The furthest from home I've been in June
(since moving to London)
My new job unexpectedly required me to visit a recording studio on the outskirts of Hull, for reasons I didn't entirely believe even at the time. I was packed off onto a train north, alighted at some rural Humberside backwater and took a taxi to a farm with horses. Here the manager showed me round and demonstrated the latest cassette, videotape and compact disc mastering technology, then reminisced about that time he produced Bill Nelson. I was done by lunchtime, so took the opportunity for a jolly into Hull city centre and was genuinely amazed by how much had changed since I used to live here.
June 2003 was an geographically unadventurous month. I spent a lot of time in the West End, and only once ventured further, to Chiswick High Street just to see what was there. "Much posher than Stratford", my diary records... but not my new blog because it wasn't really about places back then.
This distancing contest was a close call between Milton Keynes, Colchester and Brighton, but the south coast narrowly won. Of course I could come down for some leaving drinks, even though I wouldn't know any of the other attendees. Five bottles of Becks later I knew plenty more. Last orders were called just in time for me to catch the last train home, which avoided all sorts of awkward dilemmas.
2005:Milton Keynes(47 miles) Some days you just have to go to the Open University. These were days I usually enjoyed, although lunch was often a bit dicey so I was relieved when today's included non-vegetarian sandwiches. Fifteen years later we could have done the whole thing on Zoom without the need for four hours of travel, an expensive rail ticket and a taxi receipt to be reimbursed later.
2006:Butt of Lewis(540 miles)
Now that's more like it. Everyone should go to the Outer Hebrides once because they're magic, preferably before the midge season starts. On this particular Tuesday we drove up the northwestern coast of Lewis ticking off the Callanish stone circles and Blackhouse Village, before continuing to the lighthouse at the farthest tip of the island and watching seabirds wheel above the Atlantic breakers. What a place to live, on a crofter's track in the most peripheral of outposts. Glorious. Unforgettable.
2007:Holy Island(295 miles)
On a family holiday to Northumberland, having checked the tide tables carefully, we drove across the causeway to this most ancient of isles. We left mum on a bench while we walked along the boat-strewn beach to explore the castle, and when we got back she was deep in conversation with a lady who turned out to be the best-selling author of the Shire Book of Thimbles.
Work reasons again, essentially so that the evil boss who'd just acquired our team in a restructuring could belittle us. Thankfully the humiliation was all over by lunchtime so I grabbed the opportunity to do something I really should have done quarter of a century earlier - a look round Duke Humfrey's Library in the Bodleian. Also nipped up Carfax Tower to view the dreaming spires, because somehow I never did that either.
Midsummer in the village where I grew up always means the Croxley Revels, so I went back to relive the street procession, maypole dancing and tombola stalls. We didn't have taekwondo demonstrations in my day, nor a music stage, nor the ceremonial role of 'junior princess'. Population churn meant the only person I recognised was Janet, the family friend who used to cut my hair in her kitchen, so at least there was some gossip to catch up on.
You must come camping, my brother said, but we won't tell the rest of the family so when you turn up it'll be a proper surprise. Success. We went for a walk along the cliffs, we sat beneath an oak tree to keep out of the heat and we dodged a plague of greenfly. I was most excited by a commemorative water trough while the children were much more excited by the swimming pool. It was sausages, bacon and beans for tea, appropriately heated... and then sorry, I scarpered home rather than staying overnight.
The furthest I've ever been from home in June is Iceland, specifically Keflavik Airport, on another of those holidays of a lifetime. I enjoyed a splash in the Blue Lagoon, a trip up a volcano, the burst of a geyser, a plate of ptarmigan and two sunsets in the same day, and that was just the half of it. If only I'd seen a whale rather than puking up over the side of the boat it might have been perfect.
It's not Reykjavík is it? But I did want to explore the Gothic side of town (and I had already been to Margate earlier in the day, but that's not quite so far away).
2013:Northwood Hills(17 miles)
As mundane blogging goes, a trip to an independent shopping day in a Metro-land high street, complete with face-painting, clingfilmed salads and free hemp bags, is about as low as it gets.
2014:Audley End(36 miles)
Ah, the days when you could hop on a train and look round an English Heritage treasure, grab a pulled pork bap from the tearoom and ride a miniature railway through woodland infested with teddy bears. How normal it all seemed.
I loved Berlin, especially its verve and creativity, but the divided city was never far from the surface. The afternoon we went to East Berlin was the most extreme, with the Stasi prison (or Gedenkstätte Berlin-Hohenschönhausen) the furthest east I have ever been in my entire life. It's all too easy to narrow your worldview by staying at home, and travelling to some locations truly broadens your experience.
Two days before that referendum I decided to go to Edward Heath's house because he was the man who led us into Europe in the first place. It's not Wiltshire's most popular tourist attraction so I was the only visitor on the 11.30 tour, earning a privileged view of the Steinway, the monkey mural and the sailing hall. I had time to fit in a walk around Old Sarum before getting the train back, and was home by six.
I went to Belgium in June 2017, to Ghent, but Newcastle turned out to be eighty miles further from home. It was a dazzling afternoon when we went to Tynemouth, an unexpectedly tasteful seaside resort with golden beaches and a castle overlooking the mouth of the river. For lunch we crammed into a tiny chippie, disappointed to discover that 'cheesecake in batter' was a parcel of very melted cheese. But the takeaway cod option was spot on.
Back to Norfolk, this time with an uncle to bid farewell to and a garden to tidy. Sometimes the family congregates for sad reasons, and sometimes for good.
After spending much of the day at Crich Tramway Museum, like you do, I walked the canal towpath to almost the edge of the Peak District. Cromford Mill, alas, was just closing for the day, but it's amazing how much joy I managed to cram into that single day out.
2020:Wanstead Flats(2.7 miles)
A path round a pond in the corner of a patch of parched grassland, nudged narrowly into the London borough of Redbridge, is the furthest I've been from home all month. Normal distancing remains a long way away.