So, we’re here...
Benbecula, Western Isles. Our usual cosy cottage by the sea. We’ve been planning this trip - our usual Christmas visit, for months. Original plan, having essentially quarantined ourselves for 10 days beforehand to avoid the risk of bringing Covid to the islands was to leave home last Sunday to drive to Carlisle, then continue on on Monday to get the ferry across before seeing our “Christmas covid bubble” two days later on the 23rd - but when it comes to travelling up here, things are often subject to change. In this case it was a dodgy looking weather forecast for Monday that got us a bit twitchy - we didn’t want to lose a day, but there *was* a possibility we could get across earlier and ahead of the weather if needed, so we set off on Saturday instead...
Saturday evening all hell broke loose - “Boris is giving a briefing” we heard. Then “the Christmas Covid relaxation is being cancelled” and “London and the south east going to Tier 4” meaning lockdown again and no travel...we checked out the news reports on the BBC, definitely just London & SE, phew, keep driving... We drove up one services at a time stopping for the toilets, to change drivers, to grab an hours sleep here and there and then to pour more coffee for MrEH and tea for me from our trusty flasks. Sunday early hours, just south of Carlisle “but the Scottish border is being closed!” we were told...MrEH checked that one out pretty fast, although there had been nothing on the matrix boards on the motorway. As far as he could see that was due to come in on the 26th - phew again! (We also had confirmed at that point that Harlow was now Tier 4 also - seemingly the BBC jumped the gun by initially reporting that East of England was not included in that change.) We checked ferry options - the forecast for ours looked better, and the captain of the boat, a friend, confirmed that he was duly expecting to sail as planned. (“As planned” already being subject to diversion via Barra as the Barra ferry had gone tech and was undergoing repairs) We looked at each other - exhausted from the overnight drive and only a short distance from our previously planned overnight stay which would have a bed and a hot shower and the decision was made - kill a few hours until we could access the hotel, get some sleep and then revert to “plan A” in the morning.
Monday morning - more rumours of the border being closed including “a friend of a friend” who had actually been turned away. We set off - still no suggestion of any closure - we passed through the border with not so much as a sniff of a Police car and started to relax a little, and we rolled into Oban a few hours later with just the small matter of a 7 hour ferry crossing between us and getting over here!
Slowly the full picture fell into place through Monday - once we were on the ferry Byron confirmed what MrEH had read on the way - that the travel ban between Scotland and England in fact began today (Boxing day) - ironically we are technically not supposed to leave here now! When we return home it will be to effectively a full lockdown again, and our journey home is needing to change a little as well - with a change of ferry route and a drive straight for home when we reach the mainland, rather than the previously planned overnight stop.
In the meantime, we’ll make the most of being where we’d planned, with the person we had planned to spend Christmas with - far from the case for so many folk. Personally I think the late notice for the cancellation of the “Christmas covid bubble” rules is a disgrace - for the government to have spent the previous several weeks saying it was “definitely” going to happen, only to scrap it after so many people had already bought food for their planned gatherings, in unforgivable. It should have been cancelled at LEAST a week sooner, without question. Similarly- telling people that in some cases they could continue with the plans to see friends or family but “only on the 25th” - what about those who rely on public transport, and all those keyworkers who just a few months ago we were standing on doorsteps clapping? Very much “middle class white man logic” I’m afraid - rules made from the perspective of those who never have to work Christmas Day, and always have a car to travel anywhere they want. It’s truly time that it was understood that this is not the situation for everyone, and this year of all years, we should be considering everyone, not just the privileged ones.
I hope you too for Christmas what was needed - whether like us that is a time of calm, and recharging of batteries, or whether something a little more lively and full-on.