Travel

COVID TRAVEL

Should we go or should we stay? Common sense suggests we should stick with government advice and stay home, but urgent matters demand our attention elsewhere.

Spring walk in The Cotswolds [photo MNA]

If it were not for pressing domestic (and legal) issues, we would not be traveling during the pandemic. Government advice is to stay home and we should, but some matters can only be dealt with first hand. I won’t bore readers with the background, suffice to say that we have decided to take the risk and travel from Toronto to the UK. We first booked on Air Transat for mid-May, but no sooner had they taken our money, than the airline cancelled all flights until mid-June. Goodness only knows if we will take off then, but we live in hope.

A few years ago I decided that if we couldn’t travel in comfort, then we wouldn’t travel at all, so we are booked in what they call Club Class. The first two or three rows of the plane have fewer and wider seats and more leg room, the food used to be better and the booze was free. One gets to de-plane first and the luggage allowance is generous. I’ve also heard, though it could be a story, that the fresh air comes in at the front of the plane, so on the chance we are breathing better air, it’s another plus.

We’ve had our first vaccinations, so by June we’ll be well protected by our own antibodies. We have been diligent in our isolation throughout the various lockdowns. We have worn masks in public, washed and sanitised our hands frequently, and shopped online when possible. We have not dined out, joined a crowd, been to a mall, or stood closer than six feet to anyone. We don’t know anyone who has died of Covid and we only know one person who has had the disease. Somehow, we’ve managed to stay sane and reasonably polite to each other after 13 months of isolation. Others are much worse off, so I’m not complaining.

Travel will add its special complications. We have to have a swab and prove we test negative for the virus three days before we fly, or we won’t be allowed onto the plane. Canada hasn’t yet been on a red list for UK, so as far as we know we won’t have to go to a mandatory government approved hotel for three nights. We will be picked up by our usual driver, stick to the back seats, wear our masks and be taken straight to our isolated Yorkshire cottage. A lady from the village looks after it and a gardener keeps the lawn and flowers looking neat and it should be presentable when we arrive. I will order a delivery of food and essentials so we can eat during the 10-day quarantine. Marks and Spencer, my favourite store doesn’t deliver, while Amazon/Whole Foods are only delivering in London and the South East, so I will have to check out Waitrose and Sainsburys.

Breaking open the emergency bubbly in our Yorkshire kitchen [photo MNA]

The Telegraph recommends both and says of the first: “Wide selection of food on an easy-to-use website—Waitrose.com is one of the best-stocked suppliers of both pantry snacks and fresh food… All food comes with a freshness guarantee. Ordering is easy … with labelled categories and a ‘favourites’ list that speed up the process. Minimum spend is £40 for home delivery and there is free trackable next-day delivery to homes all over the UK, seven days a week.”

What they don’t say is that one has to reserve a delivery slot up to 10 days ahead, so we shall be planning well in advance to get our delivery coordinated with our arrival.

The joke in England is that the point of Sainsburys is to keep the riffraff out of Waitrose. I’m sure that’s unfair, because I’ve always found the stores pleasant and well stocked. Plus they sell Branston Pickle, which M&S doesn’t carry, as it competes with their own brand. One advantage of Sainsbury’s is that we can schedule a delivery when a store van is already in the area, a good choice for the eco folks.

Our friends at Armit Wines will send me a selection of good stuff to drink. A case should do the trick.

We also have to fill in forms before arrival, so the UK government can track and trace us. A recent traveller relates that it’s better to have them printed out than try and show the forms on a smart phone. They apparently will telephone us at the house multiple times to check we are staying in. We have to order self-testing kits and take swabs on day two and day eight. If we test negative both times, we are free on day 10.

Then what shall we do? Current UK announcements suggest lifting all social restrictions by mid-June, so we will be coming out of quarantine just as everything opens up. We’ll have to wait and see if the luck holds, or if the UK goes into another lockdown such as the rest of Europe is currently undergoing. When the pubs open, my first stop will be to The Parish Oven, our village local, if it has survived. It has two large patios, so we’ll easily be seated if the outside service rules are still in force.

I shall enjoy walks around the village, where the gardens will be bursting with flowers. Wisteria climbs over the golden Yorkshire stone on several cottages. On the path down to the restored Chesterfield Canal, bluebells flourish in the right season. By the time we get there, crops will be growing in the fields, acres of green sprouting grains or golden canola (which they still call rapeseed in UK).

Bluebells line Lime Tree Avenue in Clumber Park, Yorkshire

Two years ago, we asked the gardener to plant masses of bulbs in anticipation of our 2020 spring arrival. That didn’t happen but he’s sent me a photo of the 2021 garden and it is a monocolour riot of daffodils and tulips. Sadly, they will all be over by the time we get there, but at least the neighbours get to enjoy the display. In the village there is a great sense of community and volunteers from the Garden Club fill barrel planters up and down the lanes with flowers.

I keep in touch with Wentworth Woodhouse, our closest stately home, the largest private residence in England. The frontage is wider than Buckingham Palace. The building has been undergoing extensive renovations since it was acquired by a trust, but the house is currently closed. The gardens however are extensive and have been opened for walks during the snowdrop and daffodil seasons. By June there will be even more to see in the gardens.

One day, we might move to The Cotswolds, an official Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. My middle daughter lives in a charming little town on the borders and sends me evocative pictures of scenes from her walks. We shall certainly visit her as soon as we are allowed. Other friends and relatives live close by and we’re looking forward to seeing them, however distanced.

I’m researching and writing a big project about the English Civil War, which saw King Charles I beheaded and Oliver Cromwell rule as Lord Protector, until the monarchy was restored under the king’s son, Charles II. I will certainly be visiting some of the historic places where significant events and battles took place. The Royalists were headquartered in Oxford, which is also on the border of The Cotswolds. The most significant battle the Parliamentarians won was Marston Moor, not far from our Yorkshire abode. If I decide to follow a theme there’ll be lots to see on that subject.

Returning to Canada may be more of a chore than leaving. Travellers departing from England to travel internationally will be legally obliged to provide their reasons on a travel declaration form. I will need a reasonable excuse for travel, so picking though the list of possibilities I am torn between declaring myself an elite sportsperson, or a “non-UK resident who has been in UK temporarily.”

Coming into Toronto, travellers—even residents with a home to return to—are obliged to stay for three nights at a government approved airport hotel, at their own expense. Perhaps by mid-July that ban will be lifted and we can come back to our house and garden and two Siamese cats and quarantine in peace.

Featured image: Toronto departure lounge [photo Megan Napier-Andrews]

Check out Nigel’s previous pandemic travel experience at Castle Homes.

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This is Nigel’s 304th blog on Gentleman’s Portion. The SEARCH function at the top works really well, if you want to look back and see some of his previous stories. The link to Gentleman’s Portion: The Cookbook is now live, well priced at $9.99 or £9.99.

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