When lockdown first took hold of our lives and the government applied stringent rules to anyone who wasn’t Dominic Cummings or at least working closely with him, we decided against booking our usual Easter break. It seemed sensible and we felt it would be a small compromise and that we’d soon be able to travel again. Well, we all know how that turned out. Later, our summer holiday was cancelled too.
Each year we head to North Wales and the Llyn Peninsula for a week long break at the start of the school holidays. Now, we were being told that the infrastructure wouldn’t be able to cope with tourists and that essentially, North Wales was being closed to visitors. It was understandable, given what we were experiencing at home in a much more built up region where the facilities and infrastructure were set up to cope with a much greater number of people. The longer that lockdown went on and the longer that we worked from home, the more we just accepted our fate. There would be no holiday this year.
And then, out of nowhere, at the start of July we received an email from the owners of the cottage that we usually stay in. Wales was opening up to tourists again and, if we still wanted it, our holiday was on. After a lot less thought than I imagined we’d have, we emailed to confirm – we were off on holiday! We decided that our mantra would be ‘four different walls’ and took the plunge. Having been stuck at home since March, even four different walls would feel like a holiday. Anything to break the monotony of the previous few months.
In terms of lockdown rules, Wales was slightly behind England, so a lot less was actually going to be open, including pubs, but we were glad of the change. One of the bonuses of Wales still being largely closed was that we could probably pack less though! No going out for meals would mean less clothes. We’d still have things for the beach and there’d probably be more books and magazines to take, but overall the car wouldn’t be fit to burst this year. Maybe the kids could sit in actual sitting positions, rather than having to tuck their legs up to accommodate extra bags! (That’s not actually true for anyone considering calling Childline.)
Before we knew it we were indeed heading down the motorway in a car that was a little lighter and also heading for the first problematic part of our trip. We’re creatures of habit in our family and so every year, on the way down to the cottage, we stop off in Colwyn Bay (as an aside, we can never remember whether it’s Colwyn Bay or Conwy, but we know it’s near LLandudno!). The problem here was that with public toilets closed we would need somewhere new to stop and while this doesn’t sound like much of a problem – motorway services anyone? – it was actually quite traumatic. and kept us busy deciding where to stop for far too long! In the end, we found a services, followed the social distancing guidelines, stuck to the one way systems, popped into the toilets, armed ourselves with coffee and ate our picnic in the car. Not quite the same as always, but then this always was going to be a slightly different holiday.
Porthmadog was noticeable quieter than usual when we arrived. It’s normally a bustling little town, but now there were far fewer people on the main street. It was hearetning to see that some of the local shops and businesses were open and relatively thriving though.
This was our third stay in this particular cottage and it felt lovely to walk through the door and find that little had changed. Things like DVDs, books and board games had been removed and there were notices re health and safety on several walls, but this was still very much our little cottage. And there was also the added bonus of the owners signing up for Netflix to alleviate the situation with DVDs and board games – more than a fair trade, I’d say! A definite plus point for the global pandemic!
One thing that definitely wouldn’t – and didn’t – change was access to beaches. The village where we stay has a huge beach and so we knew we’d be able to comfortably stay at a social distance from others down there. Getting to our favourite little beach might well be more problematic, but more on that later.
There would be no pub visits either. Unlike in England, pubs in Wales were yet to open, although it would be possible to eat outdoors. Usually we have a rota of pubs that we visit and we generally always eat out, but Covid-19 meant a change of plan. Luckily, some of our regular haunts were operating a takeaway service and so, for our first evening we ordered a Sunday roast from our favourite pub and popped down into town to collect. What we got was an absolute banquet fit for about 12, meaning that the holiday got off to a great start, even if it was quite a fat one!
This was a theme that continued throughout the week. We’d order food from one of our favourite pubs and go and collect. Despite the pandemic and the sense of paranoia, there was always a warm welcome and it was clear that those running pubs were just pleased to be getting any custom. Everything was brilliantly organised and customer and staff safety was obviously at the top of all agendas. We were still told of some visitors who’d actually complained about not being able to go into the pubs though and it seemed strange that they had missed any news whatsoever of a pandemic and the fact that practically everything had changed!
In terms of trips to the beach, we spent the first full day on the local beach, Black Rock Sands, a vast stretch of sand, where as well as people you’ll find dogs, cars and even the odd ice-cream van! Needless to say, social distancing wasn’t a problem.
It’s such a big beach that we always make space and time for some family sports. This year there was beach tennis, baseball, football and a curious game that involves a ball and two kind of big plastic half-cylinders (I’m sorry I’m not eloquent enough to explain exactly what they are!) and of course even more space than ever. We also made time to just laze around, reading and watching the world go by. Lockdown restrictions or not, this is still a holiday and there’s nothing better on holiday than just to sit and stare at nothing in particular!
Before we travelled we were reticent about visiting our favourite beach, given that the only access to it was via a long narrow coastal path. This was also the coastal path that ran along the whole coast and thus dog walkers and hikers were a common site. So, the chances of making the journey to and from our beach without bumping into people and indeed squeezing past them, were slim.
However, by the second full day, with great weather forecast, we were wiling to try. We prepared a picnic, packed the car as usual and set off for the short drive to the end of the coastal path. It was busier than we’d imagined when we arrived, but most people seemed to be hanging around the harbour having a drink or an ice cream. We did pass one or two people on the long path heading for the beach, but it was just a case of holding your breath and squeezing in a bit as there was literally nothing else for it other than throw yourself in a hedge!
On the beach, despite it being quite a small cove, people were very respectful of social distancing and there must have been 7 or 8 metres between us and the next family on the sand. Buoyed by the weather and the conditions on the beach, we had a brilliant day and even spent the next day there too.
We’re usually quite fond of a day out on our Wales holiday. It’s home to many a castle and an amazing coastline and so there are lots of choices like Harlech, Cearnarfon and Barmouth, where we’ve had some brilliant times. This year though, with some lockdown restrictions still in place we felt it was safer to stay close to home – or actually at home – and so were robbed of such trips. The weather didn’t really help either – it was pretty much miserable for the last few days and although we managed one more day on the beach, it was fairly cloudy and not particularly warm. Defintely no need to get the beach body out!
We did attempt to salvage something on the rainy days too, rather than just resorting to lazing around watching Netflix. On the first of these days, we took a picnic down to Black Rock Sands only to find that it was akin to sitting in a sandstorm. This meant that we had an express picnic in record time, huddled behind a large sand dune with no one allowed to mention the extra sandy crunch of their sandwiches! On the other day we misjudged the weather conditions, walking the length of the beach before turning round to head back…just as torrential rain started! We could have swam back and been drier! Needless to say, both kids – the pre-teen son and teenage daughter – took both days in their stride, handling them with good humour…
(Actually, both took moaning about the weather to dizzy new heights, if the truth be told. In fact, such was my daughter’s level of sulking as we ate our picnic that I spent the whole time in fits of giggles trying not to choke on my food. She took this well though. Actually…well, you get the picture!)
By the end of our holiday we’d had a lovely time. I’d totally recommend this area of North Wales to anyone, especially families. The lockdown restrictions made things a little more difficult, but people were as friendly and accommodating as always.
We usually spend our last morning having a wander down Porthmadog high street going in and out of the shops hunting down souvenirs, but given the social distancing problems we gave it a miss and were on the road in record time.
We’d had a lovely time. The beaches had their usual relaxing effect and it’s always nice to get some sea air. We hadn’t got to do our usual eating out, but had taken advantage of some brilliant take out options. In the end we’d come for four different walls and had certainly got that and then some! We’ll try to do it all again next year, fingers crossed without the looming shadow of Covid-19!