Winning tip: Beer and a bike ride, Flanders
We decided to try a trip to Belgium, as it isn’t a particularly long drive and it doesn’t get too hot – or so we thought. Flanders is a brilliant place if you like cycling or walking. It also – we found out – is excellent for beer and food. At the beginning of August, Flanders was steaming hot and glorious in a sleepy, boozy, friendly way. We cycled, drank and ate for six days in Maarkedal, until the quarantine forced our hand and we headed back to the UK.
The dog and the night-time
I set up a tent in the garden and I bought the Really Good Coffee and the expensive biscuits, and I took blankets and books and cushions, and I told everyone I was going away and left my phone in the house, and I read six books and I cuddled my dog, and at night I stared at the stars in the sky. And it was something.
Bivvying in the Dales
Before lockdown I’d never experienced sunrise but now I’ve done so four times, most notably on Wild Boar Fell in the Yorkshire Dales. I bivvied up there – that’s camping without a tent – with my son, another first. The only other figures at the summit at 4.30am were a row of cairns like stone men. In fact, we didn’t see a soul from setting off in the late afternoon to returning to our car at 8am, with a dip in Sand Tarn in the evening sunshine on the way. We barely slept a wink because of coldness, but what the heck. What an adventure!
Infinity pool, Isle of Mull
Of the five days we spent road tripping around the Isle of Mull this summer, camping next to white-sand beaches and stopping often to gasp at the coastal scenery, the real highlight was Eas Fors waterfall. Actually a series of three falls, the lowest tips vertiginously off the cliff into the sea below, and perched just above it is an infinity pool with views out to Ulva. Most bathers braving the water head for the deeper, larger pool by the middle falls, where there’s a rope swing, but this bottom pool is the perfect size for two people to sprawl out watching the seabirds dive for fish below, and – if you’re lucky, as we were – enjoy the relative warmth of the Scottish afternoon sun.
Tuscany and Liguria on the hoof
Right up to 24 hours before, we really didn’t think our two weeks of summer in Italy would go ahead. We arrived at Pisa airport, for the first time in our “planned to the nth degree” lives, with no accommodation or itinerary, just a hire car booked. It was liberating. We spent three nights each in Lucca, Florence, the Tuscan hills, Cinque Terre and finished in Pisa. We booked each place at around 9pm the night before. We realised what mattered most was the destination, and not whether the hotel had extra pillows or a rating of 9+. We took only hand luggage and realised the world didn’t stop because we had frizzy hair or ice-cream down our tops. It was our most magical trip ever.
Classic English pub grub, Peak District
The highlight of this very strange holiday has been the Eat out to help out scheme. It pushed us to explore dining experiences that we wouldn’t otherwise have tried. We went to the Peak District, and after climbing the steep Mam Tor during a very stormy afternoon, we ended up in the Cheshire Cheese Inn in the village of Hope. A very traditional old pub, where we had one of the most delicious authentic English meals, with dishes like steak and kidney pudding and treacle sponge with custard. A quintessential English experience!
Antiques and castles, Shropshire
Shropshire was a big discovery. It’s not only incredibly picturesque but you can just feel the medieval history oozing out of the castles and priories that litter the A49. We spent hours scouring antique shops in our base in Ludlow, and then “going rural”, walking further west along Offa’s Dyke. This is a seriously underrated county – lush, rolling countryside, pretty towns, fruit farms to get your hands dirty, castles and more castles and pub food that was uniformly good. Oh, and not many tourists. We ambled round the county, veering into Worcester (Tenbury Wells, anyone!) – never have we been so grateful to be stuck behind a lorry on an A road!
Dreamless sleep among the wildflowers, Norfolk
A miserable, lonely year filled with anxiety and separation from my family and most of my friends. Briefly punctuated by a blissful two nights in an ancient campervan among the wildflowers at Wardley Hill in Norfolk, for the grand sum of £32 (plus an extra £5 for firewood) for two people. Even though it rained we swam in the Waveney, canoed to the pub and slept heavy, dreamless sleep for the first time in months. Heaven and so restorative, I’ve felt infinitely better ever since.
Eager as a beaver, west Wales
Isolated Cwm Einion, or Artists Valley, in Ceredigion was an ideal socially distanced break. Blaeneinion, a conservation and permaculture project, lies at the end of a three-mile, single-track road. Human contact was limited to the staff and occupants of four self-catering units. We hiked for hours without meeting another person. Yet, we were never alone. Leaving Narnia, our simple cottage, we were welcomed by geese, ducks, chickens or cats roaming freely. Whether it was wildlife beyond the gates or farmyard creatures, we were always accompanied. The ultimate companionship came at sunset – sitting together watching the resident beavers.
Childhood holidays revisited, north Devon
Thursday. Swam in the sea before 7am and explored rock pools before 9am. Back to the campervan now for a kettle shower and some bacon and eggs cooked on the pavement. A stroll along Westward Ho! beach pencilled in for this afternoon … and perhaps a Hocking’s ice cream. Battling the overgrown B-roads to Ilfracombe tomorrow to visit Damien Hirst’s Verity. Re-enacting our sepia-toned memories of childhood holidays in north Devon was a good way to spend some annual leave. Who needs an all-inclusive in the sun? Oh wait, we’re out of gas canisters! No shower for us.