I guess an awful lot of walkers and outdoor enthusiasts are thinking the same thing as me at the moment… should I carry on with the holiday I have planned, or should I put it on the back burner and pick it up later in the year? Such is my dilemma in the face of the COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak that’s currently sweeping across the world!
Many people will already have had their decision made for them if their holiday involves overseas travel, as many countries have already closed their borders to non-residents and more will surely follow in the next few days and weeks. My holiday is a five-day long distance path in Scotland though and there are currently no government advisories or restrictions that mean I absolutely must cancel my trip. Hence my dilemma.
There are other considerations of course. This year’s TGO Challenge has just been cancelled. This is an organised coast to coast challenge walk across Scotland and the organisers have decided that the unnecessary potential burden on Mountain Rescue and NHS resources and the risk of spreading the virus to remote communities outweighs any benefits to going ahead. This seems like a sensible and considerate approach from an organisation that would otherwise see 300+ walkers participating in the event. For an individual walker the potential risks seem much less, and Peebles, Selkirk and Hawick aren’t exactly remote or isolated so one more person in town will make little impact. Indeed most outdoor organisations still seem to think that the benefits of walking outweigh the risks, at an individual level.
As well as the potential social impact of walking, there is a logistical element to be considered. Public transport is likely to be impacted soon, as drivers and office support staff become ill, or are forced to self-isolate. This will inevitably lead to a reduction in services, especially those in rural areas where they may rely on a small pool of crucial drivers and staff. If I set out on my walk, how likely is it that I’m going to have difficulty getting home. My journey is definitely non-essential, so should I be using public transport at all when I really don’t need to be? However, I know that if push comes to shove, I don’t actually need to rely on public transport as I can ask my brother or my son to come and pick me up.
My walk involves five B&Bs and these are often run by retired couples – the ones most likely to be adversely affected if I stay with them and happen to be carrying the virus. There is also the possibility that they could close at short notice due to illness, leaving me in a town with no accommodation half way through my walk. On the other hand, they may be glad of the business – the leisure industry is going to be hit hard by this crisis, harder than it already has been. B&Bs, holiday cottage owners, holiday companies and a myriad of supporting businesses are already seeing unprecedented numbers of cancellations, particularly from overseas customers. Perhaps my business will help in some small way?
I’ll be walking solo and these are quiet hills and paths, so social distancing outside the towns should be a piece of cake, indeed I will be limiting my proximity to other people far more than I would be if I was at home.
In many ways I think it’s fortunate that my decision point is still three weeks away. Between now and my holiday, the decision to walk or not could be taken from me by any nyumber of external factors; the government, public transport operators, B&B owners or even my own health. I know my dilemma is trivial compared to the situation being faced by so many other people – and at the end of the day, it’s just a walk and I can always go back and do it later.
Update – 20/03/2020
I’ve made the decision, and much more quickly than I was expecting, but in the face of so much uncertainty and on the basis that my holiday is in no way essential, I have decided to postpone my Cross Borders Drove Road walk until at least mid-June. The new date isn’t cast in stone and if the situation is still volatile I can potentially move it again. I’ve been able to change all my bookings to the new dates, including my Advance train ticket. I really, really didn’t want to cancel the walk – I want something in the walking calendar to look forward to, so I’ve just postponed it.
A note on the train ticket… Normally you can’t change or refund Advance tickets, but given the current situation the train companies are making some allowances and allowing a change of date. This is a small (but welcome) concession, but they should really be allowing people to get refunds on tickets and I made that point to Avanti West Coast this morning. However, for this particular ticket I can live with a change of date. When I came to make the change on their website, it becomes clear that they are really pushing the limits of this ‘concession’ and rather than moving the ticket, they make you book another journey and then promise to refund you the cost of the ticket you had – refund to be payable within 28 working days!! This means they get to keep your money for almost six weeks and they also have your new fare in their bank account too! What sort of modern systems need 28 working days to process a refund? Rant over.