Keith Richards, writer and resident of Chiswick, documented his Corona lock down, living on his own, in a weekly blog from 24 March to 7 July called Chiswick Confined – My Corona. Now he’s free to roam at will, the blog has mutated into Chiswick Unbound.

If an ass goes travelling he will not come home a horse.”

Thomas Fuller (1608 – 1661)

The Highlands and Back

To complete my mini-series on my recent wanderings I have compiled a short list of Covid travel advice based on my own experience of trains and boats and planes (well, if you can count Donaidh’s rowing boat to catch our mackerel supper). Before that, a few more musings.

Although ‘nippy sweetie’ is usually a derogatory term for a bossy (Scottish) woman, Nicola Sturgeon’s nickname seems to me to be a badge of respect north of Hadrian’s wall. And why should it not? Her matter of fact but direct and still daily briefings, contrast with the Johnson/Hancock pantomime down south. She is highly visible, takes ownership and has built credibility. Scots I know who would not necessarily be a fan or agree with her politics acknowledge her performance during the Covid crisis.

The results seem to reflect an attitude that puts public health as more clearly a priority than the economy and takes a more cautious approach to the easing of lock-down. The Scottish key Covid indicators are significantly better than the English equivalents. Her credibility seems also to have had an effect on the public’s response as everywhere I went in Scotland I found a stronger adherence to guidelines and, dare I say it, more of a sense of community responsibility.

Images above: two pubs in Portree, Skye

Now, no one can say the Scottish do not enjoy a dram or two but not only did I observe a greater degree of discipline than is evident in London (too be fair, I think the same can be said of many smaller communities outside the bigger English metropolises) I also witnessed some innovative responses to the challenge of ensuring responsibly distanced drinking. The two pubs, clearly with co-operation from the local council, were in Portree – Skye’s largest town.

The first, in the town’s square has cleverly placed small greenhouse strategically to enable small ‘pods’ to drink, safely isolated from other groups. In between, more tables and small trees add to the space and the effect. Just round the corner, cleverly placed barriers create a safe area for tables, a ‘distanced zone’ and then a traffic protected route for pedestrians around them in what must be a collaborative arrangement with the local authorities.

I also found in public places more people were wearing masks and cafés/restaurants demanded and seemed to expect stronger compliance to guidelines. The move to opening up seems more measured and more reticent on the parts of both the establishments and their customers. Clearly, this will not be uniform. Just as in London there will be examples of the good, the bad and the candidate for ‘Dick of the Week’.

So, given the increase in quarantine of foreign holidays and in the expectation of more people deciding to travel within the UK for holiday here are my tips, based on my recent experience.

Keith’s Travel Advice

• Remember travelling in Covid times is even more stressful than usual. Other passengers may be anxious and often crew and staff may be pressured and edgy. Your own stress levels may also be at that point where you are more likely to react. Keeping chilled makes everyone’s life easier.

• Arrive at the station or airport earlier than you would normally. Distancing measures mean everything takes more time. Expect to queue more and be patient when asked to do so. Note: there may not be enough seats for everyone in waiting areas – another reason to be earlier if you have difficulty standing for long (and if you don’t be ready to offer your seat up).

• Be prepared to wear your mask more often and in more places that you would in London. I would recommend taking more than one with you. Compliance with guidelines and regulations seems stronger everywhere than in London.

• You may be wearing your mask a great deal longer than you are used to just popping down the shops. Make sure it fits snuggly under your glasses if you wear them as carrying luggage etc. and breathing more heavily mists them up – a bugger if you are straining to read flight or train signs!

• Pack food and drink for longer journeys as some airlines and train companies are offering restricted catering services. Your usual roadside cafe and even some motorway service stations may be closed or not offering normal service. There will be less choice.

• Check everything in advance much more than you normally would. Some transport links may be restricted, many pubs and restaurants are still closed or have shorter opening hours. Many hotel services are reduced – for example many are not offering breakfast and room items (bottles of water, in-room tea and coffee) may have to be requested.

• Book in advance. Outside London many more places, including pubs even if you just want a drink, are only open for booked customers. If you are cancelling let them know – this is courteous at anytime but when places have restricted covers it is even more critical for their business’ survival.

• Longer train journeys are sometimes only possible if you have a booked seat – you may not be allowed to board even if you have a ticket but no seat reservation.

• Most places prefer payment by card but, bizarrely, I found some places only took cash – so carry both.

• On ‘Rishi-Dishi’ deals (Mon – Weds) service charges may also be reduced (percentage of meal) and many serving staff are also on lower tips/wages so please be aware of this and tip generously (for good service of course).

Finally, many of us are ready for a break but constrained from our usual foreign holidays by various pandemic restrictions. When looking for an alternative within these shores consider this. While the seaside or countryside destinations that we may consider definitely need the income that ‘staycations’ bring, these same communities are nervous that an influx of city dwellers, happy to take a relaxed attitude to health guidelines, will bring the virus to their doorsteps. We Londoners should be cognisant of this and respect their concerns – adhering to their rules not importing our own.

Farewell to the tranquillity of the Highlands

So, saying beannachd leibh to Costa Cloich, I leave you with the evocative strings of Duncan Chisholm who I first heard at Glasgow’s ‘Celtic Connections’ Festival in 2019 – a highly recommended mix of Celtic-meets-World music that I so hope is able to happen in 2021.

Just listening to the sounds drifting over the wide seas and skies and the beauty of the wild landscape enables me to finish with my final reminder – if you do visit the countryside whether on a day trip or by camping: take your rubbish back home or to a bin or re-cycling point. Don’t be your own ‘Dick of the Week”.

*All photos by Keith Richards