2020??? Why would anyone try to travel this year? Well … I’d actually set out just before the dreaded Covid virus announced its arrival in the world. My planned
6-week home exchange in Lincolnshire quickly turned into 2 weeks – barely long enough to get feet on the ground. And then it was a frenzied dash to get on to almost the last flight out of Heathrow – and home to2 weeks in strict quarantine. Who knows when I’ll ever get back???
CRANWELL 1. 13 March 2020
Tra la, tra la. .. this is the life I was meant to live. Foot-loose and fancy-free back in my beloved England. I’m now happily settled in the rural village of Cranwell in Lincolnshire, with a very fine Peugeot at my disposal.
Luckily I escaped from Oz before the PM dictated that all non-essential overseas travel should be cancelled. I flew Singapore Airlines and apart from coming down with a head cold on the second leg of the journey (Singapore to London) I’m pretty sure I’ve come through unscathed and untouched by the dreaded C-virus. The cold lasted a bit over 24 hours with plenty of sneezing that might have worried some of my fellow-passengers … but as I was perfectly well before I boarded the plane and have now slept off all symptoms, I’m 100% positive it was nothing more than a plain old-fashioned cold.
Changi airport was very much quieter than usual – and more peaceful and beautiful with fewer people around. Most of those who were there were wearing face masks. In fact it was easy to spot the Australians and the Brits as we seemed to be the only ones prepared to go full-face frontal. Even on the plane, the lovely Singapore flight attendants were all masked. This, combined with my stuffed up head, made it quite difficult to understand anything they said … eg “ Oools o tata? “ presumably meant “would you like noodles or frittata for breakfast?”. And “offi-o-t? “ was questioning which drink I’d prefer. Not easy…. I also might add here that I don’t think Premium Economy is worth all the extra money. The seats might be a tad larger, and leg room a bit more spacious, but it was still difficult to stretch out and awkward for the person next to me to climb out and over. If one has to endure 14 hours of discomfort, one might as well save $1000 and just settle for cattle class as always.
Time passed quite pleasantly during the long stopover in Singapore. I’d booked one of the free City Sights bus tours to while away a couple of hours – and enjoyed it immensely. Met a very nice couple from Cairns and explored the stunning Gardens by the Bay with them. Only had ½ hour there, but it was right on dusk so we got to see the magnificent living tree sculptures lighting up. Back on the bus a young Indonesian woman sat next to me and took selfies of both of us, so she could impress her Facebook friends! She was determined to “friend” me too, so we spent the rest of the bus trip swapping phones, searching, posting and ‘liking’ .. total waste of time but good for international relations……
After landing in London, getting to Cranwell involved taking the tube from Heathrow to Kings Cross, then another long distance train to Grantham, followed by a 25-minute taxi ride to my latest home exchange address. All relatively easy, but very tiring on top of the long flight and Singapore stopover – plus the head cold. On arrival, all I wanted was a hot shower and BED, which should have been easy. BUT after washing body and soul, I was completely unable to turn the shower thing OFF!! Desperation levels soared but I simply could not stop the flow. Naked, getting cold, and swearing loudly I had to give up and watch gallons of H2O flow down the drain. My only option then was to phone Jean & Gordon’s daughter and ask for help… definitely not the greatest way to introduce myself.
Anyway, long story short, Laura contacted her husband, her brother in law and a neighbour down the road – and over the course of the next two hours all 3 blokes knocked on my door. Fortunately the first to arrive was Jim, the heavily tattooed and studded brother-in-law (and a thoroughly lovely young man). He managed eventually to turn the knob using his massive muscle power- but not before enough water to sustain an outback Aussie town had been wasted. Later, Sam (the husband) also had a look and had to agree that the whole fitting was rooted. Sooo. .. showers from now on have to be taken in the second bathroom, standing in the bath.
After all this adventure on Day 1, I fell into bed at 7pm and slept like a log. Woke up 12 hours later, had a cup of tea, and climbed back under the covers. Woke again at 4pm!! By this time I’d still seen nothing of Lincolnshire except the inside of the house and the view over wide green fields full of sheep beyond the back garden.
It’s now Day 3 (Friday 13th) and I’m feeling much more alive. Took the Peugeot out for a test spin around the block and, having decided I could cope, then drove on to Sleaford, the nearest market town about 3 miles away. It seems to be a fairly typical English town with a blend of old and new buildings, all the usual High St shops, a fine-looking church and a plethora of charity op-shops, Stumbled upon the library too, so signed up and borrowed a few books.
Tomorrow I’m going to venture to Lincoln … 14 miles north.
CRANWELL 2. SATURDAY 14 MARCH
Life in Lincolnshire continues happily. It’s still early days but horizons are broadening. I’ve now covered all 14 miles of the A15 from Sleaford to Lincoln, plus at least 10,000 steps around the city today. Monsieur Peugeot and I are becoming better acquainted. Together we managed to drive right into the city centre, park for a few hours, and then find our way home again. I’d been told that Lincoln is an easy city to drive around – and so I found it – though I wasn’t quite brave enough today to tackle the winding hilly roads up to the Cathedral Quarter.
Lincoln Cathedral is massive and dominates the city on top of a very steep hill, opposite Lincoln Castle. Kings and bishops through the centuries must have basked in their power up there near heaven. I’m very much looking forward to touring both the Cathedral and the Castle in the near future and learning the history of these inspiring edifices. Today I just walked (and climbed) and soaked up the atmosphere. The long cobble-stoned walkway from the commercial part of the city up to the Cathedral Quarter is called .. guess what? …. Steep Hill . Apparently once voted as “the best street in Britain”, Steep Hill really is delightful. As well as challenging! Tiny shops, tea rooms and galleries line both sides of the narrow street in a mix of ancient buildings. Picture postcard Britain, for sure.
It was hard to choose which quaint cafe to visit for a coffee, but a Bookshop always works its magic on me, and this one was in an old stone cellar … with great coffee, cake and other customers, especially the charming older woman whose company I enjoyed while we chatted about galleries, museums, travels and more. Recently widowed, she and her husband used to live in one of the Cathedral houses .. maybe he was the Dean or something? This is so much part of the pleasure of traveling solo – meeting lovely people and sharing a few moments of life with them.
SUNDAY 15 MARCH
I am so tired of hearing corona virus news. Have just learned that I will have to self- isolate for 14 days when I return from overseas. At least that’s the story today. Who knows what changes will occur tomorrow or next week? I’m still very well, and there are thousands of people all over Britain enjoying life in the streets and shops here. The level of panic and hysteria that Australia seems to be experiencing is not evident here. Not to me, anyway. There’s still plenty of food and toilet paper in the supermarkets and people seem to still be taking trains, going to work etc. At this stage I still want to stay. I don’t think I’ve got much choice actually, so for now I’m going to keep on enjoying my English life. (See update below .. 2 days later!)
Today(Sunday) I decided to learn a bit more about Cranwell where I’m living. Cranwell is home to the RAF officer training college and has a rich aviation history. Lincolnshire has quite a number of airfields dotted around this area. All were very active during both World Wars and small planes still fly regularly in these skies as future air force pilots receive their training. The Red Arrows formation flyers also train and operate from here.
So this afternoon I took myself to the Cranwell Aviation Heritage Museum … not a huge establishment, but packed full of photos, memorabilia, models, posters and simulators telling the story of flight in the UK since the beginning of the 20th century. The RAF College was built in 1916 as a Royal Naval air base but expanded rapidly and has played a major role ever since in equipping Britain to defend the country from the air. Planes have ranged from the Bleriot 2c (one of the very earliest flying machines), through a variety of others including the Sopwith Snipe, the Hawker Hart, the Spitfire, the Hunting Jet Provost and the Beechcraft King Air which is used today for multi-engine training.
In coming days I plan to visit more of the RAF bases and whatever parts of the College are open to the public. Hope to see the Red Arrows overhead some time too.
Then for a complete change of scene, and a step back into a different sort of history, I drove on to the nearby village of Heckington to see the oldest 8-sail windmill still operating in Europe (maybe in the world?). It was built in 1830 as a five-sail mill, but after being damaged in a gale in 1890 was rebuilt with 8 metal ‘sails’. It’s now maintained and operated by enthusiastic volunteers, so is still grinding wheat into flour which is sold in the windmill shop or used in the bakery to make cakes which are served in the adjoining tearoom, It’s very high and quite impressive.
TUESDAY 17 MARCH
Well, just as I predicted. Things changed dramatically here last night.
Boris announced a host of measures to slow the spread of the virus. Of most significance to me is the requirement for all over-70s to self isolate at home for 12 weeks!! I’m not sure how this applies to tourists – and I am not planning to obey the rule to the absolute letter. I will comply with the next level down of ‘social distancing’ until I can get home. I’ve written to Janie at Glenelg Travel to check the possibilities. I’m still feeling 100% well and am quite happy to stay here for a few more weeks if necessary. I did stock up on more food yesterday as a precaution as the panic buying scenario seems to have started here.
But now on to more pleasant things. Yesterday (MONDAY 16th) Monsieur Peugeot and I visited Belton House, a National Trust property near Grantham. Built in the 1600’s, it remained one of the residences of the wealthy Brownlow family until the upkeep costs became too great and it was given to the Trust in 1988. The last Lord Brownlow now lives in Jersey, aged 84.
Belton has formal gardens and lakes spanning over 50 acres, but in total its parklands cover more than 1000 acres. The house itself has the grand display rooms common to all the great stately homes, with impressive collections of paintings, tapestries, silver, ceramics and books. There are over 10,000 books in the huge libraries – one of the most important collections owned by the National Trust. At present they are all being individually and painstakingly cleaned by specialists .. an enormous task!
I found it was very easy to spend nearly a whole day at Belton. In fact you could spend many days exploring the parks and gardens alone, but I opted for a wander through the house, and a guided tour of Below Stairs. At its peak, Belton had over 100 servants. Towards the end, only 47! The life of a scullery maid or kitchen boy must have been quite harsh, dashing along stone corridors or toiling in the huge kitchen, not to mention cleaning boots, polishing silver, lighting lamps etc. It all looked much more grim and cold than Downtown Abbey. They worked up to 11 hours a day when the family was in residence, then had to climb 93 stairs up to their sleeping quarters in the attic. But being ‘in service’ was a much sought-after occupation for rural villages in the 18th and 19th centuries, with secure bed and board and a few shillings in wages.
Well, this journal came to a sad and sorry end – and I never got to see any more of Lincolnshire. Things started ramping up very quickly as Covid took over the UK – and the world. There was absolutely no option but to take whatever flight Janie could get me onto. And everything happened over the course of the next 24 hours.
It wasn’t possible to get a seat on Singapore Airlines, so I had to fork out for another ticket on Emirates – and had to be at Heathrow in 2 days time. Very fortuitously and generously, Rose in Cholsey suggested I make my way to her place, spend the night and she’d drive me to the airport. This involved a reverse of the long trip I’d made just over a week ago …. taxi to Grantham, train to Kings Cross, then another train out to Cholsey. Normally Kings Cross, like all big London train stations, is heaving with people … but not this time. It was like a ghost town, eerily quiet. So I had no trouble getting to Cholsey and very gratefully accepted Rose’s hospitality.
Rose put me up in the new wing of her home … a lovely self-contained flat which in normal times she lets families use if they have to visit the nearby children’s therapy centre. It was so good to be back in this delightful village where I’d spent 2 happy months in 2011. We went for a walk around the village before dinner, which we shared with another of Rose’s friends … well-distanced from one another. As an ex-nurse, Rose wasn’t taking any chances.
Next day it was off to Heathrow – about one and a half hours away. And, unlike Kings Cross station, the airport was packed with people! Obviously everyone was trying to get back to where they’d come from. My flight was chockers … not an empty seat on the plane, so no possibility of social distancing.
24 hours later I was back in Adelaide – and into 2 weeks of quarantine. Wonder when I’ll ever get back to England again …..