2015 Biking Adventure - England

Portsmouth to London 

En route from Portsmouth to London we biked past The Angel Pub.  We were already exhausted and not sure where were staying in Alton (our goal for the night).  We thought it was worth checking if they would exchange a room for harp music.  After all, it was the Angel Pub. The young woman behind the desk was so taken by our biking trip with a harp in the trailer that she just handed over keys to a room within a few minutes. I gave her a CD and played a bit for dinner. We had a warm bed to sleep in and even a proper bath our first night in a very cold and damp England. Fred took two baths!

I haven’t had as much time to practice as I would like. But, having the harp as a travel companion is a reminder that if I do take the time, my harp is ready and waiting. I am so impressed that the harp is holding up so well and keeping in tune!!!  A miracle, perhaps. Or, the miracle of carbon fiber. It seems indestructible.  Haven’t even broken a string despite it being tipped over numerous times, being constantly jostled and sleeping in a tent. Not to mention the sun and rain have taken their toll!

Pilgrim Harps, South Godstone

John Hoare invited me to visit the Pilgrim Harp Factory over a decade ago, maybe two. I finally took him up on his offer and don’t know why it took me so long. I thought we would cycle to Godstone, which is a tiny village south of London, but in the end, we chose the shortest route and cycled up the Thames Tow Path into western London. I took the train to Godstone and John Hoare was there at the station to drive me to the home of Pilgrim Harps. The English village of South Godstone is in the middle of green fields, cottages and winding roads. The trees at the sides of the road often form a green canopy as their branches meet to create a verdant tunnel. As you pull up the drive to the Pilgrim Harp workshop, you may see a few horses, chickens and even peacocks.

I walked into the Pilgrim showroom and there was a professional harpist from Cork, helping a new student select a harp. I dove right in and we had our own mini-harp tasting. About 8 years ago, I bought a Pilgrim lever harp for a student in Israel at the Edinburgh International Harp Festival. It still is one of my all-time favorite festivals. If you haven’t attended, you should. I’m thankful there now is a harp shop in Israel and my days of stuffing my clothes into harp covers (and praying they remain intact for the flight) are over. Check out the new Israeli harp shop! www.harpshop.co.il.

John Hoare, Pilgrim Harps
Selecting a harp from a festival is great but isn’t the same experience as going straight to the source. The Pilgrim showroom is filled with antique Erard harps tucked inbetween new models of Pilgrim pedal and lever harps. The acoustics are quite good thanks to the wooden floor. If fact, I spent part of the afternoon sampling harps. Having a quiet place to get to know a harp is exactly what you need one of the perks of being in England is that you are always offered a nice cuppa tea. I especially enjoyed my private tour to see harps in various stages of production. Thank you John and Jerry!

 An old coach house was converted into the harp factory and every area was designed for a differed stage in the building process. I felt a bit like I was Charlie in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”. Magical things were being created in every room. Beautiful artwork was being painted on harps in one corner by Jerry and in another spot a harp was glued and clamped. John is the expert for pedal harp design and reconditioning antique harps. I love the idea of a room in the old coach house filled with guilded harps. We could have been in the corner of an ancient chateau. You can feel the vibe of craftsmanship, handed down from generation to generation.

 We all had lunch at the local pub that was built several hundred years ago. You feel as if you are stepping back in history when people made the time to share a pint together and were not in any rush. I can imagine Pilgrim Harps, 200 years from now, still creating hand-crafted instruments in this ancient homestead and creative center. Thank you John Hoare and Jerry Blumire for spending so much time just to let me experience the Pilgrim Harp world when I wasn’t there to buy a harp. Good business is all about building relationships. Lovely people, a great team and finely crafted harps. http://www.pilgrimharps.co.uk  

on the road to London