The road to freedom? Week 1 , March 29th to April 4th 2021 inclusive

Lockdown

Monday, March 29th

Well, this is day on on The Roadmap To Freedom, but I feel a bit out of things.  Mum and Dad have been to London to be reunited with my sister and brother-in-law and the kids, and other people have been meeting family and friends or playing outdoor sport, and I’ve just been chained to the office laptop or going for a walk in the park!   Roll on Good Friday!   The powers that be have said it’s OK to travel around the country to see family and friends, so I don’t see why I shouldn’t have a day out, as long as I stay outdoors.

The Novavax vaccine will hopefully be available by June.

Well, let’s just hope there are no more lockdowns.  Enough is enough.

 

Tuesday, March 30th

Another warm, sunny day. Loads of people in the park. And the lowest weekly death toll since October.

The situation in Europe is worrying, though.

Oh, roll on Good Friday, when I’ll be able to get a taste of this freedom, all being well!! It can’t come soon enough!!

 

Wednesday, March 31st

Second jabs outnumbered first jabs for the first time today.  I feel a bit like a third class citizen now – full vaccinated people, first jab people, and the rest of us!!

Another warm, sunny day, with loads of people in the park.  Please, please stay dry for the Easter weekend.

It looks as if France could be heading back into lockdown, and things in the Netherlands aren’t too clever either.   Thankfully, we’re doing OK – touch wood.  Well, over 50 deaths a day, which is hardly “OK”, but compared to over 1,000 a day, at the peak of the second wave, things have improved very significantly.

 

April Fools’ Day/Maundy Thursday, April 1st

Typical, just as we get towards the Bank Holiday weekend, it goes cold again!  But it’s dry, touch wood.

Shielding ends today.

France is indeed back in lockdown.  But we’re remaining steady, at around 4,500 to 5,000 new infections and 40 to 50 deaths per day.  And we should be allowed back into Wales soon, hooray!  And we beat Poland 2-1 last night, so fingers crossed for World Cup qualification.

Hooray, at last I feel like I can join the roadmap to freedom, four days after everyone who wasn’t trapped with work crap!!

But … we’re now being told that, when cafes etc reopen on April 12th, everyone’s got to sign in, and have their details kept for 21 days.  What, even for sitting outside?   That’s just put me right off!!    Oh well, let’s not worry about that just now …

 

Good Friday, April 2nd

Hooray!   I have finally made it back to Windermere!   It’s been so long.   I drove up to Bowness this morning, and had a bit of time there.  And the weather was glorious!

Then I got the steamer across to Waterhead/Ambleside.  I thought the steamers’d be busy, but they weren’t.  They only restarted yesterday, in the end, and they said that yesterday was just dead.  I think a lot of people are confused about these “minimise travel” rules, and, also, people possibly didn’t realise that anything at Windermere would be open.  But it got busier later.  Fingers crossed for a good spring and summer.  As bad as things here have been, it’s been far, far worse for tourist areas.  The cafes here have been busy doing takeaways, but most of those at Windermere only reopened today.  In fact, I got the Waterhead Coffee Shop’s first blueberry scone since they had to close due to lockdown!

The daffodils at Borrans Park were out!  And then I came back on the Swift, the new steamer which was only launched last year – my first trip on her.

Then I had more time in Bowness … oh, my lovely, beloved Bowness, how I have missed you!

And then I went to Sizergh Castle on the way home.  I love daffodil season at Sizergh!

And there were lambs!  Well, there were also loads of lambs in the fields off the M6 and the A591, but I couldn’t very well take photos whilst I was driving!  Sizergh lambs:

Oh, how I needed that.   It’s frustrating not being able to go abroad, but not being able to travel within the country’s been far, far worse.  Let’s hope we don’t ever go back there.

In other news, I’m sorry to hear that Sachin Tendulkar’s in hospital with Covid, and there’s a row going on here over vaccine passports.  If they try to introduce vaccine passports for football grounds, theatres etc now, when most under 50s are unable to get vaccinated, it will be incredibly unfair and cause a lot of trouble.  Once everyone’s been offered a vaccination … I don’t know.  The idea of having to show papers, and denying certain people access … it does smack a bit of Nazi Germany, and that’s what people are uncomfortable about.  We’ll see.

Anyway.  Gold star for the weather, and, oh, how I have missed Windermere!! 

 

Saturday, April 3rd

This morning was cloudy, and then we had glorious sunshine by late afternoon.  The other way round would have been better, but never mind!  I went for a walk round town this morning.  It’s April, and it was the first time I’d been into town this year – how crazy is that?!  Very quiet.  I don’t know what else I expected, given that non-essential shops, theatres, cinemas, museums etc are all closed, but it was weird.

However, all being well, non-essential shops will be reopening a week on Monday, as will hairdressers and outdoor seating at cafes/pubs/restaurants.  Boris is due to give a press conference on Monday night, confirming whether or not it’ll go ahead, but I don’t see why it shouldn’t.  We “only” recorded 10 Covid deaths yesterday, although obviously it was a Bank Holiday.  We may also get some news on the vexed question of vaccine passports.  Boris is the last person you’d expect to back something like that, but apparently he does.  And there’s also talk of a “traffic light” system for foreign travel – meaning the same palaver as last year, with things being moved on and off lists at the last minute.  But it seems very unlikely that the April 12th easing won’t go ahead.  Roll on haircuts!   

 

Easter Sunday, April 4th

It looks as if both the “traffic light” system for foreign travel and the vaccine passport system will be going ahead, with the passport system to be trialled at the Carabao Cup final and various other events.  Ugh.  But, by the time the new football season starts, everyone should have had at least their first jab.

Meanwhile … just as life seemed to be looking up at last, I came downstairs this morning to find water coming through the kitchen ceiling for the THIRD time in a year.  I slipped on it, and whacked my knee and arm on the wooden floor.  Then I took the cover off the light fitting, to try to see what was going on, and, in my agitated state, dropped it, whereupon it smashed to smithereens.  So I have now got no cover for the light, water coming through the ceiling, a ceiling that needs repainting again, and a bruised knee.  I think it’s the bath this time, not the shower.  I was going to ring the emergency plumber – of course, it just had to happen on Easter Day, when hardly anyone’s working – but they charge a fortune, and last time the guy made a mess of the job and I had to get him to come back.  So I’m hoping to get the ordinary plumbers next week. and am hoping fervently that the dripping gets no worse.

After all this, I had complete hysterics and rang my poor mum and dad in floods of tears.

Bleurgh.

Once I’d mopped the floor, mopped up the tears and put a bucket down, I turned to chocolate. Some people have said their supermarkets are short of Easter eggs this year, but I’m pleased to say that ours isn’t.  Here is my Easter egg, with its accompanying Malt-Easter bunnies:

I then went to Biddulph Grange, as planned.  I was very sad not to see the woodland walk in daffodil season last year, but here it is in all its glory, this year:

Also, they had Easter special hot cross scones:

I then stopped at Alderley Edge on the way home:

So that was all very nice.  But I now need to get:

  1. A plumber.
  2. The decorator (again).
  3. The electrician (for the light fitting).
    And it was all fine this time yesterday.  Why does life throw you curveballs like this?  And I keep panicking about what’ll happen when I have to go back to being Trapped in the office and something like this happens.

And, on top of all this, there are fears that the French Open might be postponed.  If that idiot Macron spent a bit more time trying to deal with the virus situation in France and a bit less time making Anglophobic remarks, things might not be in this mess.  But they are. 

But we beat Brighton, 2-1.  Sadly, nothing is going to stop City from winning the league, but fingers crossed for a top four finish this year.

 

Dancing with the Daffodils

We were put into Tier 3 in mid-October, so we had 5 1/2 months of not being able to leave the local area.  Being separated from family and friends in other parts of the country has been very hard, and I really feel for people whose loved ones are abroad and who can’t visit them even now.  And, much as I love my home city and our local park, I need to get out into the countryside, especially to the Lake District, to clear my anxiety-filled head and lift my soul; and not being able to do that’s been difficult and frustrating.  But hopefully, thanks especially to the wonderful efforts of the Vaccine Taskforce , we’re now on the “Roadmap to Freedom”; and I finally got to go back to Windermere on Good Friday.  And, for once, the Bank Holiday weather played ball – not a cloud in the deep blue sky.

Lockdown’s affected different parts of the country in different ways.  We’ve been under additional restrictions since the end of July, which has been very tough.  Walking round the streets and local park every day, trying to avoid people with horrible barking dogs and wishing that the queues at the cafes were shorter, I’ve sometimes envied people living in rural areas.  But, because we’re a densely-populated area, the takeaway cafes have been very busy all along.  I often see people I know in the queues at the park cafes, or the cafes on the main road, which is rather nice; and it’s also nice for our local businesses to have that custom.  But, at Windermere, a lot of places closed at the start of Lockdown III, or even earlier, and have only just reopened.  Tourist attractions remain closed for now, although (hooray!!) the steamers between Bowness and Ambleside can operate, classed as public transport.  But it’s been a tough old time for tourist areas.  Blackpool’s tourism boss said last week that recovery’d probably take five years.  Windermere Lake Cruises have spent millions on a lovely new steamer- which I was lucky enough to be able to go on yesterday – only to find that they couldn’t run any steamers at all for much of last year and the first three months of this year.

So it was absolutely wonderful, and very special, for me to be there.  By a weird coincidence, the music in the car, which was on shuffle, decided to have Elvis singing “Glory glory Hallelujah” as I caught my first glimpse of the lake from the A591, and that seemed very fitting!   And it’s also wonderful for tourist areas to be able to start welcoming visitors back.

I thought it’d be busy.  It wasn’t.  The “stay local” and “minimise travel” rules are … er, well, let’s say that everyone’s interpreting them in their own way.  But some people aren’t leaving their local area, some people are still nervous about going out at all, some people aren’t sure what will and won’t be open, and, with overnight stays still banned, there’s only so far that anyone can go anyway.  And goodness knows when overseas tourists will be back: the Lake District usually welcomes a lot of visitors from the Far East in the spring, from Europe in the summer and from the US in the autumn, and I can’t see that that’s going to happen this year.  But maybe we’ll see another Staycation Summer: last year’s was a big boost.

But, for me, it was glorious!   This is my favourite time of year, when the daffodils are out.  I didn’t think I’d get to see the daffodils at the Lakes this year, and to be able to see them at Windermere, and, later in the day, at Sizergh Castle, especially under that beautiful blue sky, really did mean so much.  And being able to get back out on to the lake on the glorious steamers.  I miss being able to go abroad, but not as much as I’ve missed the Lake District!   There is nothing like the wonderful views there, and the feeling of peace and nature and timelessness.

It’s quite strange being able to plan again.  OK, we can’t plan holidays yet, but I can start thinking about when I might go and see the lambs at Tatton Park, and the bluebell walks at Capesthorne Hall, and have a day out in Blackpool, and so on.  I don’t expect miracles, and I don’t think we’ll be getting back to normal any time this year.  But we’re making a start.  And I’m so very grateful to have had that day yesterday.  I waited a long time for it!

If anyone’s reading this, thanks for reading, enjoy the rest of your Easter weekend, and stay safe xxx.

–  daffodils at Bowness Pier

– the Swift, new steamer

– blueberry scone from the Waterhead Coffee Shop

– lambs and daffodils at Sizergh Castle

 

The Summer of Staycations – holidaying in the age of Covid-19

  The lovely coach tours of  Iceland and Japan which I booked last year and had been so looking forward to were cancelled due to the evil virus, and I didn’t fancy a week in a beach resort on my own, panicking in case wherever I was got added to the naughty list and I had to self-isolate for a fortnight … so, like many people, I went for a staycation, and had 9 days in the Lake District.  It’s somewhere very special to me, and, given how little annual leave we get, I normally only go there for day trips or weekends, or a Bank Holiday weekend at most; so it was really rather lovely to get this additional time there, and to visit some areas which I don’t normally get chance to see.  OK, there were some wet times, but there were plenty of dry times, and even some glorious sunshine.  So, what was it like being on holiday in the age of Covid-19?   Did I feel safe in the hotel and in busy tourist places?   How different  was it being in a rural area, where many shops are very small and can only let a few people in at a time, to being in a big city?  And what was it like having to plan everything like a military operation, because you now have to pre-book most things: you can’t just turn up!   Well, it was lovely, but it wasn’t quite like going on holiday in normal times!

It was good to see “no vacancies” signs on nearly all the hotels, B&Bs, guesthouses, rooms, cottage let sites, campsites, etc.  The Lake District and other tourist areas have suffered terribly this year, first with the bad weather in February and early March and then with lockdown.  And it could be some time before overseas visitors come back: there are usually a lot of Japanese and American tourists in the Lakes, and a lot of money was spent last year on promoting the area in China, which, sadly, was money down the drain, not that anyone was to know that at the time.  So, hopefully, the staycation boom we’re seeing this year can give the “Lakeland” economy a much-needed shot in the arm.

However, there are issues with that.  The roads in the Lake District were not built for heavy traffic, there’s a limited amount of parking available, and it can be difficult to stay 3 foot, never mind 6 foot, away from other people on narrow pavements.  There’s also, obviously, concern from residents about large numbers of people coming in at this time, and we’ve also seen a worrying increase in littering in the last few months.  I have to say, though, that I didn’t really experience any problems.  Nowhere was so crowded that I felt that there was anything to worry about, and the issues with parking and traffic were no worse than they usually are on sunny summer days.  However, there isn’t anywhere in the Lakes where people really tend to congregate, because you tend to walk around.  The problems seem to be happening more in beach areas in Devon and Cornwall, where people stay in the same places.

What there were were some issues (what’s another word for “issues”?!)  with limits on the numbers of people allowed into shops and cafes/restaurants.  A few places weren’t open at all.  Most eating places were open, but, with tables having been moved further apart, and not everywhere having the room for outdoor seating, there were queues and waits in some places.  However, nearly everywhere was operating a take-away service, and that was great.  Well, as long as the weather behaved (and there were no wasps around)!   I’ve never eaten and drunk outdoors as much in my life as I’ve done in the last 5 months: it’s like being in an Enid Blyton, Elinor M Brent-Dyer or Lorna Hill book!   It’s lovely.

Except if it’s raining!  Oh, and except for the dogs.  The one big killer about staycations is that so many people have dogs with them.  But, mostly, it’s lovely.  I did eat indoors at the hotel, though: there were outdoor tables, but they weren’t really in use for evening meals.  And the tables in the restaurant had been moved well apart, with some people being asked to sit in the bar or lounge, and the hotel having to turn away people who weren’t staying there.  The hotel restaurant was also providing disposable condiments, so you got little sachets of salt, pepper, vinegar, tomato ketchup, etc, and cutlery rolled in serviettes with “sanitised” stickers on them.  And, at breakfast, you got those little plastic things of jam and marmalade – and there was no breakfast buffet, as buffets are currently no-go.

What else was different at the hotel?  I think that the original idea was for rooms only to be made up if people asked, but people must have got fed up of that, so the rooms were made up daily, as usual, unless you specifically asked for them not to be.  There was hand sanitiser everywhere, in the hotel and in shops and elsewhere.  And the staff were wearing masks in the restaurant, although I have to say that no-one was sticking to the rules about wearing masks in the hotel reception area … but it’s only a small hotel, so it’s not as if there’s a lounge/lobby area where people hang around.  And, at the hotel and in some other places, they were saying that they’d not got as many staff on as usual, so there might be waits … now, was that because of the virus, or was it an excuse?!

People did better with wearing masks in shops, though.  And whilst ordering in cafes, which I have to say is something which people aren’t sticking to at home.  The shop situation is quite different in the Lakes to that at home: here, the shops in the city centre are generally big, and the small shops in the suburbs are generally quiet.  In the Lake District, there are a lot of small shops and, with so many tourists around, there were some queues.  The Co-ops had a “traffic light” system – when the maximum number of people allowed were in the shop, the light went red and the automatic doors closed!

I do wonder how it’s all affecting business.  How long are you going to wait in a queue to buy a postcard or a souvenir fridge magnet, or something else which you’d like but don’t actually need?  One small bookshop was only allowing one person in at a time.  10 minutes’ browsing time max, but, if there are 3 people in front of you, that means you’ll have to wait half an hour to go in.  However much you might want to support local businesses, are you going to wait half an hour, if you’ve got somewhere else to be, or a bored child (or partner, or friend!) tugging at your arm, and you can open the Amazon app on your phone and order a book in a matter of seconds?  I worry about the effect that this is having on small shops, and I don’t know what the answer is.

Oh, and so many places were asking for card payments only!  It doesn’t bother me, but I hardly use cash at all these days, except for some car parking machines which won’t take cards.

The pre-booking was a hassle, though.  I’ve got mixed feelings about this: I understand that some places can get quite crowded, but I think it’s all a bit OTT.  There are enormous estates – not particularly in the Lakes, but in other areas – where large numbers of people can walk around without getting too close to anyone else.  And it is a problem.  Some places let you book well in advance, but you don’t always know that far in advance where you’ll be up to.  Others only let you book a few days in advance, which is even worse, because what if you’ve made plans but then can’t get a slot?  If you’re away for more than a week then, unless you travel with a laptop, you have to try to book on a small mobile phone screen, which isn’t easy.  And some places are very inconsistent about when they make the next week’s tickets available and, if you’re out or working, you can’t be checking the website every five minutes.  Then there’s the Great British Weather.  You book your tickets for outdoor seats on a boat trip or a walk round some nice gardens … and then, on the day, the rain is coming down in torrents!

And it’s the timing.  With the National Trust, you only get a 30 minute slot.  You can’t even go into the car park before that, or go in at all after it.  If you’re travelling some distance, it’s very hard to be within 30 minutes: traffic conditions can vary a lot from one day to another.  And, if you want to go somewhere beforehand, it’s a nightmare: how can you know exactly how long you’ll want to be at the first place, or how long you might have to queue for the tea rooms or the toilets, and that’s before you even start with the traffic.  So, yep, I see the problem, but it is undoubtedly a pain.  And I just want to have a moan at Ullswater Steamers, who refuse to sell single tickets.  Windermere Lake Cruises, the Coniston Launch and the Keswick Launch are quite happy to sell single tickets – which I appreciate in particular from lovely Windermere Lake Cruises, of whom I’m a regular customer, because they’re allocating seats so it is an issue if they’ve got to leave one empty because a customer is on their own.  I hope this isn’t going to be an issue with theatres and cinemas get going again.  I’ve already seen someone getting upset online because they’d been told that they couldn’t book a single ticket for a scenic railway … again, Windermere were great about this, and let me book a single ticket for the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway.

I suppose the pre-booking avoids having to queue for the ticket office, and rush to be near the front of the queue when the steamers are ready for boarding.  But it is generally a bit of a pain!   But, hey, at least things are open and up and running again!  I booked a Windermere Lake Cruise as soon as they started running again, in July, and I did three more (yes, three!) during my staycation, including the cruise which is combined with the steam railway trip. I spent some time in lovely, familiar Bowness, and Waterhead, and also at Ambleside which I don’t usually have time to walk round properly.  And I stayed in Grasmere and went to Coniston, Hawkshead and Near Sawrey, which I usually do in daffodil time, late March/early April.  I usually do the walk from Wray Castle to Claife Heights in May, when the bluebells are out: this year, I did it in August.  And I walked all the way back, seeing as the small boats which usually take you back to Bowness weren’t running because of the virus!  And I also went to Keswick, Bassenthwaite (where a bride and groom were having their photos taken), Borrowdale, Muncaster Castle, Holker Hall and Pooley Bridge, and, hey, I walked from Grasmere to Rydal.  And, as usual, stopped off at SIzergh Castle on the way home.  So it was a busy 9 days.  But it was lovely.

I miss going abroad, though.  I’m hoping desperately that I’ll be able to do my Iceland and Japan trips next year: I’ve rebooked them.  But, in this strange year, I had a lovely staycation, and I’ll never forget those 9 days in my beloved Lake District.  I’ve often regretted the fact that I don’t get chance to spend more time there.  This summer, I did.