Touring In A Pandemic

The Covid-19 Pandemic of 2020 really messed-up everyone’s plans for everything. It also messed-up many lives with profound and tragic consequences. This blog is in no way intended to diminish the seriousness of the issue.

However, extracting whatever limited pleasure was available to Petrolheads through using their beloved cars was one way of offsetting the gloom foisted upon society.

When the UK government lifted travel restrictions in early July, many people took the opportunity to take a newly-defined ‘staycation’ (that once meant holidaying at home rather than holidaying somewhere in the UK).

The team at Petrolheads Welcome were no different in their eagerness to drive some miles, especially when the drives we had already planned in France, Spain and Italy had to be cancelled.

This blog shares not only the simple joy of the freedom of the open road but also looks at how a small part of the UK hospitality industry is coping with/without people like us.

Despite the variable nature of local lockdown restrictions, we decided to go ahead with our trip, albeit reduced from two cars and four people to a couple in a single car. We were eager to understand what the restrictions would mean for us and for the businesses receiving us as customers during our trip.

Thus armed with our face masks, hand sanitiser and NHP Covid App, we set off from Somerset for Cumbria in lovely late Autumn weather. It wasn’t to last… the weather, that is.

We filmed the journey so that we could capture our experiences as they happened. You can see the film here.

Our first overnight stop, some 300 miles later, was the Fat Lamb at Ravenstonedale, run by renowned Petrolhead, Paul Bonsall, whose welcome was as warm as we expected. That was our base for two nights so that on the following day we would have a relatively short excursion to the Lakeland Motor Museum, about an hour to the west.

Day 2 turned out to be a wet day, despite which the roads remained scenic. Paul kindly gave us the route to the museum. He organises many runs for visiting car clubs and this is one of his most popular. Whilst we had no problem in the DB9, I reckon some of the narrower/steeper parts would have been a challenge for any ultra-low cars, but there are alternatives, so not a worry if you’re thinking of popping along in your GT40.

I had a chat with Paul, on camera, later that day to see how he was coping with the pandemic’s effect on his business. “A severe impact, as you’d imagine” was his response in a year when 26 car club bookings were all canceled. He remains optimistic that they are merely postponements and that 2021 will be a good year, Covid-allowing!

he next day dawned dry and sunny, perfect for the Aston to stretch its legs over the glorious north Pennines, across Weardale to Northumberland. We stopped for a scenic coffee break at the Derwent Reservoir. What majestic and quiet roads they are in that part of the world (our film will give you some idea). Perhaps there would have been a little more traffic had we done this trip in high season.

Our stop for the next two nights was Doxford Hall, a recently refurbished stately home with spa facilities and two restaurants set in stunning grounds, including the UK’s biggest yew maze (we didn’t have the right footwear to try it out… that’s our excuse).

A chat with some of the staff at the hotel revealed the same sense of frustration that they are eager to welcome visitors to an environment that they have taken extensive precautions to make safe. The ‘track & trace’ scheme was causing them problems in terms of staff planning with some staff missing holidays and days off to cover for colleagues who have been forced to stay at home. Of course, everyone there understood the need to abide by the rules and to do their best to ensure customer service wasn’t affected.

For our part, we were happy to wear our masks outside our room, although carrying our luggage seemed to take more effort than usual thanks to our reduced air intake… thank goodness performance

cars don’t have to wear masks!

Day four of our trip was another sunny and dry day as we set off north over the border into ‘Border Reivers’ country… home for much of his life to racing legend, Jim Clark. Another lovely drive across the countryside to Duns and the museum dedicated to Jim’s life and sporting prowess.

We receive a very warm welcome from Euan at the museum, who also invited us to park directly outside, a space usually reserved for car clubs and visiting dignitaries, neither of which were we.

The museum is small but packed with pictures, trophies, some of Jim’s cars, and plenty more besides. You can easily spend an hour or four. A must-see is one of the two 20-minute films they play on a loop. Jim’s achievements on four wheels remain mind-boggling 50+ years later.

From there we enjoyed a scenic drive along the Northumberland coast, past Bamburgh Castle and an ice cream stop by the seaside.

Home on the following day was a mere 360 miles in dreadful wind and rain as Storm Alex exercised our windscreen wipers. Our only break, and a welcome break at that, was for lunch at Caffeine & Machine in Warwickshire. Jack at the gate checked our pre-booked ticket – another Covid requirement – and guided us to one of very few parking spaces at the front. There were plenty more spaces, and plenty more cars, parked at the back of what is a lively Petrolheads venue with music playing, car spotters spotting, a yurt-style outdoor bar, takeaway van and the main building’s attractions. It’s a venue that seems to be growing in popularity, aided by events involving some high-profile guests from the Petrolhead world.

What have we learned?

Firstly, that UK plc is still open for business, albeit we consumers have to abide by some inconveniences that have been imposed upon our hosts. None of us mind such sacrifices given the two-pronged benefit of keeping the population safe and having the opportunity to enjoy our cars.

Secondly, make sure you book in advance and then check your booking before you leave, be that for a hotel room or museum entry. We decided against one hotel that had closed its restaurant but failed to tell people like us who had already booked a room!

Thirdly, be prepared to make changes at the last minute. To that end, travelling alone or with only your partner makes such decisions easier. For some very small venues, such as B&Bs, you may have to postpone or even forfeit your deposit. If so, whilst that may grate a little for a while, you can sleep soundly knowing that you are helping to keep those little businesses afloat for your visit next year.

Fourthly, follow the basic rules. As the current government mantra says, “hands, face, space”. Sadly, we saw plenty of older people ‘forgetting’ the rules, even when politely pointed out to them. I, along with a fellow traveller, looked on incredulously as a chap left the motorway services loos without washing his hands. No doubt that idiot has never washed his hands after using the loo and so nothing’s going to make him start now!

Finally, don’t be put off planning your driving holiday. Whether you make it this year or next year, start your planning now. Perhaps a weekend break at the coast or in the hills in mid-winter and then a tour across Europe in late spring 2021? You can of course use Petrolheads Welcome to help you.

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1 Comment. Leave new

  • Cliff Bolton
    May 8, 2021 09:42

    Andrew and Gillian,

    Excellent, interesting and factual as ever with lots of information for us all.

    Cliff B


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