Where next: 2020 – COVID-19 Update

Here’s a copy of the update I made to my Where Next? page today.


2020

2020 is going to be a rather different year as Phil and I are moving to Herefordshire in January to try out the country life (but not Country Life). I’m still aiming to get a few trips in, but living in Herefordshire opens up a whole new world of walking opportunities, and travelling further afield means getting to grips with regional flights or factoring in a 3 hour plus train journey to/from London.

Naturally, there are some travel plans – but the only one booked is a return to northern Spain with Steffi and Hazel to walk the El Anillo de Picos in the company of Alfonso who led last year’s week in the Picos. I’ve already got weekends in the Northern Lake District, Pembrokeshire and St Andrews booked into my diary, and Phil and I are off to Northern Italy for Michael and Katja’s wedding in June. That still leaves a chunk of time for a Big Trip, but what, where and when depends on what Phil and I decide come June on the Herefordshire front….. About which, read on….

COVID-19 Update – August 2020

Well, we made our move to Herefordshire at the right time! Although not the trial we’d anticipated, it’s certainly proving to be a better place to be this year than London would have been.

As lockdown has been easing I have made it to Pembrokeshire for a weekend with Steffi and Phil and I have had a week in Walton on the Naze. All other trips – foreign and domestic – are all now cancelled.

Who knows what 2021 will bring? ‘More of the same’ would not come as a surprise.

Trip No. 1 of 2020: Relocating to Herefordshire

Destination: Abbey Dore, a hamlet half way between Hereford and Abergavenny.

When: January – June 2020, possibly long term. We’ll see how it goes.

What: Living in rural Herefordshire, with Phil. Working remotely for LW (I got the official approval this week).

How: With the cooperation of family, friends and work.

Why: I’ve spent a lot of my life in Herefordshire, whilst growing up in Solihull, studying at St Andrews and Chester, and working in London. We’ve had a holiday home there since I was tiny, which is where Phil and I will be based, and dad and Jean live half an hour’s drive away.

I did my first walking in the Black Mountains, up Skirrid and along Offa’s Dyke. I love the history of the Welsh Marches, and the fact that we have a Cistercian Abbey and a Saxon Motte and Bailey castle (remains of) within walking distance, and stone castles scattered across the landscape. Not to forget Bacton, Kilpeck, Craswall and Cwmyoy.

I’m ready to spend some time living in a green world rather than a grey one, with space to grow things and to make and store things. The preserving pan and sewing machine will be coming with us.

“But why leave London?” I hear you ask –

“Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” — Samuel Johnson

Well, I am somewhat tired of London. I love the fact that everything is on the doorstep, from shops to cinemas to museums, that I have family and friends within easy reach, that every Wednesday I can meet friends for wine and pizza, and that trains and flights offer a boundless choice of destinations near and far.

But I don’t love the noise, the early morning dustbin lorries and delivery vans announcing to all and sundry that they are reversing or turning left, the late night drunken revellers shouting and singing as they try to navigate the residential back streets of the Barbican, the police helicopters hovering over possible crime scenes in the middle of the night or monitoring protests and public gatherings during the day. The construction sites, providing relentless background noise of jackhammers and power tools at play, for new luxury developments in place of buildings with civic and social worth, signifying the Corporation of London’s distain for its residential communities and neighbours.

So. Watch this space.

Forty Acres sign post, Kerry's Gate
Forty Acres sign post, Kerry’s Gate

Trip No. 2 of 2020: El Anillo de Picos – POSTPONED July 2020

Destination: The Picos de Europa, Northern Spain.

When: August / September 2020.

What: Steffi, Hazel and I – plus Rache – return to Northern Spain to walk El Anillo de Picos.

How: In the wonderful company of Alfonso Gallego de Lerma who was our excellent guide/leader on Exodus’ Picos de Europa trip we did in July 2019.

Why: July’s trip whetted the appetite even though the bad weather restricted our routes and made the Grade 5 trip closer to the standard Grade 3 holiday than any of us would have wished.

This time we’ll get to spend a long week in the Picos de Europa proper, hiking in and around  the three massifs. We will be staying in refugios and carrying “everything” with us.  That shouldn’t be as dramatic as it sounds – we are used to carrying wet weather gear and warm layers, plus lunch and water, in our day packs and will only need a sheet sleeping bag for the refugios which will also provide all our meals. I for one am not renowned for my vast wardrobe when I’m walking …. Plus we will have clean clothes to enjoy once we’ve competed El Anillo.

Itinerary: Factoring in travel to/from London, our itinerary is:

Day 0: Travel to London
Day 1: Fly to Bilbao. Travel to Arenas de Calabres.
Days 2 to 8: Trekking through the Picos.
Day 9: Relax and swim…. Drive to Bilbao or Santander. Visit the city.
Day 10: Fly to London
Day 11: Travel back from London

Steffi has  booked flights and Alfonso is booking hotels and the refugios (turns out four clients is a good number, as is Alfonso’s price), so we are All Systems Go!

Everest Trek Get Together No 15

Another fab weekend in Pembrokeshire, with Steffi and Maurice, Hazel, Charles and Dave.

Summary: A gig in Tenby on Friday courtesy of Maurice and his band, and a wet walk along the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path on Saturday doing a figure of eight from West Angle Bay. Sunday stroll around the Southwood Estate with blue sky views out over Newgale Beach, then another of Maurice’s Marvellous Sunday Lunches, with crumble by Carmen. Painful train journey home.

For photos, take a look at my Flickr Album: Everest Trek Get Together No 15. Read on for the detail.

Friday followed its usual pattern – train from Paddington, rendezvous with Dave at Newport, generous G&Ts on arrival at Mayhem followed by one of Steffi’s curry feasts. Then the evening diverged from the norm, as we headed over to Tenby to watch Maurice and his band in a gig at The Lifeboat Tavern. Brilliant!

A late night drive got us to Newgale, Steffi’s caravan, and bed.

No photos… I always fail to get any of the array of curries. Must be the aperitif.

Saturday‘s weather forecast offered 50% chance of light rain and moderate winds for our stroll around the headland from Angle to Freshwater West and cutting across the peninsula to East Angle Bay and back through the long, narrow village to West Angle Bay.

The 50% was not in our favour. We got a morning of very wet Welsh rain, and grey views out to sea as we walked this section of the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path.

Wet Walk from West Angle Bay
Wet Walk from West Angle Bay

The rain eased off as we headed back towards Angle through, looking across to Milford Haven with views of the refinery, tankers and Irish Ferries arriving into port. Walking along Angle’s medieval main street, the nineteenth-century Estate-built hotels and houses standing out somewhat, we were passed by a vintage car rally. A fine parade, although we became rather concerned when we realised they were also heading to the Wavecrest Cafe, down at West Angle Bay.

Fortune smiled on us, and we managed to get a corner table for five, and the ladies who run the cafe were super efficient. We were tucking into Welsh Cheddar and Leek Tart (me), Bacon & Brie Baguettes (H & S) and bowls of steaming Cawl (D&C) within 10 mins. Five stars for the Wavecrest Cafe, team and food. Highly recommended!

As blue skies put in a determined appearance above us, we headed out to do the other half of the Angle peninsula, 3.7 miles along the coast path and back via the Pele Tower House with its spiral staircase, arrow slit windows and views of the stone dove cote. Angle has an ancient history.

Information Board: East Angle Bay
Information Board: East Angle Bay

We made it back to the Wavecrest Cafe with 15 mins to spare for pots of tea, tasty cakes and a warm welcome back, even though they were shutting up at 4pm. A really impressive bunch of women run that place.

Home and dry by 5pm, we had time for more tea and the papers as the rain pelted down outside.

Wine, soup and Cardigan bread lasted until 9pm when sleep called.

Sunday dawned with clear skies and a colder breeze. A light breakfast then out to the beach and then up on the footpaths to and through Southwood Estate, as discovered by Gwyneth and Dave this summer. A smashing stroll from Pinch Hill to Maidenhall Car Park, then back along the coastal path above Newgale Beach. Great views out to Grassholm and Skomer.

Newgale Beach Panorama
Newgale Beach Panorama

A speedy drive back to Mayhem via Aldi, for another Marvellous Maurice Sunday Lunch, with Carmen’s Blackberry and Apple Crumble for afters.

Sunday lunch
Sunday lunch

Full rabbit to Newport, where our scheduled return to London was scuppered by GWR. Our train broke down at Cardiff, the weekend engineering works were overrunning, there were rolling stock chaos and staffing shortages. AKA loads of cancelled trains. We took the station staff’s advice and jumped on a train to Bristol Temple Meads, only to find the next London train was cancelled, so we had an hour to wait. We got into Paddington at 20.44. Delay Repay submitted this morning. Now we just need to give GWR twenty working days to process it….. I think they’ll be busy.

Everest Trek Get Together No 14

On a sedate train service heading towards Cardiff, after another lovely weekend in Pembs, this time combining the 14th Everest Trek Get Together with the start of Steffi’s birthday celebrations.

Friday featured generous G&Ts followed by curry and then the onward drive Newgale and the Van. Dave and Gwyneth had met us in Newport with the usual smooth station rendezvous and a drive West that was somewhat wetter than desired.

The damp theme resurfaced on Saturday this time accompanied by strong winds – the forecast had promised heavy rain and winds over the 50mph mark, and proved accurate. The morning was slightly less bad, and we ventured out along the road to the cafe/paper shop. Huge waves and steady rain kept almost everyone else inside. The return walk, into the wind, took 6 mins longer than the outbound leg. A day in the caravan seemed the sensible option, with D&G driving back to the Duke of Cambridge to watch Wales romp to victory in the Six Nation final. We celebrated that and Steffi’s birthday minus 3 days with ginger tiffin, tea and sparklers.

Steffi and I ventured out to watch sunset from the beach, catching a final shower en route but one that delivered a wonderful full rainbow over the caravan park. Beautiful sunset, the sea still strong.

Sunset after the storm, Newgale Beach
Sunset after the storm, Newgale Beach

Back in the van, present opening followed together with further toasts, of champagne this time, accompanied by crisps from the pub. We dined on Steffi’s special soup, Cardigan bread, hummus and carrot sticks, cheese and biscuits.

Then bed.

Leisured breakfast on Sunday. No rain and crystal clear skies out over St Brides Bay. A beautiful walk along the beach, busy with walkers and dogs. Lovely.

Sunday stroll on Newgale Beach
Sunday stroll on Newgale Beach

Back to Mayhem for continued celebrations with more champagne and a slap up Sunday lunch cooked by Maurice and Maria. Yes, we did visit the Aisles of Aldi en route. It’s tradition.

Sunday lunch bonanza!
Sunday lunch bonanza!

Hazel and I caught the 15.54 from Whitland, changed onto the GWR service at Swansea and are whiling away the journey back to London listening to podcasts / watching downloads. Currently at Cardiff where our naturally quiet carriage now has a lady putting the world to rights on a phone call…

Everest Trek Get Together No 13

No Unlucky No. 13 for us! In fact magically lucky, yet again, on the weather front.

Friday: Lunchtime train to Newport. Rendezvous with Dave, then west to Steffi’s for a stroll in Canaston Woods followed by G&Ts, curries and port…. uh oh. Then on to Newgale and the caravan in the company of Phil and Lesley.

Saturday: A late start, handily missing the rain. The Puffin Shuttle from Newgale to St David’s, then south along the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. Late lunch at The Cambrian Inn, Solva, then on via The Gribin and Gwadn to Newgale.

On the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, between Solva and Newgale
On the Pembrokeshire Coast Path between Solva and Newgale

A superb sunset over St Bride’s Bay.

Sunset, Newgale beach
Sunset, Newgale beach

Sunday: A stroll on the beach ….

Newgale beach
Newgale beach

…. then LUNCH!

Sunday lunch
Sunday lunch

Everest Trek Get Together No 12

A magic weekend in Pembrokeshire with a trip to Skomer for the long awaited Project Puffin!

Friday

The usual: Hazel, Charles and I met at Paddington at 3pm. Paddington to Newport by train. Newport to Steffi’s with Dave – and Gwyneth. LARGE G&Ts courtesy of Maurice and curries à la Steffi at Mayhem, then on to Newgale for a night in the caravan.

Saturday

An early start (7am) to allow time for coffee and croissants before Dave drove us over to Martin’s Haven, arriving there at 9.30am and getting tickets for the 10am ferry to Skomer, the first of the day.

A gloomy, grey morning. Our main hope was to avoid rain.

A smooth crossing, with puffins skimming low over the water to join the rafts that floated just off the Skomer coastline. We had a great briefing from one of the wardens at the top of the steps up from the jetty at North Haven, and then we were free to explore until our 3pm return to the mainland. The volunteer wardens have a job getting people up the steps – not because they are tricky, but because there are puffins and razorbills almost within reach all the way up, and certainly within camera range….

We decided to follow the coastal footpath clockwise around Skomer – and within our first half hour on the island the morning started to brighten. We spent the rest of the day there in glorious sunshine, getting hundreds of photos of puffins, mainly at High Cliff and The Wick (including the Lonely White Puffin), and seals up at Garland Stone.

Puffins, The Wick, Skomer
Puffins, The Wick, Skomer
Puffin, The Wick, Skomer
Puffin, The Wick, Skomer
Puffin pair at The Wick, Skomer
Puffin pair at The Wick, Skomer
Puffins, North Haven, Skomer
Puffins, North Haven, Skomer

(For more puffin photos, take a look at my Flickr album: Pembrokeshire, April 2018)

We picnicked at Old Farm, and returned for our 3pm boat back to the mainland via the ruins of the Iron Age house that nestle below the rocks of the South Plateau, the High Cliff puffins and the megalith at Harold Stone.

Steffi, Hazel, Charles, Dave and Gwyneth on the rock outcrop above Harold Stone Skomer
Steffi, Hazel, Charles, Dave and Gwyneth on the rock outcrop above Harold Stone, Skomer

Excellent tea / coffee / cake at the Clock House Cafe in Marloes, and an afternoon pint at the Druidstone Inn, soaking up the sun and the view out over St Brides Bay. Fabulous.

An evening of wine, crisps, veggie spag bol, bread and cheese back at the caravan.

A superb day.

Sunday

Rain. Lots of rain. So no walk on the beach or in the woods back at Steffi’s.

Instead, a brief sojourn in Haverfordwest to tour the Aisles of Lidl and the Aisles of Aldi, then back to Mayhem for one of Maurice’s Marvellous Sunday lunches: pulled beef, a giant yorkshire pudding (veggie toad in the hole for me), gravy, creamed leeks, roast potatoes and sweet potatoes, corn on the cob, broccoli, green beans, peas and broad beans. With cherry bakewell tart and ice cream to follow.

Another slap up Sunday lunch from the marvellous Maurice
Another slap up Sunday lunch from the marvellous Maurice

Not surprisingly we three in the back seat snoozed for most of the drive back to Newport….

Home around 8.45pm after a slow journey back to London with GWR.