A Very Peculiar Year: 2020

From the outset we knew that 2020 was going to be a peculiar year for us. In November 2019 we decided that we wanted to stay in Nidderdale and that we should sell our house in Oxford. We moved into Ardmore on Christmas Eve 1981 but it was becoming clear now that the house was too big for us and that the neighbourhood was changing. Leaving there for good would be a wrench but we knew we had to face up to it some time.

But the year for us started in the same way as plenty of previous ones, with a stay in Florida Breeze Villa our house in Florida.

Florida Breeze Villa

We had been there for two weeks in November 2019, but needed more time to sort out some issues there and actually have some holiday. We now have some great new property managers who fixed all the things which needed fixing and installed a wifi-enabled lock on the front door and a wifi-enabled heating controller. We now know who is coming and going at the house and whether the internal temperature has got too hot or too cold, all from our armchairs in Yorkshire.

We stayed for a month. You can read about this trip in more detail here. We ate plenty of our own papayas and saw the manatees at Blue Spring State Park – they are best viewed on a cold (i.e. about 55-60F) day.

Papaya and pool, Florida Breeze Villa
Papaya and pool, Florida Breeze Villa

We took a short trip north visiting Ravine Gardens State Park when the azaleas were in full flower, then to Amelia Island just south of the Georgia State line and (briefly) St Augustine, the oldest continuously inhabited European-established settlement in the USA.

The highlight (or rather fright-light) of the trip was to see an eastern diamondback rattlesnake for the first time. According to wikipedia the eastern diamondback rattlesnake has the reputation of being the most dangerous venomous snake in North America. This was on a brief visit to Honeymoon Island, one of our favourite places, just before we came back to England.

Eastern diamondback rattlesnake

Listening to the BBC on our laptop on Florida, we heard of an unknown disease which had spread out of China where it originated. Not much was known, but was it anything to worry about? The first mild concern we had was to see the two Americans sitting in front of us on the BA flight from Tampa to Gatwick on 17 February disinfecting all around their seats and wearing masks.

We had, mistakenly we now realise, put Ardmore on the market when the tenants left at the end of January while we were still in Florida. We drove there straight from Gatwick to find that the house on first sight appeared clean and tidy. But, there was dirty foul-smelling water in the bottom of the washing machine which flooded on to the floor. There was an awful mess under the extension leaf on the dining table. Too many door knobs and handles were loose or broken and some scribbles had not been removed from the walls. There were a small number of viewings while we concentrated on putting all this right (and getting a new washing machine), but a meeting with the agent on 13 March confirmed our view that we should take the house off the market and get everything fixed.

There was also the matter of our planned trip to Sri Lanka. This was the second attempt – the first one was cancelled after the Easter 2019 bombs in Colombo. We were supposed to be leaving on 15 March, but the virus had already arrived there courtesy of an Italian tour group. Very many thanks to Experience Travel who at two days’ notice
very quickly rescheduled it all for January 2021 and to Emirates who let us keep an open ticket from Birmingham to Colombo via Dubai. If you are wondering why we decided to go from Birmingham it was because we didn’t know whether we would be in Oxford or Yorkshire just before the trip.

Things were now happening very quickly with the virus. We packed up the car and drove back to Nidd Cottage on 18 March, not knowing how long we would be here for. We had already made two short trips back here from Oxford since coming back from Florida, just to deal with the post which our wonderful neighbours had been taking in for us.

In the end we stayed in Yorkshire until 11 June. It was a strange time but enjoyable in many ways when we weren’t following the awful news. Nidd Cottage is isolated, 300m from the nearest house and on a track which comes to a deadend just past us. The only people who come past are walkers on the Nidderdale Way. The house is set in the hillside, down from the track a bit. We have almost an acre and I didn’t leave our property for 3 months as there is plenty of room to exercise on our land.

New neighbour at Nidd Cottage

Martin spent the lockdown exploring the hillside and moor behind us whenever it wasn’t raining too much. He’s walked to the top of Great Whernside which you can see from our house and over to Colsterdale and Coverdale. In fact the weather was fine for a lot of the time and starting in April we have had more meals outside on our terrace overlooking the dale than in any previous year here. Not bad at 290m elevation in Yorkshire.

View from Nidd Cottage

Thank goodness for Sainsburys. We have been having deliveries from them for about six years and were in the first tranche of people to be identified as vulnerable and allocated a priority slot. They came every week during the lockdown and very few things on our orders were unavailable. Amazon supplied any other odds and ends we needed.

I made some progress on my family history project. I did quite a bit of work on the Nidderdale Museum’s plans to go digital, and I tended to some sweet peas, beans and garden peas and a vast number of red currants which seem to grow like triffids here.

We ventured back to Oxford on 11 June and have made nine more trips back and forth to there since. The round trip is about 440 miles depending on the route. Our favoured route is to the A1 either via Masham or via Harrogate if we need petrol, then on the A1 to just north of Newark, on the A46 to Leicester then the M1 to Northampton and A43 to Oxford. The first part from Nidd Cottage is on twisty roads and so the driving time is about 4 hours and 15 minutes. We kept away from the motorway service stations, preferring to arm ourselves with a flask of coffee and to eat a picnic in the car.

Once we had got the house into a reasonable state and had unpacked all our books and pictures which had been in store, we engaged Knight Frank to sell the house.
The head of their Oxford office came up on a lovely day and sat outside chatting with us for a while. It transpired that his wife is from Knaresborough and he has walked around Middlesmoor and Lofthouse near us.

Knight Frank took some new photos and only a week after their first advert in early August on another sunny day a couple came to look round, walked into the living room, looked out of the picture window on to the garden and said “Wow”. Two hours later the agent phoned with a cash offer from them of the asking price with no chain. Two days later on a rainy day they brought their two children to look and said it was better the second time. We had struck lucky. They live only about a mile away and we liked them a lot.

View of Ardmore garden towards Boars Hill

The pressure was now on to finish clearing out almost 39 years of stuff. We had tenants when we lived in the USA in the 1990s and several more lots while we have been at Nidd Cottage. We had about 100 boxes of books and papers in store and, as we discovered when Martin went up there, various items in the loft including remnants of fabric from my dressmaking activities in the 1980s – some of this has now found another use for masks.

Tenants had left various items in the garage including even a parcel shelf for a VW Caravelle. Oxfam has a huge warehouse in Oxford and we were able to take a lot of books there before it got full. Oxford Freegle is also very popular and we gave away plenty of items on that. With one exception people turned up to collect them when they said they were going to. Martin sold his old bicycle on Gumtree – the buyer turned up in a taxi and rode it away.

Bicycle no longer for sale

In between all of this we managed a few trips out from Oxford to visit some of the old haunts. There are some nice walks from Ardmore up to Boars Hill and Cumnor, but it’s much more crowded than when we lived there before, probably because about 100 new houses have been built only a few minutes walk from the house.

One very hot day we went down to the New Forest, our first time there since the 1980s, and did a nice walk in the shade before inspecting the 500 year old Knightwood Oak.

New Forest pony by the Knightwood Oak

Another day we did a circular walk from Adlestrop in the Cotswolds and another time we followed the popular circular walk in the Chilterns round Fingest and Turville, where the Vicar of Dibley was filmed.

Turville

We also visited Hailes Abbey in the Cotswolds and hiked from there up to the top of the escarpment and down again.

Summer lasted a long time and our holly bush had berries on it by mid-September.

Holly bush at Ardmore

We also managed to see some of Martin’s family at a sadder occasion. His last remaining aunt died at the end of August aged 98. We were able to go to her funeral in Bristol. We were very glad we had been able to see her in her retirement home in a year ago.

We celebrated our Golden Wedding in October, not of course by a party which we had planned to do, but with a large cake and a nice meal cooked by ourselves at home.

Our Golden Wedding cake

The house sale was progressing well until it was discovered that the front boundary, which is a hedge, is not exactly where it is shown on the Land Registry documents. It took a month to sort this out before we were asked to make a statutory declaration to say that it had always been like that during our ownership. We were surprised to find that these documents were not as accurate as you would like. In contrast, the plot for our Florida house is measured down to the last inch. But then the USA is a litigious country and likes to have everything nailed down exactly.

Completion was scheduled for 27 November and moving out was fast approaching. Late afternoon a week before we rented a van in Oxford from Enterprise which is conveniently only walking distance from Ardmore. We packed it literally to the roof with boxes and garden implements as well as 2 bookcases and a filing cabinet by 11am next morning. We, or rather Martin, drove it to Nidd Cottage where we emptied it all into the garage by 10.30 am the next day in time to drive back to Enterprise by 5pm.

Moving out went well, not as traumatic as it might have been. Three pleasant guys packed all our possessions, including well over 1000 books, and loaded it into four huge crates to be stored in Abingdon.

Moving out

We spent our last night in Oxfordshire in a hotel in Bicester and finally left Ardmore for the last time at 5.30pm on 26 November with the car packed to the roof again.

In reflection, although we have been following the news carefully, selling and moving out of Ardmore has kept us busy for most of the year. We have not therefore been too much upset about not being able to go travelling. We are very fortunate at Nidd Cottage to be well away from other people. Zoom has kept us in weekly contact with Martin’s brother and sisters. But we are saddened that during the pandemic so many people are not faring as well as pensioners like us with our own property. Many have lost their jobs and livelihoods. It will take years for the economy to get back on its feet.

Just as I am writing this I learn that Oxford is moving into Tier 4 from Tier 2. The news seems to get worse and worse. “Doesn’t it make you angry?” is a frequent refrain in our house. This is not really the place to vent more anger, but as an information professional I have been following the way that the Internet, and Facebook in particular are being used to influence people by disseminating disinformation and misinformation. Plenty of us who were around in computing in the late 1990s predicted that this might happen. It seems to have got worse this year.

Meanwhile we are ready for Christmas at home in Nidd Cottage. We have our tree, bought from the local vendor in New York – no, not the one in the US, but a small village just down the dale from Pateley Bridge where you walk round a muddy field
to choose your tree, then get the guy with a chainsaw to chop it down. We have decorated it mostly with small souvenirs from our travels and some wooden ornaments from a kit I painted when we lived in New Jersey.

Christmas tree at Nidd Cottage 2020

Sainsburys did the necessary this week, missing only a couple of things we didn’t really need. We ventured down to Pateley Bridge to pick up our turkey from Weatherheads one of the local butchers. They have been going strong since 1876 and I believe they are now on the fifth generation of Weatherheads running the shop..

As for next year, we can only hope that the vaccines work. The Oxford one in particular will be much cheaper and easier to deal with. The sooner it is approved, the better for all.

As for that trip to Sri Lanka, it’s now been rescheduled for September 2021. We might just be fourth time lucky.

Have a safe, healthy and happy 2021.

24 December 2020

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