With lockdown restrictions lifting considerably recently, we decided to bite the bullet and book a weekend trip to Dorset. So what’s it like taking a staycation in the “new normal”? By Sarah Bradbury.

Zero expectations

As we settled into quarantine in early March, I had in all honesty resigned myself to the idea that a holiday of any kind was off the cards this year.

Being pregnant, I already knew that anything too adventurous was an impossibility anyway, with last year’s trips to Barcelona’s Primavera and Nevada Desert-set Burning Man now a very, very distant memory. But with a stringent lockdown in place, even a Europe-based long weekend was out of bounds. Picnics in London parks would have to suffice.

It then took me by surprise that restrictions lifted as quickly as they did. Suddenly the summer wasn’t a total right-off after all. Friends started booking up trips abroad left, right and centre.

Sadly for us the window of opportunity to go escape overseas was too tight as you’re not allowed to travel after 37 weeks – which left us a gap of just 2 weeks.

And was it really worth the risk to be cooped on a plane, trains and taxis and leap into the unknown of a hotel abroad after being so careful all these months? So we instead looked closer to home.

But where to begin with a UK staycation?

Despite growing up in Reading, to my shame, I realised my knowledge of UK holiday spots was pretty scant.

Childhood holidays did hit locations such as Centre Parks in the New Forest, the odd surfing trip to Devon or day trip to Brighton. Beyond that though…

It was questions from my Spanish partner that highlighted how embarrassingly little I have explored our shores in the past. From his home city of Madrid, people don’t think anything of hopping in the car for a long drive to soak up some sun, sea and sand on the weekend. But for some reason, for my family at least, it was never really a habit.

It was he who came up with the idea of Dorset – from not too much research except a little scour of the map and landing on a decent looking B&B – still on the coast but just three hours from London by car rather than the intimidating five or six for places like Newquay.

So what was a UK staycation post-lockdown like?

We really didn’t know what to expect but the whole thing was incredibly smooth and enjoyable.

Our destination was West Bay. As we had my beat-up old Clio we could avoid getting on any public transport at all and only had to stop once for petrol and supplies (crucial, obvs). But you could easily also rent a car for the weekend if you don’t already have one.

The B&B was cosy and cute – a bungalow spitting distance from the beach the owner had split off into self-contained en suite rooms, even with a little decked garden area overlooking the sea and town.

I believe we were some of their first guests post-lockdown – but despite a bit of British awkwardness it was super easy to remain socially distanced, there were no shared spaces with other guests and all was incredibly clean with hand sanitiser on hand should we need it.

We could walk to the beach which had stunning golden cliffs as a backdrop and pretty cold but beautiful clean water. There were plenty of eating options with outside seating from pubs to cornish ice-cream shops to fish and chips shacks so we rarely needed to be inside.

All the venues had table service and one way and track and trace systems in place which staff were still getting used to – but it was all with smiles on their face and an eagerness to make being out and about as fun as could be despite the new rules. Impressive for a little fishing village!

Not too far away we could also visit neighbouring Weymouth beach, with surprisingly soft white sand (a contrast to the mostly pebble beaches in the area) and clear, shallow water, where we stopped for a picnic. It was busy but still easy to remain socially distanced from others.

Our final stop was then to the breathtaking Durdle Door. We arrived late enough in the afternoon that most of the crowds had dispersed making it easier to navigate the narrow stairs down to the beach. We then hopped back in the car and were back in London before bedtime.

You don’t have to be abroad for a “proper” holiday

Although admittedly the glorious sunshine was a big contributing factor, I was blown away by how impressive the scenery and lovely the beaches were. I realised how deeply ingrained it was – and imagine it might be for other Brits – that you have to go abroad to feel you are on a “proper” holiday.

When previously I’d thought of vactioning in the UK, it conjured visions of bleak rainy beaches, stuffy, past-their-prime hotels and soggy chips.

Not only was our staycation a brilliant way to escape the city and our four walls without compromising too much on our risk of catching COVID-19 – but it really was an eye-opener of what treasures await on home soil if you’re willing to be open-minded.

I more than got my holiday “fix” from the trip, including a much-needed dunk in the sea and sand beneath my feet. My cynicism was swept away by a newfound charm for the simple pleasures of tucking into freshly cooked fish and chips over a harbour in the salty breeze.

Hassle-free and better for the environment, the experience has completely changed my views. Now that I’ve dipped my toe in staycationing, I’ll definitely be back for more.

Key takeaways

– If you can, drive. There’s lot of options for car hire if you don’t have one and it limits your need to go on public transport which you might still see as a bit risky. It also gives you a lot more flexibility to explore those harder to reach places.

– Book ahead. Venues are still getting to grips with the new rules and there will inevitably be less capacity available in places to stay, visit and eat and they will need more time for things like cleaning in between guests. Lots of restaurants and tourist sites will now require you to book ahead so make sure you check online or give them a bell to avoid disappointment!

– Stay open-minded. I was blown away by the gorgeous spots we were able to discover not too far from our doorstep. Why not try visiting somewhere you’ve never been before or asking mates for recommendations? There are some real hidden gems out there. Don’t underestimate what our British shores have to offer!

– Leave plenty of time. An inevitable side-effect of all the “new normal” rules is everything does just take a bit longer, especially as places are still getting used to them. Expect longer waiting times and queues and potentially traffic. Take the extra time into account and adapt to a slower pace – a holiday is for chilling anyway! Look out for those lesser known spots to avoid crowds.

Feeling inspired? Check out our ultimate guide to a UK staycation now:

First published on #ThisMuchIKnow on 15th July 2020.