Heatwave, UK Quarantine, A Month of Extremes – August 2020 at No.fifty6

Posted on 31st August 2020 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.

Heatwave, UK Quarantine, A Month of Extremes – August 2020 at No.fifty6

Well, August has been a month of ups and downs. The month started with so much promise, a pretty full diary, interesting guests due throughout the month, things to do, lovely summer weather, then wham! We and our guests were hit with a UK quarantine, a heatwave, storms, diary emptying…but we are still here and always make the best of things, as there is always something going on.

Covid 19

Even our newsletter cannot escape the C word. We know it is important to keep everyone up to date with current developments in France.  

On August 15th the UK introduced a 14-day quarantine for anyone travelling from France. Our guest at the time, Ross, had to hastily make arrangements to get back earlier than planned (day 1 of a 7-day holiday) and hot footed it back via a ferry before the 4am quarantine kicked in. At the moment the quarantine persists, we thought it would be until the children go back to school to get UK families back off holiday as schools seem to be the priority, but we really do not know when the quarantine will lift. We review it day by day. Guests cancelled for the rest of August and into September. It is such a shame as we were just getting going again under the “new normal”. In many ways it has hit us harder this time than lockdown realizing just how out of control this whole Covid pandemic is and other than taking personal responsibility, there is nothing we can do about it. So, anyone struggling with Covid and the havoc it has wreaked, we feel it too. But we bounce back and we know we are lucky on so many counts and we get to enjoy the Somme on our own again!  

The quarantine was introduced as the number of cases have been steadily rising in France in cluster hotspots. At the moment, we are still a green zone, with a low incidence rate of the virus in The Somme Department. So many people are being tested now, with the aim a million tests per week from this week. In France, between 3000-7000 cases a day have been coming back positive.They are discovering that many younger people in the 18-44 age group have the virus, but they do not have many or any symptoms so the increase in positive cases is not translating into hospital admissions, icu and deaths, thankfully. The worry is with autumn coming if the virus is passed onto the older generation or those more vulnerable, and colder weather forces more people indoors and transmission increases. In France, it is back to school week and grandparents are being urged not to drop off and collect children from school if they can avoid it and everyone is being urged to remember social distancing, hand washing and face covering. Masks in France are mandatory in all closed public spaces, workplaces and even in the streets in many towns. Paris for example masks are mandatory everywhere other than personal homes - even riding a bike you must wear a mask in Paris. Across France they are mandatory for children 11+ and all staff in schools too. The clusters are mainly around all the holiday hotspots - the South and West Coasts of France and Paris. We do not think there will be a national lockdown anytime soon, but there may be localised lockdowns in hotspot areas. 

Those who have visited us have said how calm and lovely the Somme is and how one can almost forget there is a pandemic. We feel lucky to have so many wide open green spaces around us. 

Somme Tourism

This month we had an inspection visit from Somme Tourism, who checked both our quality of accommodation, environment, paperwork, licences etc. and also, we had our first Covid check – how are we set up to deal with social distancing, food preparation, hand washing, guest safety etc. We are pleased to say we passed on all counts and have the paperwork /certificate to prove it.  

Summer on The Somme

We have seen record temperatures in August. The first half of the month was very hot – topping at 38 degrees by day and 27 by night which meant some sticky nights and dinner on the terrace. And the drought continued. So, the Somme turned golden. No green grass, the harvested wheat led to golden hay bales in the fields and the light even took on a golden hue. The summer landscapes have been beautiful. The cemeteries dry but always lovely. The roses just finishing. The sound of bees and the sight of butterflies the only other visitors to these hallowed places.

Then in the second half of the month we have had rain and a huge storm when rain, thunder and lightning chucked their worst at us. Guests Martin & Fiona and Colin & Jenny who were staying with us commented on a 6am clap of thunder overhead that shook the whole house. Talk about the eye of the storm. No lasting damage done though. Just plenty to talk about over breakfast. Now at month end, we have returned to warm days and some showers but not a lot of rain. Now the farmers are harvesting the early potatoes which will continue into September. The landscape changes as the farmers work.

It was on one of the sunshine and showers days last week where we went to Louverval, The Cambrai Memorial to the Missing and filmed our visit to share this remarkable place with its Jagger sculptures for those who cannot visit at the moment. Here is the link to our short film.


Last Sunday we had been looking forward to the Albert Air Show, sadly postponed to 2021 due to Covid. However, our Sunday afternoon was not without spectacle. We went along to the Bouzincourt Concours de Labour  - a ploughing competition. In a harvested field in Bouzincourt it was a contest for pre-1960 farm implements – tractors, plough, and even beautiful horses. It was wonderful to see the old machinery in action and new friends were made - like Yvon the farmer who took a shine to Julie as she filmed him ploughing the straightest, deepest furrow possible. There was something gentle, soothing, satisfying about this rural event, echoes of times passed. The healing nature of the earth. We wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Dennis Weatherall

We were saddened to learn of the death of Dennis in his native Australia. Incomparable Battlefield Guide, veteran, storyteller, proud husband and father, we first met Dennis when he visited us  several years ago with his 2 sons. He always signed off as Old Sea Dog Weathers. 
Dennis was not only knowledgeable about Australia’s role on The Western Front (and of course elsewhere) but he was eager to impart his knowledge, he was generous with his time and just such good company. He started the Australain branch of the Guild of Battlefield Guides. But he was more than a Guide. Remembrance was in his blood, mixed with a good deal of salt water as he was proud of his sea faring days.  A veteran of the Australin Navy, he saw service in Vietnam and remained committed to highlighting Australia's role in Vietnam and to the memory of those who did and did not come back. He was one of life's givers. 
He always kept in touch and his messages and comments on our newsletters would always bring a smile to our faces. He was a generous supporter of us and he left us his Battlefield notes - such a generous man.  He was the best of the best guides, he was a wonderful man who will be missed by many. Our thoughts to his wife Lady Di and sons Jarrod and Darryn. 
We hope The Old Sea Dog is off sailing somewhere magical.

George Butterworth

Every year on the nearest Sunday to his death on 5th August 1916 the village of Pozieres remembers George, a wonderful composer who died in the trenches of Pozieres and has no known grave. The small village of Pozieres does a wonderful job of remembering the events that happened in the fields around it. The August event is always well attended by locals and visitors and this year no different though masks and social distancing were compulsory. Julie translated as speeches were made to commemorate George. Music was played, French villagers gave a demonstration of Morris Dancing (George Butterworth loved folk dancing) and wreaths were laid at the little memorial to George at the end of Butterworth Trench. Then in true French style we joined together in a moment of friendship around wine and food in the apple orchard behind his memorial. Perfect. Then on 5th August we filmed our own little tribute to George at Thiepval, where his name is inscribed.

Song of The Somme - Artist Jacqueline Hurley

Wonderful war artist Jackie Hurley stayed with us a few years ago and she got in touch recently about a new piece of art she was making. She requested some Somme mud to include in a new painting she has called “Song of The Somme” and we were happy to oblige, providing the Somme mud. Jackie then incorporated the mud into the paint which she used. Jacqueline says she was inspired by her Great Grandfather William Onyett who joined the Army band at 14 and became a stretcher bearer on The Somme where he was gassed but survived. What he saw inspired him to become a psychiatric nurse and he helped soldiers suffering from Shell Shock. Sadly, the gas effects cut short his life. Another casualty taken too soon. The other influence for Jacqueline’s painting is First World War Nurse Mary Borden’s poem Song of the Mud.

A very evocative poem we plan to use in the future…

So, the background to the painting obviously grabbed us and we were so very thrilled and surprised when Jacqueline sent us a signed limited edition of the painting for our little piece of help. The painting captures a bleak landscape with stretcher bearers and a young girl at a grave, with the only colour coming from the vibrant poppies and cornflowers. It is wonderful .

We intend having copies of the prints for sale here but you can also find Jacqueline’s art on her website POSH Original Art.


Song of The Somme 

Hertfordshire Soldiers of the Great War

Another surprise was sent to us this month. A new book, Hertfordshire Soldiers of the Great War was sent to us by guest and historian Paul Johnson who co-authored the book with military historian Dan Hill. The book includes personal stories from men of Hertfordshire who fought in the Great War in all the theatres of war, not just the Western Front. While there are over 23,000 names on Hertfordshire’s war memorials, the book can only highlight some of the stories and it is a great read and tribute to the men of the County.

The signed book is now proudly added to our library.  It is published by www.frontline-books.com

Animal Postscript

Sad news this month. The chickens really struggled in the heat, despite cooling baths and shade. They all made it through the heatwave but it took it’s toll on Elsie the black and copper chicken. She slowed right down and eventually did not wake up one morning. She was David’s favourite chicken as she would help him around the garden, pulling at his shoelaces mistaking them for worms. The 4 remaining chickens miss her and egg production has all but ceased, maybe 4 a week.  Michel the Chicken man says it is time for new chickens, but we will love our chickens till the end of their days. A chicken is for life, not just for eggs.

Elsie on the box near David 

Shere is fine, missing our guests and wondering why there is not more activity in the car park. Gives him more time to sleep and survey his savanna. His purrfect No.fifty6 day.

All is well at No.fifty6. Be safe. Stay well.  See you soon we hope.



Comments (23)

Dudley Giles says:

I'm still hoping that we (IGBG) will be out in November. Personally, I'm prepared to endure the 14 day quarantine period on our return (if it's still in place) but then I have the luxury of being self-employed and can work from home. Stay safe.

Gary J Jones says:

Hi Julie and David. Great to hear that you are both keeping well and always a joy to read your news letter. Hang in there and hopefully in the very near future we can all look back on 2020 as a year to forget. A return visit is definitely on my to do list and looking forward to one of your lovely full English. Take care and stay safe.

John Taylor says:

Thanks for this update, and for the footage of Louverval - hope to be there for the anniversary in November, but at this stage who knows? We were driving into London the other day and spotted a blue plaque to Charles Jagger, who carved the wonderful reliefs shown in your video. Best wishes to you both (and chickens), John

Ferris says:

Your newsletter has brightened up a very drizzly Dartmoor afternoon

Leonard Chaganis says:

Thank you both for the news update great to read about a very special part of the world, best wishes from the southwest of France hope to see you next year Len & Julienne

Jim Blenkhorn says:

Your news letters are just wonderful. Thank you. I hope that the restrictions the U.K. has imposed on travellers from France we soon be lifted.

Chris Prince says:

As always another interesting newsletter, and loved seeing the video's of the Ploughing Competition and Cambrai Memorial last month. Who won the Ploughing Competition by the way ? Sorry to hear about Elsie, and like you they are part of the family. Stay safe Love to you both Chris and Bill xx

Tim Brown says:

Lovely update as always. So sorry we wont be with you at the end of the month.
Take care both of you.
Love Tim and Deb

Pauline Symmons says:

Thank you for all your news and updates which we look forward to reading. We are very sad that we are unable to visit this year and look forward to seeing you both next year. Keep safe lots of love Pauline and Bob

Ashley Atkinson says:

Appreciate up dates
Keep them coming
Stay safe
As soon as I can will visit
Best wishes

glyn john says:

thank you for your very interesting and informative updates.I always look forward to them

Beverley Craig says:

I am so sorry about Elsie and the other chickens not coping. What a terrible year.
Sending hugs to you and David.

Scottie says:

Hopefully the 14 days Quarantine will be relaxed soon, enabling Chris and I to invade you peace and quiet at the end of the month....... ‘A chicken is for life’ is priceless and sums you pair of softies ...lol

Neil Mackenzie says:

Thanks for yet another great update from the Somme. So sorry to have to cancel a trip in September for the second time this year. I was so looking forward to the battlefields and your fabulous food.

Dan Hill has been doing a History from Home series of webinars and did one with Paul on their Hertfordshire book. I have attached a link below in case you and your other guests are interested.

Gary James says:

Thanks for the latest newsletter. Travel plans are certainly on hold at present but hopefully a visit in 2021 will be possible. Keep safe.

Michael Knight says:

I look forward to the first of the month and reading your newsletter. It’s always interesting and informative covering many aspects of the Somme. Keep up the good work and stay safe

Mike and Kath, Bath says:

Hello 56. Another moving, and at times poignant, newsletter, lots of info too. It really is interesting to hear from close at hand just what is happening in France. Fingers are crossed here in the UK for next year's visit. M&K.

George Maunders says:

Great to hear from you! Yes, it was very hot when we stayed with you at the beginning of August. Had a fantastic time. Poppy and Daisy are Sad to hear about Elsie and Can't wait to visit again.

Gordon & Joana (and Mary) says:

Binge watching Dick Strawbridge in ‘Escape to the Chateau’ in no way makes up for not being able to be there with you at Number56. Two friends and one family member have decided to take the plunge and buy over there, as we speak, which is proving extremely ‘testing’ ... never mind, ‘cracking’ newsletter as always (even watched the videos - FYI, white horses are referred to as ‘greys’ ...). RIP Elsie. XX

Heather & Malcolm Johnson says:

We have been thinking about you a lot, of late ... worrying how the quarantine would impact on you! Thanks for another great update and all you post on social media. Stay safe. XX Virtual kisses XX

Sarah says:

Somehow, "A chicken is for life, not just for eggs" encapsulates all that I love about you - Julie and David. Thank you for the continued inspiration you provide and the respect with which you hold vigil for men who came from so far, to the Somme. That you continue to do this, despite the challenges of all things Covid, is amazing. I truly hope that we can make another visit at some time in the future. Sarah and the Lamont family (et al!).

Roger and Elaine says:

We are devastated at not being able to visit this month. But we will be back! Lovely newsletter as always. Lots of love.

Rick Smith says:

Thank you for your updates and news Julie. We miss you all so much.
Always looking forward to better times, trying again for November but we'll have to see how things progress.
Stay safe. Much love. R

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