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Sisters and boat

This year has been a strange year in many respects, not least the sudden curtailment of everyone’s travel plans. As I wrote in my last post, back in early June (how can it be that long?!), staycations are one approach, but nowhere near as relaxing as getting away from the house completely. The opening up of “travel corridors” to certain countries in July seemed to offer an alternative, yet I still felt uneasy about travelling, and especially flying, in the current circumstances: wearing a mask on public transport for one, and being cooped up with lots of strangers on ‘planes and at airports, to say nothing of potentially crowded holiday destinations.

Others clearly felt differently and hundreds of thousands of Britons leapt at the chance to take their foreign holidays, flying off to familiar resorts in the sun, without the need to quarantine for 14 days on their return. What they hadn’t taken on board, it soon transpired, was that the situation still most definitely isn’t back to normal and that the rules can change at any moment. Cue uproar when the government announced in late July that people returning from Spain would now need to quarantine after all due to rising Covid case numbers. Other countries followed suit over the next month, and although angry holidaymakers have railed about the injustice and suddenness of the new imposition, I can’t help but think that the government can’t win here. They did say at the outset that the situation would be kept under review and that they might have to act quickly if conditions changed. Equally, if they hadn’t imposed the new quarantine requirements so quickly, they would have laid themselves open to claims that they hadn’t acted fast enough – as with lockdown in the first place. As for those calls for the government to compensate those who now had to self-isolate for two weeks, but couldn’t work from home: how can that possibly be fair on those of us who had already decided that we didn’t want to take the risk?! I do work from home anyway, but the thought of not being able to walk the dog or even harvest produce from my allotment for 14 days after being on holiday was sufficient deterrent for me, even had I been inclined to travel abroad in these peculiar times.

Instead, I turned to closer shores: we live in a beautiful country here in the UK, yet you only need to look at the contestants on quiz shows to realise that many people know very little about the geography of their own country. As a linguist, I love foreign travel, yet my first trip abroad was when I was 16 and flew to Nuremberg in Germany on a school exchange trip. Despite studying languages, in those days it just wasn’t the norm to travel abroad and all our holidays were spent in this country. We lived in North-West England, so it would have been quite a trek to drive to the continent and of course there was no Channel Tunnel in those days. We travelled all over: day trips to North Wales and the Lake District, longer holidays in beautiful Wales with all its ancient castles, and down at my aunt’s in the New Forest, with opportunities for river-swimming and walks among ponies. I have fond memories of bed-and-breakfast tours in the Scottish borders with huge full breakfasts and tables groaning with high tea, plus visits to London and Edinburgh for a taste of capital culture.

William in Tarn Howes

When I was 11, my mum decided that she could no longer stand it when the dog (a feisty corgi x basset hound) came back from kennels with no voice as he’d barked non-stop all the time we were away. We found ourselves the proud owners of a touring caravan soon after we moved from Bolton back to Lymm in Cheshire. My sister and I adored it straightaway, spending many happy hours playing house in the ‘van while my parents put the new house in order. That was the start of years of many happy memories touring the country, dog included. We joined the Caravan Club and went off for weekends to little “certified locations”, often just a farmer’s field in the middle of nowhere, or to larger sites with more extensive facilities, but our main mission was to explore new places – and explore we did! From Cornwall to Norfolk, to the Lakes and Yorkshire, we criss-crossed the country. Our adventures started at Easter each year (too cold before then, as caravans had minimal heating in those days – I vividly remember the strange aroma of singeing fur as the dog leaned on the catalytic heater one cold evening, seemingly oblivious that his fur was on fire!) and went through to the ubiquitous Bonfire Night rally in early November.

Caravan

Of course, the weather is always an issue when holidaying in the UK: it can be glorious, but it can just as well be dire and we spent many a day playing board games or cards in the caravan while the rain and wind battered the windows. My initiation into the joys of canasta and Yahtzee probably came about on holiday, along with innumerable Scrabble sessions and crosswords, plus jigsaws and verbal word games. Looking back, it was a wonderful family time and I wouldn’t change that experience for the world – or my excellent knowledge of British geography as a result of our travels

Our favourite campsite was up in Silverdale, just south of the Lake District. It was a huge sprawling wooded site, with native red squirrels and impressive walks and views. My father’s aim was always to park up in “Position A”, one of the highest spots on the site with a stunning view of Morecambe Bay. It was quite a challenge to manoeuvre the van into the required spot, but he usually succeeded, leaving us kings of all we surveyed for the rest of our holiday. We often went up with other families and I have many fond memories of our time there: walking the surrounding hills over to Arnside with its tidal bore and viaduct over the Kent Estuary, up to the limestone pavement of the Pepperpot monument, learning to dive in the open-air swimming pool (yes, even in the UK!) and of course many games of Top Trumps, chess and cards in the evening, as well as French cricket and rounders in the day. Those were the days…

Pepperpot

When my own children were small, we didn’t take them abroad until the youngest was nearly 5, not only because money was tight in those days with me not working very much, but also because it seemed less faff than taking babies and toddlers overseas. Children are just as happy with a bucket and spade on any beach or in comfortable homes surrounded by doting relatives, after all. Instead, we used to holiday a few times a year at my mum’s in Sussex, a long drive from Scotland, but perfectly doable with a stopover at my in-laws (more adoring relatives) in Cheshire. We also loved exploring Scotland when they were a bit older, be it weekends away at the ski stations of Glencoe and Nevis Range, Munro-bagging or a fabulous hopscotch tour of the Outer Hebrides – when we were blessed with decent weather (most of the time!) and very few midges. Beaches to rival the Caribbean too, although the temperatures were probably somewhat lower…

Sunset on the bay

So, this year, when my sister suggested we went over to her holiday house on the Isle of Wight for a few days, I jumped at the chance. No dogs allowed, sadly, but Leo went on his own holidays to my son’s to be with their dog, Ollie, so was very happy. I hadn’t been to the Isle of Wight since I was 16 (clearly an auspicious year for travel in my life!) when I went with a friend’s family to a hotel in Ventnor. Virtually all I remembered from that trip was visiting Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s summer residence, the coloured sands at Alum Bay and being pestered by an annoying boy at the hotel disco! This time around we stayed at my sister’s cabin within sight of the Needles, although we could barely see them for the first two days due to sea mist – particularly galling after the extreme heat of the previous fortnight, but that’s the luck of the draw and holidaying on home soil for you! We did an amazing 15-mile walk along the coast past the Needles and Alum Bay, revisited Osborne House (very disappointing as it was pouring with rain and English Heritage had only opened part of the house, but failed to open any refreshment facilities other than outside kiosks due to Covid restrictions) and pottered around lovely old Yarmouth where the ferry comes across from Lymington. We ate like queens at wonderful local eateries, including The Hut at Colwell Bay, a short stroll along the beach from my sister’s place, where all the beach-facing windows were open, tables suitably socially distanced and the waiters wore masks – albeit under their chin in one case! And of course, according to family tradition, we played board games in the evening and chatted, a lovely opportunity to spend time with my sister and nieces away from the bustle of busy jobs, university and life in general.

Terrace yarmouth

It was over all too quickly, sadly, but I took the rest of the week off as a staycation proper, having told my main clients that I would be on holiday this time. While I did manage to catch up with a friend for lunch at a local garden café, spend a sunny afternoon in Dunorlan Park in Tunbridge Wells with my granddaughter and visit beautiful Pashley Manor Gardens, just down the road, I also found myself doing a lot of long overdue chores like cleaning all the inside windows. Always a hazard of holidaying at home… I didn’t even do much gardening as the weather was erratic, to say the least. However, I did manage to do a good long yoga session each day, an advance on the 10-minute sessions I’ve been doing throughout lockdown, even though my Yoga in the Sun class outside on the village recreation ground was cancelled – yes, you’ve guessed it, due to rain. I even discovered a wonderful set of yoga exercises for injured knees, specifically after an ACL injury, finding them particularly beneficial.

On the work front, even though I had told my main clients I was away, I hadn’t notified everyone and inevitably ended up fielding enquiries during my week off, even some from clients I haven’t heard from in years. And while I didn’t actually do any work as a result, the temptation when you’re home is still to read/convert the files/offer a quote/deadline, etc, whereas if you were actually away without access to your computer/CAT tool/conversion software, you’d be more inclined to simply say “Sorry, I’m away this week, but I’ll get back to you on Monday…”.

All in all, my holiday was much needed and long overdue, so gratefully received. Lovely to catch up with family and friends and a great excuse to explore parts of my own country again. I’m still looking forward to being able to travel further afield, especially to the States to visit my son, but, for the time being, I’m resigned to staying closer to home. It’s just not worth the risk of not being insured or having to self-isolate otherwise. Here’s hoping we get a vaccine soon and things return to normal for the next holiday season – and making the most of the treasures closer to home for the time being.

Sunset over the Solent