When we got home from Narvik on 4 January, I was already counting down the days until our next holiday. Over the course of January and February, we planned a really exciting year of international travel. We were going to start off with May bank holiday trips to Monaco and Liechtenstein, aiming to cross two small countries off our list of unvisited places in Europe, before spending the August bank holiday in Luxembourg. Luxembourg was a country we had visited before, but only briefly in 2010 as part of an Esperanto event in Germany, and I have a grand total of six photos to remember it by, so I was keen to go back. I was lucky enough to be able to book two weeks off work in June for the first time in years and we planned to spend those island-hopping around the Azores. We enjoyed the Azores so much when we visited in 2018 and although we had an amazing time, we were conscious that we had only explored one of the nine islands. With two whole weeks to play with, we were hoping to visit no fewer than six this time around. I dedicated several weekends to a very complex set of bookings which including internal flights, ferries and multiple different car rentals. I then had another week off in August for which we booked flights for Latvia, planning to spend most of our time hiking in one of the national parks. That was going to be good training, because we had an amazing trip planned for my final two weeks of in September which, after flying to Croatia and having a brief stop-off in Montenegro, was going to involve hiking in the Albanian Alps. 2020 felt like it was going to be a very exciting year!
And then, of course, Covid-19 happened I think I've probably spent almost as much time as I spent originally booking my holidays trying to cancel them again and get money back from various sources. We spent the weeks when we would have been in the Azores at home, but now that it's August and things are starting to open up a bit more it felt like it would be a shame to let the Latvia week go to waste. We made a rather last minute decision this week to try and book a trip to Scotland, which turned out to be surprisingly difficult. The combination of school holidays and everybody wanting to get away somewhere after having been cooped up for weeks of lockdown meant that booking.com was reporting the entire country of Scotland as being more than 90% fully booked I wanted to try and stay away from people as much as possible, which meant avoiding the larger cities like Glasgow and Edinburgh, and once those were excluded from the booking searches there was hardly anything available at all. I had pretty much given up hope of finding anything by this point, but Tim did some additional searching and eventually came up with a viable itinerary for us.
This will be the third time that we've had a holiday involving driving around Scotland, but the previous two were a very long time ago. In 2010 we spent the best part of two weeks travelling along the west coast, all the way along the north coast to John O'Groats and then back down the east to Edinburgh. It was a really exciting experience, although looking back at my albums I don't seem to have taken a lot of photos. In 2011 we visited Scotland again, just for a week this time, and drove a somewhat shorter version of the same route, ultimately ending up in Lockerbie to attend the Scottish Esperanto Congress. Since 2011, all our holidays have been abroad and our only trips to Scotland have been to attend a couple of Esperanto conferences in Edinburgh or, in my case, to spend several weeks of January each year auditing on an industrial estate in a place called Larbert. So, while spending a week in Scotland wasn't quite what I expected to be doing in August 2020, it's nevertheless nice to have an opportunity to travel there again and after the year we've had, just leaving Nuneaton at all feels quite exciting
The first destination on our roadtrip is Hawick, a small town in the Scottish borders which I had never heard of this time last week. Hawick is nearly a 5-hour drive from Nuneaton so we tried to make a relatively prompt start this morning, leaving home around 10.30. We certainly got more of a lie in than we would have done if we had been flying to Latvia! 5 hours is a long time to be in the car, particularly on what was quite a warm day, so we wanted to break our journey somewhere en route. Tim did some research before I got up this morning and found a National Trust place called Hudswell Woods in the Yorkshire Dales, where it looked like we would be able to park and have a bit of a walk. It was about 2.5 hours away which seemed like a good stopping point, so we decided to give it a go.
I thought the roads might be really busy today, but it actually wasn't too bad in the direction we were travelling in. It took closer to 3 hours to get to Hudswell. When we did, we found the car park didn't actually belong to the National Trust so we would have had to pay for parking, except for the fact that the parking meter was broken. The National Trust seem to own the woods themselves, which we accessed by crossing a bridge over the river Swale. It was surprisingly wide for a river I've never heard of!
On the far side of the river there was a notice board with some marked trail. We opted to try a 1.5 mile circular walk alongside the river, which the board warned was "strenuous" and required sturdy footwear. I didn't think the National Trust definition of strenuous would actually mean it was strenuous, although there was a mention of there being a large number of steps at some point. We looked at the map and decided to start following an uphill path, in the hope that that would ultimately result in us going down the steps rather than up them.
It was pleasant to walk in the woods and definitely a lot cooler here than we had been when driving in the car up the M1.
The path led us along the hillside, running parallel to the river Swale. In some places the slope above us looked very steep indeed.
It was very green in the forest and despite the fact that yesterday had been a scorchingly hot day, it was still quite muddy underfoot in places. The information board had definitely been correct to recommend sturdy shoes.
Eventually we reached the steps and found, to our disappointment, that we'd somehow walked in the wrong direction and we did now indeed need to climb up them.
There were 230 steps in total. To start with I didn't think they were too bad...
...but every time we turned a corner there were more! The description of "strenuous" turned out to be quite apt for the walk after all.
The good news was that when we finally got to the top, we found a pub
It was in a beautiful location with some lovely views, and very easy to socially distance outside in the beer garden. We stopped for a quick drink, which had to become a very quick drink indeed when it unexpectedly started raining.
Luckily it was only a shower and the weather had more or less dried up again as we started making our way back towards the car park.
I was not a huge fan of the path back.
Let's just say it was rather narrow and the drop down to the river felt very steep.
At times we did have some good views back towards the nearby town of Richmond, though.
We made it back to the car and had another two hours or so to drive towards Hawick. The main takeaway from this journey was how large the north of England is! I kept thinking that we must be nearly in Scotland by now and yet half an hour later we would still be driving through a seemingly neverending expanse of Northumberland. It was a very scenic journey though and eventually we made it to a viewpoint at the Scottish border
From the border, it wasn't far to Hawick. We're just staying one night here, in a little flat not far from the town centre. The owner was waiting for us when we arrived and gave us some very detailed instructions about using Netflix on the TV which went completely over my head. It's a pleasant little place though, with a cosy living room...
...and a little bedroom.
There's a small kitchen too, which we were surprised to find that the owners had left well stocked with biscuits and other essentials. It seems very good value at just £60 for the night.
Once we'd settled in we set out again in search of food. We'd missed lunch, so finding dinner felt like a priority! On the way we may have accidentally seen the main sights of Hawick. There's a town hall, with a rather unusual turreted tower...
...and a square with a man on horseback.
Food options in Hawick turned out to be limited to Wetherspoons or kebab shop/takeaways, so we went with Wetherspoons. It did seem to be very well set up for social distancing at least, with ordering on the app and all staff wearing masks. We had a seat near the doors, which were wide open for ventilation. It was quite nice to have a breeze on a day like today, but harder to see how this is going to work once the weather gets colder!
Tomorrow we plan to explore anything we have missed in Hawick, before heading off to our next destination of Dumbarton.