Sorry if you were expecting another coast walk write up because this week I’m going to have an absolutely massive rant. Sorry to disappoint you and if you don’t want to read a massive rant, stop reading now. Yes I am of course talking about Covid and my views on the matter seem to be rather different and controversial in comparison with most people. Nevertheless that is my view, this is my blog, so I’m going to share them and I’m not asking anyone to agree with me, but I do hope you will be able to at least see things from my perspective even if you don’t agree.
Back in September 2019 I had almost finished my last trip to the Scottish Highlands. As many people know I’m trying to write up my walks in order (going anti-clockwise) even though I mostly didn’t do them in order. My last full day walk on the coast of the Highlands finished at Lower Diabaig and I continued from there, eventually, in 2020. However on my last day of that trip in September 2019 I finished my planned walk early so decided rather than head straight for the airport I’d jump ahead. To limit the amount of driving, I headed for Torridon and parked in the village and did a there and back walk heading west on the road towards Lower Diabaig with the plan to turn back when I had filled the available time. It would cut short my next full days walk.
When I got to where I decided to turn back I took a photo of the map pointing to where I’d got to, so I’d remember for next year (the boat house by the loch). It was near a car park at Torridon House I could use next time so it seemed a good place to stop.
I knew I’d be back next year. Having ended up staying far to far north (in Ullapool) for this trip due to booking too late (though still over 6 months in advance) I knew I’d have to book even earlier to get a place to stay next year somewhere vaguely near the coast I was going to be walking. So I’d already booked my next trip to the Highlands, in May 2020 meaning I already had that to look for. I’d booked a hotel in Kyle of Lochalsh, return flights from to Inverness and a hire car.
It wasn’t however my last trip to Scotland that year. I had decided to start walking some of the coast of Scotland further south. I was out of annual leave but I had worked out that it was just about possible for me to walk some of the coast of Ayrshire in the weekend by taking a flight to Glasgow early on Saturday morning and trains on from there to the coast and return late on Sunday night. I had done two such trips later in the autumn. This had been a success so I’d booked a further two trips for March and April 2020 too so I could make more progress.
During the winter months we started to hear about a new virus. We started to get a few cases here but I don’t think many people were too concerned, I certainly wasn’t. Then China implemented something called “lockdown”, preventing people from even leaving their homes. Nothing like that could happen here, surely? Indeed much of the press was full of that too, that this sort of approach would never be tolerated in the democratic countries in the west (they were wrong, very sadly). Come spring 2020 and it was more and more in the news. Italy had shocked much of the world by also implementing a lock down in parts of the north of the country. It was starting to get a bit scary, but I was not (and never have been) scared of the virus, but I was (and am) very scared of what Governments were doing in response. I had another couple of trips booked abroad during the late winter and early spring.
My last weekend away was in early March 2020, when I went to Marseille to walk some of the French coast, where it was a bit warmer (maybe I’ll do all the French coast in a future project!). I gather this part of France was at the time a bit of a hotspot. I wasn’t in the least bit concerned. However clearly others were and I realised this when the hotel I had booked called me to check if I was still coming, as they had had a lot of cancellations. I confirmed I would be. I made it to Marseille and though the hotel never said as much I’m pretty sure I was the only guest (which probably explains why they called me). I never saw or heard anyone else, including at breakfast, I never saw any lights on in any other rooms except for my own. It was my last trip abroad for 2020 (and, as it turned out, for 2021 too).
My first trip to Scotland for 2020 was booked for the 28th March, to Ayrshire. A couple of weeks ago the company I work for had told us the company had decided we must all work from home. All company travel was banned and personal travel strongly discouraged. They expected this to be the case for 3 weeks or so. I wasn’t too bothered by this, I knew I could work from home and whilst I’d rather not (up until then I tended to do so only if needed), it was only for a few weeks (yet it was actually 20 months before I stepped foot in the office again). I work in the IT industry but unlike most people, I live and work in the same town. This means my normal way of getting to work is to walk. So I don’t have a stressful or expensive commute and I prefer the separation between home and work so I’d rather work in the office than at home. I am also lucky in that the company benefits at the time were very good – the office had a cafe and the company provided free breakfasts each day (including hot food) and subsidised hot meals at lunch time, so I was used to going to work for breakfast. I wasn’t thrilled at having to turn my “box room” into an office, albeit I hoped temporarily (no … it still is now, more than 18 months later). And I’d have to pay more for having the heating on all day, electricity, cups of tea and so on too.
So that was the first unwelcome change. Of course come late March and I started to worry the Government was going to take action here too. By late March we were being advised to work from home, minimise contact and so on. I tried to carry on as much as normal as I could, but I was watching events I had booked and paid for start to be cancelled, things I was looking forward to, no longer taking place. A week before my planned trip to Scotland, Boris Johnson announced a lockdown in the UK.
I was utterly horrified. However I, stupidly, believed him when he said it was to be “two weeks to flatten the curve”. So a horrible two weeks ahead, but there was a light ahead. It was only two weeks. I could cope. That meant my first trip to Scotland was cancelled. I had a lot of sympathy for the travel industry in particular when all non essential travel was banned. My sympathy was short lived when I tried to get a refund for the trip I had already booked and paid for, a week later on the 29th Mach. The hotel, Premier Inn were quick to refund me, but British Airways insisted that because the flights I had booked were still running and my ticket was “non refundable”, I’d not be seeing a penny of my money back, even though I was legally breaking the law to go on it and hotels were closed if I did get to Scotland. They did, eventually, relent and give me a voucher. It expired before I ever got to use it, so that was the first of much of my money that essentially went down the toilet. Their response would set the tone of other companies. I quickly realised travel insurance was a waste of time when I was told that if the airline had offered a voucher they considered the money “recoverable” and I’d be getting nothing from them. I hadn’t however intended to end up buying a voucher. In the end I lost £1000s.
Now I was alone and isolated. I live alone. I was not allowed to go to work, to see my colleagues. I was not allowed to see my friends. I was not allowed to see my family. I had to miss my dads Birthday and Mother Day. I had to spend my own Birthday, in the first week of April, at home and alone. The Government had implemented something called “social distancing” (which was not, in any way social) and we were only allowed out for exercise and essential shopping.
That too was a draining and upsetting experience. No one wanted to chat, people crossed the road to avoid me and were terrified in coming within 2 metres of you even though most pavements and paths are not 2 metres wide (and the Government guidance was only ever to do this “where possible”). I hated that everyone was just avoiding me and treating me like I was walking toxic-waste.
Many people were put onto Furlough meaning that whilst they didn’t have to work the Government paid most of their wages (but I know of course, we’ll be taxed to the hilt to pay it all back), but I still had to work. The weather was glorious but I was stuck inside whilst I watched most of my neighbours enjoying sitting in the garden with a bottle (or several) of wine on the go each day, or perhaps a barbecue, treating it like a big holiday, because they had been put on furlough.
Trying to watch the TV or listen to the radio was no better and offered no escape. Every single advert break we had “Corona Man” (as I called him) popping up to tell us, again and again, we must stay at home. (Incredibly, even now, 20 months later every single advert break on the radio still does have a Government advert lecturing us in some way). Even places like YouTube and websites quickly became full of adverts saying the same. We had politicians coming on the TV every day for a daily bulletin reminding us to stay at home as much as possible.
Overnight Britain felt like it had been turned into a 3rd world country and the cause was entirely the Government. With most businesses shut down the only places still open were supermarkets and that became a thoroughly depressing experience, having to join a long queue before finally being let in, having to try and avoid everyone else to find masses of empty shelves and having to buy what you could, not what you needed.
For a while I found that my local supermarket, Waitrose, a 5 minute walk away was open at 8am. I don’t normally shop there (too expensive) but given I was working from home I could go there and still get home for 9am and I found that they had many more things in stock then than when I normally did my shopping in the evening after work when the shelves had been stripped bare. Of course that soon get banned too when it was deemed that 8am to 9am was now “pensioners hour” and by the time I could get in, at lunch time, everything I wanted had been sold.
I had a lot of plans for 2020. By the time this all happened, I had booked and paid for 5 trips to Scotland and a weekend in the Yorkshire Dales. I like to do a trip to somewhere remote and beautiful each year (in past years that had included the Faroe Islands, Svalbard and Iceland) and for 2020 I was going for a week to the Lofoten Islands in Norway. This was a very expensive trip but have a look at some photos of the place to see what had attracted me there. I had also booked a weeks holiday to Maderia, a trip to walk the entire coast of Belgium. A weekend trip to Lyon, a trip to Alesund in mainland Norway. All of it became impossible and that was potentially thousands of pounds down the drain – and the potential turned into reality. (I really enjoy, or at least did, enjoy travel so this is what I spend much of my earnings on).
Now I had to spend every lunch time on the phone trying to get money back from airlines, hotels and car hire companies for trips I couldn’t go on. All the companies had reduced hours and more people calling “due to Covid”. It was a depressing experience when it quickly became apparent that although I couldn’t go all these companies would really rather hang on to my money, thanks. That meant then more time on the phone to various credit card company’s and useless travel insurance and ensuing arguments (a particularly long one with EasyJet where they claimed the money back American Express had refunded me, but when I challenged the decision and submitted all the documentation American Express did agree with me that I was entitled to a refund that Easyjet refused me and did refund the money again, this time making it clear that was final and the refund wouldn’t be taken back again … which thankfully turned out to be true).
With pretty much every physical business closed down, sporting events banned, meeting other people banned and so on at least I was still able to do my main hobby, walking, at the weekends. Many people had been cut off from their favourite past-time. At least walking was still allowed. However this had to be from home and of course walking to work and having lived in the same place for many years I felt like I’d walked every path within a few miles of home thousands of time before (I hadn’t … mostly, though some I certainly had walked that often).
However even that was nothing like as enjoyable as it used to be. Whilst the weather through this period was glorious, going for a walk was now stressful. With everything else shut down many other people had decided to go out for walks too (as I did every weekend) and I literally found paths I am used to walking about 10 times busier than usual and with everyone trying to keep apart that made things unpleasant too. If you got stuck behind a slow moving family, for example, it was hard to get past and many were reluctant to do so. Sometimes if I met people coming the other way they would be terrified to pass. I remember in particular one incident where a couple were coming the other way on a narrow path. The main then put his hand out, demanding I don’t come any closer and that I must “go back, because we can’t come in 2 metres of you”. It was a fair way back to the start of the path but well why should I go back? You’re not going to get ill walking past someone for a few seconds and I had just as much right to use the path as he did. If it bothered him, he could go back We’d both chosen to walk it knowing it was less than 2 metres wide, that there might be other people on it and because it’s not straight and with hedges you cannot see if there are others on it. Eventually, when I refused to go back we passed with him turning away, squeezed into the bus and literally trembling with fear at the prospect of passing another person.
I wondered what on earth has become of the country and the people? For most people it’s a mild flu. Many people get no symptoms at all. It seemed extremely over the top to me.
We had also had the disgusting Derbyshire Police flying a drone around and making a film that they then showed all over the TV, proud as punch of themselves for shaming people for briefly stopping to take a photo when out, alone, walking nowhere near anyone else or briefly stopping to admire the view. Fining people for being outside drinking a cup of coffee because this meant they were having a “picnic”. Neighbours were encouraged to grass up anyone having visitors or question why an unfamiliar car was parked.
Things got worse when one Government minister (I think it was Michael Gove) announced that 1 hour of exercise should be the limit. Whilst there was never in fact any time limit (which was later clarified) this didn’t stop many people believing there was. My walks, at least at the weekend were usually several hours long, as had been the case for many years and I continued to do so. This meant I usually took a rucksack with me for drink and food. Now I had to face questions from some nosey people who thought there really was a 1 hour limit and so decided it was there business to know why I had a rucksack with me because I should only be out for an hour. (I used to use the excuse I was stopping at the shops on the way there/back and needed it to carry food, or already was). Then to actually eat or drink because footpaths were so busy, I resorted to finding areas of woodland “access land” on the map so I could get off a path and disappear into the woods where I could eat or drink without, I hoped, being seen from any paths.
In addition the countryside soon became a dumping ground as groups of teenagers (and sometimes families) gathered there, had a picnic (or takeaways and beer) or barbecues and then simply got up and left all the rubbish there, so the countryside was now piled high with litter and mess. I began to resent how many had now taken up my usual past time and I didn’t enjoy even going out for a walk much, always made to feel guilty for leaving the house, eating or wanting to take a photo of a nice view.
2 weeks had become several months. Repeated promises of back to normal by the Easter, then the summer and so on etc had been broken. “2 weeks to flatten the curve” was now some sort of sick joke. There seemed no end in site. Everything I had been looking forward to had been cancelled. It was impossible to make plans. Everything was closed. I felt that I wasn’t living, I was simply existing, from one day to the next. Yes I still had a job so at least I had money coming in and food to eat, but really I was sick of living like this with every day largely the same.
Many of my colleagues were quite happy since they often spend every weekend playing computer games anyway they were very happy to continue to do so now with the excuse they couldn’t do anything else and that by doing so they were “saving lives” as the Government liked to say. So they were all in favour of keeping restrictions going. I couldn’t stand it and wanted them to end right now, so we began to drift apart, I was fed up of hearing their views that it was “too early” to even consider relaxing anything or that they thought it was much too dangerous to go out for walks and I was reckless for doing so.
The country had become a horrible place with curtain twitchers galore trying to see if they could spot someone breaking “the rules” (and most of these things were actually rules, not law).
I began to feel really depressed. There was no end, nothing to look forward to and I was merely existing. I couldn’t even get to any bit of coast, let alone any new bits. I’ve often found that if things are difficult I head somewhere by the coast and just sit for a while on the beach watching and listening to the waves come and go. Looking out to the horizon, watching life go on. It puts things in perspective. The coast can be a real sanctuary to me at difficult times and I couldn’t even do that now.
I couldn’t see when I could ever resume my coastal walk and I gave serious consideration to simply giving up. Trying to plan was throwing good money after bad and only made me more depressed when any prospect of a return to the coast was always dashed. Eventually I decided I’d do exactly that and announced I was giving up. In the end, I did have 2nd thoughts and eventually it was possible to continue, but it was a close thing. I became very depressed and had no motivation for anything. I woke up but could I really be bothered to get out of bed to go to the next room to work?
I went into a downward spiral. The situation had gone on for months, the Government continually lied and there seemed no way out and no end. I didn’t want a “new normal” I didn’t want everything to be “socially distanced, of course”. I wanted life to go back how it was. If people were concerned they could choose to stay at home. Why should everyone be essentially locked up in their own homes? Criminals get solitary confinement, freedoms taken away and curfews. Yet this is what I had been put under and I had done nothing wrong and I felt like I was being treated like a criminal. The actions of the Government felt like an abusive relationship, taking away freedoms and promising a return if you followed the “rules”, only to find excuses why it can’t happen and move the goal posts, again and again.
If you expressed the view you thought the Government had gone too far (which I do think and always have done), in many peoples eyes, this made you in effect a granny murderer. It got to the point that sometimes when going out for a short walk near home I’d cross a railway bridge or a footbridge over a busy main road road and briefly stop and, fortunately only for a small time, feel like perhaps this could be a way out. I never wanted to feel like that and never thought I would but this is what the restrictions had done. I always felt that no matter what happened, there would always be something to look forward to, something you had enjoyed and could do again. But because everything I enjoyed was now impossible I wanted it all to end and this was certainly one way. I was desperate to get somewhere new, to get back to some sort of normality.
Fortunately things did improve a little when the Government announced a support bubble so I could at least see family in person again and eventually, some degree of travel was permitted, but no overnight stays, so at least I could explore some new places again and get to quieter paths and go back to the coast (but of course, so did everyone else).
Of course I thought and hoped that was the end, or at least the beginning of the end. It wasn’t. I couldn’t stand seeing Matt Hancock, Chris Whitty and the rest of them on the TV all the time telling us to stay at home that the situation was very serious and would be the case for quite some time. They were such miserable, depressing people.
Things took a particularly bad turn for me personally when the estate on which I live was suddenly front page news. Some new “South African variant” had been discovered (we’re not supposed to call it that anymore, but I can’t remember what we are supposed to call it so I will) and some people in the area had tested positive. It was all over the news. This was the very first area where this happened. TV cameras roamed the streets, helicopters flew over, we were very strongly discouraged from leaving the area and I watched Matt Hancock (god how I hate that man) on the TV announcing we must “come down hard on it” and that there would be “surge testing” in the area. As a result I even had people coming to the door demanding I take a Covid test. I refused (which did not go down well). I had been working from home all week, hadn’t been to South Africa or know anyone that had. It felt like we had become the same as China with people now even turning up at my front door demanding to test me to see if I’m “clean”. As far as I saw it, it was testing that was driving restrictions. I was (and still am) desperate for restrictions to end and I really feared if any cases of this were found the specific estate where I live would be subject to even tighter restrictions, probably to the point we would not be able to leave at all. I certainly didn’t want to play a part of anything that was going to facilitate that happening. Of course similar “surge testing” later happened in other areas, but living in the place where it happened first meant it was my area that got all the coverage and felt like it was now a “plague area” in the eyes of many which made it even harder if you went anywhere else (which was legal at that point).
The situation did gradually improve and by late summer I was finally able to return to the coast, albeit not at all how I planned it. That wasn’t the end though. Promises that the restrictions would end by certain dates were always broken. We started to have teir systems. Then we had a 2nd national lockdown and the area I live emerged from that in a higher tier it had been in at the start. It is clear to me at least lockdown doesn’t work, it simply makes any return to normal further away as it drags things out (see now how areas that had few restrictions, like Sweden, had a single wave and have largely avoided any re-occurrence whilst places with tougher restrictions see wave after wave). Our immune systems need some exposure to germs to keep working and essentially locking people up in their homes isn’t the answer.
As winter progressed we had more and more restrictions. We were promised a normal Christmas. At last, something to look forward to. But no, that too was taken from us at a the last minute, after most people had already bought food in and presents and so on. I now had a house full of Christmas presents for people I wouldn’t be able to see for months and decorations for an event we’d not be allowed to celebrate. I can’t express how much I hate Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock and all the rest of them for what they have done. This felt like the final straw for me. They have done so much to ruin my quality of life. Life is short and I want to spend as much time as I can doing things I enjoy and they have taken more than 18 months from me so far. (especially as like everyone, I’m not getting any younger). My freedom and quality of life should not be used by the Government as a tool to manage NHS capacity. The NHS is supposed to exist to protect the people, not the other way around.
Even now, 20 months later, we still have many restrictions (particularly in the area I used to enjoy, travel). I only went back to the office for the first time a couple of weeks ago but that too is thoroughly depressing experience, mostly empty, temperature checks on entry (which I always fail for the first few times for being “too cold”, having walked rather than driven in), masks to be worn whenever you get up (which I really really hate), one way systems, no meetings, no food in the cafe (only drinks) and so on. I yearn for things to get back to normal. We were told vaccines were the way back to normal (and I had both) but it seems that too was a lie. I can’t wait for an end to these restrictions hanging over us, the constant threats from the Government about restrictions coming back. I will never forget and I will certainly never forgive what the Government has done.
Sorry I had to get that off my chest and if you got this far, thanks for reading. Like I said I’m not asking you to agree. Next week I’ll be back to writing about the next coastal walk, when I could eventually get back to the highlands of Scotland 11 months after I was last there, in August 2020.