An Iceland Adventure (4)

21st Aug. A sea-day of forms.

The clocks went forward an hour last night so breakfast at 7.30 am felt quite early, it took a while to ‘come around’, a choppy North Atlantic swell and being homeward bound didn’t help the spirit. All good things eventually come to an end!

The first task of the day was to complete the UK government’s Passenger Locator Form online. This is necessary to do within 48 hours of landing in the UK and required access to the ship’s WiFi. I had bought a  WiFi package giving me a fast internet connection for the entire voyage, much less reliable access was provided free to all passengers to access the government website only in the last couple of days. We had completed our form filling by 10 am and Sue and I were sat up-top in one of the lounges enjoying a variety of shipboard activities. Around us were groups of fellow seafarers, frustrated by a rapidly slowing internet connection and a crashing website. The form itself is quite lengthy, requiring information from a passport and several other documents required to travel abroad. The ship offered to support those passengers who are not technically proficient and guide them through the process, I think they were being well used.

We were scheduled to take a compulsory Covid-19 test during the afternoon and half an hour before it was due there was an announcement informing us that instead of arriving back in Liverpool at 6 am on Sunday, we shall be docking the day before at 8.30 pm. This is so that those who are having difficulty with logging into the Passenger Locator website will be able to use land connections. However, we won’t be disembarking until the scheduled time, the following day. It seems the ship’s Wi-Fi isn’t up to taking so much traffic and there are less than half the usual passengers on board. They will need to sort that out before the next international cruise. I heard from Joan and Phil in Italy that the Bolearis had been on Sky News. It seems that we are guinea pigs on the first international cruise to depart from the UK. Apart from the Wi-Fi, the procedures put in place have been very efficient and not too limiting, we have felt safe throughout.

At 1 pm we joined a good many other passengers in the theatre for our Covid-19 test.  It was a well-organised affair, the Lateral Flow Test was completed by all within half an hour and thankfully left sufficient time for a leisurely lunch. Late in the afternoon, as Sue and I took a turn around Deck 3 passing by the usual throng of ardent nature watchers gathered at the bow, we remarked that this was the first cruise where we haven’t spotted any whales or dolphins. A friendly ‘twitcher’ pointed out that we were presently in a deep and barren part of the North Sea and it was unlikely we would see any wildlife. As I relayed this info’ to Sue a few metres further along the deck, a pod of 8 Pilot Whales popped up and proceeded to chase the ship and a lone Fin Whale dived underneath the hull. As luck would have it, I had no binoculars or camera to hand.

The evening meal was formal dress with liberal free glasses of champagne and an introduction by the captain of the heads of departments on the ship. Afterwards, the champagne continued into the theatre where we were entertained by some very talented crew members in the ‘Crew Show’. I particularly enjoyed the traditional dancers from Thailand, it brought back very happy memories of that beautiful country. Most popular was a rather raunchy dance performed by Filipino crew members from the engine room. It must be pretty hot down there in the bowls of the boat.

22nd Aug. Into the Iris Sea and Liverpool.

At breakfast, we followed up our sighting of yesterday’s whales by a group of dolphins sprinting towards the ship, unlike the Pilot whales of yesterday these easily outstripped the Bolearis as she headed south towards the Mersey estuary.

Sadly, it may have been our last day on board but it was a full day of activities, picking from those we enjoyed the most, often meaning we went in different directions. One of the lectures I attended brought forth an interesting snippet of information; I had always thought that the Great White Shark was the top predator in the oceans, today I learnt that it is the Killer Whale. Two Orcas recently appeared off the Golf Coast of Australia and put paid to a population of around 200 White Sharks. One Orca would catch a shark by its fin and flip it upside down and hold it there. An inverted shark is seemingly paralysed, unable to move, the second Orca would then move in and rip out the soft belly and eat the tasty liver, leaving the carcass to rot or be eaten by scavengers. Brilliant! Also, there is presently a pod of some 40 Orcas are in the Mediterranean between Majorca and Italy, they have been attacking small yachts, ripping off the rudders and damaging hulls. It is believed that one of its numbers may have been injured by a passing boat and they are protecting themselves. To date, no humans have ever been harmed by an Orca, that can’t be said about the Great White!

The Bolearis entered the Mersey estuary just after 6 pm. A day earlier than scheduled and down to Covid-19, government forms and slow Wi-Fi, we were not to disembark until the following morning and until then the ship’ internal timetable would continue to operate is if still at sea. There is only one mooring berth for cruise ships at Liverpool Cruise Terminal the TUI, Marella Explorer was already in situ and taking on passengers. Sliding past her, the Bolearis did a 360-degree turn in mid-channel, upstream, then waited until the competition slowly eased away from her berth at 8 pm (she is bound for Southampton after already circumnavigating the British Isles). The Bolearis quietly inched her way into the still warm and now vacant mooring.

That evening Sue had a surprise while we were having our evening meal in the specialist Goan restaurant. Though it wasn’t her birthday until the following day, a guitarist and a phalanx of waiters quickly congregated around our table, presented her with a birthday cake and proceeded to sing happy birthday. A lovely gesture. I guess the management knew of her birthday from the passport details and thoughtfully chose to treat her this evening rather than at breakfast on the day we disembarked the ship.

The evening entertainment was provided by the ship’s excellent song and dance troupe who performed a medley of hits by British stars who have been honoured by the queen. Wonderful! It was just after midnight when we placed our packed suitcases in the corridor outside the cabin in readiness for the crew to remove them around 2 am.

23rd Aug. Not quite home on Sue’s birthday.

Just after 6 am we were up and dressed and making our way to the Lido restaurant for the last breakfast on board. By 9.15 am we were called over the ship’s intercom to disembark, we had been in the last tranche to board the ship 9 days ago and today we were also in the last group to leave. Despite collecting together all the required documentation, none of it was checked as we worked our way through the departure procedure. A waiting coach whisked us to the Liverpool Arena to collect our luggage in and from there we walked the short distance to the car.

As we left Liverpool city centre via the M62, the Monday morning traffic was so light I began to wonder whether anyone was working in the city today? Today we were not making our way home, we were going to stop overnight at the Three Horse Shoes Inn near Leek in Staffordshire.

We arrived at 11 am, but it was too early to check-in so we drove on another five minutes down the road and parked up in a layby near The Roaches,  a prominent rocky ridge above Leek and Tittesworth Reservoir in the Staffordshire Peak District. Some of its rock formations rise steeply to 505 m. Leaving the car behind we set off on a short ramble that began with more blueberry scrumping at the base of the nearest line of millstone grit towers. We chose a well-walked path that passed Roaches Hall and eventually led to the very top, giving magnificent views as far as the Cheshire plain and a faint hazy Liverpool in the far distance. The day was warm and sunny and it had attracted many walkers from the surrounding caravan parks and campsites out onto the heights. Returning to the car we checked into the Inn.

Refreshed with strong coffee, late in the afternoon we drove the short distance into the nearby town of Leek, known as the ‘Queen of the Staffordshire Moorlands’ and a former textile town, particularly silk and has a long and fascinating history. We spent a pleasant couple of hours walking around its centre. Though we had no prior information on the place, we were impressed by what we saw, it boasts the largest war memorial in the country. Disappointingly, many of the shops chose to close on a Monday, otherwise, we may have stayed longer. We ate dinner in the Three Horseshoes’ excellent restaurant that night.

24th Aug. A diversion home.

After another full English breakfast consumed we again took to the road heading south towards Derby. We had planned to stop briefly at the home of a friend of uncle Stan’s, to collect photos and documents that had been found after he had passed away just before the pandemic struck. Hilary was waiting for us on the driveway as we arrived, after a quick chat and taking charge of the documents we left for home.

A mere 10 minutes after arriving at Willow Bank I had a phone call from Peter in New Zealand. He had been trying to contact me over the last week to discuss arrangements for giving up his flat, he has decided that he won’t be coming back to the UK, unless for a holiday. Soon after the phone went down Charlotte arrived, she was on her way home after work and brought us up to date on her house move. It seems that the people who were buying their house had pulled out of the deal, Charlotte and Suraj decided to relist the house at £30K more and immediately had three offers, they accepted one that offered £5K over the asking price. Also, in a stroke of good fortune, a property that in the past had been on their favourite list came on the market, and even better,  the owners accepted their offer. The housing market in the UK is pretty crazy at the moment! As Charlotte left, thinking that we weren’t coming home until the following day, Jim and his dogs arrived to water the greenhouse. Later that evening Sue and I took a bottle of wine for Jim and Bridget as a thankyou present for watering the plants. As expected, they also opened one of their own and it led to a rather late night!





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