Last Gasp at Caen

It’s the morning after the ice storm at Moliets Plage. Stepping outside at the beachside site of Le Saint Martin there is not too much to show for the night’s deluge of ice and most of our neighbours seem to have survived the storm with little or no damage except for soggy tents and awnings and a fair amount of foliage from the trees. Once again we’ve cause to be glad of our trees, which almost certainly sheltered us from the worst hits.

At the service point we wait while a father and son clear the water from their VW camper. When they open the back doors of their van a torrent of water gushes out like a geyser. Not everyone has been untouched by the storm. Once they’re clear we empty and refill our van and drive off out of the site, first to get groceries ahead of our long journey north. We begin to see a little of the devastation resulting from last night’s bombardment. A huge weeping willow in the centre of a roundabout has been toppled. As we travel on there is evidence of many more trees down and we learn later that a few lives have been lost, as well as businesses such as vineyards. Vehicles and homes have also been damaged.

Temperatures are back to summer normal, although I wonder what normal is for temperatures now. We journey on towards the north without incident, mindful of the cracked windscreen which leads us to use mostly motorways, which we wouldn’t always use.

For a swift, convenient return it works best for us to return to Parthenay, where we stayed en route to the Dordogne and where we can get a serviceable meal outside the bar. Then we’re off again towards Caen, and the port at Ouistreham, from where we’ll return to the UK; except this time we’re allowing ourselves an extra day and Husband suggests trying out the campsite, for once instead of the aire we normally use, next to the ferry terminal.

It’s overcast now, here in this northerly part of France, but not cold or raining. There’s an excellent cycle path along the river that skirts our site, the Orne, and we’ve cycled a little of it before while staying a short distance along the coast. It isn’t far along to the Pegasus Bridge, a facsimile of a world war 2 bridge, now a substantial tourist attraction with war themed cafes and gifts for sale. We’ve visited one of the cafes before and been unimpressed by the welcome from the staff so we avoid it this time.

We cross the bridge and slip down the opposite side of the river, which leads to the estuary- and it’s beautiful and wild with many foraging seabirds. Further on there’s a short stretch of nature reserve and we arrive at Merville, the tiny town we stayed in before, which has a broad beach and a few cafes. On our last visit we’d anticipated getting a meal here only to discover the bars and restaurants were all closed on Mondays and Tuesdays- commonplace in France. On our return the Pegasus bridge opens right up to allow a sailing boat through, an outstanding sight!

For our final evening though, we walk into Ouistreham and get a fine meal at a canalside restaurant, watching massive vessels glide past and through the lock gates- a fitting finale to our trip.

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

From Heatwave to Ice Storm in one night

One of the great advantages of staying at Le Saint Martin, Moliets Plage is that you can turn left out of the exit and be able to get just about anything you need. A bakery, a delicatessen, clothes outlets, surf outlets, newsagent, beach items, gifts, rotisserie, a comprehensive supermarket, a cash machine, bars and an assortment of restaurants and all in easy walking distance outside of the campsite gate. To the right of the exit and up the slope are still more bars and restaurants en route to the beach.

In high season the bars and restaurants are busy, especially when people are leaving the beach, but there’s always somewhere to get a meal, beer or a cocktail in the evenings. Later or earlier in the year there’s a reduced choice and the supermarket may not be so well stocked, but now, at the start of the season we don’t need to travel anywhere to get anything.

Inside the site there is no commerce except for an ice cream kiosk, new for this year, overlooking the extensive swimming pool complex- also very different this year, new pools and slides having been added to the domed indoor pool that was here previously.

If all this sounds like publicity for Le Saint Martin I must add that our first impressions are of slight dismay- we’re not fans of holiday park type sites, on the whole. But as we settle in most things seem like the old, familiar site we love, so we’re happy enough- and besides, it is in a stunning location between the forests and the ocean, with a comprehensive network of flat cycle paths. Perfect!

When the punishing heat subsides enough to allow us to cycle we pedal out on a favourite route to Leon, a few miles away. It’s not an arduous cycle, with only one steepish climb into the village, which has one or two bars around a square and very little else. We’ve been a couple of times before, once hving to stop in the square for a puncture. This time we don’t pause for a drink, but lock the bikes and have a short wander, though there’s not too much to see.

It’s still too hot for daytime beach and although we opt to go at 7.00pm it’s still very warm indeed, with little or no breeze.

Towards the end of our week something extraordinary happens. It’s late afternoon and the temperature is around 40ish- something we’ve come to expect on this trip. Then it starts to plummet, becoming noticeably cooler. In ten minutes it has dropped ten degrees. It feels incredible- like being released from a hot bubble. The evening becomes cooler still and clouds bubble up.

It’s a more comfortable night and I get off to sleep quickly, only to be woken by a crashing, hammering, clattering noise, so loud I’m prompted to leap up to close the rooflight. Water is splashing in from a monumental deluge of ice showering the van, melting and pouring off the exterior. I hurry to close all windows. The windscreen is a falling sheet of water and the sound is ear-splitting. The raging, icy torrent lasts for several minutes then slows and subsides. We are nonplussed. What just happened?

Cycling, Stifling and Seizing up…

So, south west France is currently suffering its second heatwave in a matter of weeks. When we arrived, though, the first heatwave had yet to begin…

You know you’re about to enter Les Landes by the way the scenery changes from fields and countryside into endless miles of pine forest. Occasionally the forest might be punctuated by a village, but mostly it’s mile upon mile of tall conifers reaching up into what- whenever we’re there- is a blue sky.

The drive from overheated, stuffy Bergerac has been a relief, with a cool breeze blowing throught the open windows of the van and once we’ve pulled up at Le Saint Martin, our site at Moliets Plage, the air is fresher.

Le Saint Martin is a huge, undulating site with direct beach access, if you are prepared to scale the dunes that fringe the edge; or you can make a more demure and leisurely walk by exiting the site and ambling up the slope from the outside car park.

The beach here is vast, as it is almost all the way down this west coast, with boisterous Atlantic rollers crashing onto pale, soft sand and retreating in a watery mist. A narrow strip of the beach is strictly surveyed by lifeguards, the margin demarcated by red flags. An occasional bark over a tannoy indicates that someone has transgressed by going outside the zone. It sounds draconian, but the seas are treacherous with a powerful undertow. We’ve seen a helicopter airlift swimmers from the sea here before.

There are spaces available and we park up and settle in, getting bikes off in readiness for a cycle- something we’ve not done in the Dordogne due to heat, hills and traffic. But now could be our chance- with all the long, flat, tarmac-ed cycle paths criss-crossing the forests everywhere.

One pressing issue is our damaged windscreen, which needs attention. But it seems nobody wants to come out and deal with it. We’re assured by the insurance company that the screen is ‘laminated’ and cannot shatter. I’m sceptical.

The weather begins to heat up again- even here in this breezy, beachside location. Once again we’re polaxed by it, dossing about in the shade. We’re entertained by the antics of tiny tots- the children of the many German families here- as they play together, although the increasing heat begins to induce tantrums and whining amongst some of them. It starts to look like cycling may not be a great idea, at least not until evening.

But after a second day of indolence I’m wanting to do something, so towards the end of the afternoon we ready the bikes and prepare to make an attempt. We’re used to the cycle paths here and have ridden them many times, in many directions. There are two moderate inclines out of Moliets Plage then you’re in the village and on to the forest cycle tracks. As we progress further into the trees I’m glad I remembered to apply insect repellant on top of my sunblock; even so, horseflies are trying to attack, crawling on my sunglasses and brushing my legs as I pedal. Once- on the coast near Bordeaux- horseflies got up between my T-shirt and the skin of my back, covering it with itchy bites that turned into hard, hot lumps, causing a lot of discomfort-especially at night.

After half an hour or so I begin to feel lightheaded- a sure sign of heat stress. I also notice that Husband’s pedalling [he’s in front] seems laboured, as though he’s finding the flat path hard work. We stop for water then decide we should turn back. Perhaps a cycle wasn’t such a good idea?

It becomes clear, then, as Husband’s bike seizes up entirely, just as it did a couple of years ago on the Nantes-Brest Canal path. Heat has caused the oil in the hydraulic brakes to expand and bind once more, meaning cycling is impossible. It’s fortunate that we’re not too far from our site as he has to push it back- a much harder job than cycling- and back up and down the two slopes, too.

We’re at Le St Martin for a week. Will we ever get a cycle in? Even a trip to the beach feels Herculean…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

Going Local

Home from our two week dash to Brittany we unload, deal with domestics, undertake some garden rescue [drought had been threatening to murder many plants], clean the van and make another, impromtu dash; this time to the New Forest, which is on our doorstep and to a favourite spot- Holland’s Wood at Brockenhurst.

We choose midweek, calculating that the weekend will elicit throngs of campers into the Forest and it’s certainly quiet as we arrive in the early afternoon. Husband is keen to try out a plan he had devised to manage for longer without electric hook-up [Holland’s Wood has none]. Our ancient camping gas/electric fridge has been resurrected for use outside, now that there is an external gas outlet on the van, freeing up solar power for other devices.

In the old, tent camping days the gas fridge was a boon and much used on trips. Subsequently it has been used as an extra fridge at parties or during the freezer defrosting process.

For the uninitiated, the New Forest National Park covers app 150 square miles of land in the south of England and is home to a vast variety of wildlife as well as livestock- pigs, cattle, donkeys and ponies that roam unrestricted throughout the park. The animals, in particular the ponies have adapted to visitors and developed skills in stalking and mugging and anyone sitting down to enjoy an innocent picnic can expect to be gatecrashed by a couple of hungry, marauding ponies.

Ponies, donkeys and cows also wander into the campsites, weaving expertly through and around tents, vans and motorhomes and helping themselves to anything vaguely food related. It’s mid-morning when a tribe meanders into Hollands Wood, one of the mares accompanied by a young foal, all legs and eyelashes. He’s curious, sniffing and nibbling a campervan. Camera at the ready, I go to watch, although not so close as to upset his protective mum. He spots me and walks towards me and I can’t help stretching out a hand, at which he puts his soft nose into it. The mare continues to graze, unperturbed. It’s a wonderful moment.

One reason for choosing Holland’s Wood site is proximity to Brockenhurst village, with its shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants, although walking there and back involves trudging along by the busy main road for some of it. It’s a cute place though, with a parade of shops and a railway station, making it just about possible to go camping by train.

Due to wrist surgery I’ve not cycled for about a year and this is the occasion for trying it out- first around the relatively flat campsite a few times, during which my legs begin to hurt already, then for a short ride on a forest track. The gravelly track is bumpy and I’ve not brought my support straps, so post-cycle my wrist is not too happy!

We BBQ on our new gas, outdoor cooker then the evening closes in with some magnificent thunder and lightning plus a few showers and we sit outside under the awning to enjoy the spectacle.

Next day is a rest for wrists and we walk. We go through the village and up to picturesque St Nicholas church, which we weren’t able to see inside the last time we looked as its roof had collapsed. It’s a tiny and beautiful church and has a special stained glass window donated by New Zealand, in recognition of the health care given to their war veterans in the First World War.

Walking in the New Forest is always rewarding and I feel we’ve earned the meal we have in The Huntsman, just along the road. We leave on Friday, just as others are streaming in to the site, encampments of tents springing up and it’s looking much busier. Goodbye for now but we’ll be back again soon…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

South West France- a Default Destination

Not everyone enjoys travel. But those who do like it for a plethora of reasons, not least because there is so much pleasure to be had from exploring a new destination. I believe this is due to our innate thirst to learn, which does not [as far as I’m concerned] become less with age.

Having said this, there are favourite places for all travellers that they love and return to repeatedly. Call these places ‘default’ destinations. For some it’s the theme parks of Florida, others love the Canary Islands or the Costas, or Scotland.

For us, the default is France, and more specifically, south west France, everywhere from south of Bretagne down to below Bayonne and around the corner to the Spanish border has been visited, stopped at, tried and tested. Some places have become regular stops over the years, like the unappealingly named, ‘Le Gurp’ in the Gironde, a municipal camp site, pine woods stretching out into dunes, a few minutes walk up over a hummock to a minimal row of shops and bars and then the vast expanse of creamy white beach. The Atlantic Ocean rolls huge, frothy waves onto the sand. To the left are concrete remnants of old military bunkers, liberally graffitied. To the right the beach romps away into the distance. Walk far enough and you’ll be right in among the naturists!

In the beginning we travelled with a tent- or rather a series of tents, then later with our first, small van [A VW pop-top, much beloved by Husband], later still, newer vans with enhanced facilities, and while we’ve explored much further afield and completed vastly longer trips, we continue [when possible] to revisit SW France.

The few bars offer just enough in terms of evening entertainment, a couple of beers and a meal seated out on the decking to watch the beach world pass by. We’ve been visiting Le Gurp since our tent travels of the 90s and I’ve no doubt we’ll return.

On the coast near Bordeaux, Le Porge is another favourite, recommended by an American we met at Bordeaux’s own site [a convenient, easy cycle from the centre] it also has a handful of beach bars and a wide, wild beach.

Further south, in Les Landes, we’ve enjoyed some wonderful times at camping St Martin, which again has direct access to an outrageously gorgeous beach plus a range of restaurants, bars and shops. From here, beautiful, paved cycle routes extend along the coast both ways, even and into miles of pine forests. The site provides pristine facilities and has become a firm favourite that we’ve returned to many times over the years.

Further north there are beautiful islands: Isle de Re, Isle de Noirmoutier and Isle d’Oleron, accessed via arching bridges and each with their own character; they are marvels for those who enjoy seafood and especially oysters [a pleasure I came late to but have embraced!].

There are countless, tiny places up and down the long Atlantic coast that we’ve stayed in; Conti Plage, Moliets, Arcachon- too many for me to recall. There are many cycle routes we’ve repeated, cafes and bars we’ve revisited, stores we’ve returned to.

On occasions we’ve left if the weather hasn’t been good, perhaps to dash south or drop around the corner and across to Portugal. But we know we’ll be back again, parking the van up in old haunts that feel like coming home.

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

A Fine Week for Devon

We reserved a table outside at The Ship Inn at Cockswood for 6.00pm, hoping that the sun would last long enough for us to be comfortable. In the event, although we’d selected a table that would catch the last rays, the wrought iron chairs, surrounding trees and an invading cloud thwarted any hopes of warmth. It was a good meal, but I envied those who’d had the forethought to bring cosy blankets to wrap up in. A chilly edge to the wind persisted.

Half way through our week exploring the Ex estuary we moved to the other side of the river, to a site called Prattshayes, joining a handful of vans and caravans in a field next to a small stream, presumably once a farm but now a holiday complex consisting of camp site and rental cottages. Less than half a mile up the lane lies the village of Littleham, a large community with two pubs. We wandered up in evening sunshine and had a beer in the garden of The Clinton Arms, although the menu wasn’t tempting.

Cycle fanatic van neighbours, older but clearly more sprightly, recommended a route along an old railway track to Budleigh Salterton, which we decided to tackle next day.

The first climb came up through Littleham village, then after some confusion about where the cycle path began we rode up…and up…

The path curved up through woods, occasional gaps giving glimpses of wonderful views over the Devon countryside and farmland. While it was never steep the gradient was relentless. I vowed not to get off and push as I had on the way to Dawlish and was relieved to make it to the top without walking and even with one or two gears left! Then it was the blessed downhill slope and a hopeless muddle of attempts to find the cycle path in the back streets of Budleigh.

At last we plunged down into the tiny town and to the pebbly beach, where a kiosk was doing brisk business in ice creams and coffees. Feeling that an ice cream might be deserved by now we indulged, then walked the bikes along the prom until we were back in town.

We followed up for our final day with a walk up and along the coast path via ‘Sandy Bay’ holiday park, memorable in that in must surely be the most vast array of chalets the world has to offer, [unless you, reader, know better?]. Once we’d crossed it, though, the coastal views were wonderful and we could loop back along the lanes and a footpath to our site without retracing our steps.

That was it for south Devon- until the next time- and somewhere I’ve never been…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

A Tiny Taste of Freedom

We are in Devon, south west England, just for a week. I’ve paused my antipodean travelogue for this diversion, mostly because any kind of change of scene is a novelty in these restricted times.

The 20/21 winter was long, difficult and gloomy, with its deluge of grim news and statistics pouring out day after day. It prompted a longing for at least some spring weather and lighter evenings. Nobody wants to wish their life away, least of all those of us with fewer years ahead, nevertheless I longed for spring. Now here it is; and with it a small loosening of the bonds that tied us.

We are re-aquainting ourselves with our campervan, which we have used for odd days out but not for an overnight stay since last summer. The weather is fine, with a cold-edged wind as we prepare and pack and I know for sure I’ll have forgotten items or will have packed entirely unsuitable clothing.

We sweep down and across our home county of Dorset following a route we’ve travelled many times but that always provides magnificent views of the Jurassic Coast and charming villages along the way.

We’ve had to begin reserving, planning and booking- a strategy we’re unused to employing as we usually travel on a ‘where shall we go today?’ basis, once, famously turning right at Bordeaux instead of left for the Med due to a forecast of snow, and landing up in the beautiful sunshine of Portugal instead.

Our first destination is in the village of Starcross, between Exeter and Dawlish, a farm site in a valley with a stream and a pond, beautifully laid out. We have a pitch overlooking the hens’ enclosure. It is warm enough to have coffee or lunch outside and I become fascinated by hen society; the way they move en masse from one area to another or individuals make sudden bursts of running for no apparent reason. When I approach the fence they all gravitate to me, presumably in hopes of food although I prefer to imagine it’s in greeting.

Having set up, we walk into Cockswood, a few minutes away, to sit in the outside area of The Ship pub for a drink and to reserve a table to have dinner next evening. There is just enough warmth in the sun for it to be comfortable.

We swing easily into van routine, sleeping well and waking to tea before morning chores; emptying and water-filling. There’s plenty of time to read, write or potter [Husband’s preferred activity] then after lunch we set off for our first, amoebic cycle of the year, towards Dawlish. I’ve got over my first cycle wobbles by the time we reach Dawlish Warren, a funfair and tourist spot which is seething with revellers, although my thighs are aching, but when we turn up towards Dawlish itself the hill proves too much and I have to alight and push. I’m alarmed! Is this the end for me and cycling?

Next day we stride out along the footpath towards Exeter, past Powderham Castle and the church then along the river bank towards the canal. we stop for a rest at the loch, where the pub is doing great business, most tables being occupied. We turn back and sink onto a bench, footweary by the coffee kiosk in Starcross for reviving tea and cake.

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

The Power and the Story

A chance meeting with neighbours on our site at Felixstowe, who’d recommended a site to us, had sent us scuttling back to the coast at Sizewell. Sizewell was an old fishing village once. Now it is better known for accommodating a notorious nuclear power station, Sizewell ‘A’, now decommissioned and encased in 3 metres of concrete. Sizewell ‘B’ sits next door to this huge, grey, man-made monolith and is sky-blue with a white dome, like a space-age cathedral. On arrival to Sizewell I experienced an irrational frisson of trepidation, perhaps brought on by a recent viewing of the hit series, ‘Chernobyl’.

Sizewell ‘C’ is now on the agenda, unpopular with many, judging by the signs dotted around the surrounding villages.

An extensive wind farm, Greater Gabbard was just about visible on the horizon out to sea. Once we were installed at our site and settled outside the bar, [which overlooks the wild beach], I eavesdropped on a neighbouring conversation in which a woman expressed vitriolic hatred for the wind farm, barely visible even on this clear, sunny evening. To her near left the twin power stations rose up menacingly, compounding the irony of her invective.

But despite the power monsters in their varied forms, this is a wonderfully wild and unspoilt piece of coastline, rich in wildlife. There are extensive marshes, forests and beach habitats. At the entrance to the beach car park a jaunty cafe, ‘Sizewell ‘T”, was doing a roaring trade in chips and ice creams.

It is a popular spot for locals and the touring section of our site was busy with a steady stream of visitors, although the shower blocks are closed.

We strode out along the beach, the weather clear and balmy and then down into Thorpeness, a cute, coastal village, thronged with visitors on this sunny afternoon. The village boasts a ‘mere’. Here was the original ‘Wendy’s House’ of J M Barry fame, also an immaculate windmill and the famous ‘house in the clouds’, which can be rented for holiday stays.

Aldeburgh is supposedly a simple cycle away from our site, though the path morphed from flat tarmac to rutted, sandy track in no time. Again, the town was busy with tourists, too many for the High Street pavements to cope with. It’s a pleasant seafront with fish smokeries and a broad, green swathe on which stands the ‘Moot House’, a half-timbered building housing what must be a tiny museum.

It took longer to queue for the checkouts at Aldeburgh’s High Street co-op than to explore its two or three streets. Provisions were running low and Sizewell is short on grocery stores [there are none].

Next day, with the promise of rain on our last day we cycled again, this time to Dunwich. The route was hilly, a surprise for the knees. Dunwich is a minute village, one street of cottages dominated by a pub/hotel, but with a cafe and kiosk near the beach. There is also a ruined abbey and a museum of sorts. Taking what Husband termed a ‘short cut’ back to our site at Beach view, we found ourselves in the National Trust reserve. ‘Strictly no Admittance without Tickets’ stated the sign as Husband rode through, oblivious. A second turning before the entrance booth took us along a heather lined track. ‘No Horses, no Bikes!!’ proclaimed the sign, which Husband peddled past, heedless. After several wrong turnings we arrived at a ‘kissing gate’ and were obliged to manhandle the bikes through it by up-ending them.

Our last day at Sizewell dawned humid and drizzly. After lunch we walked, taking in the beach and a dripping forest, sweltering in rainwear; and returning to our site for tea and cake.

Unknown Territory in our Back Yard

Four years of my childhood were spent in north Norfolk, in the environs of ‘The Wash’, a flat, featureless, agricultural landscape devoid of trees or anything of interest. You would only consider holidaying there if you were an obsessive ‘twitcher’. The Wash has a large population of water and shore-loving birds.

Other than this area, I know little of the area of the UK known as East Anglia, the part that sticks into the North Sea like a rounded carbuncle and boasts the largest container port in the UK, Felixstowe, in Suffolk. The town is also a seaside resort of the traditional British kind, with an abundance of fish and chip shops, ice cream vendors and gaudy amusement arcades. If you look along down along the handsome promenade from the north end, towards the pier you will see the pier head and rows of tall, port pylons rising above it. It makes for an interesting view.

Looking for hitherto unexplored parts of our island we stop at a site here, near enough to hear the cranes grinding and clanging at night as they reach down for each container and hoist it up high on to the impossible stack of the ship that is to transport them somewhere.

Next day we cycle through the nature reserve on a stony track dotted with clumps of hardy sea cabbage and when we reach the end the giant ship with its towering cargo is almost within touching distance, rearing up behind a shingle beach scattered with bathers and sunbathers.

Away from here, back at the seafront, the prom and gardens are pristine monuments to tourism, without a trace of irony. After a cycle northwards up the coast we take a ferry ride across the Orwell estuary, a staggering £12 return for a 2 minute voyage! But the last ferry returns at 5pm and we’ve scarcely half an hour’s cycling. When we get back the cafes and kiosks have closed.

On a patch of grass by the prom we can sit in the sunshine with a beer and watch the container ships queuing to get into port. Later we dine at the Steak and Lobster Restaurant, taking advantage of the cut-price, early weekday deal the government has provided, though we need no motivation!

The UK weather unleashes its predictable inclemency and a whole day is spent confined to van, writing. Valuable but not physically tiring enough to allow sleep.

Unable to reserve nearby sites we are forced outwards to Hertfordshire, to spend 3 nights outside the county town, which is ok, since neither of us has visited before. A late afternoon stroll around the town in the sunshine is enough to see the place-a pseudo castle, one or two historic buildings and a welter of pubs besides the usual high street carrying the usual stores.

But it does have a creditable cycle path along the Herford canal, continuing along the River Lea, and with a dry-ish day we spend a few hours cycling the tow path, past more narrow boats and barges than I’ve seen on one stretch, ever. The water is busy with river revellers, shouting, splashing, occupying locks, attempting to open/close locks, or [for those whose boats are their homes] pottering on their rooftop gardens and undertaking repairs.

Later, in a quiet, more picturesque part of town we find ‘The Barge’, a beautiful old pub by the canal offering splendid food in a lovely setting.

Then it’s time to move back East…

Pavement Etiquette

smart

As we know by now, routine is important in our new, scaled-down days. Here at the schloss we rise as always, never early and one of us stumbles down to make tea. Tea is accompanied by the news and the latest round of grim statistics, peppered with small sprinklings of hope and the usual puerile online offerings of entertainment.

I dress for exercise, following my self-imposed regime of Pilates on weekdays, varied by Yoga at weekends. We have coffee. I write, bake, correspond.

After lunch there is gardening or the permitted walk. Walks have taken on a new significance since the arrival of the virus, as the area we may explore has shrunk to our own locality. Though we are near to beaches and harbours and The New Forest National Park, we stick to the streets around our small town, where domestic gardens, concealed pathways, copses and lanes provide the interest.

In one direction lies a cemetery. Given the current situation it may seem a morbid choice for walking, but it is ancient, beautiful and peaceful as well as a treasure trove of historical discovery. I like to read the names on the stones, the ages of the inhabitants of the graves, the touching eulogies. Of course it is a melancholy place, with an area allocated to infants, their tiny plots adorned with toys and memorabilia revealing a universe of pain.

Inside the cemetery it is easy to avoid others. We can veer off around the paths in any direction we choose.

Outside on the streets, avoidance is a different matter. While a quiet street wit pavements both sides offers plenty of scope for diversion, the narrow pavements on the bridge crossing the river is a virtual minefield, with walkers both sides jostling with joggers and cyclists on the narrow path. At times you get stuck, walking on one side with no escape-then I resort to turning my back, since this is no time to worry about manners.

But we are fortunate, here. We have access to large areas of marsh, or woods, or country lanes and can escape into spacious landscapes with no more than a distant sighting of others.

And when we do cross over, or pass at a distance there is a small smile, a nod or a greeting, which all mean ‘we are in this together’.

One week later and the cemetery is closed to all except the users, so any of us may get to visit at some point…

The weather is perfect, sunny and spring-like, softening the pain of lock-down for those of us who are not sufferers of the virus or key-workers. We take to the saddle for our first cycle of the year and ride around the quiet lanes where avoidance is relatively easy, although even here there is congestion in places, some understanding the new ‘rules’ and some not.

But as time goes on the neighbourhood becomes quieter, there is increased understanding. What will life be like in the great ‘After? Will we have become institutionalised? Will we continue to creep about and cross the road to avoid others? Or will we gallop, whooping into the streets and fling ourselves at all and sundry? Only time will tell…