A Son’s Tale of Lockdown Travel

Adrian Robinson has been living on the Isle of Man for nearly five years. He works as Head of New Product Development at plan.com and lives with his wife and daughter in Santon. His mother died on 17 December after falling down the stairs and being hospitalised with a dislocated shoulder and concussion. She contracted Covid in hospital and died within two weeks. Adrian’s two aunties and uncle also died in December from Covid. 

Adrian travelled alone to the UK the day before his mum’s funeral and returned the day after on the 2am ferry. At the time of writing, the Isle of Man’s borders are at level 5b, which means entry for “Returning residents and Key Workers only”. Anyone entering must complete landing forms for contact tracing and either self-isolate for two weeks and undergo three Covid tests (at £50 a pop), or self-isolate for three weeks. 

This is his experience of travelling during lockdown. 

Wednesday 13 January 

I arrive at the Sea Terminal early because I’m a worrier and I hate being late or cutting things too close. There’s one car waiting in front of me and by the time we board the Ben My Chree, three vans behind. As we walk from the car deck to the lounge, the other drivers are mostly wearing high viz jackets and they’re on first name terms with the crew.

I take a seat in the lounge. In addition to the drivers, there are three guys who look like students and a mother and her student-looking daughter. We sit like checker pieces in different corners of the lounge with our facemasks and headphones on. Nobody makes eye contact. The crew of the Ben My Chree are busy cleaning tables. They talk to us from a distance and are very polite and upbeat. The gift shop is closed, the cafeteria is open but the usual trays of hot food are missing. I grab a coffee and a sandwich. The lady serving at the till wins my vote for customer service employee of the year. She is well presented, incredibly positive and really, really helpful. So far, so good. 

The usual safety announcement plays over the tannoy, followed by an additional message about social distancing (even in the loos and if queuing for food). We set sail and the sea is as calm as a millpond. Nobody moves unless it’s to grab a snack. There is very little noise other than the low-level chattering of TV presenters.

I ring the Covid hotline to book my tests for when I return. The lady is lovely and says that she is sorry for my loss. She sounds genuinely sympathetic. It’s really nice when people say that: it’s rare for young people to say such things, but you can’t blame them — very few experience that kind of loss before their mid-thirties, so how would they know? She tells me that I can’t book a test until I’m back on the island just in case I get delayed in the UK. 

We dock just before 12:30 and with so few cars and freight, we’re underway before I can turn my sat nav on. Before I know it, I’m on the M6 and visibility is really poor due to the heavy mist and rain. Giant glowing billboards dotted every couple of miles warn me that I can’t visit France without a negative Covid test, and I’ll need new paperwork at the border if I do. I listen to local radio. Brexit and Covid are the only topics. There are also lots of adverts aimed at small businesses who need help with the new EU export permits. 

The weather clears once I’ve passed Birmingham and it’s almost sunny when I reach my old hometown. The High Street is really busy and to my surprise, less than half the people are wearing masks. I pull into a service station and get some fuel. I can no longer tell the difference between standard and premium petrol because they’ve renamed them “V-Power” and “Nitro +”. 

I meet my sister at my Mum’s house, who has travelled down from Glasgow, and we start hunting for birth certificates and other paperwork for the solicitors. We make final arrangements for the funeral, eat a sausage casserole that a neighbour kindly and lovingly made for us, and change all the beds. I fill out my Landing Form, which needs to be completed and approved within 48 hours of returning to the Isle of Man. I’ve already received a Returning Resident Code. The Landing Form is straightforward and I get my approval and an official letter sent to me by email within minutes. 

I sleep in my Mum’s bed for the first time in over thirty years. It feels strange but I don’t have any supernatural experiences and I manage to get a couple of hours of sleep once my mind settles. I’m as worried about getting home as the funeral itself. The official government line is: “If you are considering travel off-Island, please think very carefully before you do […] we cannot rule out closing our borders at short or no notice.”

There’s been a flurry of social media noise about closing the borders, which I’ve tried really hard to avoid. It makes absolute sense to shut the borders because the virus is coming in from the UK. Why risk it? However, it doesn’t feel to me like anyone is travelling across because they want to. I’ve had to get a loan out to cover the cost of the ferry, the tests and two weeks in a B&B away from my family. Not to mention the worry of contracting Covid which, having lost four members of my family to it, feels like a very real and present threat. Looking at the numbers of people travelling and processes the government has in place – it certainly feels to me like the government has the right policy in place. Firm but fair. But that is my own, slightly selfish point of view. 

Thursday 14 January 

The funeral is in the morning and I wear a hole in the carpet from pacing. The hearse arrives and a man in a top hat and a cane walks in front of the procession as we drive the length of the road. The neighbours stand at their doors with their heads bowed. 

The service is very sad but at the same time, the celebrant does a brilliant job and I leave with a sense of pride because it was an incredibly fitting, well balanced celebration of her life and I feel like my Mum was well represented. There were 24 of us in total. Everyone sat on their own, two metres apart, wearing masks but somehow, it still felt communal and supportive. The line of people paying their respects to us and our Mum is also socially distanced. We talk to each other from afar, but the words carry across the void. I am so grateful that I made it across for my mum’s funeral and was able to deliver her eulogy. I know it’s not a life-saving operation, but it meant the world to me and my sister.

There is no wake. The rest of the day is spent going through photographs and paperwork. Mum didn’t leave a will so we try our hardest to gather as much detail as we can for the probate. 

I set off for Heysham at 9pm and I’m glad I gave myself extra time because they are doing rolling road closures of the M6 at night, so it takes me longer than I had hoped. 

Friday 15 January

Like before, there is one car waiting in front of me but this time, nobody is behind. I’m upgraded to a cabin for free and manage to get some sleep. Another calm crossing. Once again, the crew of the Ben My Chree are kind, positive and courteous, all going out of their way to make me feel welcome. Along with the car in front of me, I only see one other foot passenger.

There’s additional security as I leave. I present my driving license and landing letter. I’m given friendly but firm instructions about where I can go (to the location where I am isolating and nowhere else unless it is to get tested), what I cannot do (stop to get food or fuel), and when I can leave the house for exercise (only after day 7 if I get a clear test result, with a mask, for an hour, starting and ending at the property). I’m told I can ring 111 to arrange my Covid tests, which I do when I get back to the B&B.

The B&B is really, really lovely. My clothes and food are there waiting for me and the heating is on. I’m all set and settle in quickly. My first test is at 2:30pm. I don’t know what to expect – other people have told me but some of them are stories from the UK about self-administered tests and I can’t remember which is which, or what is what. 

I roll up at the test centre at the Grandstand and the whole thing takes less than two minutes. The staff are amazing – very reassuring and they manage to make it feel light-hearted even though they are wearing full PPE and the tent looks like a scene from E.T. A swab goes into my throat… not too bad. I thought I might gag but I don’t. Then the nose… wow. People had warned me that it was eye-watering but I thought they were using metaphors. No! My eyes start streaming and when I’m told I can drive away I have to wait for a moment to collect myself. 

Adrian has since told us his first test result came back negative. He is due his second later this week and has promised to keep us up to date with how is he and his experience of being in isolation.