Year in review (Apr-Jun) - Adjusting to life under lockdown
By Stuart Laundy - Senior Reporter
THE dale, in common with the rest of the country, adjusted to life under lockdown.
Milkman Neil Rabbitts reported a 30 per cent increase in demand as more and more people embraced home deliveries – with Connelly’s Toyshop inundated with orders for games, activities and jigsaws to help keep spirits up.
Teesdale Conservation Volunteers – known to all as Rotters – closed its Startforth site but offered to deliver compost to the homes of those with gardens.
“We think Rotters will be particularly useful this year because most of us will be confined to their homes with many keen to grow their own food,” said Martin Bacon.
The TCR Hub launched an online crowd-funding campaign to provide weekly care packages to be made to the most vulnerable.
In Gainford, volunteers were helping to deliver dozens of prescriptions to residents following a plea for help from the village's GP surgery.
Caterer Kim Clark, from Evenwood cooked up more than 5,000 meals in just four weeks to help feed vulnerable residents – all from donated goods – while staff at Babul's restaurant in Barnard Castle aimed to deliver 3,000 free meals across the dale.
In the midst of all the uncertainty and anxiety there was good news for one dale family.
Tess Bettison, from Bowes, had been stranded in Peru when its borders were closed just two days before she was due to fly home.
Ms Bettison had been travelling with a university friend and was staying at a hostel when her flight was cancelled.
Eventually, the British Embassy arranged flights to London after a train journey north, Ms Bettison was met by her parents Mike and Rosie at Darlington.
Meanwhile, people were finding different ways to keep themselves amused.
A social media group called Covid Cutz encouraged people to shave their heads to raise money for the NHS.
Art teacher Teresa Keeling turned her front window into an art and craft centre, leaving items outside for people to take home and decorate.
There was even a teddy bear hunt organised around Barnard Castle.
An online music festival raised £11,000 for the NHS, while grandmother Maureen Bousfield brought plenty of cheer when she donned a giant chicken costume and handed out Easter eggs to children.
A support group for local businesses was launched online, while the Mercury began a weekly listings service of independent traders and the services they were offering across the dale.
MAY was the month Barney was thrust into the national spotlight when the Prime Minister's advisor Dominic Cummings admitted making his infamous visit to the town during a trip to his father's farm near Durham.
Bowing to mounting pressure after it was reported in the national media that he had broken Covid-19 restrictions, Mr Cummings gave his account of what happened during a televised statement from 10 Downing Street.
Earlier in the month,the dale continued to make the best of life in lockdown.
Events were held to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day, with flags out, socially distanced tea parties, impromptu music, special tributes and other activities organised within the restrictions.
By now, residents were taking part in a weekly show of support for NHS workers.
In West Auckland, drivers from Frank Hudson Transport took that one step further by driving their wagons from the base in Etherley, through the village with lights flashing and horns blaring.
Ever increasing numbers of residents lined the route for the weekly drive-by.
Meet weekend in Barney could not take place, of course... or could it?
Step forward Covid Cutz, who took the popular parade online and organised a busy schedule of activities, including live music, an online pet show, crazy bingo and a house-bound scavenger hunt.
The highlight was the virtual parade, created with a compilation of photos and videos of people on their doorsteps – many in colourful costumes.
Alex Humphries, one of the organisers, said: “I don't think anyone's going to forget the Meet this year. It's amazing how people have really got behind it.”
WITH the easing of restrictions came chaos in the upper dale as police closed the road due to congestion caused by hundreds of cars and thousands of people flocking to the beauty spots.
With vehicles parked on both sides of the road, emergency vehicles struggled to reach an accident involving a motorcyclist.
Within a week, double yellows lines appeared on the B6277 near Bowlees amid fears there could be a repeat of the problem throughout the summer.
There were further problems. At Low Force and on the riverside at Gainford, the influx of visitors had left a huge amount of rubbish which was cleared by volunteers.
Preparations were made to welcome back some familiar events to the dale.
The farmers’ market in Barnard Castle returned in June – with stalwart stallholder William Ramsbottom bowing out after 15 years, during which time he served as market manager and on the management group.
The weekly Wednesday charter market also returned, while there was also the first hint of a return to sporting action, as cricketers were allowed to practice.
Meanwhile, the road layout was altered in the centre of Barney, much to the consternation of traders and shoppers alike.
The appearance of cones was aimed at ensuring social distancing could be maintained, but resulted in road-side parking bays, bus stops and loading areas being cordoned off.
Car parking charges, which had been suspended during the lockdown, were also reintroduced as further evidence that life was getting back to a “new normal”.
In other headlines, warm tributes were paid to retired vet Neville Turner, who passed away aged 76.
Having arrived in the dale in 1973, he went on to publish three books about his life and work which proved hugely popular.
Paying tribute, Diane Spark, of Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Services, said: “We will always remember Neville, a truly inspirational character.
“He knew every farmer in the dale and had charisma and enthusiasm in abundance.”