Updated: Aug 4
One of the hardest parts of lockdown life was the restriction on spending time with family and friends in the great outdoors. We were all aghast at being told to keep our distance, stay indoors and restrict, to a bare minimum, life beyond the threshold. It was a tough gig for most folks, except perhaps some teenagers, for whom it was an unexpected and gratefully received gift from which to extract maximum mileage.
Ironically, just as Spring was springing - steering the nations’ thoughts to barnacle brushing from hulls, cobwebs from golf clubs and greasing the Primus stove - everyone was instructed to stay indoors and focus on pursuits more in tune with the gloom of winter days that certainly didn’t encourage thoughts of starching caravan nets or oiling the cricket bat. One village elder recently equated 2020 to be like having “three winters in a row,” ergo, financial catastrophe for many economies. Tragically, all-too-true, but another unintended consequence has been the difficulty of breaking home-based habits that were suspiciously quick to catch on and, much like the watching of ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, once started, hard to erase from the routine of family life. Everyone got used to slogging round the local park during our allotted one-hour of exercise. However, hardier past-times involving preparation and strangely-shaped equipment hadn’t been pursued since autumn 2019; muscles and minds were out of practice. So, while a self-catering cottage by the sea had been booked, we were nervous that enthusiasm for Famous Five style adventure might be hard to resurrect. It’s all very well going on holiday, but that holiday now represented a parental minefield; having successfully argued the case for iPad banishment, you must outwit and second-guess strategically placed virus flash-points. Take the beach cafe for instance. On the surface, an innocent pleasure-centre designed to bring relief from a sand-filled picnic. But don’t be fooled by this squeaky-clean bystander, a maze of obstacles must still be overcome. Bring-on the debate over where to store a mask in a swimming costume, with unexpected bulges causing no end of ill-concealed merriment. The answer? Mum carries them. Of course. Pocket money was another bug-bear; a prized possession in eyes of the child but with actual cash ditched many months ago, this was a strange new currency demanding coins be cleaned and notes that needed fast-tracking to quarantine. In a wetsuit, a “quick trip to the toilet” became reminiscent of a Gladiatorial elbow marathon with more energy being expended in a two-by-one metre stall than during an hour-long battle with North Sea surf. What joy then, next day, to discover the all-together more relaxing outdoor offering of Gordon Castle’s Walled Garden. Eight wonderful acres of biodiverse loveliness where wildlife and plant-life coexist in perfect harmony, simultaneously offering the bedraggled parent enclosed safety in which to let young-guns run free. Started just four years ago, this tranquil gem was formerly a raspberry-growing super-structure before the forward-looking Gordon Lennox family set about restoration to Victorian splendour. Children and adults alike can weave between rich beds groaning with indecently-sized vegetables and natural insect repellents like marigolds and nasturtiums. Youthful legs became tired on the wild-grass maze while spotting native bumble bees like the Buff-tailed and Common Carder. A sort-of ‘North East Giverny’, the sheer abundance of colour combination and product diversity were enough to exhaust the whole family without anyone needing to reach for a 70% alcohol wipe. Step-recorder expectations were easily reached and nobody even thought about food for a whole two hours. Buoyed by our outdoor stress-free experience, the following day I felt emboldened to suggest a spot of bird watching and stone skimming at an obliging shoreline: “There might even be dolphins,” I cajoled, “lots more vitamin D too” (apparently good for enhancing one’s natural defences). But the motion didn’t really carry much conviction; gale-force winds and rain that would make an Admiral quell weren’t compatible with a day on the beach, even the dog was still in bed at 10.30am. “We could just stay and watch Broadchurch,” suggested some bright-spark, “it is the very last episode.” And, guess what, turned-out a trip along the shore with David Tennant was the only beach-life we needed that day, with the phrase, social distancing, never entering the equation. Was this a defeat for the great outdoors? Probably, but there’s a lot to be said for sticking to what you know best. Mairi Fraser 2 August 2020
The Daily Record 4 August 2020