We've been in Cumbria now for more than long enough to know we didn't bring anything rotten with us. Combine that with a brief period where most people we know are currently off work (including ourselves) and somehow the planets aligned long enough to actually see some old school friends. Of course, not everyone is lucky enough to be able to down tools, so the first stop of the day was round at Mat's to coincide with his mid-morning break from work. I was incredibly relieved (and excited) that we managed to make this work out, because we haven't seen Mat and Sarah in a long time; Alison hasn't seen them since their wedding! And, of course, whilst all our other friends in the area are pregnant, we could finally meet wee Ben, the latest clan addition 😁
With the two of them keeping their business running on skeleton staff, a small child, and everything else going on, we could only stay for a short while, and only outside as per Tier 2 requirements (and our own risk assessment, to be fair). Still, some freshly heated mince pies and plenty of layers kept as more than warm enough and it was generally great to catch up and hear all their tales.
As Mat's break came to a close, we hopped in the car again and drove on out towards Cotehill and the nearby High Stands Plantation, an old forestry site with plenty of hiking trails. After a couple of wrong turns, we made it to the car park and waited for the others. One by one, the other cars turned up, until everyone was accounted for. Matt (as ever) had a "plan", so once we'd all waved our distanced hellos to one another, we set off into the woods. Thankfully, the tracks were wide and fairly bog-free, even if Andrew and Matt between them had us going cross country a couple of times.
At one point we did find ourselves on the wrong side of a padlocked gate, which Matt swore was a path (at the time he did; once we were all over he admitted it may not technically be a public path 😏). Normally that wouldn't have been a major issue, but with two heavily pregnant women, two babes in carry-packs, one toddler, and a small menagerie of dogs that needed posting over, I remain impressed with how fuss-free it all ended up! I guess that's what comes of living in the countryside (and being friends with Matt... 😂).
With Andrew and Sophie needing to get back at a specific time, we opted for a slightly more direct return route. With the exception of the distant noise of motocross, the final leg remained fairly uneventful, allowing for some quality time to just chat aimlessly about life in lockdown, family news, local events, and what everyone was watching on Netflix at the moment. Unfortunately, just as we were in sight of the cars, a small collision between child and low-hanging branch made for a sudden outburst of activity, but in the end all was well and everyone was safely back in their respective vehicles.
It was so much fun just getting to chat and catch up with people that I ended up lugging around my camera gear without once reaching for it. Nor was I paying any attention to our surroundings or wildlife, though a surprised roe deer had been hard to miss. Instead, we'd just had fun talking, watching the dogs race around, and being impressed at how well Robert picked up ice-safety advice (and stuck to it).
On a high of exploration and freedom, we chose not to simply head back home, but instead drove on along the road, heading parallel to the River Eden towards the Pennines. This is a part of Cumbria I don't know too well, being on the wrong side of the river for my old teenage driving jaunts, but eventually we found ourselves somewhere I recognised and we looped back, through Croglin and past the pub I used to work at, before dropping down to Hayton. But a wonderfully stressless day!