Diary of an English Cowgirl – Part I

Date: Saturday 12th June 2016

Location: Double Diamond X Ranch, South Fork, Cody, Wyoming

Have you ever felt so removed from your own reality that you feel like you may have just followed Alice down the rabbit hole? This picture represents that moment for me.

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In this picture I am sitting crossed legged on the floor behind a bar. I am the barmaid at this bar and the bride of the wedding taking place at the ranch is having her official wedding photos taken. She’s currently lying across the bar, holding a shotgun, while the groomsmen pretend to be passed out on the bar, holding the shot glasses into which I just poured them all their 5th shot of whiskey. Now when I write it down it doesn’t seem quite as strange to me as when I was in the moment, or maybe I’ve just replayed it over so many times in my head that it’s become normal to me, but right at that moment there was nothing I could do but laugh. Screw stepping outside your comfort zone, I’d cliff dived off the top of it.

So how did I get myself in this situation? Well, it was one of those life choices that you never really planned on making but then the idea pops into your head one dull day and it just sounds really fun. The idea that I had was going back to a ranch in Wyoming I had visited while I was travelling (you can read about it here) and helping them out for the summer. I had nothing else going on so why not give a couple starting up a new business a helping hand (for free, I may add). Totally selfless right! Except that it comes with the perks of living for a summer in one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, horse rides on the best trained horses I have ever ridden and access to the restaurant’s fabulous (and I mean FABULOUS) organic, home grown food to die for. Ok, so not quite so selfless. Despite all this I’ve got to say, after I said yes to the job I did slightly wonder what I’d done – I mean cleaning cabins and working behind a bar for the summer doesn’t exactly fit in with my career plan (but then I’ve never really been sure what that is anyway). However the moment we came off the main road in Cody and drove onto the South Fork and those mountains spread out in front of me I knew exactly why I had done what I did.

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So my first week starts and I’m put to work cleaning the cabins after some of them have been closed up for the winter. Fine by me, I love cleaning, always have (as a child I used to clean the bathroom for fun. Yeah I know, weird child … weird adult too though) so I’m scrubbing and brushing and dusting and wiping and I move the bed slightly away from the wall and underneath is a dead mouse. Now I had been warned about this, the cabin had been closed up for the winter and, let’s be honest, I’m in the middle of the wilderness, it’s pretty likely small furry guests are going to move in with the absence of people. But I’ve got my cowboy boots on and my stubborn ‘I can do anything’ head on and so I try to clean the mouse out of this house. First I tried to pick it up with my fingers, I got within maybe 3cm before I squealed and jumped away. Looking around just to make sure I really was alone and no one had seen that hideously girly reaction to a mouse, I tried to find something else to help the situation. The only thing I could find was a pair of rubber gloves, at least then it wouldn’t be skin on (dead tail) skin. So I tried again telling myself I had removed tarantulas out of toilets in the jungle and jumped out of a plane – I could pick up a dead mouse. Nope, no I couldn’t, cue the involuntary reaction of squealing and jumping back again (I sounded like the women who use to be in the Tom and Jerry cartoons). At this point I saw the owner of the ranch drive past on the lawn mower and I realised I was going to have to suck it up and ask for help. I headed on to the porch to flag him down … and just couldn’t do it. Going back in I tried one more time but the squealing thing happened all over again. The only thing for it was to call him to come and help me. I’ve never felt more pathetic and more grateful for American male chivalry all at the same time. Oh well, at least I’ve learnt dead mice aren’t my friends. I’ll work on it.

My first week passed incredibly quickly and settled comfortably into the second … and then we got to that point where I was hiding from a photo behind the bar. This was a wedding held at the ranch this weekend which had cowboy written all over it. The groomsmen in cowboy hats, jeans and cowboy boots. The bride in a white wedding dress … and cowboy boots. A stampede of horses running past the altar as the couple said ‘I do’ (have to admit that bit was pretty romantic) and more whiskey than you can measure. When I was told the ranch had a wedding booked I was excited, I love weddings! Everyone is happy and having a good time. But I was imagining a British wedding with all the women in pastel colours and hats, the men in their comedy ties that they bring out once a year, Pimms on the lawn that your stilettos are sinking into and polite small talk with that slightly strange cousin from the groom’s side of the family that the bride thinks you’re ‘perfect for’. This is not how Wyoming weddings go. They are full of yee hahs and woops, the odd fight and ending the night sleeping around a bonfire. It’s always situations that you think will be so familiar that end up feeling so unbelievably foreign when they’re not what you expect (such as posing for your wedding photos with a gun). So when I ended up sitting on the floor behind the bar, refilling shot glasses for more photos and trying to place them on the bar without tipping them on my head I felt my adventure had only just begun. Time to do a double somersault off that comfort zone cliff and let the adventure continue. I have a feeling it’s going to be a good summer …

 

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I didn’t travel alone

Date: Friday 18th March 2016

Location: My Bedroom, Dorset, United Kingdom

It’s March and I’m sitting in my bedroom in my mum’s house where I’m now living (at the age of 26), looking out the window at the grey sky, the grey roads and the grey houses. Sometimes I forget that I even left the country, and when I do remember I wonder if it wasn’t just a dream. But then I look down at my arm and there are these two little marks on my forearm that will probably be there for a long time to come. They are the scars from when a giant, thorny fern fell on me in the jungle and I was too impatient to wait for the thorns to fall out on their own so I dug them out with a needle … and now they have scarred. And then there’s the thin white line that goes up my shin on my right leg where I scraped it climbing a fence to get into a corn field in America … and then I got sunburnt the next day and now it will stay. It took 4 months for the bruises from that bloody table challenge in New Zealand to fade, although I did keep accidentally hitting them on stuff so maybe it wasn’t all the game. To add to this I don’t think the mosquito and sandfly bite marks on my ankles will ever disappear. But the biggest change to me is when I close my eyes. Inside my head I can see a million different pictures in a myriad of the most spectacular colours. Each memory in turn can make me smile, laugh, cry, pause in wonder, cringe in embarrassment, fill with joy, stare in awe, swell with pride, make my heart break, make my heart sing and make me feel an astounding number of things that touch every point on the emotional rainbow (my emotional range is now definitely larger than a teaspoon). On the whole they make me grin from ear to ear. Memories are amazing; each one is like a brightly wrapped gift that I get to open again and again.

But more than just the physical and mental marks left on me I’ve gained the knowledge of this incredible group of people whom I never would have met in any other situation. When you are travelling you meet people you had never even imagined could exist and they’re doing things with their lives that you never even considered someone could do. Each and every person you meet opens up your eyes to new possibilities and it’s overwhelming and fascinating all at the same time. I loved learning about each and every one of you and I’m honoured that you thought I was worth sharing your story with.

When I tell people I’ve just travelled around the world on my own they generally tell me I was brave to do so (which I still think is a weird comment) but the truth is I didn’t travel the world alone, I travelled it with all of you. Whether it was a month, a few weeks, a day or even just dinner you all kept me company and shared my experiences the whole way round. I know I’m sounding all lovey-dovey and New Age (maybe I picked it up in America) but you guys made my trip what it was. If I hadn’t had someone around to take me out for dinner on my first night in New York or take me wine tasting in Niagara or show me how a tornado forms in real time or take me dancing all night in Austin or take me to crazy music festivals or invite me to stay in your family home or get me lost in the Wyoming mountains on a horse or teach me how to use a machete or join me in swimming in a river full of piranha and caymans or teach me how to act like a tree when there’s a monkey on your back or how to play dishes or save me from killer chickens or encourage me to get to the top of Colca Canyon or chase llamas in Cusco for me or help rescue my backpack in Puno or make me friendship bracelets in a truck driving across the salt flats of Bolivia or understand my excitement at geysers in Rotorua or jump out of a plane with me or forgiven my terrible Maori stick throwing or ride across the Narnia landscape with me or jump into the freezing lake Wanaka with me or laugh at me when I got too drunk (again) in New Zealand or invite me out on random snorkelling trip with all your friends when you’d only just met me or stay up drinking and laughing all night on a random sand island or take me to the most hilarious, empty club in the middle of the outback or laugh your way round the museums of Melbourne with me or take me for walks on the beach discussing the pitfalls of love or spend the evening prank calling exes with me and dancing like a crazy person … my journey would not have been the same.

So I want to say a huge thank you to everyone I met and remind you that by traveller code if you ever need a place to stay, or even just some help navigating my home country/city, then just let me know and I’ll be there for you.

And to those who haven’t yet travelled, go, please go, just go. Like I said, memories are amazing! They are worth far more than any Gucci handbag or Louboutin shoes you’re saving for (and I would really love a pair of Louboutin’s) and making the memories themselves is even more magical. The world is a massive, complex and beautiful place that I haven’t started to scratch the surface of. You don’t travel to realise your dreams, you travel to create dreams you don’t even know you’re going to dream yet.

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Wyoming, why did your skies have to be so blue?

Date: Saturday 1st August to Wednesday 5th August 2015

Location: Double Diamond X ranch, Cody, Wyoming, USA

The last time I was at the Double Diamond X Ranch I was three years old. I had a holiday with my parents and my cousin, aunt and uncle. It was one of those fantastic holidays that goes down in family history (much like France ‘98) and countless stories are repeated about it until I feel I could tell you everything we did there despite only being three and obviously not actually having any memories of it. So when I had a week left in America and no plans to fill it I thought I would just check if DDX was still around. After 23 years, two foreclosures and two sets of new owners it’s still there, snuggled in the mountains of Wyoming about an hour outside of a little Western town called Cody. As the new owners told me ‘things on the ranch may have changed but the mountains and the lakes are just as beautiful’.

It took me three days to drive from Minneapolis to Wyoming, staying at various small towns along the way and driving through some of the most beautiful wilderness I have ever seen (several times I had to quickly swerve back onto the road after staring out the window for too long). When I arrived all you could see for miles and miles was mountains, rivers and fields of horses. Out of the window of my cabin I could see two cowboys on horseback rounding up a herd of horses with a movie worthy backdrop and other than the sound of the horses’ hooves I could hear … nothing. There was no noise, no shouting people, no traffic, no planes overhead and at that moment in time not even any birds singing. It was wonderful.

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The current set up at DDX has each family/guest staying in individual cabins or a shared bunkhouse (I had booked their bunkhouse to be shared with 6 people … however I was the only one in there, score!). In the cabins there are facilities to cook your meals yourself or you can join everyone in the dining room for dinner. I booked dinner for the first night and was given a lovely meal which I ate with a couple who had been staying at the ranch for a few days. After dinner we all moved to the Saloon to be joined by the wranglers for beer and whiskey and enjoyed a happy evening hearing stories about the ranch, meeting new people and getting to know the current (super lovely) owners.

This is the night I met YW who was to be my wrangler while I was at the ranch. Over the next four days we headed out together on our horses every day. One day we rode to the top of a mountain to see the view of the valley on the other side, one day we rode down to the river (and through some portions of it) and stopped for a snack of Trail Mix on the river bank. All the time we were surrounded by the most beautiful landscape that calls for you to travel it on horseback and just inspires stillness and quiet … which there would have been had we not been shouting our conversation to each other as the tracks are only one horse wide. I’m sure it helped to keep the bears and mountain lions at bay. But don’t worry every now and again even I was struck dumb by the beauty of the place and shut up long enough to appreciate it.

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Evenings were spent enjoying the delights of Cody. Its main attraction is the Rodeo which takes place every evening in the summer. This wasn’t my first Rodeo (… saying this amuses me) but I really don’t think I could ever get bored of watching insane people jump on the back of a bull, it’s just such a bizarre ‘sport’ to do. Another night after fried chicken and sweet tea for dinner (I’m not sure any true Brit could call it ‘tea’ but it was still pretty good) YW and I found what I’m going to call the ‘second main attraction’ of Cody which is the ‘Dan Miller Cowboy Music Review’. This was such a great evening! Dan Miller and his band played a great selection of Western songs some of which I knew and could sing along with, some of which I didn’t but I was glad to have learnt them. Dan’s daughter Hannah is also in the band and she performed a song (that sounds like it was written just for her) called Wyoming. The mixture of Hannah’s voice and the beautiful lyrics of the song captured both our hearts and we immediately bought the CD to play on repeat on the hour drive home. However after I left Wyoming I had no method of playing the song so I emailed Dan to see if I could download it anywhere. The lovely man just sent me the audio file no more questions asked. I am listening to the song as I write this and I wish you could listen too but I can’t find a link or a video to it anywhere online!

I did not want to leave Double Diamond X ranch. I did not want to leave the mountains and the horses. I did not want to leave Wyoming. I did not want to leave the USA. But this part of my journey had come to an end and it was time to fly south for the remainder of the summer.

 

To you

Date: Friday 31st July 2014

Location: Billings, Montana, USA

Today is 432 days since my dad died. If you’ve met me within those 432 days the chances are you didn’t know this. I generally try not to bring it up in conversation, half because it makes everyone feel awkward and pretty much puts all conversation to a stop for a good 30 seconds and half because when that 30 seconds is up you will say something like ‘I’m sorry’ and I will have to say something along the lines of ‘thank you’ ‘It’s ok’ or ‘don’t worry,’ none of which come anywhere close to being an adequate response and I haven’t thought of anything better to say yet. But the thing is, if you’ve met me within those 432 days I feel like you haven’t quite met all of me compared to who you would have met 433 days ago.

When Dad got ill it’s fair to say I ran. I ran, not away, but into life full pelt, arms waving, shouting, screaming and thinking that if I just pretended I could keep going like normal, or even better than normal, then he could too. I worked 12 to 14 hour days then went out and socialised afterwards every night of the week. I travelled up and down the country every weekend, one visiting Mum and Dad and the next visiting friends trying to pretend that my life was still totally normal. I took on extra activities (because that was sensible) and I searched tirelessly for a new, better (and what turned out to be more stressful) job and when I got the new job I dived in head first. The thought that my strong, independent and reliable Dad was potentially, life threateningly ill was still an alien concept in my mind. I couldn’t, and wouldn’t, believe that he could die. That would be giving up.

When Dad died I felt as if a pillar that had been holding me up, the biggest pillar in fact, had been blasted out from under me with a combination of dynamite, a wrecking ball and a bulldozer. I felt like I could barely keep my balance on the remaining flimsy poles holding me up, let alone deal with the other weights I now piled in my arms. The first 7 days after he died are ice sharp in my mind (although I think if you’d met me then it would have been like talking to me through a drunken haze). The next 30 days are gone, they are nothing but a blur of auto pilot and numbness. I carried on with my daily tasks as usual until I broke. Short story is a guy who I had been pinning all of my happiness on upped and left (poor guy probably wasn’t even aware) and the flimsy pole I was standing on just crumpled. So that left me crying more than I thought humanly possible in the arms of my housemate while she read me a story and stroked my hair until I fell asleep…. And then I pulled a sickie for a day and ran away to the beach with my cousin.

But life has this unfortunate habit of carrying on whether you’re ready for it or not and seeing as running full speed had gone so well for me before I decided I’d just run even faster (and joined even more activities … stupid girl). Everybody tells you to keep busy, and it’s true, the busier you are the better you feel but every now and again when you have a down moment, and that smile that you keep on your face slips, thoughts will side swipe you out of nowhere and you will be crying uncontrollably (mostly on a bus, which is embarrassing). I realised I couldn’t keep going this fast and very soon the only idea keeping me moving forwards was the fact that soon I would be chucking in this life and heading out on the road for 6 months travelling on my own.

What I didn’t realise when I left was how much my Dad being gone would affect me while I travelled. It seems that every single day I find something that he would have loved to have heard about, and I can’t tell him. Or something he would have loved to have seen, and I can’t bring him back to it. Or something that I’m really proud I did, but he’ll never know. I’m stacking memories on top of memories that he will never be part of. But at the same time this trip brought me back to him, the outdoor activities I’m doing are the things we did. Hiking, fishing, riding, gardening, handy work, nature, architecture, music – these are the things he taught me about and in the States they are everywhere. I’m proud that I have even a bit of knowledge about this stuff (besides the fact that it’s also incredibly helpful!) and every time I do something outdoors or hear a new jazz band or see a new beautiful building it brings back a new memory of him that I had forgotten I had. Slowing down means I can think more freely instead of shutting everything off just to function and being on my own means I can think my own thoughts, not those influenced by others. So that step by step, mile by mile over this enormous country I feel like I’m building up my pillars again. I’m still a little wobbly but I’m definitely becoming more stable.

You may wonder why I’m writing all of this. Well there are a few reasons. 1. Writing is cathartic and it helps you sort out thoughts in your mind. 2. I recently spoke to a friend and laughed about the fact that although my blog sounds like travelling is perfect I skip over then points when I’m crying in a bus stop or bored in a hotel room on my own. She suggested she would like to hear about those bit as that would be the honest story, and if she does maybe someone else does. This is about as honest as it gets. And 3. I miss him. I miss him more than any words could possibly describe. Although I miss my friends back home I feel like English needs to come up with a different word for these two feelings as there is not enough room in me to miss anyone else like I miss him.

So to you Dad,

I wish you were reading this blog, I think you would enjoy it. Even more, I wish you were here with me seeing all the fantastic things I am.

Love always,

Your Ruthie

PS I know I’m being soppy and you would have hated this post but I’m doing it anyway. That’s the peril of raising a daughter with an independent mind.

Minneapolis

Date: Monday 27th July to Thursday 30th July 2015

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

When you meet someone while you’re out travelling it’s a different type of friendship. The fact that you are both reliant on no one and everyone all at the same time means you form a strong bond pretty fast. This bond also seems to be made of a different composition to normal friendships. You barely know anything about the other person’s life, and why would you, you have only just met them, and yet both of you are more generous towards each other within hours of meeting than you are with some at home whom you have known for years and watched negotiate all the celebrations and pitfalls of life. You find there is a sort of secret code with people you have met on the road which is if you are invited to stay with them they really mean it and you know you would always respond in kind to anyone who asked to stay with you. To refuse a bed for a few nights to someone you once trekked up a mountain with would be equivalent to taking the last biscuit without asking if anyone else wanted it. Just plain rude.

I say all this as when I left the festival I was at a loss where to go or what to do next until I received just such an offer from a friend that I had been storm chasing with. She invited me to stay with her and her family for a chilled out week in Minneapolis. At that point in time nothing sounded better than ‘chilled out’ and it would also be lovely to see her again. So I got on another plane (I’ve lost track of how many now) and zipped across the country to Minneapolis. I’m not going to lie it, was amazing to be sleeping in a real bed, have a lovely, clean shower and air conditioning. The family welcomed me with open arms, making me feel completely at home and my friend and I explored the city together over the three days I was there.

The main impression I have of Minneapolis is it’s a city that is entwined with nature so completely that it’s hard to tell where the city starts and the forest ends. There is water everywhere  –  of which we explored a beautiful little creek, just minutes from the house, which eventually flows into the Mississippi river (Yeah I didn’t know it started that high up America either) and also a stunning waterfall, Minnehaha Falls which you can walk right up to and then carry on down river, walking through the amazing scenery, and again end up at the Mississippi.

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Within the city centre it still doesn’t feel particularly built up. Driving in you’re surrounded by those typically American wooden houses with the verandas and the balconies painted in a selection of pastel colours that would fit nicely in Cornwall. These carry all the way into downtown so when you arrive at the MIA (Minneapolis Institute of Art… not the pop singer or an odd army based acronym) you are struck by a huge stone building that rises up out of what looks like suburbia . The Institute itself is full of a very interesting array of items ranging from early Chinese pottery, to a collection of Modernist furniture. There is a fantastic new exhibition featuring one photo for each of the 100 years that the museum has been in existence and a section dedicated to the art of Mark Mothersbaugh who has created a completely mechanical orchestra. I ended up standing in this room for ages just trying to work out how all the cogs and wheels made each individual instruments play.

The whole city has a very cool, laid back and artsy feel which is shown in their newest architecture. One of the best buildings we saw was the Guthrie theatre, it’s a very interesting structure which includes a protruding balcony that seems to float in mid air and an observation room on the 9th floor in which all the windows are bright yellow.  Other buildings include a mill which exploded several years ago. Instead of knocking this down the architect has built around the ruin in steel and glass leaving the full beauty of the broken building on display. All in all Minneapolis is a little spot of hidden beauty in a secluded section of North America, safe from tourists and creating its own chilled out way of life.

 

Country Thunder

Date: Thursday 23rd July to Monday 27th July 2015

Location: Twin Lakes, Wisconsin, USA

So, Country Thunder. I feel like this is an event where the ‘Vegas rule’ kicks in and you know, whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas/Country Thunder. That makes this blog kinda hard to write but I will do my very best to keep to the rules and yet still make this an interesting read.

If you haven’t read my blog on Austin you won’t know that I basically invited myself to join four friends at a Country Music festival held somewhere in Wisconsin and I gave them about 6 hours to back out of the vague offer they gave me before I bought myself a ticket. However I was only with two of the friends in Austin (SM and YP) and I sort of assumed that they would have told the other two I was coming… never assume, it makes an ass out of u and me. I arrived at Milwaukee airport a good 2 hours before anyone else was going to be there and settled myself down in baggage claim for the wait. Sure enough within 20 minutes a guy wearing jeans, boots, a cowboy hat and carrying a guitar walks past to sit down in a seat just across from me. This looked suspicious and soon I had a text from SM confirming that one of the others was also waiting and I should go make friends. So I boldly walk up thinking ‘yeah, I’ll go make friends. He’s probably heard about me so it will be nice to introduce myself’ … no… that message is the first he had heard of me coming, whoops! Either way we struck up a conversation and within the hour we had our own little jam session taking place in baggage claim.

After renting a car, squishing ourselves into it, heading to Walmart to buy food and endless alcohol and squishing ourselves into the car even more (two boxes of beer under my feet, bags of food on my lap and a coolbox full of ice on the person next to me) we were on our way to County Thunder Twin Lakes 2015 and it soon became apparent that I could not have chosen a better group of friends to be with. The minute we were off the tunes were pumping as loud as possible and really these four should have made a career out of being a 90s country music style boy band, they would have raked it in. I was treated to pretty much their full repertoire of songs at top volume (which includes Aladdin) along with all dance moves. They were warm, welcoming, (I think) happy to have me along and included me like I’d been around for years. I am eternally grateful to them all for that.

Once we parked up, sorted out the tents and got ourselves a drink it became apparent that one festival is very much like another. You drink all day, meet random people and pretend that you’re not too drunk to watch the bands in the evening. Except this one had the added bonus of being filled with guys in jeans, cowboy boots and hats and very little else (I may have died and gone to heaven) and all the music was country music. I mean allllll of it, even the songs being played during the day and the ones pumped out at night at the after parties were good old country hits. The list I keep on my phone of songs to buy when I have the time tripled day by day as I found a million new artists to enjoy.

Our first day turned into evening relatively quickly (it’s amazing what whisky does to time) and soon enough we were walking down to the main arena to see the acts. Can’t say I remember a lot of them, mostly I remember the fact that apparently I make a very good wing (wo)man and so helped the guys out when I could, and that corn on the cob is really yummy, especially when you’re camping next to a corn field (so I hope it didn’t travel far) and it’s dipped into a pot of melted butter.

Next day we ended up chatting to our neighbours, four girls from the area who had come to Country Thunder for the last three years running and the eight of them together were more than happy to teach me every drinking game that I missed out on by going to an English university not an American one. They all involved either throwing, catching or hitting a ping pong ball into a solo cup (those classic red cups you always see in the movies) and guess what, I completely suck at it. I can’t throw, I can’t catch, I can’t hit and I certainly cannot down beer. It all went pretty badly for me but fairly amusingly for them. Culminating in them teaching me a game called Dizzy Bat, needless to say it involves drinking, spinning round and round a few times then hitting a can with a baseball bat. Who out there thinks I was good at it?

There is one particular game I didn’t do badly at – but it wasn’t a drinking game. Here you have a big block of wood, a hammer and a nail per person. Each person nails just the tip of their nail into the wood so it’s standing upright. You then take the hammer and proceed to flip it like you would a pancake (…except you obviously let go of the hammer and you don’t let go of the frying pan … yeah it’s not a great analogy) and however you catch it is the position you must be holding your hand in when you try and destroy someone else by hammering their nail into the wood. Last nail standing wins. Great game! Can’t ever imagine it being played in London though … I might see if I can set up a game at The Shard next time I’m out.

The four days were mostly spent in the same way. Wake up feeling fairly awful and wander about in a bit of a daze for a while. Then all completely overheat in the tents and bundle into the car on top of each other to try and cool down in the air conditioning (as the smallest one I always seemed to end up with the crappiest seat, not fair). Then someone would get bored, declare it was time to start the games and off we go scouting a new set of friends. Despite what I’ve said I do remember the bands and some of the artists were fantastic. Dierks Bentley was brilliant and I jumped around like an idiot to most of his songs. Blake Shelton was also amazing and I spent most of my time dancing two step and learning new lifts to his set (when I say ‘learning new lifts’ I mean close your eyes and trust your partner while he throws you around over his head. So much fun!). But the big headliner was Luke Bryan on Sunday night and he did not disappoint, he was amazing! And in fact I sang along at the top of my voice for so long that I couldn’t speak the next day. Always a sign of a good show.

Going to Country Thunder was one of the most spontaneous and also the best decisions I have made so far while travelling. The festival and the music were great but the people I went with and the friends I made while I was there are what made it so wonderful! And so a thank you very much needs to go out to the four guys I went with who took the little English girl under their wings, made her their friend and taught her what real country music is all about. You are now unfortunately stuck with me as a friend for life but it does come with the benefit of always having a place to stay in England no matter what (except when I’m out the country … probably at Country Thunder 2016).

 

Music City

Date: Sunday 19th July to Thursday 23rd July 2015

Location: Nashville, Tennessee, USA

Welcome to Music City! Where Country Music was born and raised, where song fills the air … and where your bus driver from the airport will force you to watch a DVD of himself performing harmonica on 1980s TV, mullet and all. Got to be honest, he was really good and it certainly set the tone for Nashville. Slightly destroyed from Austin I decided that I would spend the first night in the hostel, in bed. Sadly this plan didn’t work as the moment I got to my room the very friendly girl sharing it told me we needed to go out for dinner right away. Not wanting to be rude I obviously said yes and it was a good job too as she took me to an amazing restaurant that served home cooked, classic southern dishes and I had the most amazing pork and beans, the best meal I’ve had on my whole trip. However I did have to turn down the offer of going out to Broadway that night and collapse in my bed instead.

The next day I headed to the Museum of Country Music. As a country music fan, it was brilliant. It took me about 3 hours to get round the whole, very comprehensive, exhibition which covered everything from the start of country music to now. I’d tell you all about it but I would go on for days and you’re probably not that interested. What I will say is if you go it’s worth paying the extra for the audio guide, there was so much useful information in the tracks that wasn’t written down anywhere else and it made it much more enjoyable. That night I felt just about up to going out again and on my way down to the common room to see if I could find someone to travel Broadway with I heard an English accent, four to be precise. Now it’s been a while since I’ve heard a pure English accent that hasn’t somehow been destroyed by the owner spending months abroad so I have to admit I jumped on it. These four guys were on a road trip holiday across The South for two weeks and it just so happened that one of them also grew up in the same town that I did. Small world isn’t it? Either way I found myself four instant friends for the night to trek up and down Broadway with.

Broadway is a crazy place, pretty much every single building on the street is a bar and every single bar has a band playing and not just any old band, fantastic bands! All playing brilliant country music, and if you’re wondering how they get them so good, they start them really young!

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We entered just about every single bar, running into the same hen party twice and ending up on a roof top at one point (not quite sure how we got there). We also tasted a new local beer in every bar we went into so you can understand how the rooftop is a little hazy…

Broadway has a better atmosphere at night than it does during the day. At night it feels like it comes alive with its true purpose and it’s warm and welcoming. In the day it does feel a bit like a tourist farm herding you up and down the street and trying to make you buy things. Don’t take this as a bad point, this is just a very American form of tourism which sometimes feels a little fake to those who grew up in Europe.  Either way on my second day I wanted to get out of Downtown so I took a bus out to Belmont Mansion. This manor house was built in the late 1800s by a very interesting women called Adelicia Acklen. She was left a millionaire after her first husband died early in their marriage and from then on every other husband (there were two more) had to sign a pre-nup (remember this is the 1880s) so she could spend her money as she pleased.

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With her stacks of cash she built this beautiful mansion and travelled Europe to fill it with as many pieces of art and sculpture as she could find. The interior decoration is the most sumptuous that money could buy and the house is stuffed with the most amazing collectables. My favourite piece though is this sculpture of Ruth shown with her sheaves of corn … for obvious reasons.

IMG_2803This mansion is now part of the University and therefore is surrounded by the student areas of Nashville. This area is so much more laid back than Downtown and was quite a welcome relief! Full of independent shops and interesting coffee houses. I spent the rest of the day chilling out with the students pretending I was one again.

On my last evening I bought myself a ticket to the Grand Ole Opry, I couldn’t visit Nashville without worshiping at the shrine of country music! I have to admit I had never heard of any of the acts on stage that night but I was reliably informed that they were good, and so they were! The Opry does a show about three days a week and each show has around 6 different bands playing which means you get a great selection of music any night you go. However as it’s a live show one of my highlights (other than the music of course) was the DJ who was presenting the night. His voice was so typically ‘American voiceover’ that I couldn’t help but giggle every single time he spoke. I left in high spirits to meet my Uber driver who it turned out was a country music fan too (who isn’t in Nashville) and I entertained him the whole way home with my selection of British country music (read The Shires and The Pauper Kings) which amused him greatly. To a Ghanaian born Nashville Uber driver the idea of Country music being created in England was apparently very funny.

I left Nashville at stupid o’clock in the morning to catch a flight and although I had an amazing 4 days there I think that was enough. If you are coming to America for music, Nashville is a great starting point but there are more authentic places to find if you dig a little deeper.