A Grand Adventure

A Grand Adventure

It doesn’t take much for the nostalgia to start flowing through my veins. Last night I watched, thanks to the wonders of Sky+, the final instalment of Billy Connolly’s Route 66, the comedian’s trek through America on the iconic highway.

Now, I know he’s not everyone’s pint of heavy but I love him. Always have, always will. From his old appearances on Parky to a recent stand-up masterclass at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff that had everybody laughing to the point of toiletry embarrassment.

As a kid, I even loved Supergran.

Last night Billy entered into Arizona, the Grand Canyon State. I was particularly looking forward to this because the Grand Canyon is a place I visited back in 1995, a backpacking student with Kerouac pretensions, crossing the states in a tired out Toyota. In the show, Billy stood at the edge of the canyon, his long grey hair billowing in the wind, looking out across the vast red-brown landscape. The moment on screen lasted no more than thirty seconds.

“Goodness me,” he said, the understated words belied by the joy in his tone, “I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve been here, I’ve done it and I’m definitely going to get the t-shirt.”a minute, a sweeping shot out over the rocks, the valleys, the Colorado river.

And with that briefest of commentary, he was back on his trike and heading for California.

Understandable. Frankly, no amount of television footage will ever do justice to the Grand Canyon. Neither, for that matter, will

words – a probable explanation for the pared down nature of Billy’s words on the show, a man who doesn’t usually seem to struggle in that department. It is a place to visit, to see with your own disbelieving eyes.

Like Mr Connolly I too was en route to California, via Vegas. The previous four days had been spent up in Flagstaff, Arizona. the Grand Canyon we ventured.


Arriving at the National Park, greeted by rangers from a Yogi Bear appreciation society, the tall trees of the forest hid the great hole in the ground we’d come to see. If it could be hidden from view by a few seemingly sparse trees then perhaps it wasn’t going to be as spectacular as I had imagined it would be. The truth, of course, is that it is considerably moreso.

Walking through the trees from the car park, the sudden vastness of the canyon opens up before you with such enormity that you genuinely struggle to take it in through the traditional senses – sight having particular difficulty handling the scene. The world opens up before you, a giant gaping gorge in the earth – rough and harsh, reds bleeding into brown. Millions of years of slow evolution, slight erosions and alterations that let you know your miniscule place in the world.

In my cut-off denims and Navajo hat that I honestly thought looked quite cool (I was 21 and knew no better) I stood on the very edge of the canyon, without barrier or protection from a sudden fatal gust and looked out at the scene for more than hour, staring at this giant, monumental work of art, a painting on a canvas, as still and as finely detailed as ever there was to see.

I wasn’t riding a trike; I wasn’t as Billy Connolly joking describes himself, particularly windswept and interesting (just windswept) and my hair was considerably shorter and considerably less grey. But like the Big Yin I found myself at something of a loss for words or indeed for reaction. And so, with a final glance over the shoulder, it was back to the car, another wonder ticked off the list – and a long drive into the night.

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