NICKY MARR: I want to widen my horizons, even if it's right here!
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A year ago this week I took part on a Radio Scotland phone in about foreign travel. Asked, “Have you altered your holiday plans because of this new virus in Italy?”, my answer was that we hadn’t. In fact, we were due to fly to Geneva the following day, to meet friends for a week’s skiing in the French Alps.
The Independent’s Travel expert Simon Calder was part of the phone-in, and he rubber-stamped our decision to go. “Nicky will be at far more risk from skiing than she will be from Coronavirus in France,” he said.
Yes, we’d be travelling towards the Italian hotspots of this new virus, but I’d checked Google Maps, and we’d still be a 12-hour drive away. We’d had the ‘should we cancel?’ conversation with our skiing friends – a doctor and a medical scientist – and they’d both agreed with Simon Calder. And anyway, Italy had closed its borders. We’d be safe, wouldn’t we?
So, we packed hand-sanitiser with our salopettes and had a brilliant week on the slopes.
We skied, we squished into cable cars, and poured ourselves into sweaty bars for apres-ski beers. And we barely gave a second thought to what became this global pandemic. We watched occasional news bulletins over breakfast, but there seemed little to worry about.
By the time we got home to the Highlands, supermarket shelves had been cleared of paracetamol, pasta and toilet rolls. We stopped shaking hands and started bumping elbows. It was months before anyone thought of masks. Our borders are still open.
Just over a week later, I began to feel unwell. My GP arranged for steroids to ease my breathing, and antibiotics in case it was an infection, but there was no reliable test for Covid-19 at that time. I had to cancel work and stayed at home, sleeping mostly.
Bars and restaurants closed. Mr Marr had to close his theatre in Edinburgh. He came home to work in the dining room for a few weeks till this all blew over; he’s still there. Daughter #2, newly accepted for a Masters’ placement in Harvard, came home to study for her university exams. She’s still in her bedroom. Harvard didn’t happen.
And me? I recovered from my illness, but work dried up. I started baking, gardening, and working out. I’m still doing all three.
This weekend we should have been flying back to Geneva to meet those same friends for another week’s skiing. I’d love to be getting away, if we could do so safely and responsibly, but we can’t, and I’m fine with that. But like everyone else, I’d love a break from these four walls.
We’ve worn furrows in the pavements all around Inverness and explored every path, woodland, loch, and beach within 15-miles of the city. But a change of path, woodland, loch and beach would be more than just a breath of fresh air. It would be an opportunity for us to start putting much-needed money back into the Highland tourism economy. It might be next year before foreign tourists return. We need to be allowed to holiday - safely, of course - at home.
Nicola Sturgeon’s recent announcement that holiday accommodation in Scotland can’t open for Easter was a massive blow. Not just to those of us who would love to escape for a few days, but for the entire Scottish Tourism Industry. Businesses that have struggled to survive the worst year they’ve ever experienced must now cancel Easter bookings too.
That simply can’t be right. Where is the additional risk caused by Mr Marr and I staying for a few nights in a remote self-catered Highland cottage? Other families are desperate for holidays too, and keen to explore beyond their immediate doorsteps. Yes, there would have to be additional cleaning, plus fallow nights between bookings, but wouldn’t some rental income be better than none?
Scottish tourism needs our support, and we must find ways for it to partly reopen without causing infection rates to rise and without causing risk to remote populations.
If micro-regional rentals were allowed, for example only Highlanders in Highland, and, crucially, if these regional constraints were strictly enforced, there would be no greater burden on regional health services. Of course, no business would have to open if it didn’t want to.
It’s a pragmatic route out of a dreadful situation. We’ve all been really good at shortening our horizons during this pandemic. I’d just like to widen mine to another part of Highland. Please?