A bright, breezy day in north Devon. Hundreds of people are taking bracing walks along Woolacombe beach. The pubs, cafes, fast-food outlets and surf shops are doing excellent business.
“Actually we’ve had an amazing season,” said Roger Ashford, whose B&B, the Imperial, enjoys stunning views of the surf. “It’s never been so busy here. There are a couple of hundred people out there walking on the beach now, it’s unreal.”
Ashford, like most of the hospitality businesses in the village, has reduced his capacity to meet Covid restrictions. But over this autumn half-term his B&B is as full as it can be. “We could fill up twice over easily. People are desperate to get away. Crazy, isn’t it?”
Places like Woolacombe are expecting a late-season boost this half-term. But it does come with the risk that visitors could bring the virus into spots that have so far largely escaped.
Over at the Red Barn pub in Woolacombe, Roger’s cousin, Angus Ashford, said he knew people from tier 2 areas who were already in the village and that more were bound to come at half-term.
The pub has worked hard to keep its visitors and staff safe. “But there is a risk,” he said. “Visitors come here from Birmingham, Bristol, London. If you get some waves and some sunshine, people will come if there is no travel ban.”
During half-term more than 1,000 families are booked into the four holiday centres run by Woolacombe Bay Holiday Parks.
Kevin Darvill, the sales and marketing manager, said the different travel restrictions across England and Wales are making life difficult. The holiday parks have, with huge regret, had to stop people coming from Welsh lockdown areas where people are not allowed by law to leave without good reason.
But it has been trickier to tell people from areas of high infection in England not to come because the UK government has not imposed the same firm ban. “English customers are bamboozled and we’re bamboozled too,” he said.
Andrew Baragwanath, the national chairman of the British Holiday and Home Parks Association and a partner in the Ayr Holiday Park in St Ives, Cornwall, said he was sure people from high-risk areas continued to come to the south-west. He said a holiday business owner couldn’t expected to be a “tourism policeman.”
The presence of lifeguards on some Cornish beaches until the end of October shows that that the holiday season is very much still on.
Councillor Rob Nolan, a member of Cornwall council’s cabinet and the owner of a B&B in Truro, said the message there was that the county remains open.
Nolan conceded that some people were anxious at the prospect of people arriving from areas of high Covid prevalence and a few probably liked the idea of closing the border.
“Cornwall is open but anxious,” he said. “We want people who come down to be sensible. Book ahead and don’t come if you have symptoms. Wear a mask, be prepared to sanitise.”
Other areas across England are taking the same approach. The Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron, who represents the Cumbrian constituency of Westmorland and Lonsdale, said visitors would still travel to the Lake District over half-term.
“I think that so long as people are compliant with the rules and respectful of local communities, people are happy for visitors to come,” he said.