On Christmas Eve 2020, shortly after we had smuggled our sons out to our Gloucestershire home just before the 2020 Christmas Coronavirus lockdown, Youngest Son (YS) suggested that we hire a house in Skye for Christmas 2021. Everyone was extremely keen on the idea and, after a few quick texts, our sons’ girlfriends were enthusiastic too. I handed YS my credit card and he immediately booked a brand new, designer house on the western edge of Skye with the hope that Covid would be long passed or at least largely neutralised.
A year is a long time in which much has happened. Covid is changed but very much still with us and it is still hampering all travel, socialising and entertainment. Also, our first grandchild – not even a dot when we booked the house in Skye – has arrived recently. That meant that Eldest Son and his partner had to drop out from our 2021 Christmas adventure. To compensate, we all decided to incorporate a stop in Edinburgh on the way to and from Skye so that we could all (re-)introduce ourselves to First Grandchild (FG) around Christmas.
Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I travelled by train to Edinburgh. It’s a long journey but we decided against using the electric car because, in Winter, it requires charging so frequently that the journey would have taken a whole day. We decided again a flight from Bristol because the cost for taking our bags was almost as much as for us plus we are trying to avoid flying in a probably futile (but well meaning) effort to reduce our carbon footprint. Fortunately the trains were entirely on time and, with the exception of some rowdy 20-somethings who got on at Darlington, mask wearing was common. We felt fairly safe and comfortable.
Getting to Edinburgh a few days ahead of the others (staying once again in an excellent Premier Inn Hub with small but perfectly formed rooms) enabled us to spend more time with FG and his parents and have a couple of extra days in the city we are coming to love.
The weather was very mixed. We had some wonderful blue sky days and some that were dull and moist – the local word is ‘dreich’.
Regardless, at night the Christmas lights on the commercial buildings and between the curtains of the Georgian terrace houses and flats enlivened the atmosphere.
With the last-minute news that Middle Son’s cold symptoms wasn’t the result of Covid and that he and his partner’s PCR tests had proved negative, we all convened in an AirBnB armed with negative Lateral Flow Tests. We were all able to have multiple turns at holding FG who was, of course, absolutely lovely. He is engaging eye contact increasingly and, although he usually maintains a vaguely suspicious and curious look, is starting to smile. And then we set off for Skye.
First we loaded up two hire cars with our luggage and panicked a bit when we saw how little room was left for the planned ‘big shop’ to get food and drink for the following seven days on Skye. In a further wrinkle to our plans, Scottish licensing laws forced us to split the shop for food from that for drink which we postponed until Fort William. Ultimately, it was all good and we got what we needed (and more).
At first, the drive across Scotland was through the dreich weather. Then, suddenly, we were driving through wonderful fairytale, mountain landscapes overlaid by miles and miles of hoar frost. I have seen such frosts in local pockets before but never on this impressive scale. It was a magical sight.
(Blurred) Pictures Of Many Square Miles Of Hoar Frost From A Moving Car
Then, as darkness began to close in, we passed the romantically positioned Eilean Donan Castle, looking rather mournful in the descending gloom, and then traversed the Skye Bridge onto the island. Remarkably, there was still 90 minutes of driving to go (MS and YS took the strain on that).
In darkness we found the house we had rented, unloaded all our goodies, confirmed the high quality of the premises, allocated the bedrooms, got the woodburner going, stretched our limbs and enjoyed the first of the evening meals prepared on a rota among the six of us. It’s so nice having young people around who have the energy and willingness to prepare a fish curry for six after driving for day; delicious.
When I was working, Christmas was a time to wind down and chill out. When I started out on my career, I tended to work around Christmas but the pace was usually slow since few others were around and I could relax (relatively) without wasting precious holiday. Increasingly, as the boys arrived and the family home moved to the country, I realised the benefit of an extended break at Christmas. It became a time of winding down.
Retirement now seems to be bringing a reversal. Recently, Christmas seems to be one of the most energetic times of the year. Christmases have been increasingly busy, especially for LSW as she focused on Christmas lunch at our house with large numbers of family. We stepped up the activity levels even further with our Scottish adventure this year. In a subsequent blog post I’ll describe the benefits of that uptick in activity as we spent Christmas on Skye (spoiler: it was fabulous!).
Happy New Year!