Welcome to Krak贸w

When the alarm shattered the silence at 3.20am it felt as if we had only been asleep for 10 minutes, as we blearily opened our eyes in the darkened Travel Lodge room. Straightaway I put the kettle on and made some coffee; we would have to wait until we were at the airport before having any breakfast.

We got washed, dressed and packed, looked around the room to ensure we hadn’t forgotten anything, and left the hotel just before 4.00am. A light rain (what we call a ‘mizzle’ in the North, i.e. mist+drizzle) was falling and I was glad I’d packed my cagoule in my carry-on bag. We loaded our stuff into the car and drove the short distance to the long-stay car park. Dropping the keys in at the reception, we were just in time to get the shuttle bus.

We had never flown from or into Edinburgh Airport and we were surprised at how big it was; certainly a lot bigger than Newcastle. As we approached the airport building we could already see the one-way system in place and the signs everywhere advising people to maintain social distancing and wear a mask at all times whilst in the airport terminal.

The queue at the EasyJet luggage drop desk was quite short (we’d already checked in and printed our boarding passes before leaving home) so, once we’d got rid of our cases, we went through security until we were airside. At this point we decided we’d try and find somewhere that was open where we could get something to eat and drink, which was quite difficult as most places were closed at this time of the morning, and the ones that were planning on opening would not do so before 5.00am. There was a Wetherspoons which stayed stubbornly closed, a Burger King which was also closed and a depressing-looking series of vending machines selling water and soft drinks.

Eventually we found a Costa Coffee that was open and we bought ourselves the unlikely breakfast of Heineken beer and a millionaire’s shortbread for me, and beer and a cheese toastie for Trevor. I also purchased a bottle of water to keep myself hydrated on the aircraft.

Soon the call for boarding appeared on the departure board, and we made our way to the EasyJet designated gate and joined the quick-moving queue to board. We were exciting at our first trip away this year, very unusual for us when we usually go on holiday three or four times a year. 馃檪

The aircraft took to the skies on time, and we settled back for the 2 hours 10 minutes flight. Once we’d reached cruising height the refreshments trolley appeared, which I was surprised at because I had thought they would not be serving food and drink on a reasonably short flight, in order to avoid passengers having to remove their masks. But we enjoyed a coffee each and a small canister of Pringles (strange breakfast indeed!) then, when the trolley made its return journey along the aisle we had a cold beer each, as we were now slowly getting into the holiday mood. 馃檪

Before landing, we had to complete our Passenger Locator Form with our contact details, a mandatory chore without which we would not be allowed to leave the airport. All part of the Track & Trace system, where they are supposed to keep an eye on people’s movements around the globe and advise them if they come into contact with someone who later tests positive for COVID-19.

We touched down at Pope John Paul II International Airport, Krak贸w, 20 minutes ahead of schedule and taxied along to the arrivals gate. I was disappointed to see that it was raining (!) as the weather in Poland recently had been sunny and warm. It didn’t take long to go through security, and we arrived at the luggage carousel at the exact time our cases appeared, so no waiting around there either. A bit different from our arrival into LAX last October, which took just under three hours to process via the US immigration system. 馃檪

Putting up the hood of my cagoule, we trundled our bags to the airport exit, where we met Mike, the Newmarket Holidays rep. Only one other bloke, who we later found out was called Frank, had also come in on our flight from Edinburgh, so the three of us were directed to a private hire car which took us on the 45 minute ride to our hotel, the Golden Tulip, in Krakow-Kazimierz.

The main entrance to the hotel (and the back entrance, for that matter) were only accessible by a gate, and you had to press the buzzer to announce your arrival, or use your room card. The rain had abated quite a lot by now, and the sky looked a lot brighter; the forecast was for it to be fair this afternoon (good!) 馃檪

The hotel was in a fantastic location, walking distance from most of Krak贸w’s attractions, and in a street containing many bars, restaurants and shops. We couldn’t wait to explore this, our 90th country. 馃檪

We checked in and had to wait in the lobby for 20 minutes or so before our second-floor room was ready, all the time wearing our mask. Looking around we could see the entrance to the dining room, as well as a cocktail bar. Each of the entrances had hand-sanitizer dispensers nearby, as did the entrance to the lifts, which only allowed one person at a time, unless you were sharing a room.

Once in our room we thankfully removed our masks and had a single thought; an hour’s nap to make up for the very early start. We emptied our cases and hung up the few items of clothing we had brought for our 4-night stay, then I set the timer on my phone to go off in an hour’s time, and we settled down in the clean cotton sheets.

When we woke up it was about 12.30pm and, looking out of the window, we could see that the rain had stopped and the sun was tentatively trying to peep through. I freshened up a bit and then we decided to explore our immediate surroundings and go and have a spot of lunch somewhere.

Off we went along the street, looking in the windows of the shops (one of which was a Spar, just down the road from the hotel) and we soon came to an inviting-looking restaurant called Pierwszy Stopien; it contained lots of greenery and exposed brickwork and contained wooden chairs and tables with glass candle holders. As we went in, we were greeted by a friendly mask-wearing waitress and we confirmed we’d like a table for two.

We noticed that they were offering a lunchtime three-course set menu, so we placed our order and decided to sample a Polish beer, ordering a pint of Tyskie each. I ordered a thick asparagus soup garnished with fresh cream and chopped pistachio nuts, while Trevor enjoyed a chunky tomato soup.

For the main course, I had delicious stuffed red peppers which contained barley, onions and carrots amongst other things, served with a mixed salad. Trevor tried the steamed Russian dumplings.

Then we had a traditional Polish dessert which was something like cake with a fruit puree on top. It was all excellent value for money, coming to just over 拢13.00 for both of us. Currently there are five Polish z艂otys to the pound, and everything we’d seen so far seemed remarkably cheap.

After our delicious lunch we set off to explore the area. We walked along the uncrowded street to the former Jewish quarter of Kazimierz, and came to a square containing Isreali restaurants and Jewish bookshops, as well as a synagogue; the iron railings separating the square from the main road had Stars of David contained within the metal work. We came across a life-size statue of a man sitting on a bench, a nearby plaque proclaimed him to be Jan Karski, an emissary of the Polish people in German-occupied Poland in 1940-43, who tried to prevent the Holocaust. He lived from 1914-2000 and was given the accolade of “Righteous among the Nations” and became an honorary citizen of Israel. Trevor sat down on the bench next to the statue and I took his photo. 馃檪

We walked a bit further along and came to a large, cream-coloured building set back from the road among some trees; a path led to the entrance which claimed it to be the Kupa Synagogue. It cost 10 z艂otys (a couple of quid) each to go inside, which was classed more as a donation than an entry fee. We decided to see what it was like, as I had never been in a synagogue before.

The Kupa synagogue was founded in 1643, so it was over 300 years old. It was richly decorated with paintings, wall decorations and featured a fantastically ornate ceiling, painted in subtle browns, blue, cream, white and beige, which depicted scenes from the Bible. Around the edge of the upper gallery (from which you could enter the women’s section) were the 12 signs of the zodiac. There was also a large bima (a big centrally-placed pulpit for reading Tora scrolls) as well as a double seat next to the bima for the person holding the scrolls. In addition, there were several long tables and benches which were used for dining on feast days.

We had a good look round, spending about half an hour inside the synagogue. On the leaflet we were given by the lady who took our money at the door was the notice:

In Judaism the synagogue is used only for prayer, learning and religious purposes… it is forbidden to use the synagogue as, for instance, shelter against the rain or the sun or to visit it only to fill your curiosity. That is why visitors are requested to make a short prayer to the Creator of the world, the Host of this building, of whom they are guests at this moment.

I don’t know many prayers off by heart, except the Lord’s Prayer, so I stood under the chandelier and recited that. 馃檪

Once outside again, we walked along the pleasant streets, looking at the interesting architecture and the characterful shops, restaurants, bars and pavement caf茅s. The weather was bright and pleasant now, so we decided to have a drink at one of the bars, called Beer Street, which had some pleasant parasoled tables and chairs outside, at which small groups of (socially distanced) people sat.

Trevor ordered the drinks while I went to use the loo, and we spent a relaxing interlude sitting outside for a while, talking about the strange times we have been experiencing in 2020, and how we were lucky finally to get away on holiday somewhere, even if only for a short time.

Afterwards we walked back along to the hotel, stopping at the Spar to get some beer and wine to enjoy in our hotel room later on. 馃檪

We then spent some time pottering around in our room, reading, watching TV (there was only one news channel in English, the rest of the channels were in Polish) and relaxing. At around 6.30pm I got washed and changed, and we decided to go back to the Pierwszy Stopien restaurant for our dinners; we had enjoyed it so much at lunchtime and we’d also seen some impressive-looking burgers being served, so we thought we try one of those. 馃檪

We were greeted by the same smiling waitress (at least I assumed she was smiling under her mask) and shown to a table surrounded by lots of greenery, pot plants and glass candle-holders. There were more people in than there had been at lunchtime, and the atmosphere was relaxed and happy, that of family and friends breaking bread together. We each ordered the special burger and Trevor chose a Tyskie beer while I decided to have an Aperol Spritz.

The burgers were massive! They came in a triple-decker toasted bun and contained lettuce, tomato, onion and a special sauce, and were served with plump dill pickles and chunky chips. It was quite a struggle to finish the meal, and once again it was excellent value for money.

We then decided to try to walk off some of the calories by crossing the Vistula river and exploring further afield. We went across a bridge over what is a very wide river, as night was beginning to fall and the lights from the riverside buildings were reflecting on the rippling water. We saw a large boat that had evidently been converted to a restaurant and/or night club, and the sky was lit up by a large ferris wheel, the spokes and hub of which subtly changed colour. I can never resist going on a ferris wheel, so we each paid our 25 z艂otys and took our seats in one of the capsules.

Off we went, up and up, and enjoyed stunning views over the Vistula (also called the Wis艂a (pronounced Vizwa) in Polish) and the twinkling lights of Krak贸w. We had three revolutions of the ‘big wheel’ before we came to a stop and the sliding doors of our capsule opened.

As we walked along the riverside, we saw a large, interesting tethered balloon. It wasn’t a hot-air balloon and, at first, we thought it was just one of those advertising balloons you sometimes see, until we spotted a gondola underneath that was clearly big enough to hold people; in fact, a small queue had formed of people waiting to board. We stood and watched a while, then discovered you could buy tickets for the balloon at a nearby kiosk, it worked out at about 11 quid each for 10 minutes, but they stopped ‘flights’ at 8.00pm and it was five to eight now, and the last ascent was about to commence. We knew what we’d be doing tomorrow night! 馃檪

As we watched, the balloon slowly lifted off; it was tethered by a steel cable which was wound around a revolving drum which allowed it to be paid out at a constant rate, leading to a smooth ascent. It went up to about 300 feet, glowing a pale blue in the darkened sky; from a distance it looked like a large, glowing moon, as you couldn’t see the cable.

We set off walking back to the hotel, as it was starting to get a bit chilly now, and we were still a little tired after our early start (and the hour’s time difference). We arrived back at the Golden Tulip around nine o’clock, and decided to open the beer and wine we’d bought at the Spar. I got washed and into my ‘jamas and enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine while reading my Kindle. I am reading the true-crime book Children who Kill by Carol Ann Lee; it is an interesting (although somewhat disturbing) anthology of child murderers (and murderers who are children), such as Thompson and Venebles, and Mary Bell.

At 10.30pm I could hardly keep my eyes open any more and we settled down for our first night in Poland. We had to be up at seven o’clock tomorrow for breakfast at eight, and we slept very well.

Rosyth and Edinburgh

We hadn’t done much on Friday or Saturday, apart from packing our cases and getting ready for a trip away. Yes! We are finally able to go away on holiday and, whilst it may not be as exciting as Chile and Easter Island, at least it would be a break and a change of scenery.

But why Edinburgh? I hear you ask. Well, we are due to be flying out to Krak贸w, Poland tomorrow. Poland!! We are actually going abroad, a rarity indeed in these strange times. Newcastle Airport no longer offers direct flights to Krak贸w, so Edinburgh was our nearest airport, and as it will be an early start tomorrow morning, we decided to travel up early, make a day of it, and stay overnight at a hotel near the airport. 馃檪

After breakfasting and finishing our packing, we loaded up the car with our cases and bags, and loaded our cat, Cedric, into his transporter to be taken to the 5-star cat hotel for him to have his holidays too. He was not a happy pussy as he hates going in the car, and he protested loudly on the 15-minute ride to the cattery. We’d stayed there before, so we knew he would be well-looked-after.

Off we went and headed north at a good rate, driving through the pleasant rugged sunlit countryside of County Durham and Northumberland before we eventually saw the blue and white Saltire and the “Welcome to Scotland” sign. We decided then we would stop at nearby Jedburgh for a comfort break, and we pulled up at a coach stop we knew well. There were no coaches around (presumably most coach trips were stopped due to the dreaded COVID-19) so none of the shops were open; there was only a small branch of Subway open in the petrol station, so we went in and had a coffee each and a cookie, and used the toilets.

We continued on our way, but it took a little longer than usual to get to Edinburgh because part of the A68 was closed due to roadworks, and there was quite a detour in operation. Before going into Edinburgh itself, our plan was to go to Rosyth to see all the Fred Olsen ships, which we know and love, as they have all been laid up there since March due to the pandemic. As we crossed the Firth of Forth on the new bridge, we spotted the familiar red Fred Olsen logo on the white funnels, and we also saw the former Holland America ship Rotterdam which is soon to join the Fred Olsen fleet as the newly-refurbished Borealis.

After we’d crossed the bridge we drove around to park up and try to get a good vantage point from which to view the ships. Unfortunately we couldn’t get very close to them, but I was still able to identify the Boudicca, the Black Watch and the Braemar alongside each other:

Funnels of the Boudicca, Black Watch and Braemar in Rosyth

To the right of these was the Balmoral and the soon-to-be Borealis. While it was nice to see them, it was sad that they were all just moored up there instead of sailing the ocean blue with their complement of happy passengers.

Funnels of the Balmoral and the Rotterdam (soon to be the Borealis)

We stayed awhile looking at the ships and longing to be on them again, then we decided to find a nearby pub and go for a drink and something to eat, as it was now after one o’clock. A quick check on Google Maps told us there was a pub close by called the Cottars, so we made our way to it and went inside. However, it was fully booked for Sunday lunch so we just had a pint in the sunshine outside and enjoyed a bag of crisps between us. 馃檪

We then continued on our way into Edinburgh itself, and made our way to the Travel Lodge at Ratho Station, opposite the Airport.

Our room was plain and simple, but clean and comfortable which is all we needed for one night. We dumped our cases then went across to the road to await the city centre bus, details and timings of which had been kindly provided by the lady on the Travel Lodge reception. A bus arrived shortly aferwards and it was about a 20 minute ride into the centre; we got out in the main thoroughfare of Princes Street.

Edinburgh looked quite busy and there was lots of traffic and lots of people; the only clue to a global pandemic was the fact that everyone was wearing masks in the shops. We walked along and window-shopped and people-watched, and after about a mile or so we arrived at The Conan Doyle pub, which we knew from previous visits to Edinburgh, and we recalled that it served good, wholesome Scottish grub, including the compulsory Haggis, Tatties and Neeps. 馃檪

Inside, we sanitised our hands and completed the Track & Trace details (part of what is becoming the “new normal”) and were then shown to a pleasant table near the window and handed a couple of disposable menus. I selected the haggis with homemade whisky sauce, while Trevor went for the full Sunday roast, and we each ordered a pint of Tennants beer. 馃檪

My meal was hot and delicious; I’ve always enjoyed haggis although some people might balk at its ingredient list. Afterwards we decided to go the whole hog and have a dessert each; we had a scrumptious clotted cream cheesecake to finish. Thus sated, we exited onto the Edinburgh streets once again, as the shops were closing and the crowds were thinning out.

We walked along by the park and came to the Edinburgh Art Gallery and Museum, outside which a lively three-part band of musicians had started playing lively tunes; a guitarist, bagpipe player and enthusiastic drummer. A thinned-out crowd had gathered (social distancing!!) and a smattering of applause sounded as the trio ended one tune and swung into another.

We then decided to get the bus back to the Travel Lodge, as we knew we had an early start in the morning so we just wanted to spend the evening relaxing and watching TV.

After consulting our piece of paper with the bus details, we made our way to a bus-stop that indicated that a number “25” bus would be along soon, as indeed it was. We got on the bus, dropped the exact fare into the box provided for the purpose, and took our seats on the upper deck. It was only when the bus started along an unfamiliar route we realised, despite it being the number “25”, that it was actually from the wrong bus company and not going our way at all! We hurriedly alighted at the next stop, then had about a mile to walk back to Princes Street to await the correct bus. 馃檪

Back in the Travel Lodge we made ourselved comfortable with a bottle of cava we’d brought with us; there was no glassware or even plastic tumblers in the room so it was the first time I’d ever enjoyed cava out of a coffee mug. 馃檪 Then we sat and watched TV, read a little, and got washed and into our PJs before settling down between the crisp clean sheets at about 10.30pm. Early for us, but we had to leave the hotel at 4.00am tomorrow to go to the airport. It was the first night we had spent outside our home in 2020.

These City Walls

Woke up this morning on a day that wasn’t sure if it was going to be sunny, windy, or raining (or all three). Got showered, dressed, had our breakfasts then put on our trainers and left the house at 9.00am to walk to Durham train station. Today we were going to spend in the beautiful and ancient walled city of York, a place we visit on a regular basis as it is only 50 minutes away on the train. 馃檪

It took us about 40 minutes to walk the two miles to the railway station. We haven’t been since before the COVID-19 outbreak and the differences were evident immediately. As soon as we entered the station we were required to put on masks; the WHSmith kiosk and Costa Coffee remained firmly closed, and black-and-yellow striped tape everywhere indicated the one-way route around the station, with markers showing how far apart we had to stand.

Our train arrived on time and we boarded and found some empty seats and settled for the journey. Everyone was wearing masks apart from those who were eating or drinking something; you had to bring your own food and drink onto the train as there was no buffet or trolley service. 馃槮

Off we went, speeding through the northern English countryside, fields nearly ready for harvest glowing mellowly in the weak September sunshine. Darlington, Northallerton then York, arrival time 10.49am.

When we alighted from the train we were surprised at how busy York train station was, bearing in mind it was a working day. Everyone headed towards the exit and there was not much evidence of social distancing. Once the left the station, we thankfully removed our masks and headed in the direction of the city centre, walking along Station Road flanked by the impressive and imposing City Walls, and crossing the bridge over the River Ouse, where we briefly contemplated going down and taking a walk along the river…. no, that could wait until later.

Instead, we made our way towards the fantastic York Minster. We thought we might go inside, but there was quite a long queue as they are obviously limiting the number of people who can be inside at the same time. Instead, we wandered around and gazed up at the wonderful Gothic architecture, from the towers to the rose window to the main fa莽ade. A magnificent building, but maybe not quite as good as Durham Cathedral (but, then again, I am perhaps a little biased). 馃檪

York Minster
York Minster, showing Rose Window

A couple of artists had taken up a good vantage point near the Minster; one was completing a water colour whilst the other appeared to be doing a charcoal sketch. It was not too crowded and there seemed to be plenty of space; last time we were here was just before Christmas 2019, when the streets were packed with stalls for the Christmas Market.

York is such a beautiful and striking city, with its old timbered buildings, some dating back to the 14th century. We set off in the direction of the Shambles, probably York’s most famous street. It’s simply wonderful, with old eclectic buildings, some so close together at the top you would have been able to reach out of the leaded windows and shake hands with the person in the window opposite.

Trevor walking along the Shambles

There were sweet shops and shops selling locally-made handicrafts and souvenirs; charming little caf茅s and tea-rooms all rubbing shoulders with 21st century retailers like mobile phone shops. I saw an old-fashioned sweet shop selling cinder toffee and nougat and couldn’t resist going in to buy some.

Cinder toffee, fudge and peanut brittle in a York sweet shop

After wandering around and looking at some of the market stalls, we came to The Three Cranes, a pub that we always visit when we go to York at Christmas, as they serve a wonderful mulled wine and mince pies! Whilst we couldn’t expect such a thing now, we still fancied a cold pint, so in we went.

Three Cranes pub

We like the Three Cranes because it’s a proper traditional pub with lots of character and atmosphere, unlike those soulless chain establishments. They also play a fantastic selection of 1960s and 70s music in the background. Ususally when we come here it is pretty crowded, but today we had the ‘snug’ area of the pub mostly to ourselves.

We enjoyed out pints then decided to go along to the Postern Gate for our lunch. This is one of the two Wetherspoons pubs in York, right on the banks of the Ouse, near the distinctive Clifford’s Tower perched on its grassy mound.

York Castle, otherwise known as Clifford’s Tower

When we arrived at the Postern Gate it was doing a roaring lunchtime trade. The guy who greeted us asked if we wanted to sit at one of the high tables or a lower one; we opted for the lower but there was only one left, and it was near the door which had to be kept open for a flow of fresh air into the pub. It looked out onto a sort of courtyard and balcony area overlooking the river, but where we were sitting it acted a bit like a wind tunnel, so it was somewhat draughty eating our lunch. At some point we decided it might be warmer in the courtyard, so we moved outside, where we had the benefit of the sunshine. The wind still had a nip to it though.

We ordered a second drink each and sat overlooking the river. It would have been really enjoyable but for that cold breeze, and once we’d finished we decided to move on.

We enjoyed a pleasant stroll walking around the streets and looking at the old buildings. At one point the sun decided to make a reappearance, instantly making a huge difference. Some of the centuries-old buildings looked as if they had been constructed without any spirit levels or plumb lines, such as York Gin in Pavement which looked as if it was sagging in the middle:

Old timbered building in Pavement, York

As the weather now felt pleasantly warm, we decided we’d take that walk by the river, so we went along to the bridge so we could go down the steps to the quayside. On the way we passed one of the strangest street names I’ve ever some across (in England, anyway).

It was very pleasant walking along the riverside, and the pavement caf茅s were doing a roaring trade, as were the York City Tours boat trips.

River Ouse, York

We spent about half an hour strolling around, then we decided we were ready for another beer (!) and so we started to make our way along to the Punch Bowl, another Wetherspoons pub which is handily situated about five minutes’ walk from the railway station.

Once again, we were lucky to find a seat inside and, apart from the perspex screens that had been erected between the tables, you would hardly have thought we were in the midst of a global pandemic, as the pub was doing a lively trade and, shortly after our arrival, people started to queue outside.

I enjoyed a couple of glasses of ros茅 prosecco while Trevor stuck to his pints of John Smith’s. We then made our way to the train station, once again donning our masks as we stood on the platform waiting for the Durham train. It arrived on time, and we took our seats feeling pleasantly tired.

50 minutes later, at 7.25pm, the train pulled into Durham station and despite having seen this sight many hundreds of times before, I never tire of the view of the Cathedral from the window of the train:

Durham Cathdral at dusk, from the window of a northbound train

Alighting from the carriage we set off on the two-mile walk home, arriving back just after 8.00pm. It had been an enjoyable day. 馃檪

Ramblings of a Different Kind

When is a cruise not a cruise? Answer: when it’s been booked to take place in 2020 and is invariably cancelled due to the dreaded worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

Regular readers of this blog will notice that there hasn’t been a single post made since November 2019; the longest time I’ve gone without writing anything since I started this blog nearly 10 years ago. With life and any semblance of normality on hold in 2020, there has simply been nothing to write about. 馃槮

We had our long-awaited Balmoral cruise, which was due to start on 29th March 2020, cancelled on 13th – only 16 days beforehand, just before Britain went into lockdown and we were only allowed to leave our house for food purchases, hospital appointments or for one hour of exercise a day. Surely our next holiday, a relaxing week river cruising on the upper Danube in June on the Brabant would go ahead? Nope. 馃槮

We replaced the cancelled March Balmoral cruise with a two-week Caribbean cruise on the Braemar for 10th December. December is ages away – surely this nasty coronavirus will have gone away and life will be back to normal by Christmas? Apparently the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) weren’t taking any chances, and they put a ban on any ocean-going cruises for the foreseeable future, which included December. Another cruise cancelled. 馃槮

Never mind though, I still had my February 2021 Suez Canal cruise on the Boudicca to look forward to – or did I? This two-week cruise formed one section of the 140-night world cruise which was due to start in November 2020 and was therefore cancelled. 馃槮

Today, we should have been jetting off to Santiago, Chile, to start a fantastic land-based escorted tour of this fascinating country, including three nights on Easter Island, one of the remotest islands in the world. But when COVID-19 is raging throughout South America and the FCO is advising against travel there, we decided several weeks ago to postpone this trip for a year. So we find ourselves with a fortnight off work, wondering how to fill the time. 馃檪

Here in northern Blighty we have just come out of the coldest and wettest August on record, with temperatures barely in the teens and lots of rain largely deterring us from going out and exploring our own green and pleasant land. Not so much Chile as chilly. 馃檪 We did have some tentative sunshine on August Bank Holiday, marred only by an arctic breeze necessitating the need for a jacket and – yes – even a woolly hat.

Back to today… we decided we’d join the Crook and Weardale Ramblers, of which we have been a member since 1989, for a five mile walk starting in Witton Park, County Durham. We wouldn’t normally be able to join a Wednesday morning walk because we would have been at work, but today we were off !!! 馃檪

Whilst there was still that nip in the air, there was a weak autumnal sunshine as we drove to the starting point of the walk. There, we met up with the other ramblers who were joining us this morning, and off we went. The air was fresh and clean and day seemed ideal for striding out.

Our first brief stop was at the memorial dedicated to the Bradford brothers, who were born in Witton Park. There were four of them and three lost their lives in the Great War, two of them being awarded the Victoria Cross for valour during WW1, the only brothers to have done so.

George and Roland Bradford of Witton Park, County Durham
The Bradford brothers

Continuing on our way, we ambled along until we came out along a grassy track taking us to Paradise, a pleasant nature reserve and walk along the River Wear.

You can go to Paradise and back when you go to Witton Park, County Durham 馃檪

It was lovely and relaxing just walking leisurely along in the sunshine, much better than being at work (if not quite as good as going to Chile!). We passed alongside a serene lake and came across a dog walker whose young dog was quite distressed at the loss of his ball! He had dropped the tennis ball in the lake but was too unsure and inexperienced to swim after it, even though the ball was only about a metre or so in front of him. Trevor had a brainwave; he used the nearby life belt, throwing it into the lake and encircling the ball, which we could then pull back into the dog’s reach with the attached rope. One happy dog, one happy owner! 馃榾

We continued on our way until we came to Escomb Church, which is one of the oldest Anglo-Saxon churches in England and one of only three complete Anglo-Saxon churches remaining in England, the others being St Lawrence’s Church, Bradford-on-Avon and All Saints’ Church, Brixworth. It was built circa 650AD. The church warden was about, and she kindly opened the church to allow us inside, on the condition that we sanitised our hands before entering and didn’t touch anything; another new ‘normal; in 2020. 馃檪

Escomb Church, one of the oldest Saxon churches in England
Inside Escomb Church

It was lovely and peaceful in the church, and we spotted parts of the masonry which had been brought from the nearby Roman fort of Vinovia.

In the graveyard outside we briefly paused to read some of the inscriptions on the stones; one I looked at at random contained the epitaph:

“Here Lieth the Body of Ralph Simpson
who Departed this Life
September the 10th Anno Dom. 1720″

Wow, that’s almost 300 years to the day ago.

Ancient gravestone

All in all, the walk was about four miles, or you could add an extra loop of a mile on to make it five. As it had clouded over and there were a few spots of the inevitable rain, I decided to finish at the four mile point, and wait in the car for the others to complete the last mile, which only took another 20 minutes or so. By the time they arrived back it was just after 1.00pm, nice time for lunch. We’d already spotted the Saxon Inn over the road from the church, so we decided to go back there for a well-earned pint and a spot of lunch.

The Saxon Inn, Escomb

I enjoyed a nice plate of Hunter’s Chicken with salad and chips while Trevor had scampi; we each washed it down with a pint of cold John Smith’s which I enjoyed so much I had another one! 馃檪

It was 3.00pm by the time we arrived back home after an enjoyable bit of exercise. By now the wind had got up and the rain had started in earnest, so we’d timed it perfectly.

Not the day we’d planned, but a pleasant one nonetheless. 馃檪