Coping with Covid-19 . . .

Two weeks in lockdown . . . and counting!

One thing I’ve already discovered is that to keep me sane, I must limit my news intake. Why?

First, much of the news about this global pandemic is just too depressing, despite the tales of heroism about those on the frontline: the doctors and nurses, those keeping us supplied with food, or maintaining vital services when almost everything else is closed down.

Second, I just can’t listen to all the cant that spews from the mouths of politicians who I never trusted in the first place. In the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson and his Cabinet colleagues spouting their fancy Brexit-like slogans that say nothing, making commitments they will probably be unable to meet, and the Prime Minister displaying his usual bluster and lack of command of detail (until he went down with the virus himself). He and his government appear to have no clear strategy to combat the epidemic in this country (well, England at least).

And when I look across the Atlantic to see what is going on in the USA under the leadership of Donald Trump, it’s appalling. I use the term ‘leadership’ very lightly indeed. It is disgraceful how he has behaved and continues to do so.

I think that when the crisis has passed, there will be a political reckoning, and I hope and expect these incompetent individuals will be consigned to the cesspit of history.


I’m sure for many families working from home, the lockdown is a real challenge, especially if there are children in the house, and young ones at that who often find it harder to keep themselves amused.

I guess, in one respect, Steph and I have an advantage. We’ve been retired now for a few weeks short of ten years. So we’ve already had to find things to keep us amused and occupied.

For Steph, it means spending time each day on her beading projects. She’s been doing this for a couple of decades, and first started when we lived in the Philippines. One of the downsides of the lockdown for her is being unable to make her bi-weekly trip to the shops. She has sourced many of her beads from charity shops, purchasing pieces of jewelry (bracelets, necklaces and the like) at knockdown prices, then deconstructing them into new pieces that she has designed.

She also has the garden to keep her busy. I only mow the lawns. We had started the year thinking we’d be moving to Newcastle upon Tyne by mid-summer or thereabouts, and hadn’t expected to spend too much time working in the garden (apart from the usual tidying up). It looks like the garden will need much more attention for many months to come. Our house move is on hold—almost indefinitely—until the housing market reopens and it’s safe to even contemplate reviving viewings and the like.

As for myself, I have this blog to keep me busy.

If you read my blog on a regular basis you will appreciate that it allows me to bring together two of my main hobbies: writing and photography. As well as the pleasure of designing each blog post, deciding what topics to focus on, what extra resources I might need (Wikipedia is a great source), and choosing the photos I want to include. And I have thousands of images to choose from.

So, with fewer opportunities to get out and about, I’m finding more time to work through stories that I had put to one side. Certainly it has been an opportunity to catch up on my posts about the many National Trust and English Heritage properties we have visited since 2011 (and some from even before then, when we joined both organizations).

I guess we are more fortunate than many countries. Provided we keep the recommended 2m physical/social distancing, we are permitted one period of exercise outside every day.

Since I retired in April 2010 I have tried to get out most days, in any case. I regularly walked three or four miles or more. But since I broke my leg in January 2016, I find that more than three miles is not very comfortable, and my leg swells up, aching for the rest of the day. So I limit myself to around two miles, about 45 minutes, and I have a regular set of routes that I follow. This has been useful since I’m able to navigate those that are reasonably quiet, as you can see from the images below. I mainly encounter folks walking their dogs. Steph has joined me on occasion.


However, shopping for food is quite the most stressful thing I have to do right now. Apart from the infection risk of having to mix with others (even though reasonably strict physical distancing is in place), but also because I’m a member of the over-70 ‘vulnerable’ demographic, we always wonder just what will be available on the shelves. At the start of the lockdown, many unreasonable (and irresponsible) people did panic buy, and stripped the shelves of many of the essentials.

The Morrisons supermarket we frequent is over a mile away, so we have to drive there. Since last week, the supermarket permits just one family member inside at a time (one per trolley), so the shopping trip has fallen to me alone, rather than together which has been the norm until now. I had to queue the first time to get inside; yesterday at 8:30 am there was no queue at all, and I was able to source almost everything that was on Steph’s list. Just a few minutes ago, our next door neighbor (who is a theater sister in the NHS, and who has special hours access to the supermarket) has just brought round the one item we needed but I couldn’t buy yesterday: plain flour! Simple pleasures.

So as far as food is concerned, we are managing fine for the time-being. I can feel my anxiety levels decreasing once I have left the supermarket with a full trolley. There really is no shortage of food – yet.


I also have music playing throughout the day. That’s a great comfort. It has to be Radio Paradise in the morning and early afternoon. Followed by Classic FM late afternoon and over dinner.

We’ve been catching up on the first four series of the excellent BBC crime drama Line of Duty (we hadn’t seen the first three series when they were first broadcast). Last night we watched the first episode of Series 5.

I find myself often going to bed earlier than normal, and enjoying an hour or so of Radio 4 before listening to the news headlines at 10 pm, and then settling to sleep.

Both Steph and I are avid readers. Her genre is crime fiction (I hope she doesn’t have anything planned). I read what takes my fancy, usually less fiction, even though I did read mostly fiction during 2018 and 2019.

My Kindle is great; I wouldn’t be without it. I’m currently well into Howard Goodall’s The Story of Music published in 2013. It’s an excellent read, but certainly technically difficult in places for someone like me with zero background in music theory or composition. Nevertheless it’s fascinating, and I look forward to viewing the BBC TV series of the same name that someone has kindly uploaded to YouTube. Here’s Episode 2.

We’ll manage . . . And life is still good.

 

Following in the footsteps of Izaak Walton

Izaak Walton

The River Dove is a 45 mile long tributary of the River Trent (the third longest river in the UK), and for much of its length is the county boundary between Staffordshire to the west, and Derbyshire to the east (map).

It’s a sparkling trout stream, and was partly the inspiration for The Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton first published in 1653.

The river cuts through the Peak District’s limestone dome to form a series of deep valleys covered in ash woodland, known as dales, of which perhaps the most well known is Dovedale.

Dovedale is a National Nature Reserve; the land is owned by the National Trust, and apparently receives a million visitors a year, so you can imagine just how crowded it might become at the height of the summer tourist season. But not in these Covid-19 days, regrettably.

Approaching the entrance to Dovedale from the south, with flat summit of Thorpe Cloud clearly visible on the right.

I grew up in Leek in North Staffordshire, just 14 miles to the west of Dovedale (about 25 minutes by car). My paternal grandparents, Tom and Alice Jackson, lived in the Derbyshire village of Hollington, just 10 miles south of Dovedale, between Ashbourne and Derby.

Dovedale was the destination for many family outings when I was growing up in the early 1950s. I was born in November 1948, so these two photos below must have been taken around 1952 or 1953.

Crossing Dovedale’s famous Stepping Stones, with L-R: my eldest brother Martin, my elder brother Edgar, my cousin Marion, ??, my sister Margaret, my cousin Alec, me, and my mother Lilian Jackson

With my father, Fred Jackson, my brothers Edgar and Martin, and sister Margaret. I remember sailing those yachts.

The famous Stepping Stones connect the Staffordshire bank with its counterpart on the Derbyshire side. On the Derbyshire side there are trails up to the summit of Thorpe Cloud, or along the valley beside the river. Several spectacular limestone outcrops are exposed in the valley sides.

Looking south along the River Dove at the Stepping Stones.

My wife Steph is from Essex (to the east of London) and had never visited Dovedale until she moved to Birmingham in 1971. After we returned from South America in 1981 and set up home in Worcestershire, we took our daughters Hannah and Philippa on several occasions to enjoy the beauty that is Dovedale, the last visit being in July 2006.

My sister Margaret had friends who farmed land near Alstonefield just above Dovedale. When I was in my mid-teens (around 1964, I guess) a friend of mine and I camped for a week on that farm, and enjoyed many excursions over the lip of the valley into Dovedale. And, being in those days a keen birdwatcher, I saw for the first time (but few times since) the iconic bird of Dovedale: the dipper.

It’s a remarkable little bird, and feeds underwater, scurrying along the riverbed in search of crustaceans and the like. I came across this video showing a dipper feeding in mid-stream.

The limestone landscape of the Derbyshire dales is striking, and botanically very interesting. In 1970, after I had graduated (in geography and botany) from the University of Southampton, for a few days I assisted my friend John Rodwell (now Professor, who was a graduate student studying for his PhD under renowned plant ecologist Joyce Lambert) in his field work in Cressbrook Dale, about 18 miles north of Dovedale. It’s part of the same geological formation, and the botany is similar.


 

Hidcote: an Arts and Crafts-inspired garden

Lawrence Johnston

Near the northern edge of the Cotswolds, just 4 miles northeast of Chipping Camden lies the sleepy village of Hidcote Bartrim (map).

Well, it was sleepy once upon a time. It’s home to Hidcote, an estate of more than 300 acres and an Arts and Crafts-inspired garden that was the creation of naturalised British garden designer and plant hunter, Lawrence Johnston. He came from a wealthy American family, but served in the British Army during World War I, reaching the rank of Major.

Johnston was apparently inspired to design and create Hidcote by reading The Art and Craft of Garden Making (first published in 1900) by Thomas H Mawson. He not only sponsored plant collecting expeditions to many parts of the world, he even went on some himself.

The Hidcote estate was purchased by Johnston’s mother in 1907, and it reached its heyday (under Johnston’s care) during the 1920s and 1930s. His mother bequeathed Hidcote to him on her death in 1927.

Johnston is also known for another garden, Serre de la Madone on the Mediterranean coast of France.

On its website, the National Trust has provided a comprehensive history of Hidcote and its development, so there’s little need to cover that here in any detail.


Acquired in 1948, Hidcote today is one of the jewels in the National Trust’s portfolio. Thousands of visitors flock to Hidcote to wonder at Johnston’s beautiful creation, which must have inspired many in their own gardening endeavors, though perhaps not on the same scale.

Steph and I were among those visitors at the beginning of October 2011, as the seasons were turning from late summer to autumn. We didn’t see the garden (or should I say gardens, because it was developed as a series of ‘rooms’) at the height of its summer exuberance, but we were still treated to a feast of garden design and carefully thought-through planting.

This is just a selection of the many photos I took at Hidcote. Please click here to open an album.

When we visited there were just a couple of rooms on the ground floor of the Manor open to visitors. I believe that more may have been opened to the public since then.


Lawrence Johnston has a semi-double, yellow climbing rose named in his honor.


This is the view, over the Vale of Evesham, from the north facing escarpment of the Cotswolds beside Broadway Tower, just under seven miles southwest from Hidcote.

The Vale of Evesham from Broadway Tower on the Cotswolds escarpment.


 

 

Beningbrough Hall: an elegant Georgian mansion in North Yorkshire

Beningbrough Hall in North Yorks, is less than 10 miles northwest from the ancient city of York. It was one of the first properties owned by the National Trust that Steph and I visited in August 2011 a few months after becoming members.

The main entrance, on the north side of the Hall.

Beningbrough Hall is over 150 miles northeast from our home in Worcestershire (map), so it was not the sort of place to visit on a day trip. However, our younger daughter and her family live in Newcastle, a further 82 miles north from Beningbrough, and we stopped off at Beningbrough on the journey north to visit them.

This is believed to be a portrait of John Bourchier III.


There has been a house on the Beningbrough estate since the mid-sixteenth century. The original house was sited a few hundred meters away from the present Hall that was finished in 1716.

It was constructed by John Bourchier III (one of whose forebears, also named John, was one of the 59 persons who signed the death warrant of King Charles I in January 1649).

In 1916, Beningbrough Hall was acquired by Lord and Lady Chesterfield, and after her death in 1957, the Hall passed to the National Trust in 1958 (in lieu of death duties), although none of the contents came with that acquisition.

The grand cantilevered Staircase of the three main flights, constructed entirely of oak and internally strengthened with wrought iron is of outstanding workmanship by William Thornton. (Source: ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel).

Besides its elegant architecture and interiors (the work of Bourchier’s chief craftsman William Thornton) and gardens, Beningbrough Hall is now home to a collection of 18th century paintings, displayed as part of a partnership between the National Trust and the National Portrait Gallery.

There’s no doubt that the collection of paintings on display is of the highest quality and significance. Nevertheless, our visit to Beningbrough was equally enjoyable taking in views of the Hall’s elegant exterior, and the formal gardens and orchards, mostly on the rear, south-facing side of the Hall.


 

Standen House: where Arts and Crafts meets West Sussex

Designed between 1891 and 1894 by architect Philip Webb, a friend of William Morris (whose name is synonymous with the Arts and Craft Movement of late Victorian Britain), Standen House was the home of London solicitor James Beale and his large family of seven children.

The Beale family, c. 1900 (source: the National Trust).

It is located just south of East Grinstead (map) and is owned today by the National Trust. Steph and I visited the house and gardens on a glorious day in mid-May 2019.

The exterior design of the house blends effortlessly with the surrounding Kent landscape. From the gardens that surround the house there are impressives views overlooking the Kent countryside to the south.

The view from Standen House garden over the High Weald of Kent.

But Standen House is famous for its Arts and Crafts interiors. And they are impressive indeed. Most of the rooms are a celebration of the best of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and incorporate many of Morris’s iconic designs in the various wallpapers. It’s a pure feast for the eyes – although I’m not sure I could live with Morris’s designs every day [1].

To view the magnificence (and perhaps to our more minimalist eyes today, the exuberance) of Standen’s interiors, please click here to open a comprehensive album of photos that I took during our visit.

After a tour of the house, it was very pleasant to wander through the shade of the gardens, before completing our visit and returning to our holiday cottage near Robertsbridge in East Sussex, some 32 miles to the southeast of Standen.


[1] Another National Trust property full of William Morris designs is Wightwick Manor near Wolverhampton in the West Midlands. Steph and I visited there in the summer of 2014.

Warkworth Castle: a 12th century fortress above the River Coquet in Northumberland

Warkworth Castle, built in the 12th century, stands on a narrow neck of land in a loop of the River Coquet in Northumberland, close to where the river flows into the North Sea at Amble.

View from the Keep along the River Coquet towards Amble and the North Sea.

The view north overlooking part of Warkworth.

Steph and I were visiting family in Newcastle in April 2018, and on a bright sunny day, enjoyed an excursion to Warkworth beach with our younger daughter Philippa and her husband Andi, and grandsons Elvis and Felix (then 6 and 4, respectively).

Phil and Andi went straight home after the walk and a picnic, but we decided to take the boys to Warkworth Castle close-by, which is owned by English Heritage. And we were in luck.

On the day of our visit (21 April) English Heritage was celebrating St George’s Day (actually 23 April) with displays of ‘armed combat between knights in shining armour’, and many other attractions.

Visitors enjoying combat between ‘knights in shining armour’.

Felix and Elvis (with Grandma behind) enjoying the armed combat.

View from the Keep towards the Gatehouse. The Lion Tower is on the right.

Carvings on the face of the Lion Tower.

The castle came into the Percy family (later the Dukes of Northumberland) in the mid-fourteenth century. It saw action in the Wars of the Roses in the late fifteenth century, and parts of the castle were demolished (or ‘slighted’) then. It suffered further damage in the late sixteenth century.

Today, many of the internal structures have disappeared, but the outer curtain wall stands more or less intact. The Keep can be explored. The Lion Tower (on the right in the image immediately above) has some impressive stone carvings above the archway.

It’s an excellent destination for adventurous grandchildren who have some excess energy to burn off. From their reaction at being allowed to explore the different buildings it was clear that Elvis and Felix enjoyed their visit – just as much as Grandma and Grandad.

The image of Warkworth Tower on its mound that’s covered in daffodils has become iconic, and often use in tourism brochures and the like for Northumberland. Here’s my take.


 

Farnborough Hall: home of the Holbech family since 1684

If you are traveling south on the M40 motorway in Warwickshire and, about half way between Junction 12 (B4451 Gaydon Rd for the British Motor Museum) and Junction 11 (A422 for Banbury), you happen to look to your left, you’ll see an obelisk on the skyline. That obelisk is in the grounds of Farnborough Hall, a country house that has been occupied by the Holbech family since 1684. It’s now owned by the National Trust (since 1960) when the family endowed it to the Trust, although a descendant of the Holbech family still lives there and manages the property.

Farnborough Hall is just under 40 miles southeast from our home in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire (map).

It is an elegant, soft coloured stone building (probably Cotswold limestone) with elegant gardens, and a mile-long grassy terrace with the obelisk at the far end.

The main entrance, on the northeast facade of the house.

Steph and I visited there at the end of July 2012, having visited Upton House earlier that same day. Upton House is only 6 miles west from Farnborough Hall.

I don’t have any images of the interior of Farnborough Hall. I seem to recall that photography was not permitted (for copyright reasons, as many of the artefacts were still owned by the family). So I don’t have any firm memories of the rooms that we may have visited. It apparently has exquisite plaster work, which you can see on the National Trust webpage for the Hall.

Here is more information about the history of the Hall.

Another feature are the beautiful landscaped gardens, and views across the estate and the Warmington Valley.

I would certainly like to make a return visit before we move north to Newcastle. But I guess that is going to have to wait at least 3-6 months, as all National Trust properties are closed until further notice and the Covid-19 situation improves.