10th July 2021
Life During a Coronavirus Pandemic: Week 67 Blenheim Palace
The highlight of this week for me is a lovely day out at Blenheim Palaces including Afternoon Tea in the Orangery
A day exploring Blenheim Palace was on my agenda this week. Finally, on this my fourth visit here, I see the Rose Garden in full bloom and what a treat that is. And so is my Afternoon Tea in The Orangery. It underlines once again the wealth of beautiful attractions in the U.K. and in particular some magnificent stately homes. As bookings and prices soar for holidays abroad I continue to look for new adventures closer to home.
Monday 28 June 2021
The forecast for this morning says it will stop raining by 7 am but, as it was raining when I got up at 6 am it does not look very hopeful. However, the forecast is right and it has stopped raining by 7 am. I get ready to cycle to Parkstone. It is overcast again by the time I go out to the garage but I decide to risk it. An e-scooter passes me while I am cycling up the hilly section of Haven Road. It is scary how they creep silently up to you. But I get my own back when it comes to the downhill stretch. I am doing well as the rain is holding off. But when I get to the traffic lights on Bournemouth Road they are red. I decide to use the pedestrian crossing and my arm gets soaked when I brush against a tree overhanging the pavement. I get another soaking when propping my bike up against the apple tree in the back garden of the pharmacy. It is Pfizer vaccination clinic today and, as the rain is still holding off the boss decides we will put all the chairs out in the garden for patients to sit for fifteen minutes after they have been vaccinated. Most of the appointments turn up for this clinic and some come without an appointment. One of them throws his clipboard at me when informed he does not have a confirmed appointment but, apart from that, my day is uneventful.
British passengers arriving in Portugal must quarantine for 14 days if not fully vaccinated from today. The new rules, introduced by the Portuguese government, come into effect on Monday and will last until at least 11 July. Quarantine can be "at home or a place indicated by health authorities". Portugal is currently on the UK government's amber travel list, which means passengers also have to isolate for 10 days when they arrive back in Britain.
Boris Johnson indicates no early release from restrictions in England with 19 July likely to remain the date for Freedom Day.
Vaccinated people are dying from the Delta variant but in small numbers and almost all are over 50, UK data shows. Experts say this does not undermine what we know about the efficacy of the vaccines, given that the deaths come from age groups at higher risk and represent a tiny proportion of the 92,029 Delta cases analysed.
Tuesday 29 June 2021
I am woken by heavy rain during the night and it is still raining when I get up. The roads and pavements outside the flat are flooded again. I can’t believe we are having such terrible weather at the end of June when it should be hot and sunny. But, I do have a lot of work to do so it does mean I won’t be tempted to go out today. The road below the flat is flooded and the few people around are having a miserable time. I have finished the work I have to do today by late afternoon and I start preparing for my trip to Blenheim Palace tomorrow. I will make an early start to avoid the traffic.
Scotland overtakes north-west England as UK’s main Covid-19 hotspot as new analysis shows. East Lothian is now the local area with the highest rate of new cases in the UK, with 595.8 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to June 24.
Wednesday 30 June 2021
I leave very early this morning for Blenheim Palace near Oxford to avoid the rush hour and make very good time. I arrive an hour before the vehicle entrance opens so I park outside the pedestrian entrance and the end of the High Street in Woodstock. The weather has remained obstinately overcast – and not for the first time on a visit to this area. I have time for a quick stroll along the High Street which features some lovely old buildings and a set of stocks.
Back at the pedestrian entrance I still have some time to spare before my timed entrance slot into the car parking area. COVID-19 regulations still require all large attractions to limit numbers and they do this by requiring visitors to pre-book timed entry slots. So, I walk through the side gate into the park. Below me a large flock of swans are drifting serenely on the lake.
As the grounds of Blenheim Palace are open to the public a steady stream of dog walkers make their way in and out of the side gate. Through this side gate I have a tantalising glimpse of the Palace as I return to the car to drive back through Woodstock to the vehicle entrance. As soon as I have parked in the large parking area I make my way through the two large courtyards of the palace itself into the formal gardens behind the palace. Here, I the bronze sculpture Andalusian Stallion, an impressive life and quarter sized horse by Hamish Mackie.
But my main objective is the Rose Garden. I have visited the palace several times but never when the rose garden is in full bloom. I am not disappointed. The garden is ringed by climbing rose plants in a variety of colours. A delicate scent of rose petals hovers in the air – magical.
Inside the garden beds of vibrant blooms surround a fountain in the middle of the garden. I am enchanted by the delicacy of these beautiful flowers. I make my way back to the palace via the massive South Lawn and through the Secret Garden. I arrive there in time for the start of my guided tour of the State Rooms.
Due to COVID-19 safety regulations tour groups are limited to a maximum of 6 people. My tour starts in the front entrance and our guide, Antonia, points out something I have never noticed before above the main entrance – a large painting of six single eyes by Colin. The striking blue eye in the centre is that of Gladys Deacon the second wife of the Ninth Duke of Marlborough. It is not known why she chose this subject but she was known to be eccentric. Each Duchess of Marlborough made sure they left their own mark on the palace and this is her mark.
My palace tour is followed by an early Afternoon Tea in The Orangery which opens out on to the Italian Garden. It is the only access to this stunning forming garden which features the gilded Mermaid Fountain, the work of Thomas Waldo Storey.
There is just time to stroll down to the Cascades before I have to leave. This beautiful waterfall was created by Capability Brown when he landscaped the park around the palace in 1763. He damned the River Glyme to form the lake here. I spend some time watching a Mallard duck balancing on the rocks at the top of the waterfall. Clearly there is something delicious to eat up there. I stroll back to my car and head for Hertfordshire where I am spending the night.
Chris Whitty ‘backs July 19 Freedom Day’ but warns of tough winter ahead. The chief medical adviser reportedly told a Cabinet briefing on Monday that lockdown could be lifted on July 19 providing the rising Covid-19 cases didn’t lead to a spike in hospitalisations.
Malta, Madeira and Balearics on green travel list from today so holidaymakers returning from island hotspots such as Ibiza, Majorca and Malta no longer have to self-isolate.
NHS GPs giving second Covid jabs just three weeks apart in defiance of NHS advice have triggered a rebuke from the UK’s vaccines authority. The rollout of second doses up to nine weeks earlier than official guidance – as well as instances of vaccines distributed to 16- and 17-year-olds – has prompted concern over a postcode lottery in access to protection against coronavirus.
Booster Covid vaccines for over-50s to be available with flu jabs from September amid warnings that future freedoms depend on this rollout.
Fresh chaos as Malta refuses to accept NHS app as proof of vaccination status as authorities revealed they will only accept printed letters sent by the NHS as proof. Tourists planning to use the NHS app to demonstrate their status face being turned away at UK airports or the border in Malta, even if they are fully vaccinated. The UK Government’s website states these letters are expected to take “up to five working days” to be delivered.
Thursday 01 July 2021
Today I have arranged to meet a friend for lunch. It is several weeks since we were able to get together so I am looking forward to a reunion. I spend the morning catching up with some writing before walking to the Radlett Centre where we are lunching in the Teatro Bar. The centre is the cultural hub of Radlett with a varied programme of dramatic productions and other forms of entertainment. Its Teatro Bar is very popular and almost full when I arrive but there is room for us. After lunch we peruse the gallery of paintings for sale – this is a permanent feature and I love to see the works of the local, very talented artists.
I wait until late evening before setting off for Dorset in order to avoid the traffic. The roads are very busy again so very early in the morning or late in the evening are the best times to travel. I have to get back as I am volunteering on Brownsea Island tomorrow. I have a very easy journey back apart from one really heavy downpour. Fortunately, it did not last too long.
More countries added to the Green List from June 30 so summer holidays abroad are back on the cards with Ibiza, Mallorca and Malta added to the green travel list. Arrivals from 16 places, including the Balearic Islands and a number of Caribbean islands, do not have to self-isolate from June 30.
Combining AstraZeneca and Pfizer may boost immunity according to a new study. Most COVID-19 vaccines require two doses, and the usual strategy is to give people the same vaccine type for both. But a study, led by the University of Oxford, suggests giving people different types of COVID-19 vaccine appears not only to be safe, but also a potential way of boosting protection against the coronavirus. For now, this study suggests that a mix-and-match approach to COVID-19 vaccines is an acceptable, useful option.
European holidays could be off limits to 5m Britons given Indian-made AstraZeneca jab because the shots were manufactured in India and are not yet authorised by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
Friday 02 July 2021
As I am doing a shift as a volunteer on Brownsea Island today I am up early and cycle to the National Trust jetty in plenty of time to catch the 07:30 boat to the island. As usual I go for a walk as soon as I get off the boat. It is a lovely morning. I meet two red squirrels as I walk along the boardwalk. A third red squirrel watches me curiously as I make my way along the path to the Lily Pond. The water lilies are in bud but not out yet. As I continue on my way to the South Shore two more red squirrels pop up to watch to my progress. I also see a rabbit. It is the first time I have seen a rabbit on the island.
I am back on the pier in plenty of time to start my shift welcoming arrivals to the island this morning and then seeing them off this afternoon. The harbour is very busy today with a constant flow of boats coming and going. I am amused by the sight of a large swan making its way out to sea. Their ‘home’ is the large lake in Poole Park that verges the harbour. Not long after I see the swan heading out to see it re-appears. This time is being towed back towards Poole. Never a dull moment on the pier which is why I love to volunteer here.
Top scientist warns Boris Johnson conducting mass COVID experiment on young people as he lifts coronavirus restrictions. Prof James Naismith, Director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, said the current growth in cases is "unsettling" amid the perceived expectation that younger unvaccinated people should "get on with it".
UK now has more new daily COVID cases than the whole of the European Union combined as there are almost 7,000 more daily cases of COVID-19 in the UK than across the 27 EU member states, according to the University of Oxford’s research platform, Our World In Data.
Saturday 03 July 2021
Seagulls swooping, diving and squawking outside my bedroom window wake me at 5 am this morning. I get up to watch them. It is an amazing display as they hover outside my bedroom window before wheeling away to do a circuit. It would appear they are protecting their territory – the roof above my bedroom. I spend some time trying to get a good photograph. Then it is a scramble to get ready to cycle to Parkstone in time for my shift at the vaccination hub there. The vaccine today is the Oxford AstraZeneca and mainly second doses. In theory it is a small clinic but, in practice, the pharmacy has been ringing the afternoon appointments and asking them to come this morning so, instead of eleven appointments every 5 minutes it is even more. Two of us work flat out for five hours to keep the queue down. We are very grateful to the lady at Pandora’s Box, a shop two doors down, who makes cups of tea for us. There is just one more appointment to come when I leave at 16:30 and whizz down the three hills back to my flat.
Bullish Boris Johnson to axe face mask laws as NHS ‘no longer at risk’ and has reportedly signed off on plans to end the compulsory wearing of face masks from July 19 as he prepares to declare that the link between Covid-19 infections and hospitalisations has finally been broken.
Covid vaccine centres warned against offering early second doses as health authorities crack down on vaccination centres break rank with official guidance by offering early second doses to young people, amid “confusion” over the best time to receive their follow-up jab. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has advised that second doses should be given no earlier than eight weeks after a first jab, citing evidence which shows that the longer interval provides higher levels of protection than the usual three-week gap.
Vaccines ‘outpaced by variants’, WHO warns, as Delta now in 98 countries Rich nations are sharing vaccines with low-income countries too slowly to prevent the spread of the Delta variant of Covid, risking millions of lives, the head of the World Health Organization has warned.
In the News Today
Female soldiers in Ukraine being forced to march in heels has sparked criticism for being “harmful” with some demanding authorities apologise for “humiliating” women. The soldiers were practising ahead of a military parade next month to mark 30 years of independence following the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Sunday 04 July 2021
It is cold and grey outside when I wake at 05:30 and it has been raining during the night but it starts to brighten up around 7 am. I contemplate going out for a walk but first I have an article to finish. By midday the rain has set in again. But a turn of the tide does bring a change in the weather. The wind gets up and the sun comes out. So do the kite and wind surfers and the harbour soon has brightly coloured kites and sails skimming across the water. And a very strange, very large octopus shaped kite.
National Thank You Day today acknowledges the incredible work done by volunteers during the pandemic. After a hard 18 months a big thank you is due to the frontline staff or the volunteers manning vaccination hubs, helping by collecting prescriptions or making Check In and Chat calls, key workers like supermarket staff and bus drivers, or friends and neighbours.
Covid data appears to be 'in right place' ahead of 19 July when it is reported face masks in England will be ditched. According to Robert Jenrick, the UK’s communities’ secretary, coronavirus control measures in England such as the legal requirement to wear face coverings in enclosed public settings will be left up to personal choice because it looks as if the data is in the right place and is not translating into serious illness and death.
In the News Today
After defeating Ukraine 4-0 in front of a small number of England fans in Rome last night, England will face Denmark at Wembley in the semi-finals of Euro 2020 on Wednesday. The nation’s first semi-final in the competition since 1996.
Some Government Statistics
By 5 pm on 28 June, a total of 4,755,078 (total that day 22,868) positive COVID-19 tests have been recorded and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 128,103 including a daily total of 3. By the end of the week on 04 July, the total of positive cases had risen to 4,903,434 (total that day 24,248) positive tests, and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 128,222 including a daily total of 15. Total deaths with COVID-19 on the death certificate is now 152,606, an increase this week of 116 (this statistic lags behind the daily statistics as it is updated on a weekly basis).
More next week
Valery Collins is the Experienced Traveller
An excellent raconteur, Valery has been writing about her experiences on the road since she started travelling 25 years ago. After publishing four books she turned to online travel writing and photography. Today she is editor, features’ writer and reviewer for ExperiencedTraveller.com and regularly contributes guided city walks to GPSmyCity.com