Carry on camping: Shropshire holiday park busy again with post-lockdown staycationers
Were it not for the lockdown, Sam Chattell would have been spending his stag party in Prague. Instead he is spending it in Shropshire.
"In a way I'm relieved," he says, half jokingly.
"I don't know what these lot would have done to me had we gone there. This is much more civilised."
Groom-to-be Sam, 36, is sitting with his friends outside the 'glamping' tent they have hired at the Love2Stay holiday park, just off Emstrey Island at Shrewsbury.
The party of five are among the growing number of people who have opted to enjoy a so-called 'staycation' in the UK, a trend the West Midland hospitality industry is banking on to save them from the financial disaster threatened by the losses caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
Chris Skitt, general manager of the site which is owned by the Salop Leisure group, says he has been staggered at the amount of interest since the park was allowed to reopen earlier this month. This weekend, a total of 123 caravans stayed at the site, with all 11 of the glamping units booked.
"That's pretty much chock-a-block, our maximum capacity," the former Shrewsbury Town physio says, adding that he expects the site to be operating at near-capacity during the school-holiday period.
"I would say we're 25 per cent up compared to this month last year, although we are always busy in the school holidays."
Mr Skitt believes this is due to a combination of pent-up demand, and people looking to spend more time in this country rather than travelling abroad as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. And the industry is certainly in need of some good news.
Despite the post-lockdown boom, Mr Skitt expects the enforced closure from March to July will result in a fall in profits this year, with possible job losses. The site's parent company, Salop Leisure, employs 250 staff, with 24 of them working on the campsite.
"I would say maybe a third of the workforce could be at risk," he says. The company had planned to start work on building a second 'glamping village' at the site, creating an extra 11 units, later this year, but this has now been postponed, possibly until next year.
It is therefore essential that businesses such as this are able to attract people who might otherwise have travelled abroad, and it does appear these efforts are succeeding.
Enjoying paddle-boarding lessons on the site lake are the Findlay children, twins Millie and Marlie, 11, Lois, nine, and Leo, five. They travelled from their home in Wigan with parents Jennifer Hurrell, 37, and Jonathan Findlay, 36.
Miss Hurrell says it is their first time at the site, and they definitely plan to return.
"We came here because we wanted go somewhere fairly close, and you've got the countryside here, it's a lovely site," she says.
"It's good for the kids, they want to be outside the house after being stuck in for so long.
"I wanted to somewhere we could be outdoors, somewhere it can be fun for them. We've walked down the River Severn, that's a lovely walk."
Leo agrees, as he emerges from the Lake: "It's good," he says.
The Powis family, who made the short journey from Baschurch, are regular visitors to the site, this being their fourth break there.
Father Mark, 32, is playing with son Theo, three on the park's adventure course. He said the family would have gone abroad were it not for the restrictions.
"We go camping a lot, and this is one of our favourites," he says.
"We just wanted a short break after he lockdown."
Ade Wheeler and Graeme Ainsworth, from Leominster, had only bought their caravan the previous week.
"We normally go abroad about four times a year, but we decided to buy the caravan instead, so we could see a bit of the UK," says Ade.
They are joined on the holiday with nephews Harvey, four, and Reggie, two, and Graeme's parents Roger and Chris, from Hereford.
Ade says it was the quality and facilities on the site that attracted them, saying it is ideal for children, with its own artificial beach.
"We originally booked just the two nights, but we have enjoyed it so much we have decided to stay for another," he says.
The region's tourist industry will be hoping many people follow this lead.