We landed at Heathrow Airport and having heard that due to Covid and Brexit it was taking many hours to get through immigration, we expected long delays. However, we were pleasantly surprised to walk straight through, collect our bags and be out of the airport within 30 minutes of stepping off the plane. The quickest that it has ever taken us.
We arrived only 2 days before Croatia was added to the UK’s ‘green’ list so we still had to quarantine for 5 days and have further tests on days 2, 5 & 8. Due to the ‘Wild West’ state of booking tests in the UK, we arranged to have them done at a recommended provider with a lab on site in Lutterworth, which pretty much guaranteed a same day result. This was approx 30 miles from where we were staying in Northampton. The 60 mile round trip only took just over an hour in the car, this would have taken us 2 days on the boat, how different life is on land compared with on the water!
Once we were released from quarantine we had a very busy time meeting up with family and friends.
We first spent time in our home town of Northampton. The weather was hot and sunny for a few days so we took advantage of the garden for family parties and fun in the paddling pool.
We visited the town centre and it was sad to see that many shops have closed since we left last year but pleased to see that the familiar historical buildings of Northampton remain unchanged
All Saints’ Church stands in the centre of the town. There has always been a church on the site since Norman times, although the current church was largely built after the Great Fire of Northampton in 1675 and was consecrated in 1680.
Just behind the Church stands the Guildhall. The current gothic style building was opened in 1864 and is the towns third Guildhall having succeeded previous buildings.
We took the grandchildren to Hunsbury Hill Country Park which is centred on an Iron Age Hillfort, it also has a reconstructed ironstone railway. They enjoyed the playground the most, our arms were certainly aching afterwards as they favoured the swings and continually wanted to ‘go higher’!
After travelling to Lutterworth for our final test we arranged to meet up with a friend just a few miles away at Foxton Locks on the Grand Union Canal.
Here there is the longest and steepest staircase of locks in the UK, with the remains of an inclined plane (boat lift) alongside.
Building work on the locks started in 1810 and took four years to complete, ten locks were carved by hand up a 75ft hill, through the Leicestershire countryside.
There was an interesting story of a hard working lock keeper.
Little changed with the locks until an innovative boat lift, or inclined plane was built next to the locks in 1900 to resolve the operational restrictions imposed by the lock flight. It was designed to carry boats up and down the steep hill in giant bathtubs, or caissons, of water using hydraulic power to lift and lower boats. It was not a commercial success as it was expensive to operate and under increasing competition from the railways, unfortunately it only remained in operation for ten years and was later dismantled in 1926.
Of course we had to visit the local pub for lunch.
While we were home we managed to fit in a great night out with friends to see a local band.
The highlight of our trip was then spending a few days at the seaside in Portsmouth with our daughter, son in law and grandchildren.
Portsmouth is a port city primarily built on Portsea Island on the south coast, the UK’s only island city. It is the home of the Royal Navy and known for its maritime heritage and Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Two-thirds of the Royal Navy’s fleet is based here along with some of the nation’s most famous ships and vessels. In the dockyard you can see the wooden warship HMS Victory, Nelson’s flagship in the Battle of Trafalgar, and HMS Warrior from 1860. The Tudor ship Mary Rose is also conserved in a dockyard museum.
Standing tall in the harbour is the 170m Spinnaker Tower, one of the landmarks of Portmouth. Its shape was chosen by the residents and construction started in 2001, it took four years to build and the observation tower was opened for visitors in 2005.
The apartment where we were staying had a great view of the tower and in the evening it was illuminated with colourful lights
The weather was changable while we were there and we had quite strong winds at times but we still had a great time seeing some of the sites of Portsmouth, on the beach, watching the boats come and go, eating ice cream, at the funfair on the pier, walking along the promenade and through the parks.
We walked along the seafront to Southsea Common and passed a number of historical sites. First was the Royal Garrison Church which was originally part of a hospital founded in 1212 by the Bishop of Winchester. The building acted as the Church of the forces from 1580. The nave was badly damaged in a 1941 firebomb raid on Portsmouth, however, the chancel is still roofed and furnished.
The Portsmouth Naval Memorial overlooks the promenade. It has brass plaques listing the names of thousands of naval personnel from both World Wars who were lost or buried at sea. The huge stone memorial is so prominent that the ships entering and leaving Portsmouth Harbour use it as a navigation aid.
As we continued along the promenade, one of the major attractions of Portsmouth is the D-Day museum where the most recent exhibit is the restored Landing Craft LCT 7074. Although 800 were built, this is the last surviving Landing Craft Tank from the D-Day landings in the Second World War. It is 59 meters long, took just three months to build and carried 10 tanks across the English Channel.
We arrived at the South Parade Pier where the kids enjoyed the small funfair.
Portsmouth is a busy port and it was just nice to sit on the beach with an ice cream watching the many boats and the high speed hovercraft come and go.
We finished our trip back in Northampton with a birthday party which ended up with music and dancing, Paul couldn’t resist ‘walking like an Egyptian’.
It was lovely to see family and friends after being away for a year, and great to spend time with the grandchildren who are growing up so fast. The time went very quickly and it wasn’t long before we had to say farewell and return to Heathrow for our flight back to Croatia.