Border dwellers grapple with English and Welsh lockdown rules

The discrepancies in lockdown rules between the UK’s four jurisdictions, from schools to exercise and social gatherings, has left those living in border areas of England and Wales grappling with conflicting guidelines. 

In the UK, Wales has arguably the strictest lockdown still in place. While people in England don’t have a limit on the distance they can travel, those in Wales are still being told to “stay local”, and shops are likely to reopen later than England. 

The two sets of regulations have left many people living on the border confused as to what they can and cannot do, with some suggesting the situation is making a mockery of the lockdown regulations.

“Our village is literally on the border; the River Wye runs through it. We have a Welsh postcode, landline and GP, but our council is Gloucestershire,” said Alex Dixon, 43, who lives in Redbrook in the Wye Valley.

“Our friendship circle has joked that we just choose which regulations suits us best to follow – some follow the Welsh system because they feel more vulnerable [to coronavirus], some follow English guidelines because we’re technically England,” she said. “It makes a bit of a mockery of, and completely undermines, the rules. People will just do what they will.”

Just over a week ago, North Wales police were forced to admit their advice had been “confused”, after initially saying that border dwellers were not allowed to travel to Wales for non-essential reasons, and must remain in England. The Welsh government has since clarified that communities on the border can carry out exercise “local” to them, but has not defined what this means. 

“We do stand-up paddle boarding because we’re right on the river, and that’s fine in England, but if we do it we could go across to Wales, and we’re not sure what’s allowed there,” said Dixon. “Our nearest supermarket is in Monmouth, and even though it’s only a 10-minute drive to the nearest town, you’re very aware you’re in Wales,” she said. “There are fewer cars and people, even in that very short distance. The atmosphere is very different.”

Alex Dixon, who lives in the village of Redbrook on the Welsh border.

“I walk my dog daily, but in Wales I’m not allowed to drive to walk him, yet in England I am. The lack of continuity is ridiculous,” said Eleanor, 24, who lives in Chepstow, in Monmouthshire, Wales, and commutes to her job at a veterinary surgery in England each day.

“I have friends and family in England, saying that when I’m in England for work I could come over and catch up at a social distance; other friends have suggested that we walk the dogs together. But I don’t know what I can do, because I live in Wales, but I’d technically be in England,” she said. 

For many border dwellers, the lockdown has made the border glaringly, and unusually, visible. 

“It’s definitely made the border feel more real. Physically, the border hasn’t changed at all, but personally I’ve been wondering what I’m allowed to do, and having to make conscious decisions around it. There’s no consistency at all.”

Charles Hopkinson by his fishery on the River Wye

Charles Hopkinson by his fishery on the River Wye

Others living in the area have experienced serious disruption to their businesses, which rely on supply chains or resources spread between the two countries. 

Charles Hopkinson, 60, owns a fishery on the Wye. It is partly accessed from England and partly from Wales. Hopkinson, who lives in England, is unable to access the fishery from the Welsh side of the river because travel to Wales from England for the purpose of angling is currently banned. The situation has left Hopkinson without income since the beginning of the lockdown. 

“Currently the border here is in the middle of the river, and we fish it as six beats. Four are accessed from Wales, and two from England. Effectively the fishery is closed, and we can’t operate,” he said.

“In the hot weather, we have people trying to canoe and swim in the river. I’m rushing around trying to stop that, yet we’re not even able to fish,” he added.

The River Wye at Brockweir.

The River Wye at Brockweir. Photograph: Lise Brekmoe/Guardian Community

Many of those living in the border villages expressed their frustration at people driving from England to visit picturesque areas, leaving cars parked on the English side of the borders in an attempt to sidestep regulations. 

“Now they’ve allowed people in England to drive somewhere to exercise, we’ve seen a massive increase in tourists,” said Lise Brekmoe, 39, who lives in Brockweir, around 200 metres from Wales. “People come to Brockweir to park and then hike into Wales. People are going to Wales even if they’re not supposed to, and they don’t think they can be arrested for it as they’re not parking on the Welsh side,” “If they’re just walking, who will now if they’re local or not?”

“We’re quite a small village, and a lot of people are elderly and high risk, we’ve got some who are quite worried about leaving the house,” she said. “It makes us all sound grumpy, but where are we going to go?”

Kaisu Fagan’s daughters on the beach at Llandudno, north Wales, where the family are hoping to move to.

Kaisu Fagan’s daughters on the beach at Llandudno, north Wales, where the family are hoping to move to. Photograph: Kaisu Fagan/Guardian Community

The conflicting sets of regulations have left those in the process of moving countries stranded, as the housing market in Wales remains closed despite England’s recent reopening. 

“We’re ready to exchange contracts and move with our buyer in England, but the people we’re buying off in Wales can’t move. There aren’t even any estate agents open, so they haven’t finished the sale of their house,” said Kaisu Fagan, who is buying a house in Llandudno with her partner and young children.

“Two of our children could be going back to school on Monday. If we send them back, we’re risking all the disruption of them going back and getting used to it, only to yank them back out because we move to Wales, where schools are closed,” she said. “Presumably we could be moving in a fortnight. It could change at any moment.”

“It’s completely right that the Welsh assembly has the power to make the right decisions for Wales, but we just fall through a gap,” she added.

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