1st January 2022
Life During a Coronavirus Pandemic: Week 92 Isle of Man for Christmas
The captivating and curious Isle of Man is my destination for Christmas this week.
It is week 92 of the coronavirus pandemic and the second Christmas affected by COVID-19. A new variant, Omicron, threatens celebrations this year and is rapidly spreading around the world. I am very glad that I decided to organise a holiday for Christmas closer to home this year. I did not want to repeat the disappointment of last year when my flight to Madeira was cancelled while I was at Gatwick waiting to check in. I chose the Isle of Man as it is in the Common Travel Market and, being triple jabbed I could be as certain of getting there as one can be during these difficult times.
Monday 20 December 2021
I am doing the late morning shift as a COVID marshal at a vaccine hub in a pharmacy at Castlepoint on the other side of Bournemouth. I get to the Castlepoint shopping centre in time for a quick shop in Sainsbury’s. I am delighted to find just one roll neck top in a lovely lilac colour – and in my size. I also buy a meal deal including a Hoisin duck wrap, my favourite. This shift passes very pleasantly as a member of staff makes me a cup of tea with some biscuits. As we are taking walk-ins today it is busy. We also get a lot of enquiries regarding rapid lateral flow tests which are in short supply everywhere. When I arrived we did not have any lateral flow tests but they arrive at lunchtime so I am able to get another box to replace the one I gave to our gardener last week as she needs them for another garden she works at. Word soon gets out that we have a supply. Several people requesting the tests do not know they need a code to collect them so I help some of them get their code.
Covid cases explode in London with 140,000 confirmed Covid cases in a week after they exploded by up to 500 per cent among young adults and also increased among pensioners.
Johnson accused of ‘ducking difficult decisions’ over Christmas lockdown after he drew back from imposing new Covid rules in the run-up to Christmas despite fears the NHS could be overwhelmed.
In the News Today
The Queen cancels her traditional Christmas in Sandringham in Norfolk amid concerns about the rising levels of the Omicron variant. Instead she will stay in Windsor where she will be joined by members of the Royal Family. Buckingham Palace aides described it as a personal decision.
Tuesday 21 December 2021
As I wake at 5 am this morning I decide I might as well get up and do some writing. We are going away tomorrow and I don’t have much time to finish all the projects I am working on. I work all morning but I do take a break to watch an amazing sunrise over Poole harbour when the sea turns pink. We have also changed our plans to avoid a night near London where Omicron cases are increasing rapidly. We decide to find a hotel near Gatwick Airport instead. It does not take me long to find somewhere at a reasonable price and close to the car park where we will be leaving my car while we are away. We start our holiday early by treating ourselves to a lovely meal at the local Loch Fyne – the seafood mixed grill. We spend the rest of our evening filling out the Landing Form for the Isle of Man which can only be done within 48 hours of arriving on the island due to declarations that have to be made regarding travel within the last 10 days and contact with people who have tested positive for COVID.
Sport in Wales goes behind closed doors and spectators will be banned from sports events in Wales from 26 December to try to control the spread of the Omicron variant. The Welsh government says the ban will apply to all indoor, outdoor, professional and community sports events.
In the News Today
Largest-ever millipede fossil found – it was spotted by a former Cambridge University PhD student, while wandering across Howick Bay, in Northumberland. Known as Arthropleura, the millipede is thought to have been more than 2.5m long and had between 32 and 64 legs.
Wednesday 22 December 2021
This morning we set off for Crawley where we are staying overnight. We are stopping in Angmering on the way to have lunch with my cousins. to see Elaine and John and go out for lunch with them. We arrive in Angmering at midday, park the car and then walk to a traditional local pub, the Spotted Cow, for lunch. I have the Christmas special, a Christmas pie stuffed with turkey, stuffing and apricots. Very tasty. After lunch we continue to our hotel, Oldlands Farm in Tinsley Green near Gatwick airport. We don’t bother to go out for dinner having raided our respective fridges and cupboards we feast on mince pies and fresh fruit.
Self-isolation cut to seven days with testing in England as surging coronavirus cases cause staff shortages self-isolation guidance is changing. Quarantine is being slashed from 10 days to 7 - provided lateral rapid flow tests on days six and seven return a negative result.
Daily confirmed COVID cases in UK exceed 100,000 for first time as a total of 106,122 new infections were recorded on Wednesday, according to official government data. Daily cases have been climbing at speed since the emergence of the Omicron variant, which is significantly more transmissible than previous strains.
How many unvaccinated people are being admitted to hospital in England? Some 42% of people admitted to hospital in England the last month were unvaccinated, despite people who haven't had a single dose making up only 19% of the population.
Thursday 23 December 2021
This morning we have a great breakfast at Charlie’s Deli within walking distance of our hotel. Some lovely porridge with banana and maple syrup accompanied by coffee. My friend also has two poached eggs with avocado and all for just over £15. Next stop, Purple Parking where we are leaving my car. Once the car has been checked in we get the free shuttle to the North Terminal. We go through security and then find a table in Wetherspoons. After mastering the app we order two teas. A waitress brings us two mugs so we still have to go to the counter in order to pour our own tea from the machine. We keep the table until our boarding gate goes up on the departures board. While we wait I go to Boots and buy a meal deal to eat during the fight. Our flight is on time and it is just one hour before we are approaching the Isle of Man.
When we arrive at Ronaldsway Airport we have to queue to show the bar code we were given after completing the Landing Form. As we are triple vaccinated we do not have to self-isolate but we do have to take a lateral rapid flow test within 12 hours of arriving on the Isle of Man. We cannot enter a public building until we have submitted a negative rapid flow test. As we collect our test I check that we are okay to travel to our hotel by bus before taking this test. We are, so we head for the bus stop and only have to wait ten minutes before the bus arrives.
We are staying in Douglas and get the bus towards Douglas but get off at the Fairy Bridge. There is a Manx tradition that anyone going over the Fairy Bridge should say “hello fairy.” I knew about this tradition from a previous visit but was curious to see the actual bridge. It is a very small stone bridge over little more than a stream. Next to the bridge is the Fairy Cottage.
We get the next bus into Douglas and get off on the Promenade close to our hotel, Hotel Halvard. David, the front of house manager is very helpful and offers us a cup of tea while he sorts out the paperwork. We book the hotel restaurant for Boxing Day evening and a Chinese restaurant, the Majestic, for this evening. We go to our room, unpack and do our rapid lateral flow test. Both results are negative. We report them and then start getting ready to go out. We walk to the Majestic Chinese restaurant a ten-minute walk along Douglas Promenade. We have a super meal including crispy duck pancakes. We drink draft beer with our meal for a change from wine.
Decision on stricter Covid rules for England may come on Monday Ministers could meet as soon as Monday to determine whether new restrictions are needed in England over the new year amid growing concerns that soaring Covid cases could hit public services.
Friday 24 December 2021
Breakfast this morning is excellent. I start with a delicious muesli with a selection of berries followed by two poached eggs on toast with bacon and mushrooms. Although it is raining we decide to go ahead with our original plan to head for the southern tip of the island. We take the bus to St Mary’s. by the time we get there it is still dull but it has stopped raining. We get off the bus in the High Street and soon find a path down to the sea front where we follow the Heritage Trail to the Dunkirk Memorial just outside the town. Information boards along this trail tell the history of the town. Farming, lime quarrying, fishing and tourism have all played a part in the development of Port St Mary. We walked around the small harbour where fishing boats still bob at their moorings and lobster pots are piled high.
We continue along the natural coastline to the Dunkirk Memorial. This memorial commemorates three ships and their crews. The salvaged anchor of TSS Mona Queen is the central focus. Also included is a direction arrow and a plaque. The other two ships remembered here are TSS King Orry and TSS Fenella. They were all Isle of Man Steam Packet Company ships that were sunk during the evacuation from Dunkirk, known as Operation Dynamo.
Our next stop is Port Erin an attractive seaside town on a sandy cove sheltered by a peninsula on either side.
It is lunchtime when we arrive in the town and the aroma of frying chips proves irresistible. We are soon seated at a table in the cosy Port Erin Chippy and Diner. This family run business serves quality fish and chips and it is a very enjoyable meal. It sets us up for a walk through Bradda Glen to Milner’s Memorial on the peninsula to the right of the bay. We set off across the grass on the cliff top and then join the coast path which takes us to the café where the Bradda Glen starts. There are several different paths across the glen to the end of the peninsula and Milner’s Tower.
As we experimented with different routes we came across a cheeky young robin – very happy to pose for a photograph.
By the time we got to Milner’s tower the wind was howling around us. I climbed up to the top of the tower. The narrow spiral staircase was surprisingly well lit from the open windows set into the tower. Built in 1871 its odd shape as it represents the shape of a safe key reflecting the profession of the man it remembers. William Milner was a safe-maker and a generous benefactor to both the poor and the fishermen of Port Erin. When I emerged onto a small terrace near the top of the tower I had great views of the surrounding countryside. We enjoyed the walk back into Port Erin along a different path and the bus journey across the island back to Port Erin
Glimmer of Christmas hope on Omicron following official findings that Omicron may be less likely to result in serious illness than Delta the head of the UK Health Security Agency has said. But UKHSA's findings are "preliminary” and data around Omicron's impact on the elderly is still needed as a record number of Covid cases, 122,186, are reported today.
Saturday 25 December 2021
Christmas Day and we wake to wind and rain lashing the windows of our hotel room. It is cold outside and inside as the wind playfully opens and closes the front door of our hotel which is next to the dining room. Holly, our cheerful young waitress finally gives up and locks the door. So, when I decide to go for a walk along the sea front she has to come and let me out. I am amused to see she has a small hot water bottle pushed down the front of her skirt. Outside the wind is battering the Christmas decorations and I watch in fascination as a tree of lights is vigorously rocked to the point of almost collapsing and then bounces back to the upright position in between gusts of wind.
We had planned a long walk along Douglas Promenade to the village on Onchan this morning but the wind was so strong we were forced to turn back after struggling against it for half-an-hour. We retreated to the warmth of our hotel room and stayed there until it was time to walk the short distance to Harbour Lights in the Sefton Hotel where we had booked what we hoped would be an extra-special Christmas lunch. At a cost of £75 per person this was not an unreasonable expectation. However, there was nothing in the ambience or the lukewarm welcome of the staff to suggest this was anything other than an ordinary day. The food was worse than disappointing, it was dreadful. We tried to make the best of it but sharing small plates covered with a variety of different starters, meats and vegetables and then desserts was not our idea of the ‘feast’ we had been promised. Not wanting to spoil the day completely we made the best of it. Emails complaining about this rip-off await an answer.
Boosters paused in Wales on Christmas Day and Boxing Day - booster jabs and vaccinations will be not be available in Wales on Christmas Day or 26 December but in England the roll-out continues over both days. By then, Wales will be under tougher restrictions, as part of the plan to tackle the new Omicron variant.
Sunday 26 December 2021
Boxing Day today and, despite the wet, windy weather, we decide we will still get the bus to Peel and hope the weather is okay when we get there. We walk to bus stop on Lord Street and arrive in time to board the bus before the one we had intended to get. By the time we get to Peel the rain has eased to a light drizzle. We set off for the sea front passing the front of the House of Manannan, a Celtic god. It is closed today but we stop to admire the magnificent sculpture of Viking boatmen linked by ropes to a Viking long boat inside the building. We continue along the harbour to the ruins of Peel Castle.
The castle is closed to visitors during the winter but the perimeter path around the castle is open all year. A strong wind whistles around the battle scarred walls but after around the first corner of the extensive walls all is calm and it is very pleasant. The rain has stopped and the sun comes out for a while bringing blue skies and a rainbow with it. It is a lovely walk. After completing the circuit, we find a van serving bacon baps with Isle of Man queenies. At last, a chance to savour this island delicacy. We retreat with our baps and coffee to the shelter of the castle walls and enjoy a break before tackling the path up Peel Hill opposite the castle. Behind Peel Hill is Corrin Hill accessible from the same footpath. But dark clouds are gathering again and it begins to rain so it is a short walk before we give up and seek shelter in a traditional pub until the next bus is due.
This evening we decide to have dinner in our hotel, Halvard Hotel, which proves to be a good choice as the lamb shank is excellent.
New rules in force for three UK nations New Covid restrictions have come into force in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as these nations try to halt the surge in infections. All three nations have introduced curbs on the hospitality and leisure industry, resumed social distancing rules and put limits on the size of gatherings.
Some Government Statistics
By 5 pm on Monday 20 December, a total of 11,453,121 (total that day 91,743) positive COVID-19 tests have been recorded and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 147,261 including a daily total of 44. By the end of the week on Sunday 26 December, the total of positive cases had risen to 12,398,186 (total that day 105,565) positive tests, and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 148,336, including a daily total of 98. Total deaths with COVID-19 on the death certificate is now 171,801 an increase this week of 887. (This statistic lags behind the daily statistics as it is updated on a weekly basis. Monday figures are usually unrealistically low due to difficulty collecting statistics over the weekend).
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 four books she turned to online travel writing.