I guess it was to be expected. As soon as optimism came cantering over the horizon and I succumbed to its allure by reverting to a more usual format for the family blog, the weather made an about-turn and Covid-19 upped its pace to a gallop! Being stubbornly sanguine, farmers and gardeners do need the rain, and after all, people are enjoying an increase in freedom and though the number of new infections is rocketing, the death rate remains low.
On the day after England drew miserably with Scotland 0:0 in the Euro’s, Sarah and Lee dropped Alice and Mia off at Willow Bank for the grandparents to look after for a few hours, while they thrashed around the Leicestershire countryside on quad bikes at Quad Nation near Sibbertoft, it was a birthday present from Lee to Sarah.
That evening Sue and I travelled to a Covid-19 rampant Corby, to the Corby Cube Theatre to watch a rather dark and macabre performance by the company Pecho Mama, in a play called Medea Electronica. It was described as, a powerful and deeply moving retelling of the Greek tragedy, set in 1980’s rural England. Staged amidst an electrifying live gig, this is a heart-stopping story of a family caught in the brutal throes of a marriage unravelling.’
Entry to the theatre was strictly controlled; we were given a 7.15 pm slot to enter for an 8 pm performance, Check & Trace App and masks had to be in place. Seating throughout the performance was socially distanced, though with an audience of slightly over 40 I couldn’t see how any profit could have been made.
Over the weekend, Sue’s nephew Simon popped the question to his girlfriend Jennifer Jones. They have been together for a couple of years now and Sue and her sister Philippa have been speculating on this for quite some time. Looks like a wedding is on the cards soon?
Today (21/06/21) I had a call from Peter in New Zealand, it seems he has made a sensible decision not to return to the UK for 3/4 years and has decided to give up his apartment in Lubenham. I have agreed to store the more valuable items in our loft for him, though his landlord will have the task of clearing the rest of his possessions and will re-let the apartment.
The next few days saw Sue continuing her U3A activities with Petanque and several rambles. I engaged in a variety of mundane but necessary tasks; cutting back the ivy growing rapidly up the walls of the house and garage, trimming the hedge down the drive, spending the day painting the freshly rendered walls of Sarah and Lee’s house, before completing the week by helping Charlotte take down a tall conifer for one of her clients (my woodpile benefited greatly).
On the morning of Wednesday (23rd June), Jamie attended a much delayed pre-op’ consultation concerning imminent surgery to his knee. Afterwards, he took me out for a very pleasant ‘late Father’s Day lunch at the Bull’s Head in Clipstone. It was a rare chance to enjoy each others
company without having the constant disturbance of phone calls or having to be somewhere else. He is now off work until after his operation next week. The following evening I hosted another ‘Saga’ garden party with nine of my ex-rugby playing chums. The weather was rather unseasonable with frequent light showers, ensuring that we stayed underneath the canopy over the patio as we drank our beer, scoffed a variety of cheeses, pork pies and pickled onions. The entertainment was provided by the no.1 hits of 1973.
Sue and I entertained Rocky and Nala over Friday and Saturday. Ruth was having a ‘girlie’ house party in Bottesford and Jamie and his friend Tom had driven down to London to enjoy the city sights. Ruth and Jamie picked up the mutts on Saturday afternoon while I watched the British Lions, dismantle a pretty good Japan side. I then sat enthralled as Harlequins beat Exeter in what I think may have been the best game of rugby I have watched in a very long time.
On Saturday night he Rothwells went to the Corby Cube Theatre and watched an ‘impromptu’ performance of Spontaneous Potter (Harry). Despite extensive Covid restrictions they managed to have a great time.
Earlier in the week we had been contacted by our holiday company and notified that the cruise to the Falkland Islands from Chile in November had been cancelled. Frustrated but undaunted, rather than accept a refund or move the date onto 2022, we
opted to transfer our booking to celebrate Sue’s birthday in August to Iceland, a country presently on the UK green list for travel (fingers crossed) and hopefully will remain so. Though I have already been to this rather aptly named island, Sue has not and I am sure she will love the experience.
On the 28th of June, I took Jamie to Leicester General Hospital for his knee operation. It entailed an early wake-up call as he had to check in at 7.30 am for 10.30 am surgery. Looking pensive, I left him at the entrance at 7 am and wished him luck, with current Covid restrictions I wasn’t able to accompany him. The operation took around 4 hours as they discovered another torn ligament and had decided to repair that whilst they had the opportunity. Ruth picked him up at 5 pm and took him back to Bottesford where he is going to convalesce under her care. Like much of the rest of the country, the following day he watched England beat Germany in a tense (and for Jamie a very painful) match. On the same day, I drove up to Newbold Verdon and spent another eight hours painting the render on Sarah and Lee’s house. It wasn’t such a hot day as on the previous occasion, but the climbing of ladders and continual balancing on scaffolding took it out of me, ensuring I slept well that night with a smile on my face, at ease in the knowledge that there was no more painting for the foreseeable future plus England had finally laid the ghost of not having beaten Germany in a competitive match since losing 4:1, way back in 2010.
On the 1st of July Sue and I went to see Jamie and Ruth. It was a lovely warm day as we sat in the garden chatting about medical matters and Maddie’s new mansion. The rather plumpish white rabbit now lives in an expansive three-story Wendy House, fitted out with carpets and toys. The animal has always thought it was human rather than lepus and I am sure his new (rent-free) palace has concreted that delusion.
During lunchtime we took a short walk to a cafe in the village, where Ruth and Jamie stopped to have a meal while Sue and I took the dogs for an explore around what we discovered was a quite historical and interesting village; it began life as a small Roman-British village connecting Ermine Street with the
Isle of Axholme and Doncaster by means of Bottesford Beck.
We made our way to St. Mary the Virgin church, located in the centre of the village next to a very pretty ford, as expected the church was closed, but to our surprise, we came across a group of photographers from Mansfield equipped with impressively long and camouflaged camera lens’s propped on tripods. They were observing four peregrine falcons that could be seen wheeling around the tall spire, chasing frantic pigeons who foolishly seemed to be reluctant to give up their perches. We watched with them for a while, informing them of our Harborough peregrine falcons, resident in the town’s church spire and who were equally deadly for pigeons. Leaving the church we spent quite some time sitting on a bench, fascinated with the antics of a cyclist videoing himself splashing at speed through the shallow ford. On discussion, we discovered he was writing a book on cycling routes and was hoping to include at least one of the stills in the book. We returned to the cafe just in time to accompany Jamie and Ruth home for a coffee and then the drive back to Willow Bank.
A few hours later, Sue and I drove to Cheikho’s Italian restaurant in Lutterworth. Sarah had organised a meal for me as a present for Father’s Day. Though still early evening, we were the only customers, it seems that after the early rush of eager diners straight after Covid relaxation, trade has been pretty poor. It was a lovely meal and we were home just before 9 pm. Though tired and bloated, my evening wasn’t finished with, soon after arriving, Jim appeared and we made our way to the now regular Thursday night garden parties, this one being held in Steve’s garden. Though there was plenty of food on offer, I declined, fearing I may burst if I took on any more solids!
The day after England destroyed a lacklustre Ukraine 4:0, Sue and I travelled to Thornbury near Bristol (4th June). We were actually on our way to spend a few days with Pip and Paul in Buckfastleigh but had decided to break the journey to see long time friend Chris Tippets. With showers forecast for the UK that day, that is what we experienced on the mainly motorway route. One monsoon-like downpour brought the relatively light traffic to a dangerous near standstill.
After locating The Swan (our accommodation for the night), we parked the car nearby and set off to explore the town. Of course, we headed for the most prominent visible feature, the rather grand tower of the town church, situated downhill towards the distant River Severn. The church is part of the estate belonging to Henry VIII’s Thornbury Castle hidden impressively behind. While I investigated the graveyard, Sue sat on a bench and chatted to a local woman enjoying the heat of the sun and eager to converse in a lovely west country accent.
We returned to The Swan at 1 pm where we met Chris for a pre-arranged Sunday lunch. It
has been quite a few years since we last met and though he didn’t appear to have aged one bit, he was displaying visible signs of the onset of Parkinson’s Disease. The restaurant was very busy causing quite a delay between drinks and courses, but this was not a problem, we had plenty to talk about and when the food did arrive it was scrumptious. Through the window, we could see that the monsoon of earlier, had arrived in Thornbury and we were glad not to be caught outdoors, unlike a few drowned late comers for lunch!
With the meal finished we drove Chris home and collected his next-door neighbour’s two dogs; Tilly and Monty. We were to take them for a walk through nearby woods and carry on with our conversations. Monty is an elderly and beefy black Labrador, he looks more like a grizzly bear than a dog and Tilly could easily pass for a floor mop, and more so after thrashing her way through the long and sodden grass that constituted the first part of our route. It was a pleasant ramble marred only by its finale. Just 200m from the sanctuary of Chris’s home and Sue’s car, MONSOON 2 hit Thornbury, despite seeking shelter under a very large tree which afforded no respite at all from the torrent that descended from the thick black clouds rolling overhead. After 10 minutes or so of standing under a power shower, we foolishly made a dash for it. Poor Tilly was practically swimming alongside me as she was swept along by the stream that was now racing and frothing down the footpath. As the rain eased, soaked to the skin we said our goodbyes and made our way back to The Swan to check-in, we quickly changed into dry clothes and relaxed with warming coffees in cupped hands within our room.
Around 8.30 pm on a now dry and sunny evening, we ventured out on a trail suggested by Chris through the medium of Messenger. Our path took us up the High Street and through Mundy Park, before turning downhill and following the course of a small stream, eventually bringing us to Thornbury Castle. Since losing its status as a castle and family home, it is now a hotel and restaurant, we have often mused on staying there during one of our passing visits. As usual, we decided to explore and discovered what a truly grand and important building it once was. Its history is clearly evident in the parts of the structure that have been tastefully restored and even more so in the ruins that have not. We could easily imagine Henry VIII strutting his paunch through the restored Tudor Garden, sampling the many herbs that were still being grown there for the castle kitchen. This is now a future tick list venue.
Back in Leicestershire, the family (Rothwells & Newbold Verdons) went to see Jamie convalescing at Ruth’s in Bottesford, but it seems that Maddie and her palace seemed to be of more interest to little Alice than her poorly uncle.
After a hearty breakfast in Thornbury, we had an easy journey down to Buckfastleigh. When we arrived, Paul was busy in the garden leaving Philippa to greet us with much-needed drinks. Later, after a light lunch of cheese and scones, we all set off on a geocache hunt, most of which had been craftily set in the surrounding countryside by Philippa. The weather forecast was for rain, which duly arrived after the first geocache had been found.
With raincoats donned we continued our circular ramble, collecting more finds until eventually returning to Buckfastleigh via the Abbey.
A day of strenuous adventure followed. A forty-five-minute drive to the rugged cliffs of the south coast took the four of us to Coleton Fishacre, once the country home for Rupert D’Oyly Carte and his wife, Lady Dorothy Carte, between 1923 and 1926 and built by the architect Oswald Milne, a former assistant to Edwin Lutyens, who designed the house with the principles of the Arts and Crafts Movement in mind. However, this was not the aim of today’s escapade which was to follow part of the South West Coastal Path. Our route took in just part of the grounds known for its rare and exotic plants, which can thrive outside a tropical climate due to the proximity of the Gulf Stream. They were collected by Lady Dorothy who was noted for retrieving exotic plant species for the garden during her journeys abroad.
Having taken note of an inclement weather forecast we had kitted out suitably, but after leaving the gravelled rural car park it wasn’t long before layers were removed under a blue sky and at times a fiercely hot sun. We reached the coast through a series of closely cropped undulating grassy fields, each bedecked by tall hedgerow foxgloves before arriving on the cliffs above Ivy Cove. Here we turned west along the 630 mile National Trail. Passing through Pudcombe Bay and its disused swimming pool (once part of the Coleton Fishacre estate), we wound our precarious way towards the Lookout Station on Froward Point. On the way, we were surprised to discover a scattered herd of ponies nonchalantly munching grass on the narrow clifftop path. By lunchtime, we had reached Froward Cove, wherein a cool and blustery location high above this rocky inlet we had an incident prone picnic, with crisps and sandwiches sent bouncing down the pathway by a roguish wind. Refreshed we carried on to Inner Froward Point and spent a little time investigating the Brownstone Battery complex built-in 1942 as a defence against German naval attack. The site was equipped with two six-inch guns that had been taken from a First World War battleship. Before leaving we tarried a while, sat under the manned Coast Guard Station enjoying a cool breeze and some tremendous ocean views. The next leg of our ramble proved to be quite an energy-sapping ordeal of concrete, wooden and earth cut steps up to Warren House. With a welcome but all too brief respite in Mill Bay Cove, we sat and enjoyed the sound of breaking waves and views of bobbing yachts out to sea, breathing in salty childhood memories of rock pools, sandcastles and chilly tumbling waves. With the ordeal of Devon’s version of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ behind us, with strained ligaments and tired muscles we tramped the last ‘leg’ back to the car, stopping only to find the third Geocache of the ramble and gaze through binoculars at several cruise ships pandemic frozen out n the bay.
The evening was spent watching Spain and Italy fight it out on the turf of Wembley in the Euro semifinal. Though Spain was indeed the much better side during the game, after penalties the game went Italy’s way.
After breakfast on the 7th July we travelled to the once Cistercian Abbey, then the home of Sir Francis Drake, Buckland Abbey, situated to the north of Plymouth. Another dreary BBC weather forecast proved to be wholly accurate. On arriving at the Abbey we sat for 15 minutes in the car while the heavens opened up on this little bit of Devon. When the rain eventually abated, we bought tickets and made our way into the grounds, passing through the large and empty Tithe Barn (55m) before entering the main building, restored between 1948 and 1951 for £20 000 (at the time). Strict rules regulated our movement from room to room, so quite some time was spent at doorways waiting to see the exhibits. We felt that the information on hand was poor, with very little reference (that we could see) of its most famous occupant, Sir Francis Drake. Access to the upper floors was prohibited, probably due to Covid, yet surprisingly the entrance fee had not been reduced! With the buildings investigated and under increasingly darkening skies we turned our attention to the gardens. These proved to be well laid out and appeared to be faithful to the period. In the Cider Cottage garden, we were forced to seek shelter from a passing shower before deciding to take lunch in the Abbey cafe. We had hoped to eat outside on the tables within the courtyard but another shower forced us inside.
On the whole, a mildly disappointing visit, so much history to discover yet so poorly presented, the National Trust needs to pull its finger out, they seem to be keener to sell their annual subscription at the entrance rather than satisfy the curiosity of the people who visit their properties! A couple of garden centres where Paul bought three plants punctuated our return to Buckfastleigh.
The evening was quite remarkable, a delicious spaghetti bolognese prepared by Philippa kicked off another good English performance when England beat Denmark 2:1 in the semi-final of the Euros to set up a mouth-watering final against Italy at Wembley.
The following morning we said goodbye to our hosts and made our way back up the M5 to the Gloucester Robinswood Hotel, just a couple of miles from the city centre. Though arriving early we were permitted to check-in and drop our luggage off in the room, before deciding on what to do for the rest of the day. After picking up a leaflet on Puzzlewood from reception, we decided this was for us. Puzzlewood is located in Gloucestershire’s historic Forest of Dean and is a unique and atmospheric ancient woodland that has been an inspiration to many authors and storytellers. It’s where Stormtroopers and Time Lords have rubbed shoulders with dragons and unicorns and been the location for several films and TV programmes, including Star Wars and Harry Potter among many others.
On arrival, we didn’t quite have the place to ourselves, but there were few other visitors and social distancing could have been measured in hundreds of metres. It is difficult to describe the place, the included photos and link to the video does it so much better than words. The wood itself has been open as a source of revenue for the local church for over a hundred years and of course, its history goes back much further than that, the Romans absent-mindedly leftover 3000 coins there, to be discovered in 1848 by mine workers in three earthenware jars. Our visit was completed with a romp around the willow maze and ice cream.
On our route through the wood, we were tasked with identifying 20 locations along the trail and discovering hidden coins. A fun activity designed to satisfy the whole family, though Sue did take it slightly more seriously than I did. We discovered all except for the Spooky Tree, there seemed to be too many of them to pick on anyone in particular. A great afternoon out.
That evening we ate in the hotel restaurant to discover that there was at least one bus tour staying at the hotel, if not a couple. The room was filled with happy trippers chatting amiably between tables, greeting each other as they took their socially distanced tables. If it wasn’t for the presence of mask-wearing waiters you wouldn’t have suspected there was a pandemic.
Not long after arriving home, Charlotte appeared to collect a set of ladders that had been stored in the garage and take some ‘blown’ lettuce plants for her hens. Sarah and her family have been spending the week in Skegness with Lee’s parents, it seems they have been having some decent weather with lots of sandy fun.
On Saturday (1oth June) Jamie and Ruth bought a friend for Maddie from the RSPCA, she is a dwarf rabbit called Wilma. Jim came to watch England crush Canada 70:14 at Twickenham.
Sunday saw Sarah and her family travel down to Harborough from Skegness to meet up with Charlotte and family at Willow Bank to watch the England v Italy Euro Final. Jamie, Ruth and Joey also travelled down to Harborough to watch the match at his friend Bill’s home. We had pre-match pizzas to get us into the mood for what we and most of the country hoped would be an England victory. An early goal calmed the nerves and a dominant first-half performance by the boys in white raised the spirit and the belief that this time ‘football was coming home. A goal by Italy as they took control of the second half put the nerves on edge again and extra time didn’t help the blood pressure of either nation. The first half of extra time was fairly even though England certainly had the upper hand in the final session. It was during this period that the Italian Chiellini dragged the English striker Saka by the neck to the ground as he was breaking clear of the defence, I cannot think of any sport that after such an incident the player is not sent off. With an inevitable penalty shoot-out, most England supporters had resigned themselves to their fate and the inescapable defeat. We can now look forward to going through all this again in a year in Qatar!!!!!
With an easing of restrictions and infections of Covid-19 on a steep upward trend, the number of games held at Wembley and the size of the crowd permitted has I fear done nothing to alleviate the spread of the virus. Perhaps if England had won, it may have raised the spirit of the country sufficiently enough to distract it briefly from this 18 months of gloom and despondency.
The following day before returning to Bottesford, Jamie had a morning appointment at the local hospital with his surgeon. Afterwards, he, Ruth, Joey and the dogs joined us for lunch and some board and card games. Jamie is still using his crutches but is now able to support himself and walk without them.
There have been 5.1 million confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK and more than 128,000 people have died, government figures show. Nearly 46 million people in the UK have now had their first dose of vaccine.