So it’s almost February and I realised I haven’t yet reflected on last year’s travels. As mentioned in previous posts the idea of the annual 12 trips challenge is to do at least one trip a month and I had lots planned in 2020. But then coronavirus happened and life as we know it was cancelled.
But the great thing about the challenge is that it can be near or far, a long trip or a day trip, seeing new places or rediscovering somewhere you’ve been meaning to go back to. The point is to make the time to get out, explore and enjoy yourself. So even with the limitations of lockdowns and restrictions on travel, I did my very best to do just that. It might not have been as colourful or exciting as previous years, but it definitely helped me appreciate the island I live on more than before.
1. January – Kew the lights, lasers and music
Kew Gardens is a pretty magical place at any time but during the festive season they put on a show that seems to get better every year. It gets booked up early so there were no dates before Christmas, but going on 2 January 2020 was actually really great. Just when all the festive fun seemed to be over, here was one last hurrah before the January gloom descended!
Other ways I warded off the January blues were doing the RHS Wisley Winter Walk and two trips to see stand up comedy. One to the excellent value Crack Comedy in Kingston and the other to see the hilarious Sandi Toksvig’s National Trevor show at the Royal Festival Hall. Laughter is definitely the best medicine for getting through the short dark days of winter.
2. February – return to Valencia
The original plan for February was a first time visit to Gran Canaria, but the first of two winter storms put paid to that and after many hours at Gatwick our flight was cancelled. We couldn’t get another flight to Gran Canaria for four days, so instead headed to Valencia two days later. It was somewhere I’d visited before and always thought I’d like to go back to. It wasn’t quite as warm as the Canaries and we got stuck there for two extra days after the second storm! But it was a great trip and one I was very glad I’d taken when travel was taken off the table by coronavirus a month or so later.
Valencia has the perfect combination of old town sights, a beautiful beach and the amazing City of Arts and Sciences. The memory of lazy lunches at the Panorama restaurant on the jetty, walks along the beachfront and tapas dinners in the historic centre and the old fishing quarter, were what sustained me through the months of no travel that followed. You can read more about Valencia in my post about the trip.
3. March – Sunday lunching
March was the month that everything changed, but before that happened I had a couple of lovely trips out. The first was for Sunday lunch at Rick Stein in Barnes, a restaurant that had been on the must visit list for a while. If you’ve read my blog post about Bologna, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of Chef Stein and he didn’t let us down. Fabulous food in a great location. A couple of weeks later saw a trip to picturesque Surrey village of Shere for Sunday lunch at the White Horse, a pub made famous by the film The Holiday. After lunch was a visit to the wonderful gardens at Albury Park, which are only open to the public twice a year. In between, I also made a trip into the West End to see the brilliant musical Come From Away, little knowing that would be my last theatre trip for quite some time.
4. April – staying local
By the start of April the UK was into its second week of lockdown. I’d already heard that this year’s Hay Festival was cancelled so that trip was off. Then the emails arrived cancelling my plans for May, which were trips to Uzbekistan and Croatia. Pretty depressing stuff, but staying safe was the priority. So there were no travels this month, but what I did do was explore and see more of my local area than I had before. I’m very lucky to live close to the River Thames, so the first photos below are minutes from home. Then on a longer walk I discovered there are some lovely quiet streets to explore and houses to ogle in nearby East Molesey. That includes some gorgeous houseboats on a part of the river that’s much quieter than the Hampton Court to Kingston stretch.
5. May – Box Hill and ‘Hay at Home’
May continued in a pretty similar way to April, but in the second half of the month lockdown was easing a bit. So I took a few days of the original two weeks I’d booked off for the Uzbekistan trip and ventured a bit further from home. We thought finding parking at Box Hill on a very warm day might be a no go, but mid-week the National Trust car park was fine. There were a fair few people taking in the gorgeous view, but we headed off on the Juniper Top walk and found it was very quiet and mostly shady.
The end of May should have been the trip to Hay-on-Wye, but the organisers managed to pull off a pretty excellent digital festival. We logged on for occasional events from the start of the 10 day festival, but booked lots for the few days we would have been there. Watching them at my house on a laptop wasn’t the same as being in the tented Hay Festival village, but we made the absolute best of it. There were lots of great events including our favourite linguist David Crystal and between events we drank Pimms in the garden and lunched on my re-creation of the cheese toasties that we always eat in the festival foodhall!
6. June – Walking and Wisley
This month I was due to make a much anticipated return trip to New York but it wasn’t to be. Instead my local adventures included a lovely new walk through Esher Commons, I hadn’t realised what lovely woods there are so close to home. Then near the end we came across a pub that was serving takeout drinks. First time in a pub for three months caused quite a bit of excitement, even though we were in, out and sitting on the green opposite pretty quickly.
This month also saw more outdoor venues able to reopen, so RHS Wisley was quickly booked. It was so nice to spend a Sunday there feeling almost normal again. The Four Seasons sculptures by Philip Haas are pretty impressive. The 5m tall figures are 3-D interpretations of paintings by 16th-century Italian artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo. Non-essential retail also got the green light, so the following Sunday was a trip to Guildford to finally go shopping for something other than food. The shops were pretty quiet and we had to do a lot of hand sanitising, but again it was almost starting to feel normal again.
7. July – Hatchlands and Corfe Castle
July 4th wasn’t just American Independence Day, it was when the UK lockdown really started to lift. Sadly theatres still weren’t able to open, but I made a virtual trip to the Old Vic to see Lungs. Matt Smith and Claire Foy had to perform socially distanced on the stage to an empty theatre, but it was excellent. Soon after that I had a week off work so met a friend for a nice walk around Hatchlands Park in East Clandon and lunch outside a pub that had just reopened.
Then I finally packed a bag again and headed for a short staycation in Corfe Castle, Dorset. It was so nice to get away even if only for three nights. Oliver’s in Corfe Castle was the perfect small place to stay and we had lovely visits to the castle in Corfe as well as Studland Bay, Swanage and Wareham. We also managed a very long walk from Lulworth Cove along the stunning Jurassic Coast and fitted in a visit to Rick Stein in Sandbanks for Sunday lunch on the way home. One good outcome from coronavirus is seeing some of the fabulous places that are only a couple of hours drive from home. Read more about the trip in my posts about Corfe Castle and the Jurassic Coast.8. August – Hampstead and Weardale
August started with my first view of London’s riverside in almost six months, albeit from a distance on Hampstead Heath. It had been years since I’d been to Hampstead, so dinner and an overnight stay with a friend was followed by some exploring the next day. A walk on the heath to see that London view and a meander around the shops was followed by a very good veggie Sunday lunch at the Duke of Hamilton.
Then it was off for another staycation to Weardale, County Durham, a part of the UK I’d never visited before. We went just as the mega heatwave at home was ending, so after five nights of barely sleeping and missing my air conditioned office, it was quite a relief to head up north. After one night at a pub we stayed at the stunning manor house Horsley Hall. What a fabulous place and such lovely people run it. The food was brilliant and drinks better than expected, so we made short work of their Provence Rose stock! The reason for the trip was so my friend’s dad could visit relatives and spend time in the area as he loves it. But we also manged some nice walks on the wear and a misty drive over the moors to visit the lovely Low Force Waterfall and Barnard Castle.
9. September – London and Lyme Regis
September was when I finally went on a train again. It’s only around 20 minutes from my local station to London Waterloo and even though I don’t work in town these days I usually go in to meet friends and visit theatres etc around once a week. It was strange to see Waterloo and the Southbank so much quieter than usual, but it was fab to go to the Bridge Theatre right next to Tower Bridge and then have alfresco drinks at the Globe Theatre bar and dinner at Wahaca.
The risk of quarantine rules changing meant overseas travel still wasn’t an option, so on my birthday I headed back to Dorset for a week in lovely Lyme Regis. It had probably been 25 years since I’d last visited the town and it was even nicer than I remembered. We rented a fab penthouse apartment with fantastic views of the harbour and had a great week exploring the local area and having some excellent food and drinks. Lyme has become quite the foodie destination so it was the perfect place for my friend and I to hang out. There will be a blog post or two about this trip coming soon.
10. October – all the Gs (Gloucester, Guildford and Godalming)
By October things were starting to change again. The summer honeymoon was over and it started to feel like were were heading back towards lockdown. I had been due to go on our annual girls weekend but that was cancelled and Krakow would have to wait a year. So I decided to head down to Gloucester for my niece’s birthday to make sure I saw the family again before things changed. It was a lovely visit and we even managed lunch with my nephew after unexpectedly bumping into him out shopping. Then I visited Godalming for the first time to see the beautiful autumn colours at Winkworth Arboretum and later in the month it was back to Guildford for some shopping and a very good Sunday lunch at the Britannia.
11. November – Lockdown 2.0
In November the inevitable Lockdown 2.0 arrived. That meant cancellations for Harry Potter Studios, the Rose Theatre and Christmas at Kew and a return to takeaways and local walks. The weather wasn’t great so the walks were often wet and muddy, but Claremont Landscape Garden still looked lovely in the rain. I also revisited Esher Commons to do the same route as in June. The trees looked a bit different in the Autumn but it was still a really nice walk. Then there was a mini cultural hit at the end of the month with another virtual visit to Hay-on-Wye for the festival’s Winter Weekend. The interviews with Ruth Jones, Dawn French and Gary Numan were all excellent.
12. December – outdoor dining in winter!
The end of lockdown saw the Rose Theatre in Kingston reopen, so I was finally able to do my second theatre trip since the pandemic started. It was Adam Kay rather than a play, but hey I was in a theatre and he was very funny. Then I did something I never would have considered before this weird year and started eating outdoors in December! It was the only way to see friends in the run up to Christmas and with lots of layers and a blanket on my legs it was actually ok. As a result we discovered the Duke of Sussex, a great pub near Waterloo that we hadn’t been to before and will definitely go back to sit on the lovely big terrace again.
Finally we reached the end of 2020 and instead of my usual New Year trip away it was a night at home drinking cocktails and champagne with my friend Miriam. There had been many nights like that during the year, keeping each other sane in our support bubble. But despite the challenges 202o brought, writing this reminds me that I made the most of the opportunities to get out and about whenever possible, while still saying safe and within the rules. And I had some good times worth blogging about.
Of course 2021 currently feels a lot like 2020, but while Lockdown 3.0 seems pretty interminable already at least the vaccine roll out offers some optimism. The prospect of an eventual return to a more normal life and being able to travel further afield again later this year finally seems like a real one. So I say, cheers to that!