The Dorset family holiday we finally took last week is something I’d been researching since the start of the year, yet was unsure of its feasibility right up until the day we left. Aside from being one big emotional corona-coaster, for people like me who love to plan, this pandemic has really tested our patience.
But we got away. We took our first family road trip since our lively toddler learned to sprint, and had an amazing time exploring the Jurassic Coast between Lulworth Cove and West Bay in Dorset.
Travelling in the new (but somewhat familiar) normal
Sure, this staycation was little bit different.
For a start, our packing list contained masks and more antibacterial products than a laid-back traveller usually lugs with them.
We approached each tourist sight cautiously, fully prepared to turn around if it was too busy, and always on the lookout for specific instructions we needed to follow. (There were signs, stickers and one-way systems galore at all the high traffic spots.)
We self-catered more than we usually would, and we left our contact details at every restaurant or café we dined in/experienced table service at. (3 in total – touch wood we haven’t heard from any of them to date.)
There were periods – sitting on the deck of our cabin in the middle of nowhere, walking along country lanes passing only sheep – when the world felt blissfully normal.
And there were times, such as watching big groups of people drinking along the Old Harbour in Weymouth, when it felt worryingly normal.
But mostly it just felt good to be doing something we love.
We remembered all the reasons why travel can be therapy. (As Triple Passport so eloquently puts it). And I found some bits of the old me. The planner, the doer, the writer, the traveller.
The weather played ball all weekend and not only was my love of travel reignited but I’ve officially discovered a new appreciation for my home country.
But I will admit, I was anxious setting off on our trip. Anxiety is not something I usually associate with travel, but after months of staying at home, suddenly embarking on a weekend where we would sleep somewhere else, dine out for the first time and potentially come across crowds, felt like too much all at once. The FOGO (fear of going out) was real. I’m glad we didn’t let this hold us back though, because, in many ways, travel during the Covid outbreak is an improvement.
Our AirBnb in Dorset
Our accommodation, for one, was immaculate. We’d chosen an AirBnb Plus, after experiencing one in Melbourne, as these properties are renown for going above and beyond when it comes to comfort and practicality. Our cute Cruxton cabin really delivered on both fronts.
Tucked away on a large property, we were surrounded by fields on all sides and had a view of the countryside from every window. Including the toilet.
The cabin was generously proportioned, with a full-sized en suite and enough room to fit Miles’ travel cot between the wardrobe and bed. There was a cosy couch and Netflix-loaded TV to snuggle up with of an evening. The kitchen had everything we needed to cook breakfast and dinner and the homemade Dorset Apple Cake Andrea left on the doorstep was a welcome addition to morning tea.
Accommodation providers have a stringent cleaning protocol to follow now and Andrea left us the A4 sized checklist of things she had done to make the cabin safe, including removing some of the non-essential decorative items that are harder to sanitise. Check in time was 4pm to allow her extra time to fit all this cleaning in but, apart from that, our stay was not impacted by corona at all. We tend to book self-contained cabins or cottages that allow self-check in and so, in this manner, it felt just like any other weekend away.
What it was like dining out
Our first meal out was surreal to begin with. We drove to a neighbouring hamlet that had a pub Andrea recommended in it. They had only recently reopened and when we rocked up for lunch at midday on Saturday we were on the only people there. We chose a table in the garden and asked for a highchair that I scrubbed before using. The menu was limited as the pub had not been able to bring all staff back from furlough yet (they had only 30% of usual custom the night before) and we had to log our contact details on an app. Orders were taken and passed to us from a distance. We were outside so staff didn’t wear PPE but again, apart from how quiet it was, it felt like any other pub lunch really.
Sightseeing and social distancing
Planning what to see and do was somewhat more difficult than usual. I was conscious that with more people holidaying near home, beauty spots in England are getting overwhelmed with crowds and that’s just a recipe for disaster in this climate.
We didn’t want to drive too far with a toddler only to have to turn around if it was too busy and/or unsafe to get out and neither did we want situations where we were queuing for food with a hungry and/or overtired 18-month old. (Have you met one of them? They are annoying.)
So, each day I had a carefully formulated itinerary with Plans A, B and C, plus a bag full of snacks on me.
We headed to 2 of the more popular spots on the Jurassic Coast on the Friday, hoping they would be quieter than on the weekend and the gamble paid off. We parked easily at both Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door and found visitors respectful of social distancing. We also had a lovely time exploring little villages around Chesil Beach on the Saturday but came unstuck on the Sunday when we tried to visit West Bay with my parents and couldn’t get parked anywhere in the area.
Luckily, we both found spaces at the National Trust car park at nearby Burton Bradstock Beach and we had a gorgeous lunch overlooking the sea at Hive Beach Café, which had only a short queue for lunch and heaps of outdoor seating. (I will go into a bit more detail about all these places in subsequent articles.)
In many respects, I found social distancing improves the tourist experience. I like that parking is limited in places that get overcrowded and am rather fond of a 1-way system rather than bumping elbows with strangers.
While more restaurants are requiring pre-booking, we found enough offering walk-in and/or takeaway to allow for flexibility throughout our stay.
As for toilets, my goodness, I have never seen so many glistening loos. While I tried to limit my use of public conveniences, those I did frequent were gleaming. All were well-stocked with soap and smelt of fresh bleach. (Yum!) If there is one thing that lives on after we squash this virus, can it be sparkling clean loos please?!
We actively pursued more off-the-beaten-path locations than we might have usually, finding pleasure in walking along rivers and streams in hamlets near our accommodation rather than seeing ALL the big-ticket items in Dorset in one weekend.
We also took a lot more pleasure in just being and, after the many weeks of lockdown, revelled in the luxury of being somewhere different.
Travelling with a toddler post-lockdown
If I had any anxiety over bringing a toddler away after months of staying at home that evaporated the minute we walked into our cabin and Miles did a happy dance in our new surroundings.
I never thought children could be as invigorated by a change of scenery as adults are, but our child truly was. He ran around the fields outside the cabin, learnt the word ‘more’ after his first taste of Dorset Apple Cake and BAAD a little too ferociously at sheep in the neighbouring farms.
We tramped through fields and along crumbling clifftops with Miles on his dad’s shoulders (he loved the MiniMeis!) and he sung a little marching tune all the way. He chanted ‘ car, car, car’ as we loaded it up each morning, I think in anticipation of seeing tractors from the window, and for 4 whole days forgot that ‘Here Comes A Digger’ exists on YouTube. (Don’t show this to your toddler unless you never want to hear the end of it.)
Miles slept amazingly well considering he was sharing a (rather bright) cabin with us and so most days we put him down for his daily 2-hour nap in the cabin and spent that time reading or chatting, rather than hoping he’ll sleep in the buggy or car in-between activities. He did sleep really well in the car on the way to/from Dorset though, which was a relief as we plan to go all the way to Cornwall at the end of August.
Already the memories of the anxiety, the hand washing, the slight taste of antiseptic in everything we ate after vigorous sanitiser application, have started to fade.
Instead, I remember the first glimpse of a cobalt sea, a slice of still-warm cake someone else has baked, and Miles singing E-I-E-I-OOO as we wandered down country lanes.
Now as long as we all stay healthy for another week, I’ll consider it a successful trip! *crosses fingers*
We booked and paid for our Dorset trip. This post contains some affiliate links.
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