In the first stage of the pandemic we lost our heads stockpiling loo roll. Now that Spain has been blocked off to holidaymakers, finding a seaside holiday cottage in England is like getting your hands on the last roll of Andrex in Asda.
Airbnb hosts thousands of listings in Cornwall and more than 300 in Newquay alone. But right now if you search for the whole county of Cornwall for lodgings for a week in mid-August for two adults and two children, there are only seven properties to choose from.
One of the seven is a mobile home in a caravan park outside Polperro for a mere £467 a night, or £3,274 for the week.
Meanwhile a one-bedder in St Ives (the kids will have to sleep on the pullout sofa) is asking for £1,169. But, oh, that’s for one night only. For a week they want £8,186. I think I’d expect a once-in-a-lifetime luxury safari in Kenya for that, not a potentially washed-out week by the English seaside.
These prices do look like mistakes, and evidently the properties are still on offer, so no one is actually paying that much (yet). If they were listed more cheaply, though, doubtless there would be even fewer places to choose from.
I checked with Center Parcs, maybe one of the best options for a family break in Britain irrespective of the weather. But I’m way, way too late. The first available lodge at its five UK parks for a one-week booking is not until 28 September – but at least it’s a more palatable £978. Center Parc’s press officer tells me that, yes, they are nearly fully booked, partly because with coronavirus restrictions they can only operate at 65% capacity. Keep checking back for cancellations, she says, optimistically.
On cottages.com, there are only seven cottages left in the whole of the south-west of England for our week in August. One is actually a yurt tent, asking for £1,218 hire for the week. Hey, this is a tent. If you look around the internet you can buy a luxury yurt for upwards of £2,300.
At independentcottages.co.uk, which hosts thousands of self-catering cottages around the UK, the founder Steve Jarvis tells me: “Cottage owners are seeing 10 times normal inquiries.” His site normally lists 220 properties in Devon but for my week in August everything has gone.
But before you write off that August getaway in Britain as too expensive:
• There’s still availability – and at decent prices. Just don’t expect to be in Cornwall, Devon or most southern seasides. “Go for the Scottish borders, Yorkshire dales, Suffolk countryside,” Jarvis says. He finds me a beautiful cottage in the dales for £866 for a week at the end of August (though there is nothing in mid-August).
• Go for a big house. One of the effects of coronavirus is that the holidays homes that sleep 10, 12, 14, etc just aren’t getting bookings – as families understandably want to maintain distance and don’t want to share. Get in touch with the owner and put in a low-ball offer. You may just get the run of a lovely big place.
• Try business hotels, especially in the cities, which remain largely deserted. Premier Inn is selling rooms in London locations in August for only £40 a night. For example, you can get three nights at its Hampstead hotel for £121.50 (8-11 August). That’s in total, not the nightly rate. The Holiday Inn on Kensington High Street, which has an indoor pool and is a short walk from the Natural History Museum (reopening 5 August), has rooms on the same date for only £67 a night.
• Abandon overnight getaways in favour of day trips instead. But beware, you have to book ahead for sites such as National Trust parks and gardens (only seven of their homes are open). New tickets are released on a Friday for the following week.
• Avoid smug friends and neighbours. They will tell you how they managed to get that last week at Center Parcs (yep, they’re loaded) and how they just took a gamble during lockdown and booked a super Airbnb with a pool for, you know, nothing. Try not to open the link they send on WhatsApp, it will just upset you.