11 – 23 March 2020
We collected our eerily empty home from the body-shop – she looked great – and drove her straight over to our dealer for a couple of days of checkups – MOT, service, habitation check etc – enjoying the excellent hospitality of Kate’s brother and his family for the duration. We needed new brake pads – hardly surprising after some of our exploits in Greece – but otherwise came out with a clean bill of health. A month after dropping her off we had our home back and headed up to our storage unit to start re-stocking.
We had made the mistake of making a plan. We had 3 weeks booked on a campsite not far from our rented-out house and intended to catch-up with friends and get ourselves fully MOT’d – eye tests, dentists, doctors etc. Then we had a Tunnel crossing booked for early April, intending to drive down to Greece through Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Albania. A tour of Northern Greece, a return to the Peleponnese and then a ferry back to Italy at the start of July for a return to the UK where we have a canal holiday booked in July – a bucket-list item for Danny for his significant birthday. Wow – that is organised for us!
Our first inkling that things may not go to plan was the state of the supermarkets. We checked in to our campsite and headed to Tesco and the sight of rows of empty shelves. Our last shop had been back in Cockermouth over a week earlier when things had been completely normal. Not now. We toured a number of supermarkets and were completely unable to get dried pasta. Bizarre. We tried – and failed – to understand the panic buying of toilet rolls. Well, everyone will have seen it so we don’t need to describe it further but we were shocked by the panic buying and by how packed the supermarkets were whilst everywhere else was getting more quiet. With limited storage we need to shop every 3 or 4 days and seeing the quantities people were stocking up on was rather shocking. A request for hand sanitiser was routinely greeted with a look of incredulity and we resorted to buying the basic ingredients for the WHO make-your-own recipe. Danny was inclined to take it more seriously than Kate – we both have underlying conditions – but being in the motorhome seemed to insulate us in a way and we were confident we’d be able to weather it either on a campsite or wild-camping.
Our Green Cards arrived as we received notification after notification of travel warnings and borders closing. Five days after arriving came the Friday announcement of Coronavirus restrictions. That evening as we walked on Thurstaston beach a large gathering of youngsters enjoying the start of the weekend seemed an odd counterpoint to the government’s social distancing direction. Everything felt strange and uncertain but we were comforted by the thought we still had over 2-weeks on the campsite in which to see how things were going. Except that on Sunday morning the campsite staff told us the site was closing with immediate effect.
As full-timers with no bricks & mortar to return to, we – and the other 3 full-time units on the site – were allowed to stay on for a short time awaiting a decision from the Caravan Club. The almost empty site felt strange, a feeling accentuated by the beautiful weather and glorious sunset. What were we to do?
We watched the news – caravan sites closing across the UK and motorhomes not welcome in Scotland and Wales. We realised that communities normally welcoming to motor-homers were becoming wary of these strangers who may carry the virus or prove a burden on local services. Public toilets were being shut, and with the closure of caravan sites we would no longer have access to facilities to dispose of our waste or top up with fresh water. All of a sudden we realised how illusory our independence was.
We considered our options, fortunate that we had some. Friends offered lifeline’s to us but we didn’t know how long the situation would last and were reluctant to impose. We visited a furnished apartment available on a 3-month let but realised that apart from the high cost we would be homeless again after that and would probably go slightly mad as well. Our best option was provided by Danny’s sister and her family, who generously offered us the use of a fenced compound next to their house with access to an outside tap and drains. Plenty of fresh air and beautiful scenery. What you would call a “no brainer”. In Northern Ireland.
Anxious about a travel ban we boarded the overnight ferry to Belfast on Monday with both the van and the car. It felt really strange boarding separately then going straight to our cabin with plentiful supplies of Dettol, wipes and hand-wash. We were in time to watch Boris announce the lock-down – only leave home to exercise once a day, travel to and from work when”absolutely necessary”, shop for essential items and for medical or care needs. Closure of shops selling non-essential goods, no gatherings in public of more than two people who do not live together and, particularly pertinent to us, the compulsory closure of all campsites. As we sailed away leaving the Liverpool skyline behind we felt as if we were fleeing the country and going into exile, not knowing what would happen before we returned.