The Summer of UK Staycations & Road Trips: Cornwall & Devon

Tuesday, 18 August 2020

surfing in cornwall

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With the current pandemic and restrictions on international travel, "staycation" has become the latest trend to travel and stay safe this summer. Staying close to home or - better - exploring our beautiful country is as equally exciting as going abroad.

A couple of summers ago, I spent an entire month road tripping around the South of England, in particular Devon and Cornwall. Instead of spending a few days here and there, I decided to rent a private room in Exeter and made the charming city my base from which I would go out exploring the beaches, the breath-taking coastal walks and countless historic sights.  

Make Exeter Your Base For Your Road Trip

Renting a private room in Exeter did not only mean some savings on accommodation, but I stayed with a lovely couple and got local insights, recommendations and felt like a true Exeter resident which made my stay even more memorable.

Exeter itself is a charming town which can be explored easily by foot. The area around the Cathedral is seamed with little cafes and nearby shops which is inviting for traditional cream tea and perfect for a relaxed Sunday afternoon. But there’s more. 

Being one of the oldest settlements in Britain, Exeter has seen William the Conqueror and has kept many remains of its Norman Conquest past including a very well preserved city wall. More than 70% of the ancient wall is still intact spanning a history of more than 2000 years. There are 9 historical spots to discover if you decide to go on a self-guided walking tour which will take you across the majority of the inner city past lush gardens and medieval townhouses. 

If you have some more time, I can also recommend to see the Underground Passages, a medieval subterranean system to transport water deep below the city centre. The passages are well preserved and narrow which makes exploring even more adventurous. Exeter is also the only city in the UK to have these underground passages so make sure you don't miss out on them. 

North Devon and The Exmoor

Being close to the border to Cornwall, Exeter is a perfect spot to explore Devon and Cornwall alike. Driving distances to the North of Devon are all under 2h and there's a lot to do and to see to fill a few days. 

North Devon is home to my favourite beach in Saunton, the UK's largest sand dune site. You can also go surfing here, but I was told Bude and Woolacombe are the hot spots for surfers. If you like the sea but don't fancy a swim or a surf, a walk along the stunning coastline is best to do from Minehead or Morthoe. Especially the later is a super cute fairy tale village with adorable tearooms where you can enjoy traditional cream tea with scones and clotted cream. 

sam edwards cream tea in cornwall and devon

On another day I can recommend exploring the Exmoor National Park where you can spot wild ponies and observe all sorts of British wildlife. I'm a huge fan of owls and visited the Exmoor Owl & Hawk Centre, a small sanctuary to meet those incredible creatures. Later that day, you could head back to Exeter and make it to Exmouth and admire the Jurassic Coast and go fossil hunting. Lyme Regis further East is also a prime spot for fossil hunting and Durdle Door is a spectacular natural beach site. 

durdle door in south england

The West and Further Down The A30

Before you enter Cornwall, you'll travel through the Dartmoor National Park. Similar to the Exmoor, there's lots of wildlife to see and nature to explore. Postbridge has one of Britain's oldest stone bridges still intact and nearby are lots of hidden tracks and hiking trails. Dartmoor also has many granite rock sites for climbing known as tors and hills.

A bit further west down the excellent motorway connection of the A30 lies Penzance. St Michael's Mountain, a towering castle settlement on a small island, is spectacular to explore during low tide. During high tide, there's a small speed boat that allows crossing the water, but the highlight is during low tide when a stone path leading from the mainland is revealed. 

stone path to st michaels mountain during low tide
close up of st michaels mountain in penzance

At the very end of England, you’ll find Lands End which is worth an entire day trip. You can spend hours walking along the coast and discover hidden beaches and coves. Sennen beach is a highlight and if the weather allows for clear views you can see the Scilly Islands or spot dolphins. 

Close by is Porthcurno which is known for the Minack Theatre, a circular amphitheatre built into the cliffs. It’s a spectacular experience to see a play here with its breathtaking backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean. Tickets are popular and are priced moderately at £10 so this is a wonderful experience not to be missed. 

Another place of interest to explore whilst I had Exeter set up as my base was Tintagel, King Arthur’s castle ruin built on a rough cliff side by the sea with stellar views and lots of history. Tintagel is quite a remote place to go to, so you'd definitely need your own car to get here. The place boasts with mystery, ancient history and the dramatic cliffs and coves offer lots of exploring. 

benjamin elliott minnack theatre and porthcurno beach
king arthur metal art work on the cliffs of tintagel castle
john ogroats lands end

Further south of Tintagel, near St Austell, lies Eden Project, a huge eco-park to showcase sustainable future living or Lizard Point England’s most southerly point shaped as the head of a sleeping lizard. Kynance Cove, one of Cornwall's well-known and most prestigious beaches is close by, so this would make another great day out on your UK road trip around the area. 

I’ve got very fond memories of my trip as the area is so versatile and offers a lot of activities. My final top tip to enjoy your staycation is to roam around the area and spend the day exploring beaches and hidden coastal walks. Devon and Cornwall are known for their stellar beaches and some are only revealed during low tide. On my trip, I bought a book called Secret Beaches by Rob Smith which points out hidden coves and secluded beaches in Devon and Cornwall. On some days I would travel around to explore caves, collect seashells and stones from rock pools or discover untouched sandy beaches. It is a lot of fun and also connects you with nature, as you will walk a lot and find the one or other treasure.

george hiles cornwall beaches and rough coastal line

I know Cornwall and Devon are usually the typical cliches when asked where to holiday in the UK, but both counties are stunning. They offer lots of activities if you're a nature lover like me and enjoy spending time in the great outdoors. 

Thanks so much for reading, 

Till next time,

What To Expect When You Fly During The Corona Virus Pandemic

Friday, 14 August 2020

airplane waiting in an empty airport lounge

Crazy times we're living in. 

Who would have thought that only eight months into 2020, the airline that took me to Australia went completely bust and now no longer exists?  

Or that 90% of air travel, domestic as well international, is completely cancelled bringing even the all-mighty Heathrow airport to a standstill? 

Whilst travelling around Australia, the Corona Virus pandemic hit and after a first round of lockdown in Down Under I had to make the decision to cancel my trip and instead plan to get back home to London. It wasn't an easy decision given the fact that there were (and still are) limited flights going in and out as travel restrictions have and continue to tighten. The other concern was how to safely travel back across the globe in the middle of an ongoing deadly pandemic.  

Domestic Flights in Australia During Covid-19

Between March and June, I took two domestic flights in Australia. 

One, when Covid hit back in March, going from Townsville to Brisbane. My second one was towards the end of June when restrictions got eased and I made a move home. 

My first flight was a spontaneous decision as I had to be flexible and drop all of my other plans when the situation peaked at the end of March. I had taken the risk to go to Magnetic Island, a remote island just off the Queensland coast from Townsville. Luckily I was able to get a ticket for a flight to Brisbane though I didn't see myself covering the 1000km and returning safely to Brisbane that day. I actually thought I would be stuck in Townsville. 

When I arrived at Townsville airport, all flights were either suspended, cancelled or taken off the board. Only a few flights to Sydney were scheduled and my mid-afternoon Virgin flight to Brisbane. 

Back then, Social Distancing was only enforced during boarding and queuing, but completely waived at when inside the plane. All seats were fully booked so I would sit shoulder to shoulder to other passengers but wearing a face covering was mandatory. At Brisbane airport, I wasn't checked for any temperature or symptoms and everyone just continued their normal routine as if nothing was happening. In general, Australians behaved very relaxed and unbothered about the pandemic because of their remote location in the world. 

inside of an airplane

Fast forward three months of lockdown and I took my second flight with Jetstar from Brisbane to Sydney.

The restrictions had eased and it felt as if Queensland was in control of the virus. I made numerous calls to the Queensland and NSW government to find out if I would be allowed to travel down to Sydney. At the time travelling was only allowed for Australians and I couldn't find any information regarding internationals. It was a waste of time as no one could give me an answer so I just risked the journey down to Sydney. 

Brisbane airport was dead and I felt sad to see it like that, having travelled a few times to and from Brisbane and the usual picture was a lot different. In June, only four flights a day would leave internationally and about three domestic flights were permitted.

Social Distancing was heavily enforced for queuing and overall in the building. All businesses including coffee shops, newsagents, cloth shops and food places were all shut down. Before boarding, the crew would hand out kits with a disposable face covering, hand sanitiser and gloves, but then inside the plane, they would not leave rows or seats empty. The entire flight was sold out. 

Landing in Sydney was uncomplicated and again, no one checked for my temperature or cared that I was an International travelling across a border that was technically closed. 

International Flights From Sydney International During Covid-19 

So I spend my final two weeks in Sydney and even though it felt safe, there was always an underlying certainty, that this wasn't over yet and a potential second wave was coming. Even though rumours and news grew louder that Melbourne was preparing for a second lockdown, Sydneysiders preferred to continue their lives as normal. They all went on time to their offices on Monday morning, clocked out for lunch but left earlier to get home. Businesses were open and fully operated to restricted hours, public transport ran on time and hotels were still open, even though I had some of the quietest hotel stays ever. 

I had booked my return flight 3 1/2 weeks prior and was surprised that the flight with Singapore Airlines via Singapore came rather cheap at £500, given the short notice of the booking and some other return flights being in the exorbitant dimensions of thousands. 

Sydney airport presented the same state as the other airports I had seen: it was completely down and "broken". I could only imagine the millions of passengers that this enormous SYD International would usually cater for. 

I was the only person who checked in her luggage. 

I was the only person who went through security.

And then I was alone - alone in a massive terminal with all the luxury retailers lined up neatly for your usual Duty-Free Shopping, but all completely bust or "shut down until further notice".

Sydney International airport completely empty during the covid 19 pandemic
sydney international airport main terminal completely empty during the covid 19 pandemic
sydney international airport main termin during covid 19

You could hear a needle drop in that airport making the uncomfortable silence echo from every corner. 

I walked down empty corridors past deserted lounges, closed food courts and shops all accompanied by a silence which I usually welcome, but found rather disturbing at the time. It felt all so wrong and out of an apocalypse movie. 

With 2h to kill I roamed around and eventually managed to find a coffee shop. And then all that was left for me was to stare out of the window, watch a grim and rainy Sydney and wait for my flight to take me away. 

Sydney To London Via Singapore

Singapore airlines provided kits with disposable face covering, a small bottle of hand sanitiser and one-way gloves. Inside, they made sure that there was at least one spare seat between passengers. Wearing a mask during the entire transportation time was a must. Luckily my first flight from Sydney to Singapore wasn't fully booked, so I was able to secure an entire row at the back of the plane and had a rather quiet first 8h of my long way back to London. 

On arrival in Singapore, passengers for transit were given a green ribbon and there was a very orderly process of letting people off according to their booking. Transit passengers were the last group to leave the plane and were assisted and guided by the ground staff to a designated transit area in Changi Airport. 

Changi airport showed the same upsetting setting as Sydney. The airport was completely deserted and heavily controlled. All members of staff practised Social Distancing and wore face coverings. At the designated closed off transit area, passengers had the option to order food and drinks through an app and have food delivered to the transit area.

singapore transit area and food ordering during the covid pandemic

Unfortunately, I got to Changi at 6pm and had to wait for another 5h for my connection flight. Most of the food places had closed down and the app would only have three places open with very limited offers. I would have killed for a coffee but that wasn't available through the app. 

The transit area was small but I managed to find a quiet spot and get a bit of a rest before boarding the next flight. For boarding, the airport staff would call out the next flight and group people, as there was a strict boarding process. Again, a kit with hand sanitiser, face covering and a small bottle of hand sanitiser were given out and inside the plane, there was at least one seat left out in between passengers. 

Wearing the face-covering at all times was mandatory and I managed to get some more sleep on the 13h back to London. 

Arriving at Heathrow Airport During the Covid Pandemic

Before travelling back to the UK, I had to fill out a passenger locator form. The form was available electronically and I filled it out in Sydney as it had to be done 48h before arriving in the UK. 

The form was about three pages long and I had to state why I returned to the UK, provide the address of my hotel for quarantine, my families' address in Bristol and contact details. I was meant to show the form at boarder control but I swiped my passport and went through the e-gates without anyone checking me, taking my temperature or asking me any questions. 

London during sunrise shot from an airplane

I was unsure if I still had to quarantine as Australia had been on the Governments list of exempt countries. However, because I transitted in Singapore, the information provided on the Governments' website were ambiguous. I walked around the airport in need for someone to ask, but no one felt responsible and I even got laughed at that I wanted to do the quarantine. As long as I was "careful and sensible" I would be "fine". 

Ahhhhh ok

One thing that Heathrow did do right though, was to provide large quantities of antic bacs to disinfect your suitcase which I did straight away once I lifted mine off the belt. And the rest is pretty much me walking out of the airport, getting on the empty Piccadilly Line, joining the Wednesday morning grind and travelling to my hotel in Whitechapel. The social distancing on the tube was great and there were obviously a few who would not adhere to the rules of wearing a face covering. In general, I felt very content with myself and I was relieved I made it back home.

The hotel staff were also laughing at me for my decision to self-isolate and quarantine for the next two weeks, I had a great time by myself tbh. But that's a whole blog post for another time.  

BTW my story has been picked up and headlined by the Telegraph in their latest The Shambolic Reality of Britain's ridiculous quarantine policy.

Thank you so much for reading, 

Till next time, 
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