13th July 2020
Life in a Coronavirus Pandemic: A Major Incident In Week Fourteen of Lockdown
This week I have the confidence to venture further than my local area and set off for a day out in the New Forest. Unfortunately, I chose the wrong day.
Week fourteen of lockdown due to COVID-19 has an uneventful start but then, as the temperature rises the crowds flock to the beaches in Dorset. No limit was set on the distance people can travel for a day out. They came from London, Derby, Birmingham … It was impossible to maintain a social distance. And, it results in a twelve-hour gridlock as 500,000 descend on the beaches of the Sandbanks peninsula and Bournemouth. Double yellow lines disappear under illegally parked cars, private drives are blocked for hours and the chain ferry cannot bring vehicles across from Shell Bay as they are unable to disembark. A major incident is declared the next day. The emergency services rally round and rescue us from a second onslaught.
Monday 22 June 2020
On this fine sunny morning there is a chill in the air. We have this to thank for keeping the crowds away from our beaches. It is a joy to see there is hardly any litter and Rosmarie and I can enjoy an invigorating walk along the beach. My cupboards are bare again so I need to go shopping. I work hard to finish my scheduled article for the Travel Radar website this morning. After a hasty lunch I catch the bus into Poole. It is the first time I have travelled on public transport since it became mandatory to wear face coverings. I have opted for my ski mask. As I see the bus approaching I pull it up over my mouth and nose and anchor it in place with my sunglasses. I feel like a bandit. I share this thought with the driver, point two fingers at him and say “stick ‘em up”. That is when I realise it is hard to be funny when your face is hidden. However, the driver, behind his Perspex screen is not wearing a mask and I am rewarded with a broad grin. I move down the bus to a seat I am allowed to sit on. The seats on the bus are clearly marked to ensure social distancing. Inevitably a man gets on and, after much thought, sits down on a seat covered with a bright orange banner saying do not sit here. This throws the sequence out but it is not a problem as there are only four of us on the bus.
Poole High Street is crowded and it is difficult to keep out of the way as the keep left signs are consistently ignored. I do a speedy food shop in Sainsbury’s and get the next bus back to Sandbanks. The hourly bus service has been re-instated. I am not in a good mood when I get back to the flat. I spend a large part of the afternoon engaging in a pointless discussion (by email) with the chairman of the local Community Group. He is proposing a 150 % increased in the annual subscription next year. I want to know why. He says it will buy a lot of administrative services. I ask what for. I am told it works out at less than one cup of coffee a month. Failing to see the relevance of this comparison I give up. The Community Group has been campaigning to get the local authorities and police force to do more to control the crowds that descend on our beaches when the weather gets hot but I don’t see this as a permanent problem. So I am curious to know what he wants the extra money for. It seems he does not know himself.
More announcements about announcements today as the government announces that tomorrow they will announce that the hospitality sector can re-open from July 4. Holiday accommodation, restaurants, bars and pubs will have to ensure required safeguards against COVID-19 in place. We are warned these measures will be reversed if they led to a virus surge.
Tuesday 23 June 2020
I am up slightly earlier this morning and go out on the bike but head in the direction of Poole rather than my usual way. It is low tide and the harbour is peppered with people collecting shellfish. There are byelaws governing this activity for which Poole has been famous for many years. A licence is required to collect clams. Collecting shellfish is prohibited in the seagrass beds in Whitley Lake. Under the Cockles Bye Law fishing for cockles is not allowed between 1 February and 30 April. Rakes or similar tools must comply with a specified size. There is also a minimum size for shellfish that can be taken from the fisheries. Any shellfish under that size must be put back in the fishery. The species collected here are cockles, razor clams, Manila clams and American hard shell clams. Clearly it is still a thriving business.
I meet up with Rosmarie as usual and we walk along the beach together. It is sunny but there is a chill in the air. The beach is remarkably litter free this morning so we have a very pleasant walk with not too much litter collecting. We do meet up with Brett, the bus driver and his four shiatzus. The little one, Pearl is just 9 months old. I watch, fascinated as she frantically digs a hole nearly as deep as herself. When I get back to the flat and an eagerly anticipated breakfast I send emails to my sister and niece and then get down to some writing. In the afternoon I empty the back of the car and put the seats down ready to load the bike in the back tomorrow morning. I am going to the New Forest to visit a hotel. I hope to go on a bike ride through the forest while I am there. I am slightly nervous about my first venture beyond Sandbanks since we were locked down three months ago.
Wednesday 24 June 2020
I am woken by a very noisy motorbike speeding along the road below the flat. I know I won’t go back to sleep so I get up and go out on the bike. As I set off four more noisy motorbikes come tearing down the road towards me. They are being pursued by a police car. A fifth motorbike brings up the rear. They look like the same ones that regularly race up and down the spit. I hope the police catch up with them and put an end to their exploits. As the weather was hot yesterday Rosmarie and I are not surprised to see a lot of rubbish on the beach. We clear up around the bins and the area between them and the water’s edge. By then I have two full bags by t so I walk up to the bins and empty them. We resume our walk along the beach. When we get to the Haven Hotel both my bags are full again so I go along the path to the Ferry Bay car park and empty them in the bins there. We finish our walk early today so I can get ready for my journey to the New Forest.
I leave for the New Forest at 9 am. There is a lot of traffic going in the opposite direction – towards the beaches of Bournemouth and Poole. My only hold up is going through Lyndhurst but this is a regular bottleneck. I leave my car at the Balmer Lawn Hotel in Brockenhurst. I will return later to see the alterations they are making to comply with safeguards that must be in place before they can re-open. I get the bike out of the car and cycle into Brockenhurst. It is not very photogenic today as a lot of places are taking advantage of lockdown to undertake repairs and renovations. I follow the signs to St Nicholas’ Church. I have been here before but was not able to get inside. I hope it will be open today. I am delighted when I see a sign saying the church is open for private prayer. No matter how hard I try I cannot get the door open so I have to concede defeat and head for the Commonwealth Graves. During World War II Brockenhurst was the site of an army hospital and had a close association with troops from New Zealand. I meet a lady in the cemetery. She is tidying up one of the graves and we have a long chat about the Commonwealth graves and life in general.
Next stop Saint Saviour’s Church. I meet up with another lady there and she suggests I visit Saint Nicholas’ Church. I tell her I have just come from there but it was locked. She insists it is open. She has just convinced me I am an idiot when it comes to opening doors when a colleague joins us and informs her that no-one has opened the Saint Nicholas’ Church this morning. I can’t help feeling smug. By now it is too hot and too late to contemplate cycling back up the hill to the church so I head back towards the Balmer Lawn Hotel intending to cycle along the tracks in the forest behind the hotel. The banks of the river beside the hotel are crowded with people and the road leading to the hotel is full of parked cars. My plan to cycle along the gravel track through the forest is thwarted by a steady stream of cars throwing up a lot of dust. I follow the tarmac road and then turn into the forest. There is no-one around and it is cool in the shade of the trees. I follow a grassy track where I see a deer. He does not hang around to have his photo taken and hops back into the trees. When I see a bird of prey swoop across the path in front of me I stop to take a closer look. I am totally unaware of a cyclist who has come up behind me. He manages to stop before crashing into me. He is surprisingly pleasant as he dismounts and pushes his bike around me. I am sure I would not have been so gracious.
By this time, I am lost. I use Waze on my iPhone to check my route and I am astonished to find I am going in the right direction and I am not far away. When I get back to the hotel I have a tour of the hotel with Chris, the owner, and a chat with Mike the manager to see how they are making the hotel comfy and safe for their guests when the open on Saturday. By then I am anxious to start my journey back to Sandbanks. It is 31ºC, the hottest day of the summer so far, and I know the roads back to Sandbanks will be busy. It is a slow journey back and Sandbanks is gridlocked. Cars have been abandoned everywhere – not a double yellow line to be seen due to cars parked on every one of them. The chain ferry is only carrying vehicles from Poole to Studland as cars coming the other way cannot get off the ferry as their passage is blocked by parked vehicles. It can still carry foot passengers, bikes and motorbikes. I am very grateful that my flat is at the beginning of the spit and I only have to crawl along for a few hundred metres before I can turn into my drive. I put the chain across the drive before I left this morning but I am still relieved to see that there are no vehicles parked there. The next day I hear horror stories about private drives being blocked by parked cars all day.
Thursday 25 June 2020
I slept well last night. This is surprising given the noise from the beach when I went to bed last night. I wake when my alarm goes off at 5 am. I am nearly knocked over by a taxi while cycling around the spit. He had just delivered two ladies to the beach and, not realising the road was one way, did a U-turn and drove straight towards me. Despite arriving at 5.45 am the two ladies were not the first to settle on the beach for the day. There are already several people there. The amount of litter strewn on the sand from yesterday is sickening. It is everywhere, carpeting the car park and surrounding several tents where people have spent the night. As there are no public conveniences in this area it is not hard to imagine where they have been going to the toilet. I fill several carrier bags during my walk with Rosmarie this morning. The litter I pick up includes two brand new bath sheets, some soggy socks and a complete child’s tent in the shape of a castle. I also clear up several abandoned portable barbecues. The mesh that covers them is so sharp they are a real danger to the dogs that come to this beach. I cut my hand just picking one up – it shreds the surgical glove I am wearing. We are late leaving the beach this morning and by then the crowds are arriving, marching down the beach like the troops at Dunkirk but armed with tents, chairs, and large cool boxes.
I spent the rest of the day in the flat – watching the crowds jostling for position on the pavements and cars being abandoned anywhere there is a space. I hear a discussion going on below and realise our drive is being considered as a place to park. I go out on the balcony and announce that it is a private drive. So what? Is the response. I retort that if they do leave their vehicle in the drive they should not expect to find it there when they come back. I know this is an idle threat as the police will not be able to do anything about it. However, I do have a plan B which involves a large piece of paper and some Super Glue. The interloper retreats. By early afternoon the situation has become impossible and a major incident is declared in the Poole and Bournemouth area. Roads are closed, traffic wardens ticket cars until they run out of tickets, the large car park is closed for the night and the police direct traffic out of Sandbanks. We are featured on the news worldwide. Thanks to Boris Johnson not defining limits people can travel for a day out during lockdown we are the laughing stock of the world.
Friday 26 June 2020
I am up and out earlier than usual this morning – curious to see the debris of a major incident. The main car park on Sandbanks is still closed and it is nearly empty. The first thing I see when I get to the sea front are for tents in a row on the beach. The tractors are at work grooming the sand and thundering past the test getting as close as they dare. A rude awakening for the occupants. Rosmarie joins me and set off the dog walking beach. The bins at the top are surrounded by rubbish that has been thrown on the ground. I get out a large bin liner and collect up the rubbish. The bag is soon full. By the time it is all cleared up I have filled a whole bin. A bin that was empty when people dumped their rubbish on the ground in front of it. We move on and then stop and stare in dismay. Clearly there was a large party amongst the dunes and the participants just got up and walked away when they finished leaving everything behind, including the barbecue they had used. It is too much – we walk down to the shoreline.
There is plenty of litter to pick up there including some brand new beach toys. I put these in a separate bag as they are too good to throw away. I try to find a home for them but no-one wants them or knows anyone who could use. When I take my bag of rubbish to the Ferry Bay car park I leave the toys on the wall beside the bins in the hope they will find their way to someone with small children who can use them. Walking back along the beach I fill another large bin liner. I am concerned all the post-party litter may still be there. I say to Rosmarie what a difference it would make if everyone just brought one carrier bag down to the beach and filled it. The words are hardly out of my mouth when we spot four people at work clearing up the post-party debris. They have had the same idea and brought plastic bags with me. It is a heart-warming sight. I return to the flat where I spend the rest of the day. Sandbanks is busy again but not impossible as it was yesterday.
Saturday 27 June 2020
I hear the wind battering the windows and rain splashing on the roof throughout the night. When I wake at 5 am the decision is easy, I will not be going out on the bike this morning. I get up and settle down to work immediately. Yesterday the Italians issued a proclamation to the airlines flying into to their country advising that a number of measures be put into place. My friend, Lisa, has sent me the link from an Italian newspaper. She suggests I write it up as breaking news. I mention it to my Travel Radar editor, David, who says go ahead. My article is published two hours later before this news breaks in the UK. A strong wind howls around Sandbanks all day accompanied by bursts of heavy rain. There are a lot of kite boarders skimming across the waters in the harbour but not many other visitors. For the first time in weeks there are no large groups of youngsters on the beach by the harbour this evening. Two youngsters brave the weather and huddle under a tree but they are not there for long. Even the birds are grounded by the strong wind today.
Sunday 28 June 2020
When I go out on the bike early this morning it is a battle to keep going against the but it is dry and the sun is shining. There are three tents on the beach and some men are fishing from the shelter of the tents so their lines stretch from the tents into the sea. It is difficult to walk along the shoreline and I point this out to them as I duck under almost invisible lines. As I stroll past Sheena, a friend of Rosmarie’s, she asks me what I have in my bag. I open it and start listing the contents – empty beer bottle, cardboard coffee cup, a soggy sock … she is surprised to learn it is rubbish. I see quite a few other people collecting rubbish on the beach It is good to see it is becoming a community effort. I meet Roger and Gill and their three dogs, Basil, Noah and Nori. We stop for a chat. Interrupted by Basil hurtling off to chase a crow that has dared to land on the beach. Order restored, I thank Roger for recommending me to join NextNeighbour. This seems to be a more relaxed organisation exchanging local news but monitored for abuse.
Further along the beach I meet a couple. Husband is writing in the sand while his wife collects litter. He shouts at her to get out the way so he can take a photo of his artwork. He has written ‘be happy.’ I suggest he writes take your rubbish home. When I walk back along the beach I see that he has suggested visitors pick their rubbish up. It makes me smile and sets me up for the rest of the day which I spend in the flat. I fall asleep to the sound of shells dancing across the roof above me encouraged by the relentless wind.
Some Government Statistics
By 23 June, there have been 8,309,929 tests, with 237,142 tests on 22 June. 306,210 people have tested positive and 42,927 have sadly died, an increase of 171 in the past 24 hours. As of 9am on 28 June 311,151 people have tested positive and 43,550 of these have died, with an increase of 36 deaths in the past 24 hours.
More next week
Valery Collins is the Experienced Traveller
An excellent raconteur, Valery has been writing about her experiences on the road since she started travelling 25 years ago. After publishing 4 books she turned to online travel writing and photography. Today she is editor, features’ writer and reviewer for ExperiencedTraveller.com and regularly contributes guided city walks to GPSmyCity.com