails" and we somehow managed to regain our composure enough to set back out on the road.
Just when we thought the trip had reached its zenith, yet other marvelous surprises awaited us. We drove to Headley in Hampshire to see Headley Grange where so much of Physical Graffiti and LZ IV was written and/or recorded. Again with many wrong turns and the kindness of strangers we presented ourselves at the front door of Headley Grange where we were warmly greeted by the present owners. We told them about our trek to Zep-related sites and they cordially invited us in. They are very proud of the house's history and showed us the stairway (which they fondly call "the stairway to heaven") where Bonzo's drums were recorded for "Levee". They also showed us the drawing room where the rest of band was playing while Bonzo was being recorded beneath the stairwell. In this room, they still have the piano that was in the house when Zeppelin rented it. They also showed us the small sitting room where Robert and Jimmy composed "Stairway" in front of the fireplace. Our tour also included a stroll around the gardens where the mobile studio had been set up and a kind offer to tea in the house's large and comfortable kitchen.
We spent our next day at the kind invitation of Dave Lewis with his lovely family at the "Tight But Loose" headquarters on Totnes Close in Bedford. We watched videos, drooled over Dave's collection of boots and memorabilia, and raised a pint with the Lewis clan at the local public house, "The Fox and Hounds." Later that evening we enjoyed the kind hospitality of Gary Ames and his family in Luton. Gary had wonderful tales about his experiences at Earl's Court in 1975 and Knebworth in 1979.
We spent our last few days based in Cookham, of Sol Studios fame--a good base for visiting London and Windsor. Even though Jimmy no longer owns the studios we drove by and chatted with the gardener who generously allowed a few photos. We settled into the pub at the end of Jimmy's street in Windsor hoping the elusive one might grace the establishment with his presence. Alas, it was not to be but we did catch a glimpse of him being driven home. We spent a day in London, visiting various sites including Earl's Court and the Royal Albert Hall. The next night we returned to the pub in Windsor where we met Jimmy's next door neighbors. They are huge fans and, after hearing about our Zeptrek, invited us the following evening for tea and dinner. The next day we went back into London and made some video memories at the Camden High Street traffic circle where Page/Plant filmed the electronic press kit promo for "No Quarter." That evening, as planned, Jimmy's neighbors took us for a lovely boat ride on the Thames and dinner in Eton. The following day, Ann Marie, Rita, and Diane returned to the states. I was not scheduled to leave for two more days and took advantage of an invitation to meet up with the TBL gang at a pub in St. Albans. It was terrific putting faces with familiar names and I appreciate their kind welcome and hospitality.
I returned feeling I knew a bit more about the spirit behind the music--sounds corny I know, but the places visited do emit an unmistakable Zep aura. But as the saying goes, the joy is not in the destinations but in the journey itself. The kindness and generosity of heart of perfect strangers we encountered along the trek is truly something to be cherished. We went with "no provision but an open face" and were richly rewarded. The trip also strengthened the bonds of friendship between the travelers and forged memories to last a lifetime, or until the intrepid voyagers set out for Morocco. Remember, there always has to be a sequel..................