The Gully!

Making a sandwich for my packed lunch the other night I reached for something to cut the bread. What I used was my late grandmother’s old ‘gully’ – her name for the bread knife and a word I still use today. My chuckle to myself led to me photographing it and posting it on one of the local Facebook memory pages. The response was overwhelming. Almost 300 reactions and over 150 comments. 

A bit of Googling reveals that ‘Gully’ is a Scottish or Northern England term for a large knife. The earliest recorded citations of the term are from Scotland in the mid 1500s and there seems to some debate as to whether it was a knife used for cutting bread and cheese in a kitchen or an implement used by butchers. Brockett (1788-1842) of Newcastle describes a gully as a large knife used in farmhouses to cut bread and cheese for the family. He derived gully from gullet, thinking of its use as a butcher’s knife. 

In the responses to my post there was some debate as to whether a gully was really a more heavy duty curved knife used in butchery and my photo merely showed a bread knife. A majority of respondents did, however, refer to the bread knife as a gully.

Here’s some of my favourite responses:

Haven’t heard it called that for a while. Apparently my grandma threw one at my granda and it’s skimmed one of her kids head….. 

everyone had a gully, havent heard that saying for years, its called the big knife in ours lol, and I’ve got quite a collection, i even remember the man who came round on a bike and sharpened them all x

Always knew it as the Gully and remember being told the name come from the Abattoir being the knife long and sharp enough to open the  stomach area !

My mother always called it a gully.  This made me smile this morning as I had forgotten about this…   Happy days

Still call it the gully. Ideal for stopping young children crying over a scraped knee by announcing ” it’s coming off, pass me the gully”. Interestingly never used in my 25 year operating theatre career

Yes I do. I sliced my hand with mine once. The doctor at the hospital had no idea what a gully was.

I do, and it’s one of the things I kept when emptying my parent’s home after my dad passed away – such an important item – used daily – still is in use!

My mother still calls the big knife the gully , used for cutting big stuff and tough veg , turnip etc, used to be sharpened every Sunday on a oil stone or the step

The Gulley was used too slice the fresh,warm bread Mam used to make.

Drove the hoose mad with the smell all day baking bread.

Proving by the fire.

When Mam said it was cool enough,the gulley came out and ya cut a wedge,,lathed in butter then jam,you wore more than you ate.

Ohhh Happy Days

And finally……

A good old gully knife … years ago when I worked in a factory, the cleaner would often come into the canteen to borrow the gully knife if someone had blocked the toilet .. She would say  “i need to break its back so it will flush away” 

In the course of the discussion some other old words in the local dialect came up. I was cutting a ‘stottie’ with the gully at the start. Is stottie a Sunderland term or is it a Tyneside imposter?

My grandmother always referred to her kitchen as the ‘scullery’! Strictly speaking scullery is better applied to the modern day utility room but I’m thinking of applying it to the expensive new kitchen I had built a couple of years ago! 

As for the sandwiches I made, snow overnight led to my trip to Carlisle being cancelled and I ended up eating them for lunch at home!

Mayors, Metros and Megalomania!

2023 started with the news that the seven local authorities in North East England had agreed a devolution deal with Central Government in return for re-combining the two north and south of Tyne combined authorities and the election of a Metro Mayor covering the whole geography in May 2024. Cue great celebrations and much merriment. But agreeing the deal is merely the start of the process and there is a lot of questions to ask if the new Mayor, whoever this turns out to be, is to make this work for the whole of the north east.

I’ll say at the outset that I’m a great fan of regional government and the benefits to be achieved from speaking with ‘one voice’. There is so much added value that can be achieved from developing consensus and consent among widely differing constituencies on strategic issues.  However, I can’t help feeling that what we are being offered falls way short of true devolution and is being used to sell a governance model that is favoured by Whitehall for its chances of producing a Mayor of one political persuasion rather than deliver for the north east.

If we look back to the 2004 North East Referendum, one of the reasons many of us reluctantly voted ‘No’ is because the proposal we were presented with had strings attached relating to abolishing district authorities in Durham and Northumberland. Many of us were concerned at the lack of executive powers with respect to the full range of policy areas. This despite the fact that the ‘unelected’ shadow assemblies were already preparing Regional Spatial Strategies – integrated land use and transport plans. As we all know, the RSS was binned in 2010 barely two years after it was adopted yet did more to foster consensus and consent than anything that has followed since.

Ideally devolution should be about devolving powers and funding from Westminster not taking them from the local authorities. It’s worth asking ourselves what powers the new North East Mayor will actually have. Will the mayor have powers with respect to health, housing, utilities and welfare? Can they raise local taxation? Will they have the powers to integrate land use and transport planning? I doubt it!

Health disparities are among the biggest issues facing the north east. Ideally the Mayor have the powers to address them, to decide where investment in new hospitals and health care facilities will take place. Is it too much to hope that the Mayor be able to invest in and promote healthy lifestyles so that fewer people become ill? Probably not

Housing problems in the North East are vastly different from the south east and London. The problem here isn’t just affordability it is condition of the stock.  We need to plan to build the homes we need at the quality we need – not what the developers will make most profit from. Will the Mayor have the power to address that. Probably not.

The lack of integration between land use and transport policy means there’s hardly anything to stop developers siting new housing, retail and employment uses at junctions on the A1 and A19. Will the Mayor be given the strategic planning powers to address that? Probably not.

Transport is one area where the Mayor has been promised powers and funding but huge parts of public sector transport will remain outside their control. Will the Mayor get control or even have a say in spending decisions by Network Rail or National Highways? I doubt it!

Much is said about buses and powers to franchise and ‘re-regulate them. Before we get too excited we need to remember that the buses need to be paid for. If we’re not paying from revenue from ‘the farebox’, where are we funding them from. There’s very little expertise on bus operations in the local authorities. The experts already work in the industry. If the Mayor wants to run the buses they will need to recruit from the same bus firms that are so despised at present. If anything, first priority should be to sort out the Metro! It rarely operates the advertised service and hasn’t had a day without disruption since well before Christmas. That could be dealt with under existing powers!

When viewed in the context of the questions I’ve posed in the previous paragraphs it seems we are getting a Mayor with no new powers who will take powers from the existing local authorities. Whitehall isn’t giving up any powers and Central Government will continue to call the shots. 

This then leads me to ask what sort of Mayor do we want? Ideally the Mayor will be a charismatic individual who will unite the region from Berwick to Blackhall and Blyth to Bishop! Someone with a social conscience who can engage with local elected Members but at the same time work with central Government and private sector investors. We don’t want someone with ambitions to recreate Tyne and Wear County Council, Prescott’s regional assembly or some ‘Greater Newcastle’!  The agenda shouldn’t necessarily all be about ‘growth’. We need to build on the region’s strengths not replicate London on the north east coast. Let’s build something new and exciting rather than merely replacing a London bureaucracy with one in Gateshead! 

2022 in Retrospect!

Chateau de Bois Giraud and the Marshall extended family!

I didn’t prepare or publish a review of 2021. Those of you who know me well know the reason why. From the depths of 2021, 2022 had to be an improvement and so it has turned out to be. Chloe and I had five holidays and I ended the year with my (reluctant) retirement from local government.

The year began with me panicking about Chloe’s birthday party. We’d booked it in a local community centre and hired a children’s entertainer to ensure proceedings went well. This didn’t stop me worrying about whether enough people would turn up or whether there would be enough food to go round. In the event I needn’t have worried as it all passed off without a hitch.

A couple of days after Chloe’s party I returned to work after a lengthy lay off with anxiety and depression. Returning to work proved helpful as it gave me a chance to use my brain again and to put my thought processes to more productive uses. Unfortunately my immediate line manager had left while I was off and some my more interesting workload had been allocated to others meaning things were not the same as before.

Over the Easter school holidays, Chloe and I set off for our first holiday of the year at Southerness Point near Dumfries. We bookended our stay with a night in a hotel in Dumfries at the start and finish. The week gave me the chance to explore a part of Scotland that I’d not been to for a while though it had been the scene of many of my childhood holidays. Our caravan was right on the shore with a view across the Solway Firth to the English Lake District. If it had been properly maintained it would have been idyllic.

The next school holiday at the end of May we headed to Scotland again. This time to Embo near Dornoch again in a caravan and with hotel stays out and back. With such a long journey, and my tendency to take the ‘scenic route’ this one proved to be a whistle stop tour of Scotland with a visit to Edinburgh on the way up and an overnight stay in Oban on the way back.

Our return coincided with the late Queen’s jubilee so we got back in time for Chloe to enjoy the street party that our neighbours had laid on.

At the start of July we embarked on out first foreign holiday since 2017 when we had two weeks in France with extended family. For the first week we stayed at Chateau De Bois Giraud in the Loire region. The journey wasn’t without incident as I missed our turn off the motorway and found myself quite lost in the centre of Angers with no satnav! The surroundings at the Chateau were magnificent and Chloe loved the swimming pool. Our stay coincided with a heat wave which meant that I didn’t explore the local area as much as I would have liked.

Our second week was some 300 miles to the south at Les Grandes Chenes near Bergerac in the Dordogne. Having been to the area before, this was more familiar territory to me and I felt much more comfortable in a property that had a more homely feel. At one stage the smoke from wildfires around 35 miles away brought some relief from the heat from the sun. I chose to break the long drive back to Calais with a stay at a hotel in Chartres which proved to be a good move, especially as Chloe enjoyed a couple of hours in the hotel play park while I sat watching with a pint.

Our last two holidays of the year were both in Norfolk. At the beginning of September we had a week in a caravan in Hunstanton where Chloe enjoyed the children’s entertainment and play park. Seven weeks later we were back in Norfolk, this time at Heacham where we returned to the Waiting Room at the Old Station. As always it didn’t disappoint and it was great to meet the new owners. By then it was the end of October and we returned in time for Chloe to enjoy her Halloween parties.

Chloe continues to develop and grow. The feedback I get from her teachers is embarrassingly good. I know from how conscientious she is about her homework how much she enjoys maths and English. Her spatial awareness is amazing to the extent I worry that she might want to become a planner. Meanwhile she’s also pretty good at art, music, dancing and gymnastics. I’m sure she’ll change the world. I’ve just got to survive bringing her up. Both her Mam and I are so very proud of her.

The year ended with me retiring from Sunderland Council and from local government. I don’t feel quite ready to hang up my boots just yet so will be looking for new opportunities. I plan to replace the camper van I sold last year which will give some options for inexpensive trips away. I certainly hope to do some of the things I’ve always wanted to do rather than things that I have to do!

One thing is certain. I head into 2023 feeling more optimistic than I have for some time.


Today is my last working day at Sunderland City Council. Tomorrow, 31 December, I formally retire from the Council and local government service. There’ll be no ceremony or leaving speech – just me, at my home desk, logging off for the last time and preparing the lap top for hand in. I may mark the occasion with a ‘wee dram’!

I’ve spent a total of 20 years of my career at Sunderland in three spells, the first of which was way back in 1978. The city has changed dramatically over that period. I’m proud that I was the manager who led the city’s Unitary Development Plan to adoption in 1998. It remained the city’s statutory development plan until 2018 when the current local plan was adopted. Copies of it are probably still on the walls of the Civic Centre to delight and fascinate the demolition contractors! The UDP faced criticism over the years yet provided a robust land use framework that gave us the foundation for the exciting and dramatic changes taking place today. Without it (and it’s amendments) we would be buying frozen veg and clotted cream where cranes now line the skyline building today’s exciting developments. As they say “Every little helps”!

I didn’t spend all my career at Sunderland despite my love of the place. After graduation, I started off in academia researching community transport at the then Trent Polytechnic in Nottingham, had a spell with the London Borough of Merton and worked for four years at South Tyneside Council when I moved back to my native north east. In the early naughties I took up the challenge of the private sector with Scott Wilson and later Halcrow before moving to regional government with the (unelected!) North East Assembly. I had a spell as an independent consultant and for 24 academic years was a part time visiting lecturer in transport policy at Newcastle University. Many of my network of contacts were students there. I also spent 22 years as an elected member of the Royal Town Planning Institute’s Council and General Assembly. Along the way I’ve worked at the interface of transport and local communities with community transport projects and community rail partnerships.

I’ve worked with some fantastic teams everywhere I worked. People whose enthusiasm and passion motivated myself and others around them and got the job done whatever the odds. I’ve always enjoyed the support of my wider informal network and many ‘achievements’ were more the result of getting the right people in a room together than any specialist knowledge on my part. I must pay tribute to my current team – Vicky, Tracey and Leanne who have achieved so much over the past two years despite lockdowns, remote working and an office move. Every problem thrown their way has been dealt with efficiently and with a smile. I shall miss them in the coming months and know that a chunk of my work is in safe hands.

Over the last two years, like many others, I’ve mainly been working from home with the occasional hot desk session in the splendid new City Hall. It hasn’t always been like that. Looking back, there are aspects of the office that aren’t there now including:

  • Trying to convince the Director’s PA that my letter was so urgent I just had to use the fax machine!
  • One PC in the corner of the office and only one person trained/allowed to use it (and they mostly played space invader games on it!)
  • A stand-alone PC dedicated to a traffic model. It would run overnight and, assuming the cleaner hadn’t unplugged it to plug the hoover in, would produce results the next morning;
  • Pinning proposals maps up in the meeting room before a Committee meeting;
  • Using Letraset to put text on plans and finding you’ve run out of one letter;
  • Waiting a week or more for dyeline prints to come back from the print room;
  • Encountering the wrath of the formidable typing pool supervisor for chatting to one of her staff for too long;
  • Getting three carbon copies of a letter – one for the file, one for your project file and one ‘just in case’;
  • People mysteriously emerging from the stationary cupboard at the office Christmas Party;
  • Reeking of cigar smoke after a meeting in the Assistant Director’s office;
  • People smoking at their desks/drawing boards;
  • A drawer full of ‘emergency ties’ just in case we got summoned into an important meeting;
  • Chips by the shovel load in the Civic Centre canteen!

Whilst I originally qualified as a town planner and continue to see myself as a planner first and foremost, I’ve spent the majority of my career in transport where I’ve often fought battles against big ‘sexy’ highway projects for the sake of it. My first transport Prof used to say that transport is merely a means to an end not the end in itself. That has stuck with me and I’ve always thought that transport policy isn’t merely about transport schemes but about seeking to create urban forms that are more human in scale and attractive to those who live and work there. 

As I move into a new beginning, I won’t be hanging up my boots completely just yet. I hope to pick up some consultancy work (open to offers!) and to get more involved in transport heritage projects, especially where there is a community element. I might even revisit the PhD that I never properly finished in the 80s – if I can find a University that will have me. The prospect of developing phenomenological approaches to transport research still excites me and is even more relevant today than it was back then. I became a parent late in life so I will certainly be taking the opportunity to spend more time with Chloe, my seven year old daughter. The counter side of parenthood in retirement is being tied to the daily school run and taking holidays at expensive times so I can’t travel as extensively as I would have liked. My long term dream of running an antique shop in Wells next the Sea will probably remain just that – a dream.

So that’s it! To the many friends and colleagues I’ve worked with over the years I say thank you for your support. I never did hit the dizzy heights, break through the glass ceiling or get my name in lights but I hope I’ve made my mark, however small and insignificant!


Revisiting the ballachulish railway………

Connel Ferry Bridge under construction

When I first visited the Benderloch area back in 1971 I bought a book, “The Birth and Death of a Highland Railway” by Duncan Kennedy. As someone mainly interested in railways at the time, I must confess to being a little disappointed in the book’s content because it said little about the operation of the railway or of locomotives and rolling stock. Nevertheless it was still given a place on my bookshelf where it sat largely unread among many other well thumbed volumes. 

The author had trained as a civil engineer on construction of the Ballachulish line and the book is a fairly personal account of a young civil engineer’s experiences of “getting his boots dirty”.  It was only when packing for our most recent trip to the area that I decided to take it off the bookshelf and take it with us for holiday reading some 50 years on from first purchase. I’m pleased that I did.

Rediscovering the book today I’m fascinated by the social history in it, the anecdotes from a live railway construction site and the author’s struggles to qualify as a civil engineer.  The author’s style is eminently readable and the anecdotes take the reader back on site 120 years ago. There’s lots of lively sketches of gangers, navvies and locals, as well as interesting details of the actual construction process. The sub plot is how a young man from a local farming family in Duror found a job building the railway which then led him on a career path that took him to work in Africa and North America. It’s also quite remarkable and rare that an obituary to a railway was written by someone involved involved in its construction.

The school holiday week following the 2021 spring bank holiday saw us back in the West Highlands staying at Bonawe again. A feature of our stays there is crossing the magnificent Connel Ferry bridge at least twice a day on our travels around the area.  The single track bridge originally carried the Ballachulish branch of the Callendar and Oban Railway that Duncan Kennedy wrote about but today carries the A828 road between Oban and Fort William. The curious thing is why there was ever a railway there at all given the geography of the area.

This is an area where comparativly few railways were built due to difficult geography – mountains and sea lochs make construction expensive and the low density population means there weren’t many people to carry – if there’s insufficient freight then passenger numbers won’t make up the difference.  Quite why the railway ever reached Ballachulish seems to be a matter of over-optimism even given quarry traffic and early tourist interest in nearby Glencoe.

There had been a number of attempts to link Oban and Fort William by rail during the nineteenth century but all were doomed to failure. However, stone from quarries in the Ballachulish area was in big demand and this seems to have attracted investors.  A line from Connel Ferry near Oban to Ballachulish was eventually authorised by Parliament in 1896 with construction starting in 1899. 

The Ballachulish line runs along the side of Loch Linhe for much of its length but there are three sea lochs running inland that made building a line between Oban and Fort William quite difficult. Two of these, Loch Etive and Loch Creren were bridged by the railway which must have massively increased the construction costs of the line. The other sea loch, Loch Leven was never bridged by the railway but was eventually bridged by the A82 trunk road in 1975. 

The railway was built relatively late and, along with the Mallaig extension to the West Highland line a few miles north, was one of the first railways to make extensive use of concrete. It was certainly one of the last branch lines to be built and completed in the twentieth century.  From then on, railway engineers like Duncan Kennedy had to move abroad to apply their skills.

On 28 March 1903, the 27½-mile long branch opened to passenger services with intermediate stations at North Connel, Benderloch, Creagan, Appin, Duror, Kentallan and Ballachulish Ferry. The line was always lightly trafficked, only ever having three scheduled return passenger workings per day so became a prime candidate for closure in the 1960s.

It wouldn’t have been a cheap line to construct. There’s some massive civil engineering works just in the two bridges across Loch Etive and Loch Creren which seem hardly justified when the service on the line never exceeded three passenger trains per day. Perhaps the financial backers were persuaded that Fort William (or even Inverness) was the ultimate objective. The main freight traffic was quarry stone but then, as now, it’s cheaper and easier to move that by sea.

The most impressive structure on the line, Connel Ferry Bridge still stands today providing a valuable link across the Falls of Lora. At the time of its construction it was the second largest clear span in Europe (the biggest being the Forth rail bridge. Yet it’s long term value seems to have been to provide a local crossing of the sea loch rather than part of the railway network.

Converted road vehicle on Connel Ferry shuttle service.

In the early days, a converted road vehicle operated a shuttle service across the bridge carrying pedestrians with cars carried on a trailer. In 1913 the C&O decided to adapt Connel Ferry bridge to carry road traffic to counter a proposed ferry service and this work was completed in July 1914.  Road users were then charged a toll and this continued until closure of the railway when the bridge was given over completely to road traffic.  I referred to this in my previous blog about Bonawe which mentioned that the Bonawe ferry crossing Loch Etive some six miles to the east stopped operating in 1966 when the bridge was given over to road traffic only and became toll free.  

What of the railway today? Unlike many closed lines it is mostly accessible and can be enjoyed by the public. Much of it has been converted into the NCN 78 cycle way and in that form, probably carries more people than it did as a railway. Sculptures made from steel mark the way and remind visitors of the heritage of the line.

Ballachulish station now a medical practice.

Most of the stations survive in one form or another. The Ballachulish Medical Practice now occupies the former terminus station buildings. The station at Kentallan is now part of the Holly House Hotel whilst at Duror and Appin are now private residences. That at Creagan is now holiday accomodation and a motor home site. The buildings at Benderloch were sadly demolished in the early 1970s. 

Creagan station in 1971. My photo.

Sitting in the charming Ben Lora cafe and bookshop at the site of the former Benderloch station, a steady procession of  cyclists and walkers stop off for refreshments, their accents suggesting some have travelled considerable distances to be there. Whilst the railway may now have been closed for as long as it was open, it’s legacy lives on with infrastructure still used and enjoyed by residents and visitors alike.

A special private hire – A royal visit to sunderLand

Among my collection of transport artefacts are four box files of original documents from our local municipal bus operator, Sunderland Corporation Transport.  These came my way several years ago when the former Sunderland undertaking’s office block was being refurbished for use as Stagecoach Bus north east regional head office and lots of old files from previous incumbents were headed for the skip. What is a heap of old waste paper to some is a treasure trove of original source material to an amateur transport historian like me.

Several evenings ago saw me raking through the box files to answer a quiery from a fellow enthusiast. I didn’t actually find what I was looking for but ended up spending hours perusing material that I forgot that I had. Among the documents I found were a set of written instructions issued to the undertaking’s staff involved in the Royal visit when Princess Margaret came to Sunderland to open the Civic Centre on 5 November 1970. 

This is especially poignant as the new City Hall approaches completion and the Civic Centre, designed by Sir Basil Spence, Bonnington and Partners in the brave new world of the 1960s will close its doors for the last time later this year. I discussed the Civic Centre in a previous blog last year. Needless to say a Royal visit to open a big new civic building was probably the biggest event in the municipal calendar back in 1970.

As part of the proceedings of the visit, the official guests were to be conveyed between the Civic Centre and the Seaburn Hotel and return after their meal. As I mentioned I my previous blog about the Civic Centre, the original plans for a banqueting hall were deleted by Ministers (unlike Newcastle which had such facilities) meaning that the catering had to be contracted out to a local hotel. The job of transporting the official guests fell to the Council’s own transport undertaking and would no doubt have been the most important job for many years.

The job was treated like any other private hire but with very special instructions. Seven of the Corporation’s newest buses, accompanied by two radio equipped Inspectors vans, were used to ferry the official party between the Seaburn Hotel and the Civic Centre. Six buses were used with the seventh as a spare in case of breakdown. 

The Corporation had recently taken delivery of nine new Leyland Panthers (142 to 150) (PBR 142-150J) fitted with bodywork by Marshall’s of Cambridge to the BET group style. These differed quite markedly to the previous Panthers, Swifts, Roadliners and REs delivered since 1966 in not having the distinctive Sunderland style bodywork with sloping window pillars. They did however share other features such as 47 seat capacity room for with 19 standees and a dual door layout. Internally they saw a return to green leatherette for seat coverings. Ceiling and cove panels were finished with a floral pattern Formica similar to contemporary deliveries to local rival Northern General Transport. Contemporary press reports made great play of the seat cushions being 4 inches thick and that the extra cost being covered by not specifying a public address system as fitted to their predecessors. Interestingly 149 and 150 were subsequently retro fitted with a PA system for the annual Transport Committee tour of the town.

I would imagine that the drivers and inspectors for this job would have been hand picked and the breakdown truck and vans used would have been spruced up especially for the big occasion. Essentially the buses and support van were to be ready and available at Fulwell Depot at 10:45 on the day. The two van were radio equipped (this was well before buses were fitted with radios) with the call signs “Suntran Bertie” and “Suntran Claude”.

From Fulwell Depot the buses were to travel in convoy to the Civic Centre, led by one of the vans. The buses were to be parked in the area adjacent to the Civic Suite and loaded by 11:45 when they would travel in convoy to the Seaburn Hotel via Wearmouth Bridge, Dame Dorothy Street and the Sea Front. They would approach the hotel from the rear via Kings Avenue and park up outside the hotel until 2:15pm. At 2:15, guests were loaded and the convoy was to follow the Mayoral car in convoy back to the Civic Centre. Once the buses were unloaded they would be dispatched back to the depot by the Inspectors.

The seventh bus was a spare provided to cover any breakdown of any of the other six buses. At the Civic Centre it was to be parked in Cowan Terrace (next to the current Park Lane Interchange). On the return trip it was to follow the convoy as far as Burdon Road and, if not required, to return to the depot. 

The breakdown wagon was to be parked in Back North Bridge Street next to the Wheatsheaf depot by 11:30 with the crew on standby for moving a bus or car. The instructions state “it is essential between 2pm and the finish of the operation that any breakdown be removed with the ultimate dispatch”.  Woe betide any car drivers that broke down that day though I’ve not heard any reports of any such occurrence. The two radios were to be kept strictly for the operation and it seems were only to be used in case of a breakdown or other emergency. As far as I’m aware all went smoothly on the day.

I have no record of which seven of the nine Marshall bodied Panthers were used on the day. I have the number plate off 144 (PBR 144J) in my collection and I’d like to think this bus was involved in the operation. Certainly the paperwork in my collection gives an indication of the planning involved in what was a big day for everyone involved.

West House Orchard, Fulwell. A limestone wall mystery?

Our house is in the shadow of one of the North East England’s most iconic landmarks, Fulwell Windmill. Opposite the house, behind the mill is a length of random limestone wall. In our back garden there is a short stretch of the same wall which joins a further section forming the rear boundary of the houses further down the street. I had always assumed these limestone walls were associated with the windmill but, in actual fact, the mill actually stands outside the boundary of the land that the walls enclose.

The limestone wall in our garden with overhanging pear tree.

So what was previously on the site of the houses further down the street? Why was the land enclosed and what was it used for?

In this old map from the 1870s the area is shown with the limestone wall in place with the Fulwell Inn and West House in the north east corner of the site. The map looks to have been made up of two sections joined together so the section of wall to the rear of the windmill isn’t especially clearly shown. The map does show the greenhouse that stood in the garden opposite our house up until the late 1980s. It also shows a fountain and indeed one of our neighbours has a spring in their garden in almost the same location.

Aerial view of the former orchard today.

The layout within the enclosed area suggests it was some form of walled garden to serve West House with the north western section of the site being used as an orchard. This certainly accords with what remains. There is a pear tree overhanging the section in our garden while our neighbour across the road has both apple and pear trees. The section nearest to the main Newcastle Road seems to have been laid out as formal gardens with a drive up to the main house.

An orchard is an intentional plantation of fruit producing trees or shrubs that is maintained for food production. 200 years ago you couldn’t just go to Tesco to stock up on fruit. It is likely that most fruit was home grown and the well to do would have had land set aside for growing fruit. Most temperate zone orchards are laid out in a regular grid like that shown on the map with a grazed or mown grass or bare soil base that makes maintenance and fruit gathering easy. In this instance, its position on a south facing slope would mean that the fruit would benefit from warmth and sunshine.

Sections of limestone wall in back Viewforth Terrace.

A further clue to previous use of the site is this old photo of the windmill which shows a gated entrance where the bottom of Eston Grove is now. The greenhouse that stood until the 1980s can be seen in this view.

So have I solved the mystery of the limestone walls? I’m reasonably convinced that I’ve found much of the explanation though other questions emerge. Who lived in West House? I know it survived as a furniture showroom until 1987 when it burnt down. Prior to that it may have been the Mill Garage (the original of Mill Garages fame). I’d be interested in any further information.

Repatriating Channel islands buses: a Tribute to Jim Young

I was rather shocked and saddened last week to hear that my friend and former colleague, Dr JR (Jim) Young passed away on 10 February 2021 in University College Hospital, London. , He had contracted COVID in January but unfortunately developed further complications with pneumonia, a bacterial infection and a collapsed lung. Jim was hugely influential to me in my early career in academia and we both shared a passion for buses (though I hasten to add not the same taste in them). This blog is dedicated to his memory.

I first met Jim when I got a job as a resident tutor at Trent Polytechnic’s Clifton Campus. Clifton had been Nottingham College of Education prior to 1975 when it merged with Trent and Jim lectured in geography there. At the time I moved into a flat on the campus, there wasn’t a lot of staff or students moving between Clifton and the City campuses. This researcher from Civil Engineering definitely felt like a fish out of water but felt more at home once I got to know Jim who eventually became my unofficial mentor for my PhD research..

When I was first introduced to Jim, I thought ‘ah! This must be the Dr JR Young who writes about Channel Islands buses in Buses magazine”. Indeed he was but when I mentioned it he looked rather uncomfortable and quickly changed the subject. I decided perhaps it’s not worth mentioning it again and left it at that for a couple of months. I subsequently found out he was very reticent about mixing his working life with his hobbies.

Over Christmas 1984/New Year 1985 I went home to Sunderland and, on my return called into the campus porters lodge as usual to collect any post that had come in my absence. To my surprise, the porter said I had a message from Dr Young with a phone number on which to call him. The number was a Guernsey one and when I called him, the conversation was along the lines of “I’ve bought a bus over the holiday break but need help getting both my car and the bus from Portsmouth to Nottingham. Can you help?” Having been rebuffed a couple of months earlier, I was slightly hesitant but eventually agreed.

The following morning saw me at Nottingham Midland station (yes people still called it that some 18 years after Victoria closed) buying a one way ticket to Aldershot. The arrangement was that I travel to Farnham in Surrey where I would stay overnight with Jim’s friend and fellow preservationist Peter Davies and his family. The following morning Peter would drive me to Portsmouth where we would meet Jim coming off the ferry in his car. We would then drive to the docks where Guernsey Albion Victor no 65 should be waiting having made the crossing as deck cargo. We would then drive up the A3 where Peter had arranged overnight accommodation for us and the bus.

Considering what could potentially go wrong, it all went remarkably smoothly. We arrived at the ferry terminal to see Jim driving off the ship then drove to the docks to find no 65 waiting for us on the quayside. We then had an interminable wait whilst customs decided on the value of no 65. How do you value an old bus for customs dues? Is it what a collector would pay or is it scrap value? I never found out what Jim paid but, after around four hours we were on our way to Aldershot where Peter had arranged for us to prepare the bus for its journey and keep it overnight in the NAAFI garage. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an immaculate garage or workshop before or since but it made relatively easy work of replacing some of the hydraulic brake hoses on 65 so that she would stop when we wanted her to.

Peter Davies and his son with myself and Guernsey 65 at the NAAFI garage in Aldershot prior to heading north.

The following morning saw us up and away by 6am on our trip north. In those pre M25 days reaching the A1 from the A3 without going into London involved a circuitous route via Staines, Slough and Hemel Hempstead, eventually joining the A1 near Stevenage. Then the run up the A1 took around six hours at 35 mph with us taking turns at driving the bus and the car. What I didn’t realise until I got back to Nottingham was that there had been weather warnings on the radio advising people not to travel and we had just moved an ancient old bus half way up the country!

65 rests in her new home alongside sister 57. 57 was subsequently used as a mobile home by travellers and was towed from site to site due to a defective engine.

A few months later and Jim again enlisted my help to move a bus from the East Somerset Railway to Nottingham. This was an Albion Nimbus from Guernsey (no 175) that had been used by the railway as a promotional vehicle and had the preserved 9F “Black Prince” painted on the body side, presumable by owner the wildlife artist and railway preservationist David Shepherd. It had latterly fallen into disuse and Jim had agreed to buy it. This was to be a ‘there and back in a day’ job but as it involved a trip on one of my favourite roads – the Fosse Way between Bath and Leicester – I readily agreed.

Guernsey 175 at Cranmore on the East Somerset Railway being prepared for her trip to Nottingham.

This was another unearthly early start as we set off for Cranmore station. On arrival we found the bus at the edge of the car park, the long grass growing around it confirming it hadn’t turned a wheel in a long time. Having inspected his purchase Jim needed to pay for it. We asked one of the people working on the site where we could find David Shepherd and he nodded towards a hut at the side of the car park. We knocked and entered to find the great man sat behind a scruffy desk. “What do you want?” He growled. “I’m looking for David Shepherd. I’ve arranged to buy that bus outside off him” said Jim. “He’s not here” Shepherd responded “but you can leave the money with me!” Jim handed over a brown envelope containing a wad of used notes and we stood there watching the great man counting his cash with his fingerless mittens like a latter day Scrooge. I’ve met David Shepherd since and seen him countless times on TV and I’m 99.9% certain that was him in that hut. Perhaps Jim and I looked like Inland Revenue staff!

Back outside, after admiring 9F ‘Black Prince’, we put a set of batteries on 175 and she fired up first time. A couple of runs up and down the car park to ensure the brakes were working and we were on our way. Unlike 65 on our previous trip, 175 turned out to have quite a turn of speed. Shortly after joining the A429, I was astounded to see the right indicator come on as she overtook a car in front. Indeed the majority of the journey was undertaken at a steady 50mph with no real issues or dramas.

Towards the end of June, with exams out of the way and marked, and very few students on campus, Jim went off to Guernsey for a few days. Sure enough I got a phone call. He had bought another bus and a little Albion lorry. Could I come to Portsmouth and help him bring it back? This was no 70, the one recently repatriated from the Isle of Arran. On this occasion the bus was on the ro-ro ferry with the lorry with only one driver between them. My request to the ferry crew to be allowed aboard to drive one of them off was firmly refused so Jim drove the bus off then had to negotiate with the ferry crew to go back on board to retrieve his lorry. I’m not sure what customs arrangements Jim had made because I don’t recall waiting quite so long before leaving the port.

70 on arrival at Jim’s storage site with me at the wheel.

This time our route involved the M27, A34 (before the M3 was built through Twyford Down), A43 and M1. No 70 had been fitted out as a camper and used in France before use by the fire brigade at Guernsey airport prior to Jim’s purchase. This gave us some explaining to do when a police motorcyclist stopped us on the A34 near Winchester. It was close to summer solstice and he thought we were New Age travellers heading for Stonehenge! I could feel my heart bouncing off my rib cage as he walked around the bus. Eventually we managed to explain that we were heading to Nottingham and not Stonehenge. After a conversation about the legality or otherwise of our little convoy the policeman admitted to being a restorer of vintage motorcycles then stood for ages with his pen poised over his notebook before saying “Ho f*** it. Just clear off!” I don’t think I’ve been so relieved in my life! I’m sure he informed colleagues in other forces along our route because a patrol car would appear as we crossed each county boundary, take a close look then disappear. It wasn’t until the next day that I found out that police and New Age travellers had clashed that evening in the “Battle of the Beanfield” near Stonehenge that had led to 420 arrests of travellers and many buses used as travellers homes being destroyed. I think we had a lucky escape!

An encounter with the police wasn’t to be the only drama on that trip. These were the days before the Towcester bypass when the junction between the A5 and A43 was a set of traffic signals in the town centre. As we were approaching the town I felt the brakes on 70 go soft. As we got into the town I realised I had no brakes at all. The old Albions were fairly low geared so I dropped down through the box so that I was only doing around 2mph as we approached the signals. Unfortunately the signals changed to red and Jim stopped in the lorry. I had no option but to run into the back of it, albeit at very low speed and with very little damage other than a bruised ego. A few yards along the A5 we pulled on to the forecourt of a building and Jim fitted a spare brake pipe and we were again on our way. Fortunately the rest of the trip to Nottingham was on the M1 which was almost deserted at that time of night.

No 70 was subsequently sold to Berni Mitchell-Luker on the Isle of Arran who ran the “Lighthouse & Transport Museum” but apparently didn’t actually have a museum or a lighthouse. The bus passed through a couple of owners on the island and has recently been in the news having returned from Arran and put up for sale. It looks too big a job for me to take on sadly.

70 in her temporary home with Jersey 161.

My final bus repatriation trip with Jim was in April 1986 when the last of the Albion Nimbuses and former Western National Bristol SULs we’re coming off the island. These were bought by a Barnsley dealer and were headed for Boulder Bridge Lane. Not to be put off, Jim bought at least one complete bus off the dealer and struck a deal to buy engines and gearboxes as they were being scrapped. He also volunteered to help drive them from the dock side in Torquay, where they had been landed as deck cargo, to Barnsley. I was roped in for one such trip.

These buses were fitted with only single wheels on the rear and had been jump started so no lights or indicators. We set off from Torquay up the M5, the scrapman’s wrecker leading with a bus hanging on the back followed by Jim and me driving two buses and one set of trade plates between us. By the time we reached Taunton it was getting dark and I was relieved when we pulled into to services. I envisaged getting some sleep on the bus then back on the road once it was daylight. The wrecker driver had other ideas. He knew the landlady of a pub in Taunton and suggested we go for a pint. I thought he would leave his bus at the services but, no we went to the pub in the wrecker with a bus hanging on the back. Eventually, when the wrecker driver was onto about his seventh pint, Jim and I quietly and soberly left and took a taxi back to the services and our buses. Morning came eventually and there was no sign of the wrecker driver so we decided to get on our way. Around 20 miles further on we could see blue lights ahead of us and, as we approached, we could see the wrecker on the hard shoulder with the bus obstructing the near side lane. Rather than draw attention to ourselves by stopping we drove on. It seems the wrecker driver had left the pub, the landlady having resisted his charms, and decided to push on towards Barnsley. He had then broken down shortly up the M5. I never found out if he was breathalised but he continued driving the wrecker for years after.

Jim and I subsequently spent several days in the scrap yard stripping seats out of buses and cutting spare engines and gearboxes out. Guernsey Nimbus 165 was used to take the seats back to Jim’s base while the scrap man lent me his truck to get the engines and gearboxes back.

Having repatriated quite a few buses, I played a part in taking one back to Guernsey. This was the Watson’s Greys Albion Victor that I believe is still in service on the island. Jim had kept it with a coach operator near Rowenstall and it’s trip to Portsmouth involved Rowenstall to Nottingham via the M62, then Nottingham to Portsmouth via the M1 and A43/A34 – at 29mph max! Apart from being painfully slow it was a relatively uneventful trip.

About to join the M62…..
Leaving Nottingham Trent Clifton Campus
Comfort break at Watford Gap on the M1

I left Nottingham in September 1986, initially to work in London then moved back to my home patch in Sunderland. Around 11 years later I bought ex Sunderland Corporation Crossley ABR 433 from the estate of the late Norman Myers. The Crossley only had three seat frames in it so I was on the look out for a set of appropriate seats. I discussed the possibility of acquiring seats from Jim but he was initially reluctant, preferring to see his seating stock reunited with Channel Islands buses. I’d almost given up asking him when I bumped into him at the North Weald rally and he asked if I was still looking for seats. At this point Jim had recently taken early retirement from Nottingham Trent and was in the process of clearing his storage base prior to moving back to Essex.

In 1992 Jim had sold a pair of former Jersey Leyland PS1 single deckers (JMT 44 and 49) to Guernsey. The bodywork on No 49 (J5660) was found to be in poor condition and was superbly rebodied by the Guernseybus coachuilder Vernon Priaulx, who gave it a new 31-seat coach body (numbered 500330) incorporating a transparent sliding roof. Sister bus 44 (J5567) was rebuilt less dramaticly as an open top bus for use on the island. The pair subsequently moved to Mac Tours in Edinburgh in 2002 then to Ensignbus by 2009 where I believe they are still in the private hire fleet. When the two buses were collected from Jim, the seats were taken out on one of them and left with him. Both buses were 34 seaters and I got 17 frames which suggests the seats came from one of the pair. They are the correct curved top shape and size that I was looking for. Needless to say, shortly after that conversation with Jim, Ian Alderson and myself drove down the A1 with a trailer to collect them. They are currently being restored and reupholstered as part of the HLF funded restoration of the Crossley at Gardner’s in Spennymoor on behalf of the North East Bus Preservation Trust.

Seats from Jersey 49 in former Sunderland Corporation Crossley, ABR 433.

Unfortunately, although I didn’t know it, that trip to collect a set of seats was to be the last time I saw Jim. I lost touch with him when he moved back to Essex as I no longer had a land line number for him. He wasn’t into social media last time I spoke to him so my usual route to getting in touch these days didn’t work. I last tried to contact him back in 2015 to let him know I was getting married. He’d have been delighted to know I now have a bus mad five year old daughter!

Certainly as far as I’m aware, Jim never restored a bus. His motivation always seemed to be to save as many as possible and move them on to new owners who’d appreciate and had the skills to restore them. There’s certainly a lot of buses still around that owe their continued existence to him. Jim always insisted that buses he saved and repatriated from the Channel Islands went to ‘good homes’. With that in mind I was horrified to see how many buses that had passed through his hands had ended up as travellers homes. I counted seven looking through Dave Fawcett’s book though I dare say there is a philosophical argument as to whether it’s better for a bus to be cherished and used as a home or to rot unrestored in a field or a shed as part of someone’s ‘collection’. I’m not sure I have the answer to that one. Certainly his legacy is quite a number of buses that we can enjoy today but which wouldn’t have survived without his determination to save them.

Jim was born in 1947 in Hainault, Essex where he spent his childhood. He read Geography at the University of Nottingham where he stayed on to research his PhD. He became a lecturer at Nottingham College of Education and stayed there for his entire career, the institution becoming Trent Polytechnic then Nottingham Trent University. On retirement he moved back to Essex, settling in Southend on Sea where he remained until he passed away. Jim never married and had no children.

While Jim was very influential in my early career and in my taking up bus preservation as a hobby, I can’t claim to have really known him all that well. He was a very private and reserved man during the time that I worked with him. It took a while to gain his confidence before he would let you in to his circle and he didn’t suffer fools gladly. I’m especially sad that I didn’t make more of an effort to get back in touch. Each year that passed, I kept thinking that I’ll bump into him at North Weald again next year. When we did meet the air would always smell of diesel as we put the world to rights talking old buses and reminiscing about old bus delivery runs that I don’t think any of us would ever contemplate these days.

RIP Dr Jim Young 1947-2021

ExpLoring etive environs!

Heather and Chloe explore the Loch Etive shoreline.

As I sit here on a dreary wet Tuesday afternoon in the middle of this tedious claustrophobic nightmare, my mind turns to holidays in the past to help cheer myself up…….

2020 saw us incarcerated at home for much of the time due to the Covid 19 pandemic.  This certainly curtailed our usual travels in the first half of the year. However the lifting of lockdown during the summer and the builders arriving in July to construct our new extension led to us deciding to take a last minute break away for a week. 

In 2019 we had stayed in a holiday let in Bonawe near Oban. It had rained the whole week but we loved the slightly remote lochside location and rain is part of a West Highland adventure. When we found that the property was available the same week as the builder was about to demolish our kitchen and wreck our bedroom, we decided to go there again.

Our holiday let is in Kenmore Cottages, Bonawe, a small cul de sac of twenty seven 1960s/70s former local authority or possibly housing association houses. The houses seem to have been built to replace the original village, much of which has been demolished. There is a mothballed Victorian village primary school and there is evidence that a row or two of terraced houses once stood next to it. There is no shop or pub in the village and the place is at the end of a single track road numbered the B845 that clings to the north shore of Loch Etive next to Kenmore Bay.

I always like to gain an appreciation of the places we visit and this was no exception. Bonawe is very much a relic of an industrial past and once was the home and place of employment of a much bigger population. The reason for this was the local Bonawe Quarry which at one time was one of the biggest and most productive on the west coast of Scotland supplying Argyllshire Granite, a hard-wearing grey rock and a valuable export that is also used as a local building material.

Bonawe Quarry seen from the south side of the loch

At the start of the 20th Century the quarry employed hundreds of people.  In those days a variety of trades were employed there including stonemasons, drillers and the miners who extracted the stone. With their families, these represented a substantial community and a range of support services developed to serve them including local shops, butchers, bowling greens, a cinema, bakeries and laundry.

The quarry workers and their families were mainly housed in traditional Scottish tenement blocks with names like the Gullet, Seaview and the Rampart. These have long since been demolished.  Evidently there was even a tenement on the Ferry Island on Loch Etive. Within the village itself some families were apparently housed in tin dwellings. It is unlikely that any of this housing met contemporary let alone modern day standards which may be a clue to a development of modern social housing here in the 70s.

The quarry itself was of national importance and it seems reached a peak in production in the post WW2 period. On 20th October 1948 a quarter of a million tons of granite, enough for five years’ supply, was dislodged by one big blast at Bonawe Quarry. Whilst this seems small now compared with the output of Glensanda a few miles away, by the standards of the day it was huge. Indeed Bonawe could be seen as a forerunner of Glensanda in many ways.

The quarry also influenced the transport links in the area. A casual observer of the map of the area would wonder why the B845 runs from Barcaldine then along the northern shore of Loch Etive to then end on a small island. The eagle eyed would notice that it resumes on the south side at Tainault to link with the A85. The south side is also the location of the Bonawe Iron Furnace, the most complete charcoal fired iron furnace in Britain dating back to 1753. Sadly Covid restrictions meant it was closed on our visit.

The missing link is the Bonawe Ferry that stopped running in 1966. The ferry was provided by the quarry operator, JA Gardner for much of its operating span. It provided a useful short cut between the communities on the north shore of the loch around Bonawe and the village of Taynuilt with its railway station on the Callendar and Oban line and the main A85 to Glasgow. Originally known as the ‘Penny Ferry’ it carried passengers but in the 1930s the quarry operator set up a larger ferry to avoid the toll on the Connel Ferry Bridge and to facilitate the quicker movement of lorries.  General traffic was carried at times to help cover the operating costs.  The service ceased during the second world way but resumed in 1956.  Operation after 1956 was haphazard and was abandoned altogether in 1966 when the bridge at Connel was given over to road use and the tolls removed.

Dhuirnish in her later life on Bute.

Two ferry boats were used during its operation. The first called Diedre was in operation from 1937 to 1940 which was a turntable ferry. The second was the Dhuirnish which was also a turntable boat but was converted to a bow loader in later years in order to accommodate larger, heavier lorries. Few photos of either vessel exist of them in operation at Bonawe but the Dhuirnish saw service elsewhere and there are photos of it from that period.  In 1967 she was sold to the Bute Ferry Co. Ltd who operated her on the Colintraive/Rhubodach crossing in the Kyles of Bute until 1971. Her remains still exist at Inchmarnock on the Isle of Bute.

Today the landing at Tainault is fairly easily accessible though it’s northern counterpart is much more difficult to trace. 

The Bonawe ferry landing at Tainault.

Back in Bonawe, the quarry is now operated by Leicestershire based Breedon Group who have also taken over other local quarries. Whilst still officially operational it seems not to produce stone anymore but functions as a distribution depot. Relatively small quarries like Bonawe have generally been replaced by super quarries like Glensanda which are far more automated and are less labour intensive. 

The houses in the Kenmore Cottages close are gradually being sold to private buyers with at least two becoming holiday lets. I’m still undecided on my ethical position on holidaying in a property that was originally intended as social housing. Talking to the neighbours, they seem fine with it, particularly as few people work at the quarry any more. We certainly felt welcome, so much so we’ve booked up again to stay there in June this year, lockdowns permitting.  Will we get there? Who knows?

2020 in Retrospect!

I’ve been dreading writing my review of 2020. My 2019 review ended on something of a low with a grim political outlook but little did any of us know what was going to hit us in 2020. In reviewing 2020 there is the danger of summing it up in two depressing words – Covid and Brexit! However, within the tedious nightmare of months of domestic incarceration, there have been some bright spots that in a ‘normal’ year would have been the icing on the cake!  So let’s look at the positives….. 

I’ve been dreading writing my review of 2020. My 2019 review ended on something of a low with a grim political outlook but little did any of us know what was going to hit us in 2020. In reviewing 2020 there is the danger of summing it up in two depressing words – Covid and Brexit! However, within the tedious nightmare of months of domestic incarceration, there have been some bright spots that in a ‘normal’ year would have been the icing on the cake!  So let’s look at the positives….. 

The big news for our little branch of the Marshall family is that we finally got our house extension built in late summer of 2020. We had the last week in March pencilled in for the builders to make a start but that got cancelled when the first lockdown was announced. Eventually, as restrictions were relaxed over the summer, our builder told us he could make a start. So on 23 July the vans turned up and a digger moved on site and our domestic lives were turned upside down.  We set up a temporary kitchen in the front lounge and effectively camped out in there for two months until they finished on 30 September.  Quite early on in the works we hired a skip which was largely filled with our ‘junk’ rather than builders waste. Even then, there seems so much more to get rid of.

One thing we decided to do was to bury a time capsule in a wall in the extension with photos of ourselves, of the house before work started and the architect’s drawings. Hopefully someone in the future will be curious about who we were and how we lived.

Of course when the structural work was complete, the fit out started. The new kitchen was fitted at the end of October/early November. This was the first time ever I’ve had a new kitchen and I’m still coming to terms with how all the new appliances work! Fit out of the toy/family room came after Heather dragged me to IKEA for the first time since 1992. Certainly the new part of the house is much warmer and better configured for family life than the 1940s layout we had before. There’s still a lot to do with the utility room to decorate and fit out, blinds to order and fit and tiled splash backs in the kitchen. Elsewhere we need to reinstate gardens and generally bring rest of house up to same standard. I suppose it will keep us occupied during the interminable lockdowns we have before us.

Aside from the building works, I moved into semi retirement with 3 day working from 1 April but as this coincided with an increase in workload on Covid related transport measures, I’ve found myself frequently working five days when I only get paid for three. Plans to tour the west coast of Ireland are on hold indefinitely!

2020 actually started off well with some interesting local events. We had an early trip to Beamish; a visit to the normally closed Whitburn windmill; Arty Party – an arts based event at the old Fire Station; Heather took part in the International Women’s Day swim at Seaburn at the beginning of March; we had a preview of the restored Hylton Castle; and attended Riverside Sunderland materplan events.

Our first holiday of the year was planned for the end of March to coincide with our fifth wedding anniversary. We’d found a new holiday let in Heacham having outgrown the accommodation at the old railway station. The new place was so close to the Fox and Hounds we could look out of the back window on the pub back garden and it was possible for us to have relays of childcare and beer! Unfortunately as our departure date drew closer, my Twitter feed was full of attractions announcing closure due to Covid. On the Wednesday the closure of all schools was announced and I must admit it having a little weep on the bus on my way home from work that night.

In the absence of any advice not to travel, and the refusal of the booking agency to cancel, we set off for Norfolk on the Thursday evening. I should have known the odds were against us when the car started playing up on the A19 but with an overnight stay near Hull, we made it to Heacham at 4pm on the Friday.  At 5pm it was announced that all pubs were to close!  We ended up having one evening in the Fox and, at the time of writing, I may still have the distinction of being the last customer to get served ‘normally’ at bar in the Fox! By Saturday morning Cley Windmill phoned to cancel our wedding anniversary meal booking. With reports of a national lockdown looming, we decided to head for home. By Monday evening we were all locked down!

By the beginning of August we needed a break from builders! We were aware that our bedroom would be open to the elements for a week or so and decided to risk a holiday. In 2019 we had enjoyed a last minute break at Bonawe near Oban. On checking the web site the same accommodation was available for a week so we booked it. As always we bookended the main holiday with a couple of Travelodge nights. This time we spent the first day ambling up the Ayrshire coast and spent our first night away at Glasgow Airport. It was good to be reacquainted with Ayr and I think we will be back once we are able to travel again. Highlights of the week included driving to the tip of the Mull of Kintyre where we could see the coast of Northern Ireland and a circular tour taking in Glencoe and Fort William.  It was good to relax away from it all and, by the standards of the West Highlands, the weather was very kind to us.

The October school holidays saw us go back to Heacham. With most Brits staying in the UK we found accommodation very hard to book for that week. The old and new holiday lets in the village were unavailable so we booked a static caravan at Heacham Beach holiday park. Compared with what we’re used to it was fairly basic and there was mud everywhere on the park. On the upside there were daily activities for Chloe in the clubhouse which also served a damned good fried breakfast. This was the week after the clocks went back so it was dark at 5pm most nights. We enjoyed Sunday lunch in the Fox but it was too far for me to walk for evenings so we never sampled the ‘Covid-safe’ arrangements. Other highlights included trips on the Wells and Walsingham and North Norfolk Railways but the biggest highlight was a trip from Wells out to sea on restored lifeboat Lucy Lavers expertly skippered by our friend Chris Thomson who let Heather steer the boat back towards Wells.

I mentioned earlier that the car began acting up. Essentially it was lacking guts and taking forever to reach 60mph. The turbo had packed in. During the summer I took it to my usual garage who quoted me £2k to put it right. For a 15 year old car I decided this wasn’t viable so at the start of October we bought a Merc and the Beemer was sold on. At least I won’t be subject to jokes about lacking indicators!

Finally, during the first lockdown I read a blog by one of the business gurus who advised me when I was freelancing. This is a guy who can usually see the positives in everything. I expected him to say he’d started another two thriving businesses selling PPE, redecorated the house from top to bottom, learnt to speak Swarheli fluently and mastered playing the classical violin. Instead he outlined all the same difficulties we were experiencing of a family cooped up together in the same house, of trying to stay working and trying to stay sane. He concluded by saying that if you get through 2020 with your family, home and livlihood still intact, you’ve succeeded! 

Having summoned up some positivity, as I was drafting this it was announced that we are to move to Tier 4 lockdown tonight so it looks like it’s more of the same in 2021 sadly. 

Smile! You’re at the best site ever