A little bit of pre-pandemic life returned this month when my son’s ice hockey team went to their annual UK championship tournament in Sheffield (England). It was cancelled in 2020 and 2021, obviously. As usual, I travelled to support them.
You might question the sanity of choosing to spend my Easter weekend in Sheffield, but if the goalie’s parents can travel from California… Yes, they have done it before, and they like Sheffield.
I drove there, and 280 miles each way is not my ideal of fun. However, trains are a nightmare in Britain over Easter, with cancellations, strikes and overcrowding being the best you can expect. I do not need that, nor to pay £150 return for a ticket.
I decided to break my journeys in each direction, staying in Washington (not that one) on the way south and Durham heading home. I had one night in the Sheffield area.
It turned out to be an interesting experience all round, but particularly in relation to hotels. England has been going down the “oh f*ck it” route on pandemic restrictions for a while, and with Scotland being much more pragmatic, I was a bit apprehensive about what I would find and how I would react.
In Washington (it is a bit west of Sunderland, so just over 3 hours into my drive) I stayed at a Campanile (2 stars) chosen just because it is close to the motorway. It cost me £61.43 inclusive of breakfast, so my expectations were pitched accordingly.
For the money it was just fine, and convenient too.
My choices in Sheffield were affected by a big snooker tournament taking place in the city that weekend, so hotels which still had vacancies were suggesting silly prices. I opted for a Holiday Inn located in adjacent Rotherham. The cost was £115.20, again including breakfast.
It was a mixed 3 star experience. The room was very clean and mostly up to expectations, but a couple of things made it seem a bit neglected. Breakfast was excellent – just a normal buffet as you would have had 2.5 years ago, but with tables well separated and lots of hand sanitiser. I was there just after 7am on the Sunday, so it was very quiet.
The big negative was that the hotel had a wedding reception taking place on the Saturday night. Noise was not a problem in my room, but the front door was taken over by a crowd of smokers for the whole evening. It was just very unpleasant to walk through or past, and very 3rd class rather than 3 star.
I suppose part of me was just frustrated because I will always avoid a hotel which is in the wedding reception type of market at the weekends, and I had seen no sign of that when I did my research before booking.
The final stop on my itinerary was Durham, on my way back home. I chose the Hotel Indigo. It looked interesting, the price was good and although it is in the town centre it is not far from the motorway.
What a gem! It is a converted 19th century office building (the old county council, I think) and a delight to stay in.
Now I know I am comparing apples with oranges (Sunday night in Durham versus Saturday night in Rotherham, plus the Hotel Indigo brand is a step up in quality within the IHG group) but it was cheaper than my stay in Rotherham. £98.94, also inclusive of breakfast.
On the pandemic situation, hardly anyone I saw in England was wearing a mask. A few people in the hotels, a handful of staff in the restaurants I used, and a couple of staff in the ice arena. It does seem strange when the infection, hospitalisation and death rates are all high. Social distancing has been abandoned.
Coincidence? I doubt it.
I had a good idea of what to expect, and chose to go anyway. As I do in Scotland, I avoided crowded settings. We shall see how it all unfolds.
ⓒ iain taylor, 2022