Beyond 5 Miles
The relaxation of the 5 Miles rule in Wales on July 6th and the opening of the tourist market on 13th July brought far more freedom as travelling to and from England became possible.
It was time to leave the village of Maentwrog and head for London. Time to reflect a little too. And to contemplate how I had spent my time since March 13th when we first arrived.
It had been wonderful to experience the magical beauty of North Wales with such glorious weather. To sit in my garden caravan working on a writing project about the women of the village called Merched Maentwrog.
I had also been writing poetry with two friends. We three women set a theme each week and then read out our individual poems within the yellow borders of Zoom and under the banner of Poetry Corner.
I have walked along shady lanes, swam in the sea and lake. I have sunbathed in the garden and done a little light weeding, while preferring to sit in my dad’s old deckchair reading.
I will never forget being here during these months. The beauty, the peace, the solitude, the intensity of feeling will stay with me forever.
But by the end of June I was restless and lonely. I longed to sit outside a London cafe, be frivolous, take a bus and a train. Eat a takeaway or a buy a coffee from Pret a Manger and walk with purpose though the busy streets while trying not to spill it on my clothes.
It felt strange packing a bag after so long. Remembering what I needed and what I didn’t need. I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing. Or where I was going. But I was so looking forward to seeing my dear friends and my beloved daughter.
On my first day in London, in Muswell Hill, I was thrilled to go to a late night shop, run by Turkish people, to buy taramasalata, a tub of artichokes and a bottle of San Pellegrino.
And the next morning to walk on the Heath and watch everyone smiling and laughing, walking their dogs. To feel the mood of solidarity which I felt had been missing in Wales.
I felt at home. This was what I had been craving.
Over the next few weeks I got to know a new part of London. The streets of Muswell Hill are lined with solid, comfortable houses and gardens full of hollyhocks and roses. There are smart shops selling expensive biscuits and extortionate sausage rolls – I bought several of these in the spirit of decadence.
I walked around the green spaces of Alexandra Palace in the gentle summer rain, met a friend in Highgate Woods and sat at a distance in the garden of the Pavilion cafe, eating a mozzarella and tomato sandwich and trying not to worry.
I went to the welcoming Banners in Crouch End for a huge Jamaican breakfast and bought mackerel from the local fishmonger. I walked up and down the streets of Holloway and Archway, feeling like Dick Whittington.
I ate a delicious Indian Takeaway, many smoked salmon bagels and chorizo straight from the packet on a park bench. I watched Mrs America on TV and saluted the second wave feminists who shaped my world. I grew fond of a dog called Marlo and I laughed more than I had done for years with a kind friend who offered me her spare room and much more besides.
And I visited Islington, to saunter down Upper Street. Here there were shops and cafes and restaurants and life. As well as beautiful squares full of bright summer flowers. And most importantly my daughter to meet. For lunch, for a chat, for a sit on the grass in Highbury Fields.
I moved away from London 12 years ago but visit often. It still feels very much like home, with people from around the planet to watch and chat to. At times I felt nervous there, concerned for the spread of Covid. But mostly I sensed a mood of great care, of people moving respectfully together with tolerance and understanding. I did not feel like an outsider, someone to be wary of.
Travelling to Exeter by train was a new challenge, especially with my friend’s four year old daughter and small baby. The mood on the train was slightly tense as people tried to eat sandwiches under their masks, but the journey was only two and a quarter hours and once we landed, we were warmly welcomed by yet another kind friend and transported to Bickham Cottage, our bright, tasteful and uplifting holiday billet, a 15 minute drive away.
Once the gardener’s cottage, it is now being prepared as an inviting rental, part of the peaceful, secluded and blissful grounds of Bickham House. You couldn’t find a better spot for a British holiday.
I was delighted by my spacious, airy room and wonderfully comfortable bed, a secret sanctum away from the world. I woke at 5am each day, to see the sunrise and hear the cockerel crowing. I wandered down the July lanes, admiring the dewy spiders webs, the wild flowers, the tiny piglets on the neighbouring farm and the views across rolling east Devon.
With friends who like cold water swimming, I splashed in the fresh cool river Dart and watched the wild Dartmoor ponies.
We braved the smugglers tunnel from Teignmouth to Shaldon and pretended it was warm enough to take a dip from the long, sandy beach.
We walked in the glorious gardens of graceful Bickham House, which is open to the public through the National Gardens Scheme. My four year old goddaughter ran around with sheer delight having been restricted by Lockdown for so long. It was a joy to see.
We ate curry from a generous friend’s camper van on Dartmoor, and home made courgette soup in the sheltered garden of Bickham Cottage. We basked in the sun and relaxed. It was the perfect antidote to months at a distance from people I feel close to. A time to talk and work things out, to laugh and enjoy the delights of reassuring company.
Back in London, I headed to my former home of Bloomsbury as I often do. The Goodenough on the Mecklenburgh Square had bargain rates for clean, fresh rooms overlooking the leafy gardens. I forgot all about Covid 19 as I opened the windows wide and looked out, then wandered around my favourite part of the city. I walked from square to square, stopping as always to smell the roses. Then finally headed up to Granary Square, Kings Cross.
In Caravan, chatting happily, with my beautiful daughter the mood felt just right. Plenty of space but a buzzing feel to this laid back restaurant. We shared seabass, salad and a pot of mint tea while Louis Armstrong sang Hello Dolly and remembered my dearest mum and dad, who loved this song and liked to sing it too.
Then I walked back to Bloomsbury through familiar streets. In the morning a breakfast of muffins and yogurt was delivered to my door in a brown paper bag. It was the perfect hotel experience in the time of Covid.
On Sunday afternoon Regents Park was as beautiful as ever, filled with vibrant flower beds and people walking, talking and picnicking. My kind friend had brought boiled egg rolls and blueberries for us to enjoy. We sat for hours talking and talking, catching up on the time we had missed.
Feeling so much more like myself, I put on my mask and boarded the train to Wales. I was ready for anything after a bit of a Trundle and lots of happy times with so many of the people I care for.