England Grand Tour (2021): Introduction

For a pair of committed globetrotters such as myself and my Bristol-based friend Bruce, the first four months of 2021 constituted a horrible period. We may not have realised at the time, but with the benefit of hindsight, the previous year (2020) hadn’t been too bad. That year had started fairly normally, and the Covid-19 lockdowns of spring and early summer had been blessed with glorious weather. ‘Permitted daily exercise’ didn’t seem overly restrictive when it involved exploring beautiful Edinburgh while the sun shone! The second half of the year even brought some good travel opportunities to those who were prepared to be flexible enough to react to the developing situation. (In preparing our own plans for October/November 2020, the ‘version number’ may well have reached double-digits. One of our trips even took a new turn in ‘real time’ as we transited Heathrow Airport!)

In my native Scotland, the new lockdown began on 26 December 2020 and would not even start to be eased until after Easter 2021. It was the tightest, longest-lasting and most depressing set of restrictions yet, coinciding with short days and lengthy periods of cold, wet weather. The one thing that kept me sane was planning ahead for better times, and it turned out that Bruce was in a similar position. We both realised that, once again, flexibility wasn’t just important; it was the key to everything.

Thus came about our first trip of the new year, timed to start in the second half of May. As the final form emerged through multiple iterations, and as we quietly and carefully booked the component parts well before the phrase Year of the Staycation became a thing, I found myself thinking of the trip as a kind of ‘grand tour’ of England. At the same time, I was well aware that if somebody set out to design such a plan, with only the title for guidance, it would certainly look quite different from our proposals. But our itinerary was carefully crafted to bring in lots of other relevant factors, such the availability of vouchers in respect of previously cancelled plans, tempting awards from hotel, credit card and car hire loyalty schemes and some excellent hotel deals for cash, as well as gaps in our respective travel histories.

As often happens, I ended up being amazed by just how much ground we were planning to cover, from the North East to South-Central England, and from the Bristol area to London and the Home Counties. Here’s the usual pictorial ‘taster’: