Going places

We now have ‘the rule of 6’ (or two households) indoors and can hug our friends. Life feels pretty normal, despite the obligatory facemasks, social distancing, track and trace and doing Lateral Flow tests. Certainly our cities, towns and roads seem busy. I can’t remember last May half term – I was furloughed and the kids were being home-schooled when it wasn’t half term – but this May half term has seemed like any ‘normal’ half term. We may not have so many international visitors here, but then neither are UK residents going abroad, instead choosing to explore their own countries.

I rather get the impression that people are getting somewhat fatigued with WhatsApp and virtual communication and are keen to get out and about; particularly to see friends and family in the flesh. It’s helped by the lovely weather which has suddenly – thank goodness – started. Only two weeks ago Penny and I were swimming in Sprinkling and Sty Head Tarns and feeling cold, even in wetsuits; when out running I never knew whether I was going to get soaking wet and be too hot or too cold. Fortunately the sun came out and the weather grew warm, just in time for the half term holiday.

The first trip out was nothing unusual. Bella and I drove down to the western side of Windermere, to find the car park at Wray full but a car on the side of the road just leaving. We slipped into the space and walked down to the lake, which was not only busy with people picnicking and playing games along the shore but also with boats, paddleboards and a horse (which was really enjoying having a splash in the shallow waters of a small bay). The others arrived bit by bit and put on wetsuits; the water was fairly warm and after a bit I peeled off my wetsuit and just went in in my swimsuit. We then lingered in the sun chatting, eating and drinking. Credit for the photos to Mark Britton.

My sister Rachel and her boyfriend Ross then came up on Bank Holiday Monday to stay for the week. Bella was keen to go to Edinburgh to buy pointe shoes so I had booked us into the Ibis Styles hotel in St Andrews Square, and Rachel and Ross had then booked in as well. We travelled up by train and had time to drop our bags off and admire the hotel before meeting Anne at the Scott Memorial. The hotel ticked all the boxes – central; nice rooms (especially the one Bella and I were sharing, which had a bay window with a view of the square and a small sofa in the bay); friendly staff; and good value for money.

After meeting Anne we had lunch in the cafe at the National Gallery, which has an outdoor terrace overlooking Princes Street Gardens (as well as an indoor area); we then walked all the way down to Stockbridge as Anne and Rachel were keen to go to Toast. On the way back we walked past my aunt Janet’s flat in the New Town: when she died we inherited some money, which enabled me to buy my grand piano and also contributed towards a large proportion of my house.

Anne, Bella and I then went shopping. Having a daughter is expensive; having bought her some new clothes in Princes Street, the next day we went to buy pointe shoes and a new leotard for dancing. Walking back we went through the Meadows, which was a part of the city I’d never seen before, and past the University. Bella loved Edinburgh and is now thinking that she might do her clinical year there after her undergraduate medical degree… she’s not yet 16 so her plans may change, though the plan to go to Edinburgh for her 16th birthday probably won’t.

We went to Amarone for dinner that night, generously funded by our Mum. I rashly promised Bella that I’d take her and two of her friends there for her 16th birthday. These photos were taken in the restaurant by Rachel. The food and the cocktails were superb.

The next day we also went to the Botanic Gardens and Valvona and Crolla, before seeing Bella off at the station – she was meeting her Dad and co. to go camping. Rachel, Ross and I headed up into the Old Town and found a tapas bar called Piggs where we had more delicious food and drink before catching our own train.

Edinburgh is a beautiful city and the centre is walkable: if I had to live in a city it would be one of my first choices and always has been, although it’s expensive (I reckoned I could afford a one-bedroom flat). However once we got home and I took Rachel and Ross out on a ‘local tour’, I remembered how much I love living where I do. Ross hadn’t seen Hadrian’s Wall properly before so we went to Chesters Roman Fort. We were then planning on swimming in the river Tyne; having picnicked near Chesters on the banks of the river, I didn’t really fancy swimming there and we decided to go into Hexham to Waitrose and then drive across country to Featherstone. Rachel and Ross prefer more wooded, rolling hills to the rather rugged landscape we have up here, although they admired its openness and space.

They both loved swimming in the south Tyne though, when we eventually found somewhere to park the car and where we could access the river (the road we had wanted to go down was closed, so we stopped a mile or so south of Featherstone itself). I didn’t even bother to put my wetsuit on – it took a while to get used to the water temperature but once I was in I really enjoyed it and swam up and down a few times. It was too shallow to swim much, but very enjoyable: beautifully clear water so you could see the stones clearly, and small black and white fish. Ross’s reaction was much the same as Hannah’s when she had swum at Broomlee Lough – sheer delight – which was gratifying. There really is something profoundly thrilling about wild swimming: it’s partly the closeness to nature; partly the physical tingling sensation of the cold, crystal clear water on your skin; but also, partly, I think, the sense of achievement of having actually done it, particularly when the water is so cold that you have to grit your teeth to get in. I’m looking forward to swimming more and further throughout the summer.