Friday, 17 October 2014

The Van Morrison Trail

Connswater Community Greenway has launched a Van Morrison themed 3.5 km tourist trail in East Belfast. The Van Morrison Trail takes visitors on a journey through the East Belfast of Van's youth. For decades Van Morrison fans have descended on Belfast making their own pilgrimages to various Belfast landmarks mentioned in his lyrics.

Speaking at the launch, Van said: “The Hollow, Orangefield, Hyndford Street, Cyprus Avenue, North Road, St Donard’s Church, and the Connswater River all bring back happy memories of my years in the East.”

The trail begins at Elmgrove Primary School where Morrison went to school. At every stop the trail map explains the connection between the place and the song or songs it inspired. Stops include The Hollow, which features in his most famous hit, Brown Eyed Girl, and Hyndford Street, where he was born in 1945 in the shadow of the famous Harland and Wolff shipyard where the Titanic was built.  Orangefield Park, which forms the backdrop to the hit love song of the same name is also on the trail, as is the perfect photo opportunity beside the street sign on Cyprus Avenue.

The map incorporates QR codes through which trail followers can listen to 12 song extracts linked to the locations. The final stop is at the site of Davey’s Chipper, now a Chinese restaurant, but formerly Mclwain’s Chippy, frequented by Van and his friends and mentioned in the song Sense of Wonder.

The song is also stuffed full of references to Northern Ireland speciality foods such as barmbrack and gravy rings, and these are explained in the trail map, and easily found in the local grocers.

The trail was developed as part of the Connswater Community Greenway project, which received funding from the Big Lottery Fund. The self-guided trail can also be walked accompanied by a mobile phone app which adds twelve song extracts at key points along the way.

Wendy Langham, Connswater Community Greenway project programme manager, said they were delighted to recognise Van’s contribution to the area. “Many people ask us for information about Van’s music and his links to east Belfast. It is great that we now have The Van Morrison Trail to give to his fans,” she said.

Van's friend and former Monarchs showband colleague George Jones said the new trail was an invaluable bonus for Morrison fans.  He added: "Reading the trail takes me back to times spent in Orangefield by the Beechie River. It's great the way the trail and the songs capture those memories and the landmarks which were an integral part of our childhood."

Morrison, who is fiercely protective of his privacy, has returned in recent years from America to base himself for most of his time in Northern Ireland, where his mother Violet still lives.

The trail is one of the first projects which he has approved to share his past with his fans, some of whom have been travelling from America for concerts which he has been staging in Northern Ireland.

Similar tourist trails have been produced in the past for other east Belfast luminaries like CS Lewis and George Best.  But tourist chiefs believe the Morrison trail will be the biggest draw of all.

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