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What it’s like living during a pandemic in the Scottish Borders right now

We know that travel is especially difficult right now. But alongside the latest COVID-19 travel advice and updates, we want to continue to inspire you with new travel content so that when the world opens its doors again, you'll be ready.

Hello travel fans! My name is Paula, and I live in the Scottish Borders, near Edinburgh. I’ve been working for Skyscanner for just over a year, first as the UK market editor, and now as a freelance writer, providing inspiring and informative travel content for others as travel-obsessed as myself. The world is a little strange right now, as as we’re all adjusting to ‘the new normal’, and I know a lot of people are wondering what life is like in other destinations around the world. So if you’re wondering what living during a pandemic is like the Scottish Borders, I’ll fill you in.

From lockdown and quarantining to what’s open and when, I’ll offer my own observations and experiences, as well as some tips for staying safe if you’re visiting the area.

Don’t forget to check local news and advice on government restrictions if you’re planning a staycation in Scotland this year.

Daily life in the Scottish Borders during a pandemic

I’m going to talk you through what living during a pandemic in the Borders is like, from what’s open and closed, to what life is like for those living here and travellers visiting the area.

A day in the Scottish Borders right now

The Scottish Borders lies in the South of Scotland, near the border with England, and we’re around an hour from Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh. As you can imagine, as we’re living during a pandemic we haven’t travelled to Edinburgh much during the last few months during the nationwide lockdown – and I’ve missed the buzz of the capital, with its shops and bars.

But we have spent some time in Berwick-Upon-Tweed, our nearest big town, and getting to know it has been one of the positives of the pandemic. While it’s been quiet there – non-essential shops and all bars and restaurants closed at the end of March and stayed shut until the start of July – it’s actually been busier than normal in the town where we live, about a 20-minute drive away.

We’re lucky enough to live near a nature reserve and castle, where local residents have been exercising during the lockdown. I’ve been working from home for seven years, so not much changed for me on a daily basis when the UK went into lockdown on 23 March, although it did take a bit of adjusting having my other half also home, as he’s furloughed. It’s been interesting listening to friends talk about adjusting to working from home. Many of them have asked me if I spend all day working in my pyjamas – and some have asked for tips on how to self-motivate when you’re working from the couch.

Since things opened up on 15 July, life has eased into a ‘new normal’. Most shops, bars, and restaurants are open now, although many are operating on reduced hours and most bars and restaurants ask you to book in advance. You’re also asked to provide your contact details when you arrive, for contact tracing. Tables in bars and restaurants are socially distanced, and if you’re popping in for a takeaway coffee or sandwich you should wear a mask. Although we haven’t yet been out for dinner or to the pub since the UK lockdown eased, I have been shopping, which felt pretty normal, and even enjoyed my first haircut since lockdown began – what a treat. This weekend I’m meeting friends in Edinburgh for the first time in months, for cake and coffee, and can’t wait.

Lockdown/quarantine rules in the Scottish Borders

During the UK lockdown rules were put in place to ensure people:

  • Did not travel more than five miles from home
  • Only left the house if essential, e.g. for work, to care for a sick or elderly person, or to shop for food or medicine
  • Kept a distance of two metres  or more from other people (excluding those in their household)
  • Only went to work if it was not possible to work from home

The Scottish government has taken a more cautious approach to easing lockdown than England, which means we were a week behind in reaching ‘Stage 3’ of lockdown – the stage we’re currently in. On 3 July the government eased the five-mile travel limit, with many businesses reopening. You can now go shopping, have your hair cut, or go out for food or drink, although face masks have been made mandatory in all shops in Scotland and many indoor places such as cinemas, hair and beauty salons, museums, and libraries.

It felt a little strange wearing a mask at first, but I picked up some colourful cloth masks on Etsy which are much more comfortable to wear (and better for the environment) than the disposable ones. We’re still asked to stay two metres apart from other members of the public, both outdoors and inside, but we can enjoy overnight visits with those inside our social ‘bubble’, and there are limits to how many other households we can socialise with in a day.

I’ve found the fact that there are different rules for Scotland and England a little confusing, as we’re close to the border with England. Luckily, living in the countryside means we spend a lot of time outdoors, so we’re still able to do all the things we love, like going for long forest walks and visiting ruined castles and historic buildings. I started shopping more locally during the lockdown, buying meat from local butchers and picking up eggs at a farm near our house, and plan to continue shopping this way in future.

If you display symptoms, you’re currently asked to self-isolate for 14 days – and this applies to everybody in your household. I feel lucky that both myself and my partner have stayed healthy throughout lockdown, and we’ve been careful about who we socialise with, as I went to visit my elderly parents when the restrictions lifted in July. They live in Aberdeen, which is currently under local lockdown due to an outbreak, so bars, cafes, and restaurants there will be closed for the next seven days. I’m lucky I got up to visit them before this happened, but I’m hopeful I’ll be able to plan a repeat trip before summer is over.

What’s open in The Scottish Borders during the pandemic?

In our town, most small businesses like takeaways, chemists, bakers, and shops are open again, but there are a couple of bars that remain closed – although it’s exciting that they’ll soon be reopening. Berwick-Upon-Tweed, our nearest big town, saw all its bars and restaurants, including Atelier, our favourite wine bar, reopen on the 15 July. During the run of sunny weather we’ve had lately, the town has been busier than ever before, and small businesses seem to be thriving.

Living during a pandemic doesn’t have to mean staying indoors. Right now there are lots of activities you can do safely, from swimming, to long country walks, to visiting a museum or the cinema. For most indoor activities (except visiting a pub or restaurant), you’ll need to wear a mask. Many of the historic castles and country houses in Scotland haven’t yet reopened, but on sunny days you can usually go for a stroll around their parks and gardens.

Hotels and guest houses have reopened too, with many inundated with bookings following the lockdown. The Scottish Borders is a great place to come for a staycation as there’s so much countryside to explore, but please be responsible. Remember to follow social distancing and lockdown guidelines, staying two metres apart from others and wearing a mask if you’re in a shop, cinema, museum, or other indoor public space. It’s also a good idea to check the news for information on any local lockdowns and guidelines for the area you’re visiting, before setting off – and check our coronavirus travel advice, updated daily.

Safety tips in the Scottish Borders during Coronavirus

We’re still living during a pandemic, and the Scottish government recommends social distancing both indoors and outdoors, which means keeping two metres from other people where possible. This means no shaking hands or hugging your friends, but it’s become commonplace to greet people with an ‘elbow bump’. If you’re visiting the Scottish Borders, make sure to pack a few masks. Washable ones are kinder to the environment, but don’t forget to wash them after each use.

Planning a staycation in the UK? Countryside walks in the Scottish Borders are a great way to get out and about while remaining socially distanced – and there are plenty of them to choose from, whether you prefer hill walking, exploring a long-forgotten railway line, or forest walks. I’d also recommend visiting the grounds of some of the county’s historic houses, like Manderston, Abbeyhill (the home of Sir Walter Scott), and Mellerstain. Although the houses themselves are currently closed to visitors, many have ornate sculptured gardens, and in the woodlands at Mellerstain you can spot wildlife like hare and deer.

Living and travel planning during a pandemic

We’d planned a trip to Madrid this summer, which hasn’t happened due to lockdown, and we’d also hoped to get back to Bucharest, where we visited last year. I’m really looking forward to travel opening up again and am already making plans for next year and thinking about where we could go for our summer holiday – I’d love to go to Japan. This year we’re focusing on better getting to know the Scottish Borders and Scotland as a whole, and planning a staycation for September, which I’m excited for. If we’re lucky enough to get good weather, we may even go wild camping, as I think it’s one of the best things to do while living during a pandemic.

Discover where you can go

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