When our car was written off by a supermarket delivery van in April last year, the choice of replacement vehicle came down to a shortlist of two – the Kia Picanto and the Skoda Citigo.
The dealer selling the Picanto screwed up big time when I was trying to see it when the first UK lockdown finished and the car showrooms reopened for viewing, so I got the bus down to the local Skoda dealer and took a look at the Citigo Monte Carlo that I’d seen online.
To say that I’d done some research would be an understatement. Not only had I looked at reviews for the Monte Carlo version and the standard model, I’d also looked at reviews of the VW Up! and the Seat Mii as well.
It’s the first time I’ve bought a car without taking it out on a test drive, but with with sound understandings in place, the car was bought, insured and taxed before driving it off the forecourt and heading back home the long way round.
The Citigo may be small, but it goes well thanks to the gutsy engine and aerodynamics and has been known to see off a few white vans at traffic lights since June last year.
The one thing we were worried about at first was the size of the boot/trunk. We knew that we couldn’t get a road bike in, but we could get the folding Dahon in and our bags if the back seats were down.
What we did find however was that it swallowed both of our Osprey packs, a bag of shopping and the usual gubbins that are kept in the car most of the time – foot pump, tyre repair aerosol, window wash/water bottle, hand gel, baby wipes/paper towel (both handy when checking the engine oil) and cleaning stuff for the interior surfaces.
Now this wasn’t to cope with two or three days away, this was also good for the two weeks we spent in East Anglia in late September last year. Yes, the camera bag was placed on the back seat when we were travelling, but it was handy for when I needed to use my DSLR at planned or unplanned stops.
With good mpg (@50+), low insurance costs and Vehicle Excise Duty of £20 a year at June 2020 rates, the Citigo is a good low, cost pre-owned option (new ones are now electric only whereas ours is petrol only).
That visit to East Anglia confirmed the decision to buy was a wise one!
Next up, Packing days are here again, then East Anglia, here we come!
If it’s Saturday, then it’s our last full day in the Lakes and it’s a walking one.
The route was very familiar as I’ve been using it for years, but we chose to walk under half of the usual distance and take it at a leisurely pace too.
The full route is from Ambleside to Rydal Hall then to Grasmere via the Coffin Path. After that It’s out on the road for a while before heading upwards over Red Bank before hitting the village of Elterwater.
From there it’s onward to Elter Water, Skelwith Bridge and skirt Tarn Foot Farm before going up over the back part of Loughrigg and then dropping back into Ambleside via Rothay Park.
The full route is around thirteen miles and it’s the one I used often back in my days as a gear tester as it’s a) familiar and b) has just about every surface you’re likely to encounter if you’re assessing & reviewing new boots.
Our choice, and we chose to accept it, was to wander through Ambleside, walk towards Rydal Hall, have some coffee and cake then head upwards towards Rydal Mount (former home to the Wordsworths) and then along the Coffin Path to How Top before taking the road down to Dove Cottage (the other home of the Wordworths) before walking into Grasmere itself.
The way through to Rydal Hall was the quietest I’d seen it for years and the campsite I’ve used on many occasions was quiet.
After taking some shots of the waterfalls, coffee and cake was ordered and paid for by card for a change as there was a no cash policy in operation.
Then it was up to Rydal Mount and time to hit the more rugged part of the track leading to Grasmere. This was also quiet and surprisingly so considering how many people had been wandering around Ambleside on Friday and first thing on this Saturday morning.
Dove Cottage was reached in no time, but there was no chance of heading inside as it was closed to the general public at that time.
We did get the chance to pay homage to the Wordsworths, because one place was open as a means of paying respects…
Lunch beckoned, but it wasn’t to be at the first place we sat down in. We were shown to a table, given a couple of menus and that was it. Staff came and went with food or taking orders at other tables, but not ours, so we legged it in search of another café.
And found one – Heidi’s (heidisgrasmere.co.uk). It’s a café and there’s rooms available too, but we were there for lunch and yes, it was warm enough to sit outside to eat.
Once fed, we took a look inside Sam Read Booksellers (samreadbooks.co.uk) and came away with a couple of paperbacks that I’d taken a shine to. Caroline and I had the place to ourselves as only two mask wearers at a time were being allowed in to browse and buy.
We also took a look inside a couple of art gallery shops too, but didn’t buy anything as we are running out of wall space at home due to the calendars, photos from previous travel trips and the pieces of art work that Caroline has made over the years.
Another coffee beckoned, as did a soft drink, but the soft drink may well have been one of the worst I’ve ever tasted so it was time for another double espresso to take the taste away!
We did take the easy way back to Ambleside – by bus, so we got back, had time to wash & brush up before heading out for our evening meal.
Which was at The Priest Hole once more – they were as good as their word and rang me after a table came up, so it was back there for another evening of good, unpretentious food and a bottle or two of fine local ales.
The next stop was back to Wanslea to prep for the next day, which turned out to be a quiet one. The museum we drove to turned out to be advance bookings only, so we ended up going to Booth supermarket in Kirkby Lonsdale for sandwiches, soft drinks and the chance to stock up on some unfamiliar ales and cider for home consumption.
Then it was time to head home, sort the washing out and use the phone to order a couple of curries for delivery as we didn’t feel like heading out again.
A good few days? Oh yes…
Thought that I’d lost these pics, but they were just misplaced!
Caroline, The Minstrels Gallery and a wet hire bike...
If it’s Friday, then it must be Ambleside and time to head out for an evening meal at the place we’d book a table for 8.30pm earlier in the day.
The walk from Wanslea to that establishment wasn’t as long as I thought it would be, so we arrived early and that’s where our problems started.
The person at the desk couldn’t comprehend that we’d arrived early or that we had a table booked for 8.30 in my name. After ten minutes of faffing about on the computer, the booking was found, and we were in – or so we thought.
The next person we spoke to couldn’t understand why we wanted to just leave our name and telephone number in line with the guidelines at the time and insisted that we scanned a QR code.
Eventually he relented when we pointed out that we’d already left a name and telephone number when we made the booking and that we’d never used a QR code ever for anything.
We were eventually shown to our table and given menus to peruse. What we hadn’t realised was that this particular establishment only offered vegetarian choices and I was looking forward to eating something a little meatier.
Given the palaver we’d already had, we left and went in search for another place to eat. The Michelin starred places didn’t appeal and the couple of nearby pubs were full, so we looked around and found The Priest Hole (thepriesthole.co.uk).
And it had a table – on a Friday night after 8.30!
Once in, names and numbers were taken and then we removed our face coverings and sat down, took a look at the drink’s menu, ordered and then examined the main menu. Both of our choices were easy to make – local lamb shank with all the trimmings and the fish special for Caroline.
After the mains were polished off, extra drinks, dessert & coffees were ordered, thoughts turned to booking in at The Priest Hole for the next night.
The small problem was that at that time, there wasn’t a table available for Saturday night, so my name and number was taken once more so I could be contacted during the day on Saturday should a table become available.
With that arrangement out of the way, it was time to head back to get some shut eye after our respective days out. Glasses of water were used to dilute the alcohol stream before turning in at a later than usual bedtime.
What we didn’t expect was the sound of car doors slamming outside at 1am and a few people congregating in front of the main door for a loud chin wag and ciggie consumption.
It was tempting to shout STFU out of the window, but I refrained because I just knew that that would not be a good idea, especially at breakfast time!
After a reasonable night’s sleep, showers and coffee made in our own cafetieres were a great way to start the day before breakfast.
Our choices had been made the night before with Caroline choosing the lighter breakfast whilst I went for my first morning full English in months.
Wearing masks into the breakfast room wasn’t a problem for us or the staff, but it appeared to be for one or two others over the few days we were there.
We were up early, largely because Caroline had booked a hire bike from Ghyllside (ghyllside.co.uk/content/12-bikehire), one of her favourite places to hire bikes from.
The forecast wasn’t that good for the first part of the day, so I was pleased that I’d opted to drive around to Hawkshead to sus out a potential lunch spot before meeting Caroline at the half-way point for the ride she was doing.
Why? Because it wasn’t long before it was hissing down and thoughts of taking quite a few photos disappeared…
After a mooch around a couple of shops in Hawkshead and buying a copy of Lakeland Walker magazine, thoughts turned to coffee and sustenance.
Which came in the form of coffee and fresh scones at Minstrel’s Gallery Tea Rooms next to the King’s Arms pub in the oldest part of the village.
The phone eventually rang when Caroline checked in to see whether or not I’d found somewhere to chill out, got directions and then entered the tea rooms in a slightly bedraggled state.
After this, Caroline headed up to Grizedale Forest whilst I headed into Langdale. The weather hadn’t improved, so I went in search of some hand gel and a couple of snacks for later on in the afternoon.
With Caroline on her way back to Ambleside (in an area that isn’t noted for good mobile phone reception), I headed back to Wanslea, parked up and wandered in to various shops to see what offers there were on footwear – Caroline’s shoes were letting in water, a sign of their age rather than the effectiveness of the waterproof membrane.
Once back at Ghyllside and the bike returned, it was rather obvious that an outside café experience was needed because of the mud and skunk stripe Caroline had acquired on her ride. After coffee and cake, we booked a table at a restaurant for that night before the search of new shoes.
Which was easier said than done. I’d seen a couple of options whilst waiting for Caroline but getting anyone to served proved difficult. Someone turned up eventually but wasn’t interested and whilst it was tempting to intervene, I wasn’t being paid to do so and after a discussion we went into John Gaynor’s and sealed the deal on a pair of Merrell shoes.
Next up was back to Wanslea for showers and a change of clothes before exiting for our evening meal – which wasn’t taken at the place we’d booked!
As I mentioned on Monday, both Caroline & I have visited the Lake District on several occasions and know the main areas pretty well.
We’d not stayed in Ambleside for a few years though and that’s why we chose it for our first post-lockdown visit to the National Park as we could wander around the village, head off on foot to other villages or as in Caroline’s case, hire a bike and explore on two wheels.
Getting there from home was easy and didn’t involve maps, route cards or any form of tech to get there, just good old-fashioned nous, memory and familiarity with the roads.
As Caroline had been on twelve-hour nursing shifts on two of the three days before we headed off, we didn’t have an early start.
We made a brief stop at the Rohan shop in Long Preston for a retail therapy raid on both sale and previous season’s offerings before heading to Wilf’s Café in Staveley for lunch and a couple of cold drinks.
Which was great in theory, but we weren’t expecting the car park to be that full, so we headed off in the direction of Ambleside to park up, have lunch, explore some more and then head to the B&B we were staying in.
After one circuit of the village, we parked up and walked out to Fresher’s Café (fresherscafe.co.uk) at The Courtyard on Rothay Road.
Ordering a full English with a cold Coke was a no-brainer for me whilst Caroline chose the Quiche Lorraine and sparking water. Coffee followed, as did a wander around before coffee and cake beckoned at Zeffirelli’s.
With the car park ticket running out, we headed for Wanslea Guest House on Lake Road to park up, check in, unpack, snooze and change before we took a walk into the centre in search of food first and a pub visit afterwards.
We looked at quite a few places on our way through the centre. Some were closed, others far too expensive for our budget (and not to our tastes either having looked at the menus) and then we came across Sheila’s Cottage (sheilascottage.co.uk), a place I’d visited before – in the 1970s when killing time at the end of a school trip to the Lakes.
After a couple of very good mains, desserts, mineral water and coffee, it was time to head to one of my favourite pubs in Ambleside – The Golden Rule.
Rules were in place for choosing and serving, but with a good selection of ales and ciders to choose from, neither of us were disappointed at our respective choices of ale for me and good cider for C.
It may have been a long day, but as the food and drink had been so good, it was time to walk back to Wanslea and do a very important task – fill in the breakfast order!
After Lockdown 1 and that first escape to Oxford in July 2020, our second escape took us back to very familiar territory – the Lake District.
As both of us have visited the area on many occasions, you might think that packing our bags for the trip would be an easy one, but there were complications thanks to the weather and the potential activities over the course of the four days we were there.
We’d taken a close look at the forecast and whilst there was a favourable outlook, Friday looked like it was going to be wet – and it was!
Whilst I was up for a walk or two, Caroline wanted to get an off-road ride in if she could hire a bike for at least a day (the new car’s a bit small to get her hybrid in the back and we weren’t sure that there would be secure storage at our B&B to keep the bike safe and sound).
There was also the little matter of being a bit smarter on an evening when searching for places to eat in and yes, there were post-lockdown rules to follow too… like mask wearing.
So for the day times it was a mix of smartish t-shirts plus practical trousers, a thin fleece and a choice of either a softshell jacket (all from Rohan) or waterproof (TNF for me, Berghaus for Caroline) that went into the bags for walks and mooches.
Shoe choices for the walks were simple – Oboz approach shoes or Clarks sports sandals for me and a pair of TNF Hedgehogs plus a pair of Ecco sandals for Caroline.
As a bike had already been booked for her Friday ride Caroline packed a Rohan tech t-shirt, a Cycology bike shirt, a pair of Altura leggings, an Endura waterproof plus her Salomon Gore-tex lined shoes – and boy, did she need some waterproof stuff…
Choice for the restaurants, pubs and cafes mostly came from Rohan (although we’d packed, a few items were added after visits to Rohan’s clearance floor at their Long Preston shop and their Ambleside store.
In my case it was jeans and travel linen polo shirts that made the cut along with a soft shell for the after-dark walk back to the B&B once meals had been downed and some fine ales quaffed afterwards (yes, even Caroline sampled the local beers rather than her usual ciders).
Did it all work? Yes.
Friday was as wet as the forecast promised and whilst I had the luxury of driving around in the car hoping for breaks in the weather in order to get some good photos, Caroline was a bit wet when she arrived in Hawkshead and joined me in Minstrel’s Gallery Tea Rooms.
By the time she got back to Ambleside and returned the bike to the hire shop, she was both wet and muddy…
“Looks like you had a good ride!’ was the comment from a passing American lady – to which Caroline replied, “Oh yes!!!”.
But it took two washes to get the mud out of her cycling clothes…
After leaving Burford behind, it was time to head to Oxford and the Hampton By Hilton next to Oxford United’s home ground.
Well, the theory that it would be easy to find was great as we were following the route card we’d got from the AA’s route planning software (we don’t use rat nav…), but there were one or two problems as we approached and ended up in the wrong place…
Fortunately, Caroline has an app on her phone to deal with such matters and after a while we found the hotel, got the bags from the boot and headed to the check-in desk.
Now we’d booked directly with Hilton (£110 for two nights) and knew what the post-lockdown breakfast would be – continental style, in a paper bag.
Unfortunately, not everyone had got the message. One bloke in front of us was adamant that he wanted a cooked breakfast and only a cooked breakfast as it had said on a third-party booking site that cooked breakfasts were available…
Our check-in was easier as we joked about the unhappy eater before getting our keys and heading to our home for the next two nights.
We’d asked about places to get an evening meal when we checked in and as luck would have it, there was an open Chinese buffet restaurant on the leisure park behind the hotel and also a good selection of local takeaway leaflets in the reception area.
As we hadn’t eaten out for a while, we headed to the buffet and embraced the new norm by getting our temperatures taken, leaving names and contact details and slathering our hands in hand gel before we could get a table.
Drinks were easily ordered, but instead of putting our own food onto the plates at the buffet, a full-face covered member of staff asked what we wanted from each section and served it onto our plates as we went mask clad around the one-way system.
Yes, the food went down well, as did the second round of drinks before it was time for desserts – fruit for Caroline and a slice of a seventies favourite for me – Black Forest Gateau with cream…
With the place slowly emptying, it was time to call it a night and we headed back for coffee and a good night’s sleep before heading into Oxford the following morning.
Which started with a very good pot of Taylor’s Rich Italian coffee made in our own stainless coffee presses as a means of getting caffeine into the system just in case there wasn’t any at breakfast.
But there was – the usual Hampton By Hilton coffee machines were sparked up and ready to roll, so the usual methodology was used to fill the disposable cups – three pushes of the espresso button for me and two presses of the same button plus some hot water for Caroline as a means of getting something approaching the coffee we had in the room.
Our breakfast bags contained the milk pots, bread rolls, butter or spread, jam, yoghurt and disposable cutlery as a means of providing some sustenance to start the day. Yes, I’d have rather had the usual breakfast buffet selection, but unlike the unhappy eater, I could live without it until things opened up and changed once more.
With breakfast done, it was back to the room to pick up the day bags and then go in search of a taxi to get us into the centre of Oxford.
We could have used our car, but with last night’s navigating and the potential cost of car parking in the city centre, we lashed out a bit (£12) for a cab ride into town in a posh for us Mercedes.
With no map or guidebook on us, getting around the centre of Oxford on foot was quite easy as we used the maps on street signs, finger posts and a couple of ideas scribbled on a Post It Note to find places of interest.
As the UK had only opened up for travel purposes the week before, we weren’t expecting to do much in the way of indoor sightseeing.
One open venue that we did come across was Oxford Jail. Yes, I’m a bit of a heathen when it comes to visiting museums and historical sites, so it’s usually down to Caroline to head off and take a look around such places whilst I head off with a camera in search of interesting places or buildings to photograph or to find a cup of coffee, beer or whatever instead.
My mission on this occasion though was to find the location of a café that I’d seen reviews of whilst doing the day of research for this trip. After finding it and then doing some book shopping at the nearby Waterstones, I headed back to find Caroline as it was approaching lunchtime.
Which was spent in a very leisurely way outside the The Handle Bar café. The adjacent bike shop may have been closed, but the café was very much open for business with a good menu selection that allowed me to have a full English a little later than usual.
Although we’d had drinks with our lunch, we decided to find somewhere else to have coffee and cake, but I will admit we wished we had stayed put at the The Handle Bar rather than move and indulge at the café we found later…
We did wander around the shopping centre, but many shops were not open for business, so spending was kept to a minimum. What was a delight was wandering around the Covered Market and spotting various characters from Alice In Wonderland looking down at us from above.
One thing I wasn’t expecting was my knees playing up, something that hadn’t happened for a few years, so I plonked myself down on a seat for a while and Caroline wandered off to do some exploring on her own around the colleges and the Cherwell.
Once recovered and with Caroline back, we headed off into parts unknown by just following our noses and ending up by Radcliffe Camera, The Bridge of Sighs and Trinity College before heading back to the main shopping streets to hit M&S food department.
As we’d had a full lunch then coffee and cake, a picnic style evening meal was declared and bought along with beer and cider to wash it all down with.
Although we had a card from the taxi company, we decided to bus it rather than lash out on another cab ride. Although I had plenty of cash on me, the buses were only accepting contactless payments, so Caroline came to the rescue with her debit card and I just handed over the cash to her instead…
With this being one of the few full days we’d had in the open air since the start of UK Lockdown 1, eating and drinking the contents of the M&S bag were the highlights of that particular Saturday night as there wasn’t much on TV and the cinema at the leisure park remained closed to one and all.
Sunday started in much the same way as Saturday, but whilst we had intended to bite the bullet and drive into Oxford, park up and have another wander around, we reckoned without the Road Signs of Oxford.
Yes, we got lost and the road we were on was the one out of the city.
So we decided to do a bit of exploring by car, top up with petrol, seek lunch and then head in a homeward direction…
So we’d done it – our first weekend away since UK Lockdown 1.
The second one started just four days later…
But we will return to both The Cotswold and Oxford!
One of the few areas that neither Caroline or I have ever been to was The Cotswolds, so with three days and two nights to spare, a quick visit to the area and Oxford was looked at and a couple of nights at Hampton by Hilton, Oxford were booked.
Not only was its new territory, but it was also a chance to give the Skoda a good run out. The Fabia we’d had since 2012 was good, but the smaller, nippier Citigo Monte Carlo was raring to go!
First stop was a relatively short one at Stow-on-the-Wold. Lunch at Huffkins Bakery and Tea Rooms was declared after a brief wander around the centre, but once fed, it was time to explore and indulge at the local Rohan store’s sale.
Once done, we wandered again before deciding to move on to Burford. It took a while to find the car park and whilst we had a good stroll, not a lot was open, and it was a bit too early to have an evening meal.
We did however find a small speciality food shop and indulged ourselves by buying some artisan beer, chocolate and cider for later on when we eventually reached our hotel.
As we headed towards Oxford, we decided that yes, we would pay a return visit to the area and this decision was reinforced when we saw a couple of the rides made by presenter Henry Cole on ITV4’s The Motorbike Show.
Granted, we won’t be burning rubber on motorbikes, but Henry’s rides gave us a chance to see what other places in The Cotswolds looked like, so the next visit is more likely to be over the course of a full weekend or week rather than just the one day.
Remember the summer of 2020?
Yes, most things were closed and the opportunities to get out/away were minimal until after 4th July here in the UK.
We left it a week before pointing the Skoda southwards for three days to the Cotswolds and then onwards to Oxford.
As it was summer and temperatures were rising, clothing was dead easy to choose, even though we were staying in Hampton by Hilton on the edge of Oxford. Other items had to be added into the equation though as we needed to take a few things that we hadn’t before – like face masks, pocket size high strength hand gels and pocket packs of paper tissues.
As we were taking the car rather than throwing bags on and off trains or buses as we usually do, we could also stash a couple of multi packs of bottles of mineral water from Lidl rather than shelling out for bottles from cafes etc in tourist honeypots in the Cotswolds and in Oxford itself.
Clothing choices were dead easy to make though – one pair of trousers for daytime use and a pair of travel jeans for evenings in the hotel or a nearby restaurant. Daytime t-shirts were from the Uber Moose range whilst the couple of Travel Linen polo shirts were from then employer’s Rohan summer 2020 collection.
A long sleeved Rohan Sentry shirt was used as an over-shirt when needed and a Patagonia lightly padded gilet almost completed the clothing selection. Silver content sock and standard trunks came from Marks & Spencer whilst shoes were the latest pair of supremely comfortable Merrell Jungle Mocs.
As no rain was forecast, a rain jacket wasn’t packed, but an umbrella was shoved into the Healthy Back Bag that I was using as both the packed bag and the day bag over the course of the weekend.
Anything else? A stainless steel coffee press each plus a bag of Taylor’s Italian coffee for a brew first thing in the morning, a couple of picnic plates and tumblers for eating in the room or en-route plus a bottle opener to access the contents of any beer or cider consumed over the weekend.
Usual phone and iPad made the trip along with one charger that tops up both bits of tech and the Nikon digital compact camera that I picked up for a song in Lisbon back in 2013.
And the trip itself? More on that on Wednesday…