‘I’ll stick to outdoors’: tentative excitement in UK for bank holiday getaways

Has a bank holiday ever been so keenly – but so nervously – awaited?

As many prepared to try to get away or visit family over the weekend, Covid-proof plans were formed with military precision across the country, with every contingency factored in, from yet another government U-turn to the discovery of a new variant.

But as Friday afternoon hit and nothing had been thwarted, cases were packed and front doors firmly locked as people ventured out.

Becky, a 46-year old nurse from Sheffield, was nimble in rearranging her holiday after the cancellation of the music festival she had planned to attend with 12 other adults and four children.

“We all love camping but trying to find a campsite to fit us all in over the bank holiday weekend was impossible,” she said. “We also wouldn’t want to disturb other campers, so this year we’re going semi-wild camping. We have a farmer’s permission to use their field. We plan on eating, drinking, music, laughter and hugs around the firepit,” she added. “Saturday night is fancy dress night: something beginning with L, U or V.”

Pauline Elliot, a local government officer from Rutherglen, South Lanarkshire, and her husband are going to see their daughter and son-in-law in Stonehaven for the first time since “a whirlwind visit at Christmas”.

“We are staying in an Airbnb because we weren’t sure if we could stay at theirs, which we’d really like to have done,” she said. “Although we would now be allowed to stay, we still paid for the Airbnb as the rules have been so volatile we didn’t want to risk not seeing them if they changed.”

Uncertainties caused by the fast spread of the variant first detected in India, combined with conflicting advice on non-essential travel over the long weekend, compounded the confusion caused by eight new local lockdowns across the country and new foreign restrictions.

Jane Quinn, a researcher and writer from London, had planned to fly to France. “Despite having been fingerprinted and photographed for biometric testing alongside my visitor’s visa via the French consulate … France has, at the last minute, banned entry to the country,” she said. “European people aren’t having a particularly warm welcome here but it cuts both ways I’m afraid.”

For other aspirant holidaymakers, the uncertainties and U-turns have been too much. “I have loads of plans for day trips but this government is so inept that I dare not risk booking anything in advance – which you have to now with all manner of venues – for fear that all will change yet again,” said 72-year old George from Rugby.

Richard Bryant-Jefferies, a retiree from Surrey, said: “I don’t have any plans. I’ve had my second jab but of course cannot get an antibody test to try and find out whether I am one of the 60% who have protection or not, so I have to err on the side of caution. I will not be going anywhere where there are lots of people.”

But others were happy with the government’s decision to put the onus on individual shoulders and each person’s sense of personal responsibility.

“I have always intended to keep my social visits to friends primarily outdoors this weekend,” said Tom Jones, a 21 year-old chemistry student from Bristol. “I take that precaution as I have a responsibility to try to avoid introducing coronavirus infection into my workplace. I firmly believe that a sufficient proportion of the population are capable of their own risk assessment.”

Helen, a business development executive from Buckinghamshire, agreed. She was looking forward to having her first weekend break away from her six-year-old boy.

“I’m off to Northumberland for what I think is the first post-lockdown festival, called House of Barefoot,” she said. “It’s a two-day dance music festival for only 450 people. Everyone will be Covid-tested on arrival and I suspect most people going will be in my age group – 50 – and will be at least partially vaccinated, so I’m not too worried about catching it.”

Helen Butterworth from Sanderstead was also excited to get away. “I can’t wait to jump on the ferry to the Isle of Wight to see my daughter and four grandchildren, who I haven’t seen since January 2020,” she said. “The youngest is twice the age when I last saw her – she’s three now – and I think she has forgotten me. I can’t wait to see them again.”

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