I took a small weekend trip a few weeks ago to the Isle of Wight. One ferry crossing with the car, one night in a hotel and some sightseeing to test the waters, as they say, how travelling is during Covid times, here in the UK.
My partner and I went away from Sunday to Monday for our short trip. We decided to shift our weekend break by one day as we did not want to travel on Saturday. The Isle of Wight has many beaches and in the UK, those are always packed when the weather is great.
So, in order to avoid the crowds a little, we decided to have one weekend day and one week day.
I want to share with you my experience, basically how that trip went overall in case you are thinking about taking a little weekend break or staycation yourself and you need some feedback before you take to the road. I hope this post will be helpful to some of you.
We took an early ferry crossing with Red Funnel, we left 8 am, from Southampton to the Isle of Wight. The crossing takes about one hour and was very smooth overall.
On board, everyone must wear a face mask during the crossing from the moment you step out of your car. Inside, there were several hand sanitiser stations to disinfect your hands and luckily the ferry was not too busy. I guess because it was so early in the day. There was definitely plenty of space inside to sit and keep your distance from other passengers.
Outside on the other hand looked a bit different. It was sunny and the weather started to warm up. Hence, plenty of people wanted to sit or stand outside to take in the views and fresh air.
It also started to fill up quickly, as you were not allowed to consume any food and drinks inside. People who bought coffees and some snacks, who would normally stay inside to eat and drink, had to go outside now as a result of the Covid measures.
We went outside when the ferry left, but when the outside deck started to fill up and there was no way that you could keep 2 meters apart from other people, we decided to go back inside and find a more suitable and safe spot.
On the way back, we travelled at night and took almost the last ferry back home. As a result, there were not too many passengers and there was plenty of space inside. It was also late and people were more tired. Therefore, everyone was a bit more calm and stayed in there seats.
Tip: The back of the ferry was less crowded and busy as most people wanted to sit in the front to see where the ferry is going.
Tip: If you arrive early, you are among the first to get on the ferry. If you make your way quickly inside, you can find a good spot inside to sit.
Tip: The ferry is less busy early in the morning and late at night.
DAY 1 SIGHTSEEING – OSBORNE AND BEACH WALK
Many sights have reopened recently and little trips that incorporate some cultural sightseeing are therefore possible again. Of course, you need to prebook tickets, pub visits etc so these establishments can cope with and manage visitor numbers.
We have the English Heritage membership and booked a visit to see Osborne, the summer residents of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. This is one of the most popular sights on the island and as members our visit was free. Both the gardens and house are open now.
English Heritage offers several time slots and we booked the first one for 10 am, when the site opened. Upon entry, you get to disinfect your hands and masks are compulsory to wear in the house, but not in the gardens.
We went to see the house first, thinking that it might get more busy later on. There was a queue to enter and we had to wait about 10 min to get inside. Once you were in, there was a sign reminding you to keep your distance to other people.
The house was beautiful, but the experience was far of from what we are normally used to.
I personally felt a bit rushed and a bit nervous. I could not really take my time to look around the rooms and objects properly. I felt like I had to move on quickly so the people waiting behind me could have a look as well.
Also, the couple behind us did not care too much about keeping their distance and kept on coming closer and closer to us. We had to remind them several times to please stay away and keep their distance.
Moreover, I did not enjoy waiting in line so much and so long. There were some rooms that were not of interest to me as I have seen similar once before, or I was just not that bothered.
Normally, you would just pass through those rooms or corridors quickly, asking people politely to let you through in smaller and tighter spaces. Of course, this is not possible now. You just have to wait until the queue moves and you can move on. Once outside the house and in the gardens, it was fine though. The gardens were big and people started to spread out.
Conclusion for me: indoor spaces thumbs down and outdoors thumbs up. Still, it was nice to see something different than nature, some cultural activity for a change.
In the afternoon around 4 pm, we decided to go for a walk to the beach and the town along the Coastal Path. We did not have any particular plans, but we thought we might check out the arcades and the mini golf.
The beach itself was not busy, but the arcades and mini golf were packed. Some people wore face masks inside the arcades and others did not. There were two mini golf courses, but both had queues and we did not want a second Osborne experience. Hence we decided to skip it.
Walking on the pavements by the promenade, the majority of people walking did not particularly care about keeping any distance from other people and did not move to make space for you to pass. In the end, we found an empty bench and sat down for some people and sea watching. This was nice as there was a restaurant close by with some live music.
I would not say that the little seaside town was overcrowded or even packed, but it was too busy for our liking during Covid times.
Tip: Come during the week as the sea side towns will be less crowded. Well, most towns will be less crowded during the week as people are back to work.
Tip: If you can, visit the beach in the late afternoon as most people will start to pack up to make their way home.
The checkin to our hotel was very smooth, but a bit delayed. We stayed in a Premier Inn and wanted to checkin at 2 pm, when checkin is open. However, our hotel room was not ready so we had to wait 10 min.
I assume the hotel is operating at reduced capacity in terms of employees so the room cleaning might have taken a bit longer. I can also imagine that people stay longer in their hotel room and sleeping in if they have attractions booked for a specific time later in the morning or in the early afternoon. Hence, the room cleaning will finish a bit later.
Only one party was allowed inside the reception area and everyone else had to wait outside. There was a one way system in place and hand sanitisers were placed at the entrance for guests to use. There was also a glass barrier between you and the receptionists for protection. Overall, lots of measures in place for protection and safety.
Public areas inside the hotel such as the restaurant were off limits for socialising. This area was only used for breakfast and nothing else. Most of the times breakfast is served as a buffet in Premier Inns, but during Covid this is served via table service. Therefore, the capacity was limited and you had to prebook breakfast if you wanted to eat in the hotel. We did not opt for breakfast as we picked up something from the Aldi next door.
I asked for an extra towel and some more tea, coffee and sugar and the staff always put on gloves when giving out extra items and put everything in a bag. The gloves were plastic disposable once so for one time use only.
Our stay, apart from the checkin, felt more or less normal. I felt safe and comfortable in the hotel.
Tip: Travel during off season to avoid crowds. We spoke to the receptionist at the hotel and she explained that the hotel is operating at reduced capacity, but the capacity they have is fully booked for the rest of August. Thus, it might be less busy travelling in September and possibly cheaper as well.
Tip: If you want to avoid eating out in restaurants, pubs and indoor places, look for a hotel close to supermarkets. You can buy some food from those places eg. fresh orange juice, some croissants or ready made sandwiches and eat on the go or your hotel room if you prefer.
DAY 2 SIGHTSEEING – VENTNOR BOTANIC GARDEN AND HIKE
Our last day, Monday, was the most enjoyable day of our little trip and truly gave me this holiday feeling.
We went to Ventnor Botanic Garden, which is such a lovely attraction. The Garden was bigger than we expected and there is plenty of space. There is no need for a face mask and social distancing is no problem at all.
There is a small cafe/restaurant on side with some tables and they were spaced out nicely for sitting, resting and eating. Throughout the botanic garden, there are plenty of green grass spaces as well where people could sit and have a picnic.
It was so lovely to be in this garden, surrounded by greenery and lots of pretty, interesting and amazing smelling plants. This is a space to relax and forget about all those Covid measures.
When you exit the botanic garden, there is a little shop and small cafe and people had to pay outside, rather than inside as you would normally do. The shop was reasonably sized so again plenty of space to have a look at all those lovely objects without being too close to other people.
This botanic garden, in my opinion, is the perfect attraction to feel safe and comfortable, to experience a lovely day that feels normal and to simply enjoy.
Our next stop for the day was Brook Beach. We parked the car and went down to the beach for a walk. This was not one of those sandy beaches, rather one with little rocks and rock pools. The majority of people there were looking for crabs in the rock pools, just went for a walk like us or were treasure hunting. On the way back to the car park, we took the Coastal Path route that goes along the cliffs for some stunning views.
This was a lovely walk as there was so much space, the sea air was so fresh and we found some rocks to sit on and have our picnic for lunch. Of course, the scenery was so beautiful and I started to get a sense of freedom again.
Back in the car, we headed for our last stop of the day, which was Tennyson Down. From the top of the Down, you get one of the best views of the island. They are just breathtaking and so worth it. It is this big and wide open space and you feel so little on the top. You can see the far reaching ocean on the one said and mainland UK on the other side.
The Coastal Path as well as the open National Trust landscapes are great during Covid times. Social distancing is no problem what so ever and the views of the Island are like nothing else I have seen for a long time.
FINAL THOUGHTS …
Overall, this weekend trip was exactly what I needed. I am so glad we went as it really lifted my spirits, seeing and experiencing something new again. I feel happy and am still buzzing after almost two weeks now.
The ferry, hotel and all sights we visited had measures in place to keep visitors and guests safe to their best ability and according to government guidelines. I felt like they did everything they can, I felt reassured.
However, I get the feeling that many people start to relax too much though. At the beginning of the Covid outbreak, people were keen to do their bit. Now, it feels different. More and more people are fed up and ignore the guidelines, especially keeping your distance and overcrowding. I get that they want to feel untroubled again. I do too, but it is not possible yet.
Cases in the UK and Europe are rising again and if we are not careful, we will go back into a full lockdown once more. We all need to do our bit and watch out for each other if we do not want to lose our regained “new normal”.
Have you been on a small weekend break since the ease of lockdown? What are your experiences?