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Flocking to ewe tube: farm webcams live stream animals in action

Lamb cams

The UK lambing season peaks in March and April, so Easter is the perfect time to tune in for newborns taking their first steps – or even to witness a birth. The live stream from the barn at Walby Farm Park, Cumbria, shows a herd of ewes, including north of England mules and black-and-white jacobs, many of whom have had triplets. Farmer Neil also recorded a video message from inside the barn last week, to introduce viewers to the new arrivals.

Naturalists flock to Chris Packham’s DIY ‘Springwatch’ on Facebook

In the fields of Marlfield Farm, on the border of Yorkshire and Lancashire, the sheep can be seen roaming the meadow as their babies frolic. Their small flock includes the UK’s rarest breed, the boreray, and the north ronaldsay, another rarity.

There are two lamb cams streaming from the barns of National Forest Adventure Farm in Staffordshire, which at time of writing captured a lot of heavily pregnant sheep, but also a couple of wagging lamb’s tails if you closely.

Kidding around

The live stream from Folly Farm in Pembrokeshire is currently focused on a large pen of kids in the barn. Expect climbing, jumping, head-butting and eating everything in sight. (Perhaps not unlike family life under quarantine.) Its herd includes pygmy, anglo-nubian, saanen, toggenburg and Welsh mountain goats. These baby goats are occasionally videobombed by neighbouring sheep and donkeys.

Mountain goats of Great Orme hit Llandudno – in pictures

There are plenty of joy-inducing streams being beamed across the Atlantic too, including from Beekman Farm in Sharon Springs, New York state. The small herd here helps produce goat’s milk soap and other cruelty-free skincare products. As it’s kidding season, the camera focuses on the nursery, so you may catch a pile of sleepy characters or, when dinner arrives, plenty of mischief.

The goat cam page for family-run Symon Says Farms in Salem, Connecticut, includes a list of all the babies born this season, with names and weights to help viewers get to know the herd.

Chick this out …

The chickens at Flying Skunk Farm live in the yard of a small farm on the Massachusetts coast. The page also includes a live chat feature, to talk to fellow friends of the fowl, who told us some of their names. They include Big Al, the cream amberlink, and Goldie, a gold hen, alongside barred rocks and a Polish crested polka dot breed with a spiky hairdo. The site is so popular that a hall of fame has been created using image stills from the site.

Taking virtual farm experiences to the next level, the Coop Cam from Joe Vitale in New Jersey allows viewers to actually feed the chickens. For every 20 new subscribers, or for a “Super Chat donation” added in the comments, the hens will get an automated treat from the feed dispenser. The brood here includes Houdini, who lays blue eggs, Sassafras, Cluck Norris and the Triplets. The stream also includes a picture-in-picture view of the upstairs of the coop, where eggs are laid throughout the day.

Other farms we’ve herd of …

Spy on sunbathing piglets from Centennial Farm, part of the Orange County fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, California. And on the green hills of Wisconsin Pasture Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York, there are grazing alpacas, sheep and cows hanging out together, plus a turkey barn and a pig named Honey – with her recently adopted babies, Cameron and Ben David.

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Naturalists flock to Chris Packham’s DIY ‘Springwatch’ on Facebook

Lockdown day 10 in south-east London. A loud rhythmic tweeting is emanating from the cherry plum tree in my back garden. A great tit? Blue tit? I catch a glimpse; too small for a great tit, not as colourful.

I don’t know my birdsongs beyond the basics, but I remember a friend imitating calls to coax birds nearer so he could identify them. I have an idea and grab my phone and Google “coal tit song”. I press play and the rival tweeting produces instant results. Hopping from branch to branch towards me a delightful but agitated coal tit emerges and alights on a branch barely two metres away (I think it knows). Is it angry or amorous? My exhilaration at our proximity turns to doubt and guilt – I’ve used gadgetry to disrupt the natural world. What was I thinking? The coal tit flies off, its song tinged with irritation.

Clearly, playing birdsong on phones can produce results but could this be unethical? I decide to ask Chris Packham through the Facebook page he’s set up, the Self-Isolating Bird Club , which is crewed by thousands of nature enthusiasts.

There can be few better online platforms than this in showing how modern, accessible tech has revolutionised local wildlife reporting. People have put mini cameras in nest boxes, on feeders; installed trail cameras on patios; and remote-triggered DSLRs have been placed in tree canopies. This stuff is no longer the preserve of well resourced global-roaming wildlife film production teams.

Packham says of the daily morning live feed, the focal point of the group, which has attracted more than 500,000 viewers daily: “We’re doing it all on mobile phones and Skype with earpods, and I’ve got a digital microscope. Fabian Harrison, a former RSPB guy, is mixing it in his bedroom in Norwich. It’s Dad’s Army makes TV. It’s very real and in the moment but with no campaigning – no banging on about shooting or anything. It’s all just joy and enjoying wildlife and getting people to engage. As long as it [lockdown] lasts, we’ll just keep going.”

The results are extraordinary, and not just on the live show. Each day, the public posts gems such as barn owls evicting jackdaws that had attempted to squat their nest box; sea eagles being mobbed by red kites; hedgehogs scurrying under garden furniture; and adders emerging into the spring sunshine.

Michaela Strachan, Packham’s colleague on the BBC’s Springwatch programme, who has also featured on the Self Isolating show from her home in South Africa, tells me that even she has now changed the way she enjoys wildlife: “A whole new wave of birdwatching is happening. Amazingly, I’ve never taken the time to sit down and watch birds on my feeders.”

Strachan says the appeal of placing cameras in the garden comes from a different place to the motivations of expert birdwatchers: “The birds become like family. Right now our lives have never been so uncertain. You know the birds are coming to feed every day… we look for those kind of certainties. The mental health benefits are proven. When I took those two hours in my garden, I instantly felt better.”

Others go further, suggesting that watching animals is instinctive behaviour. In an essay for Aeon, biologist David Barash writes: “Our well-being – survival, even – depended on relationships to other animals, many of which were predators, with us as their prey.” Our ancestors’ awareness of animal behaviour would hold a “potent selective advantage”.

Strachan says it’s important that people remember that webcams will show violent, upsetting scenes and warns that we shouldn’t turn against species for being predators: “There’s nothing wrong with getting emotionally attached but you have to put it in perspective. Don’t demonise animals.”

She recommends webcams such as those run by the Dyfi osprey centre (ospreys are a favourite bird of hers), and local wildlife trusts featuring “flagship” birds such as peregrines (Leamington Hall) and barn owls (Dorset), as well as badgers, bats and waterfowl. With several webcams on screen at once you’ll soon be feeling like naturalist security guard.

Watching webcams can be monotonous of course, but the action, when it happens, is often spectacular – ospreys touching down, peregrines returning with their prey, an otter passing a lakeside nest … and anything you might have missed will be picked up and pored over by the commenters.

Osprey webcams are already up and running this year, the majestic birds returning from Africa in recent weeks, others will be online early in April. Among them will be Wild Days on the Earthwatch Europe platform, featuring Strachan as part of a team offering an hour’s worth of daily activities online, to show you what’s going on in your gardens, patios and balconies.

Although Packham says his group is about enjoying and engaging with wildlife, webcams also play a role in campaigning for nature. Rewilding Europe invites you to “become a citizen scientist and help analyse camera trap photos”.

Using the Zoological Society of London’s Instant Wild platform, animals such as wolves and wild boar, pine marten and porcupine have been tracked in Italy since the programme’s start in August last year, with plans to expand into more rewilding areas across the continent. “With camera trap photos and videos from locations around the world posted online, Instant Wild lets citizen scientists take part in vital global conservation work,” says Kate Moses, a project manager with ZSL’s Conservation Technology Programme.

Back with the Self Isolating Bird Club, I’m waiting for my admonishment for using Google to attract a coal tit through recorded birdsong. Meanwhile, naturalist Lucy Hodson is waxing lyrical about woodlice (“crustaceans not insects”) and millipedes (“absolutely love ‘em”). Then I get my answer: it’s OK as long as you don’t keep doing it in the same place with the same species, and don’t do it with rare birds at all. It’s a partial let off, but I get the feeling that for me and many others, our relationship with the natural world is about to become more intimate.

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Why ‘can I get a refund?’ is travel’s biggest issue: Coronavirus travel Q&A

For the past two weeks we’ve addressed several questions in our Q&A but increasingly readers want to know the answer to just one: can I get a refund? We answered one specific query on this last week and my colleague Miles Brignall also outlined consumer rights in this piece. But as it keeps being raised, we thought it worth addressing again.

Under the Package Travel Regulations (PTR), you are entitled to a refund if your holiday provider cannot fulfil the holiday but – and it’s a big but – tour operators are struggling to meet this legal obligation while facing a massive loss of income and, in some cases, repatriation costs.

In short, the travel industry is in freefall. It has weathered problems from natural disasters to terrorism to recession, but nothing comes close to the Covid-19 crisis, which is disastrous for countries and tourist destinations all over the world. A ludicrous, hypothetical scenario – what would happen if no one could travel? – is now a shocking and surreal reality.

Of course, many sectors are on perilous ground, but the knock-on effects of this global paralysis are arguably worse for travel. The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) estimates that a million jobs are being lost every day in the travel and tourism sector because of the pandemic.

“From waiters to taxi drivers, tour guides to chefs and caterers, pilots to cleaners, the relentless cascade of job losses is plunging millions of families into terrible hardship and debt. The domino effect of Covid-19 is right now having a massive impact, wiping out an entire economic sector,” said WTTC president and CEO Gloria Guevara.

Where does this leave holidaymakers?

As Brignall says, you should keep contacting your travel provider for a refund. If the government acts on calls from Abta for the refund window to be extended from 14 days to four months, you will wait longer for the money.

But tour operators are pleading with customers to postpone instead of cancelling, warning that mass cancellations will lead to a meltdown of the sector. Credit notes are protected in the same way as holidays and if the company does go under, the Atol scheme means you will be compensated.

The most responsible tour operators are being as flexible as possible. Much Better Adventures, for example, is offering refunds as an option but incentivising customers to postpone by offering a 5% discount (for life) on future trips. So far it has worked: 80% of customers have opted to postpone instead of cancel. There will be no increase in the cost of trips for 2021, and no expiry date for credit notes. Co-founder Sam Bruce admitted that small companies can be more adaptable but he’s also critical of companies that are refusing refunds. “Lots of companies in our position aren’t being as flexible.”

He also said he doesn’t support Abta’s call for changes to the PTR rules and believes there is “a lot of love being lost between the travel industry and consumers. If customers bought under those terms, they should be honoured.”

For some tour operators that is simply not possible. They are being asked to give full refunds for air-inclusive holidays, often without being able to recoup money from airlines – leaving tour operators out of pocket. “Until governments step up, and bring the airlines to heel, the consumer has to rely on the quit wits and sympathy of small tour operators,” said Douglas Durrant of Caribbean Fun Travel.

As Bruce sees it, this is a test of loyalty – those companies that work with customers during this challenging time will be the ones that benefit in the long term.

“There are a lot of travel companies making rash decisions, and they may not come out of this looking too rosy at the end. This is about treating customers well so the terms know who to trust when this passes.”

That is small comfort if you are trying to get money back right now, but worth bearing in mind when you come to book a future holiday.

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Expo 2020 expected to be postponed until next year

Authorities in the United Arab Emirates are expected to announce the postponement of Dubai Expo 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage global hospitality.

The jamboree was expected to begin on October 20th this year, kicking-off six months of celebrations in the emirate.

However, with global tourism in a virtual lockdown, organisers hope to allow time for a full recovery before the event.

Discussions are ongoing with the Bureau International des Expositions, the France-based organisation that awards hosting rights to the event, with a year-long delay expected.

A final decision can only be made by the bureau and the general assembly of nations.

In a statement on Monday, officials said they agreed to explore “the possibility of a one-year delay to the opening of Expo 2020”.

Many countries have been significantly impacted by Covid-19 and have consequently expressed a desire to postpone the opening of Expo 2020 Dubai.

Reem Al Hashimy, Expo 2020 Dubai director-general, explained: “While they remain firmly committed to Expo 2020, many countries have been significantly impacted by Covid-19 and they have therefore expressed a need to postpone the opening of Expo 2020 Dubai by one year, to enable them to overcome this challenge.

“The United Arab Emirates and Expo 2020 Dubai have listened.”

Al Hashimy added: “We supported the proposal to explore a one-year postponement at the steering committee meeting.

“We look forward to welcoming the world, which we are certain will only come out of this pressing challenge stronger, and more resilient than it ever was.”

The announcement followed a virtual meeting of the Expo 2020 steering committee, representing UAE officials and foreign countries that were set to exhibit at the world fair.

Global events have been thrown into disarray by the coronavirus pandemic, with the Tokyo 2020 summer Olympic and Paralympic games postponed last week.

That decision followed an earlier move from UEFA to delay the European championships for a year – leaveing Expo 2020 as the only major event still on the calendar.

If confirmed, the delay of Expo 2020 will come as a significant blow to the tourism market in Dubai.

Officials had hoped to welcome as many as 25 million international visitors to the event, with many of these trips likely to be postponed.

However, with both Emirates and Etihad having suspended virtually all operations, severely limiting access to the United Arab Emirates, hosting the event has become untenable.

Dubai itself is currently under lockdown, with all restaurants, beaches, gyms and other public meeting places closed to limit the spread of the new coronavirus.

To date there have been over 600 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United Arab Emirates, with six confirmed deaths.

Confirmed cases worldwide now number 725,000, with 34,000 dead.

Dimitri Kerkentzes, secretary general of the Bureau International des Expositions, said he remained “confident that we will collectively overcome the challenges caused by this global crisis”.

He added: “The United Arab Emirates’ decision to support a one-year postponement demonstrates pragmatism, openness, and commitment to delivering an Expo that lives up to our shared ambition.

“We retain full confidence in the United Arab Emirates’ ability to host a world expo that inspires and delights millions, when the time is right.”

Authorities in Dubai are believed to have spent more than US$7 billion in preparation for the launch of Expo 2020.

Alongside the 4.38 square kilometre site on the outskirts of the city, dozens of new hotels have been built, while there has also been significant investment in wider infrastructure.

As the coronavirus pandemic has grown, work has been halted on construction, with as many as 30,000 workers downing tools as a result.

The news comes at a delicate time for hospitality in Dubai, which has been in the doldrums in early 2020.

Room rates have fallen, largely due to an excess of accommodation in advance of the expo debut, with visitor numbers also down on last year.

The cost of the hosting Expo 2020 had also raised concerns given the economic outlook in the Middle East.

Local authorities had hoped to resell the vast majority of the new expo facilities to private investors once the six-month event finished – a prospect increasingly unlikely during what is set to become a major global recession.

The market had already been teetering, with DAMAC Properties, the largest fully private real-estate developer in Dubai, announcing its first yearly loss since becoming a publicly traded company earlier.

Ratings agency S&P also downgraded the investment rating for Dubai real estate giant Emaar Properties, which is a third owned by the government.

When it opens Expo 2020 Dubai will be the first global showcase to take place in the Middle East, following successful events in Milan and Shanghai.

Organisers are gearing to offer events over 173 days, with 192 nations participating.

The theme centred on innovation, with countries and companies set to display projects in areas such as green energy, artificial intelligence and accessibility.

The event is designed to be a once-in-a-lifetime celebration – the largest event ever staged in the Arab world.

Guests will experience warm Emirati hospitality at its finest.

Youth are at the heart of the World Expo 2020, with the event aspiring to create a meaningful legacy that will benefit generations to come, both locally and globally, spanning everything from innovations and architecture to friendships and business opportunities.

Commenting on the current situation, director general Al Hashimy added: “As hosts of the next World Expo, scheduled to open in seven months’ time, we always knew that 2020 was going to be demanding, that we would have to be at our very best to deliver the most inclusive, most meaningful event in the history of our region.

“What we could not predict is that we would be doing so in the midst of the biggest global health crisis in generations.

“These are difficult, uncertain times, which makes it even more heartening to see communities around the world facing this challenge together and to witness the incredible resilience of the human spirit against a menace that does not recognise international borders or timelines.”

She added: “Today, however, for the United Arab Emirates and the world, our immediate priority is to overcome, together, this unprecedented menace and protect the health of all people, everywhere.”

More Information

For all the latest on Expo 2020 take a look at the dedicated Breaking Travel News feed, or head over to the official website.

For more on tourism in the emirate – considered the World’s Leading MICE Destination by voters at the World Travel Awards – visit the Dubai Department of Tourism & Commerce Marketing website here.

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WTTC urges G20 to avert catastrophic collapse of tourism industry

Global leaders have been urged to execute crucial measures to save the tourism sector by the World Travel & Tourism Council.

The move comes ahead of a special meeting of the G20 hosted by Saudi Arabia.

The call aims to prevent a “catastrophic collapse” of the sector following the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, putting up to 75 million jobs at immediate risk.

WTTC implored the G20 leaders to assign resources and coordinate efforts to rescue major travel businesses such as airlines, cruises and hotels.

At the same time, the body raised concerns over the future of small- and medium-sized companies, such as travel agents, tour operators, restaurants and independent workers.

WTTC president, Gloria Guevara, said: “The coronavirus pandemic has put the sector in unprecedented danger of collapse, which is looking increasingly likely unless a global rescue package is agreed to bolster what has become the backbone of the global economy.

“WTTC’s Economic Impact Report reveals that this vital sector was responsible for generating one in four of all new jobs globally in 2019 and will have a crucial part to play in powering the global recovery.

“It is therefore of paramount importance that the G20 take urgent action now to preserve the 75 million jobs at immediate risk, which would represent a crushing tourism GDP loss to the world economy of up to US$2.1 trillion in 2020 alone.”

She added: “A determined and decisive action by the G20 could reverse this, save millions from misery, and bolster one of the main engines of future economic growth.

“On behalf of millions of families and businesses, large and small around the world, we implore the G20 to take this vital step.

“We also recognise the efforts from all G20 countries in supporting a sector that alleviates poverty, provides opportunity, especially for women and the youth, and is an engine for growth.”

Coronavirus

For all the latest from Breaking Travel News on the coronavirus pandemic, take a look here.

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The choice for 300 Australians: stay on cruise ship with possible Covid-19 cases or disembark in Italy

More than 300 Australians on the Costa Victoria cruise ship face a choice between staying on board the potentially Covid-19-stricken vessel, or disembarking in Italy, now the global centre of the virus outbreak.

International flights are being cancelled by airlines across the globe – Qantas is set to stop all international flights by the end of the month – meaning those who disembark in Italy could be stranded there for weeks if repatriation flights can’t be organised.

Many of the Australians on board the Costa Victoria are elderly, and some have underlying health issues, putting them in the highest risk category for a severe infection.

At least one passenger on the ship tested positive while on board. The man disembarked in Crete.

Cruise ship passengers to be quarantined on Rottnest Island in Western Australia

The Italian-flagged Costa Victoria, at sea for a fortnight, docked in Civitavecchia, a port town on the Tyrrhenian Sea 60 kilometres north-west of Rome on Wednesday (Italian time).

Australians Brenda and Dave Rondo say while the ship has docked, they have still not been allowed off.

“We have to stay in the cabin, they knock on the door and leave food and they step back. The staff has gone from lovely to now, if you ask nicely for milk for your coffee in the morning, they yell at you and say ‘no!’

“We have heard different things, but not from the Captain, that we may go to Rottnest Island in Western Australia for quarantine, but … the last we heard we will have to stay in Rome in a motel for two weeks.”

Costa Victoria passengers may be mandated to follow a similar isolation course to passengers from the Costa Luminosa which docked in Savona in northern Italy earlier this week. The ship also had confirmed Covid-19 cases on board.

Passengers from neighbouring European countries were allowed to travel home to isolate, but Australians, South Africans and others from more distant nations were forced to remain in Italy to isolate for a fortnight.

Confirmed cases of Covid-19 were left on the ship in Savona, while other passengers were put on buses and driven to Rome, more than 560km away.

However, some passengers say the hotel rooms, which they will be unable to leave for two weeks, are worse than the ship.

“It’s smaller than our cabins, no hanging space and barely room to walk around,” said Ivan Maronian.

Others have complained of no pillows, taps not working and only tiny meals being provided. Many have been unable to wash any clothes since the ship entered lockdown weeks ago.

Even worse is the fear of what might happen if they get sick.

“It’s completely terrifying because if he got coronavirus on there I’m really not sure what kind of medical care he would be getting, given the situation,” said Laura Bendlin, whose father was on board.

“Worst-case scenario, he dies.”

Italy has now surpassed China for total Covid-19 deaths: nearly 75,000 cases have been confirmed, and more than 7,500 people have died.

But cruise ships have posed acute problems for health authorities around the world. The inescapably confined nature of the vessels has seen them become rapid incubators of Covid-19.

For several days in February, the ill-fated Diamond Princess which was put into isolation in Yokohama Port, Japan, after isolated cases were detected on board, was the second-largest outbreak site for coronavirus in the world, behind mainland China.

During a two-week enforced quarantine on board, nearly 700 people were infected, and seven died. The quarantine was abandoned and crew and passengers ultimately disembarked (most were placed into a further fortnight’s quarantine in their home countries).

Currently, on board the Zaandam – carrying about 100 Australians and stranded off the west coast of South America – at least 80, and reportedly up to 140, passengers and crew are sick with flu-like symptoms. A quarter of the crew is reportedly quarantined and passengers are said to be “terrified and stressed”.

Anatomy of a coronavirus disaster: how 2,700 people were let off the Ruby Princess cruise ship by mistake

The ship is being replenished by another ship, Rotterdam, which will bring extra supplies, staff and Covid-19 test kits aboard (there are none at present). The ship intends to sail to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to disembark by the end of the month.

Even ships without any Covid-19 cases are being treated with extreme caution by ports around the world.

The Norwegian Jewel was turned away from four countries – including Australia – before being allowed to dock and passengers disembark in Hawaii, despite being at sea for weeks and having no suspected or confirmed cases.

Stung by the excoriating public reaction to infected Ruby Princess passengers being allowed to disembark unchecked in Sydney – Australian governments have tightened all movements for cruise ship passengers.

NSW has said no ships will disembark in the state until new protocols are established, while the federal government has taken nearly 300 Australian passengers from the Norwegian Jewel flown back into Sydney from Hawaii overnight, into quarantine in a Sydney motel, guarded by police.

Around the world, 3,000 Australians are stranded on more than 20 cruise ships because countries have shut their borders because of coronavirus.

The Australian government says it is aware of the dire situation faced by many of those onboard: the lack of ports for ships to dock and the rapidly shrinking avenues for repatriation once ashore.

A Dfat spokesman said the department had raised concerns with Italian authorities about cruise ships disembarking passengers in areas already hard-hit by Covid-19, urging authorities to find safer alternative ports.

The foreign minister Marise Payne said her department was working “around the clock” to help Australians home. She said the government was speaking with Qantas and Virgin about launching repatriation missions for stranded Australians, but has conceded it will be impossible to reach all Australians who wish to come home.

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How can we get home? Brits stranded abroad despair at official advice

The foreign secretary’s call for up to a million British people abroad to return to the UK immediately was met with anger and dismay by stranded holidaymakers around the world. Travellers who have been desperately trying to get home for nearly two weeks say the Foreign Office (FCO) advice, updated on 23 March, is all well and good, but with borders and airports closing and no repatriation flights, it’s impossible for many to follow the advice.

“Dominic Raab has suggested people talk to their airline about getting home. It is too late for that in many places where airlines have already stopped flying. And in others, airlines are charging rip-off inflated fares,” said Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel.

“The government must improve its communication and provide British citizens, fearful of being stranded abroad, with useful advice. Where scheduled services have been withdrawn, it should leave no stone unturned to get these people on flights home.”

As well as facing cancelled flights and exorbitant prices for the few still operating, the holidaymakers we spoke to say they have been unable to speak to embassy staff, travel agents or insurance companies.

“We are feeling helpless, stranded and neglected by our country,” said Wendy Child, 27, who is stuck in the Philippines on a honeymoon that turned into a nightmare.

In the House of Commons on 24 March, Conservative MP Caroline Nokes berated the Foreign Office’s response so far and urged Raab to “get the process fully under way”.

We spoke to Wendy and other British holidaymakers trying desperately to get home.

Wendy and Rich Child, 27 and 31, from Bath, stuck in the Philippines

Wendy and Rich arrived in the Philippines on 8 March, on a three-week honeymoon they had spent eight months planning. On 13 March they got a message from their airline saying their flights home were cancelled. On 15 March Manila went into lockdown and they travelled from Bohol to Cebu, which has an international airport, in the hope of booking a new flight. Since then they’ve spent £2,000 on cancelled flights.

“We have been trying to get a flight home since 13 March but they have all been cancelled.”

They booked their original flights through STA and their first tour through Tripadvisor, and had planned to do the rest of their trip independently. Now they are stuck, having exhausted every option.

“Travel agents are telling us there is nothing they can do, as there are no options and no flights. We have been trying to contact our travel insurance for two weeks but are just kept on hold and then cut off. It’s the same with Emirates, STA’s emergency helpline and the British embassy in Manila.”

They’ve also contacted their MP, Andrew Murrison, and the FCO, but are unsure what to do next in the absence of any advice other than “see the government website”.

The couple are at a loss as to how to follow Raab’s advice to come home. “We are aware there are priorities in the UK with controlling the pandemic, but we haven’t even been told they will put on flights next week, or in a couple of weeks, or anything so we have no idea what the coming days/ weeks hold for us. We’re trying to remain positive but it’s proving difficult.”

Judith and David Baker from Chiswick, London, stuck in Argentina

The Bakers were 10 days into a two-month trip to Argentina, Chile and Uruguay to celebrate their 65th birthdays when Argentina closed its borders and imposed a 14-day quarantine on all foreigners who had arrived from a country with cases of coronavirus within the previous 14 days. This meant they couldn’t move from their hotel in the town of Villa La Angostura in Patagonia. They are still there, unsure of their next move:

“Raab is advising us to get home but without any knowledge of whether this is feasible. We are deeply worried that the limited options to get home will disappear before we can get to Buenos Aires, and we will then be stranded here indefinitely.”

Argentina went into lockdown on 20 March, until 31 March, and cancelled international flights from countries affected by coronavirus. The Bakers are researching flights to from Buenos Aires to London via Sao Paulo or Rio, but even if they could secure one of those flights, with no internal flights, buses, trains or car hire, they have no way of getting to Buenos Aires , 1,000 miles away.

They are currently covering the cost of their accommodation themselves, after their insurance company refused to help. “We are in safe accommodation for now, but are increasingly concerned for the future, especially as the situation will no doubt get worse before it gets better,” said Judith. “We are deeply worried that the limited options to get home will disappear before we can get to Buenos Aires, and we will then be stranded here indefinitely. My epilepsy medication will run out in four weeks’ time.”

Nathan Harris, 33, from Salford, stuck in Peru

Nathan is one of more than 400 Britons trapped in Peru after it shut down on 16 March, almost without warning.

After working on a ship in Argentina for six weeks, he arrived in Cusco for a two-week holiday on 14 March, “confident that it would be OK, because Peru had minimal cases at the time”. On 15 March Peru declared a state of emergency, shutting its borders the following day and cancelling all international flights.

“On the first day of the closure we all tried to contact the British embassy, but that had closed. We all felt pretty abandoned at that point,” Nathan said.

Since the lockdown he has been staying at the Wild Rover hostel in Cusco. “I can’t fault the hostel, it is doing everything possible to make this experience less painful. There are probably about 150 tourists here at the moment. Everyone is pretty fed up. Some people are running out of cash and nobody expected the awful £3,000-plus quotes to fly home.”

On Saturday, Raab said he had secured a flight to bring back British nationals from Peru next week, but Harris is concerned that even when a rescue begins, those stuck in Cusco will be unable to reach the capital, Lima. “Just organising a flight would be pointless if none of us can make it to the airport. There are no taxis and no public transport.”

Abby Reynolds, 23, from Wakefield, stuck in Bali

Mental health nurse Abby, and her boyfriend, Jake Deane, 24, were due to return from an 11-day holiday in Bali with Hays Travel on Wednesday, on an Emirates flight, but it was suddenly cancelled a day before departure.

“We were even allocated seat numbers 30 minutes before we heard about the cancellation. We went to the airport to speak to the Emirates desk, but after waiting three hours, we were turned away. Airport staff threatened to call the police and kicked everyone out. After finding out about another flight last night for £5,000, we took out a loan. Within the 20-minute taxi ride back to the airport to pay for the new flights, they had sold out again. Our parents have been contacting our local MPs and have started an online petition. I have attempted to contact our insurer many times, but I’ve only had an automated response via email, stating they will reply in five days.”

The couple are staying in a hotel with four others who are stranded. Hays Travel has offered to cover her bill for another three nights, but after that the they will be expected to pay the bill themselves.

“We’ve tried other airlines and websites, but we can’t afford the high prices and so many routes are now closed. We are as safe and comfortable as we can be in a foreign country at this scary time, supporting each other and trying to stay positive. But it’s unsettling not knowing when we are going home.”

Abby is also keen to return to her work, supporting “very vulnerable people … Given the current social crisis and isolation at home, they need support now more than ever.”

Grace and Ellie, 22 and from Lancashire, stuck in New Zealand

Grace Murray, from Preston, has been backpacking for the past four months with her friend Ellie Taylor, from Lancaster. They are currently stuck in New Zealand, one of the last stops of their trip. They were due to fly to Fiji on 13 April, and on to Bali with Emirates. Due to coronavirus, they moved the Fiji flight forward to 23 March, but have faced multiple cancellations.

“We spent the remainder of our money on this flight, but within 45 minutes it was cancelled, and we are yet to get a refund,” Grace said. “After hours on hold, we managed to get through to our travel agent, STA, who booked us another flight home via Australia and Dubai – paid for by the credit from our original Fiji and Bali flights.”

However, shortly afterwards transit restrictions were enforced for Australia, and they were informed they could not transit longer than eight hours, while around the same time Dubai closed its borders, and so, yet again, the flight was cancelled. They say the British embassy in New Zealand has been “vague” and that “everyone is just passing the blame”. The advice was to stay where they are for now and wait for more commercial flights to become available, but it is unclear when that will be.

“We have had to book into a hostel for the foreseeable future,” Ellie said. “However, they are only selling private rooms, to minimise social interaction, so it is more expensive.”

The situation is complicated further by Grace needing to get more prescription medication: “My boyfriend was meant to meet us in Bali with more medication for me. I only brought enough for five months, knowing that he was coming out with more,” Grace said. “It is going to be hard [for him] to get here, as New Zealand is in lockdown.”

“Everyone is just feeling a bit down, shocked and bewildered about how the situation has escalated here,” said Ellie. “All anyone talks about is coronavirus, there’s no escaping it. It’s very tiring.”

Tips for those stranded abroad

From Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel

Crucially, don’t accept a refund from your airline while you are stuck. The airline has a legal responsibility to get you home – either on its own planes or those of another airline – and that ends once you’ve accepted the refund. This may seem academic in some instances where airlines have withdrawn all services, but it’s important in places where flights are still running.

If flights are running but your airline won’t rebook you on a flight home, buy a new ticket with any airline at any price. You have the right to claim for this new ticket from the original airline. Fly as soon as possible, as flights are continuing to shut down.

Don’t expect a great deal of help from the embassy or FCO, but it is important you register with them if you are completely stuck, in case rescue flights are subsequently organised.

People stuck in many destinations, including Peru and Cambodia, have set up support groups for stranded British and Irish travellers. These are useful for updates and support. Look for hashtags on Twitter, such as #stuckinperu, #stuckincambodia, #getushome or groups on Facebook.

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Santorini: Honeymoon inspiration from this romantic Greek island

And as the sun begins its descent towards the horizon, the crowds flock to Oia, Santorini’s premium sunset spot. Oia is the Santorini from postcards – dazzlingly white buildings built improbably down the steep cliff sides, punctuated with a scattering of windmills and bright blue church domes. The narrow cobbled streets are lined with upmarket boutiques, jewellers and tavernas. And the views are indeed breathtaking; it’s no surprise this beautiful little town draws the crowds.

But what if you could enjoy views just as magical (if not more so) without the crowds?

I discovered the secret at one of Santorini’s newest luxury hotels, OMMA, just outside the village of Imerovigli.

Mainline Santorini is shaped like a backwards “C”, the crater rim of an ancient volcanic eruption, with Oia at its top point and its capital, Fira, in the middle of the curve. 

Imerovigli lies between the two. From OMMA, you can see it all – Oia twinkling in the distance, the beaming blue sea and the caldera’s scattering of little islands, and the only footfall you’ll get is a few walkers stopping to admire the views – and not just of the horizon, but of the hotel, too.

But what if you could enjoy views just as magical (if not more so) without the crowds?

I discovered the secret at one of Santorini’s newest luxury hotels, OMMA, just outside the village of Imerovigli.

Mainline Santorini is shaped like a backwards “C”, the crater rim of an ancient volcanic eruption, with Oia at its top point and its capital, Fira, in the middle of the curve. 

Imerovigli lies between the two. From OMMA, you can see it all – Oia twinkling in the distance, the beaming blue sea and the caldera’s scattering of little islands, and the only footfall you’ll get is a few walkers stopping to admire the views – and not just of the horizon, but of the hotel, too.

Opened last year, OMMA is like your most fashionable friend – effortlessly decked out in monochrome and all about the finer things in life, but always greets you with a friendly face and a warm smile.

Omma means “vision” in ancient Greek, and it’s aptly named. 

Its stylish decor is all white curved walls and black accents with thoughtfully placed boulders, olive trees and trailing pink flowers. 

The 30 rooms are small but well designed. Most have sunrise or sunset views and plunge pools on the balconies, while the hotel’s infinity pool glints temptingly at hot passing hikers. 

It’s all terribly Instagrammable.

Meals at OMMA can be enjoyed outside if the weather’s good (the Cyclades are known for their strong winds, all year round), or in the cosy restaurant, built into the rock.

At breakfast, there’s an à la carte menu, plus a spread of fresh fruits, Greek cheeses and pastries heavy with honey.

Dinner is a stylish affair, with fresh fish and local dishes presented in a refined way.

Be sure to save a little bit of room, though, as each night there’ll be a treat waiting for you in your room.

OMMA recommends first-timers to Santorini book on a sailing trip around the island – most stop off at hot springs in the middle of the caldera and the rust-coloured Red Beach. 

They also suggest guests visit one of the island’s wineries. 

Santorini is covered in vineyards, some of the oldest in the world (one dates back to 3,500BC), and the grapes grow in bushes close to the ground rather than in tall vines to stay protected from the strong winds. 

The main grape is a variety called assyrtiko, a crisp, acidic white not dissimilar to a Chablis, with a minerally taste that comes from the volcanic earth.

We took a tour around modern boutique winery Vassaltis, and highly recommend the wine tasting – for 25 euros you sample five varieties, each paired with a tasty canapé.

It didn’t take much convincing to buy a couple of bottles to squeeze into the suitcase.

From OMMA, Fira is a 40-minute walk and Oia twice that – both have challenging climbs and uneven terrain, but are manageable and peppered with plenty of camera moments.

Set off immediately after breakfast if you’re keen to avoid the midday heat.

Any aching muscles can be kneaded out at the hotel’s Elemis spa, a calming, cave-like space filled with candles and the sound of trickling water, before ending the day at the bar with a glass of wine in hand (a Santorinian variety, of course), just simply enjoying another of those famous sunsets.

Rooms at OMMA start at £372 per night for b&b. To book, visit ommasantorini.com or call +30 210 8085144. British Airways flies from London to Santorini from £104 each way including taxes, fees and carrier charges. Visit ba.com or call 0344 493 0125 to book.

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Bodelwyddan Castle Hotel: Welsh tourist hotspot’s wartime memories

And as they met up and exchanged sweets and cigarettes they would carve their initials into the bark of the tree. That was just after the end of the First World War but the “signature tree”, as it became known, still stands today, as we found out during our break at Bodelwyddan Castle Hotel in North Wales. In the 1920s the castle, now a stylish Warner Leisure Hotels property, was the home of the exclusive fee-paying Lowther College for young ladies who, among other things, were taught to ride and play golf.

But, rumour has it, such was the number of amorous woodland assignations, the college principal had to have a direct phone line put in to the nearby army camp to safeguard the virtue of her charges.

Today, the castle attracts a slightly older set of visitors who want to relax, be pampered and entertained in an adults-only Warner property which sits in some 200 acres of Victorian parkland yet it’s just ten minutes drive from Rhyl, 20 minutes from Llandudno and an hour from Snowdonia.

The location means you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to filling your three or four-day break, especially as there’s a wide variety of activities included in the price.

During my visit, the crossbow, archery and rifle shooting classes were almost always fully booked while other guests opted to visit the spa, complete with adjoining indoor pool and gymnasium.

The less energetic preferred to take things more leisurely, with a walk, an afternoon quiz or even attending a make-up demonstration.

On one night my wife and I joined other guests for hot toddies before going outside, accompanied by a Scottish piper in full regalia.

As the last notes of his pipes faded away, there was a spectacular firework display against the backdrop of the Clwydian mountains.

Then it was in to dinner – baked pear, blue cheese and chestnut tart with fig chutney starter for me, followed by a main course of fresh salmon and smoked salmon Wellington with Kir Royale cheesecake, blackcurrant compote and chocolate sauce to finish – before we took our seats in the theatre for the show and party celebrations.

The whole event was done in such spectacular style, which is probably why guests book year after year (and booking is already open for next New Year). And there’s always plenty to do on New Year’s Day, including an afternoon pantomime.

We joined a guided tour of the grounds and estate, which was when we discovered the signature tree.

But the tour was to turn up even more surprises.

As we walked there was a rustling among the bushes and we spotted the resident deer with their splendid white stag leader.

Adjoining the forest there’s a formal walled garden where Victorian gardeners lit fires to heat the hollow walls to ensure the plants enjoyed temperatures four degrees higher than the surrounding land.

And if the First World War is of interest, the remains of trenches used by British and Canadian troops stationed at the nearby Kinmel Park army camp are still in evidence.

In their memory, a wartime trench system has been recreated, complete with officers’ mess dugout and regimental aid post, to show what the troops faced during the war on the Western Front.

It’s not currently open to the public as the land it sits on is for sale but if Warner buys the land – as seems possible – it will re-open.

From the trenches you can clearly see the 202ft spire of St Margaret’s Church.

Known as the Marble Church, it took more than four years to build, cost the equivalent of £7million in today’s money and features no fewer than 14 different types of marble, so is well worth a visit.

After our visit, we returned to Bodelwyddan to chill out.

While some guests were staying in the main building we had one of the new garden lodges, built just four years ago and the perfect place to relax.

Overlooking a large pool complete with fountain, the lodges offer all the comforts of home, with a spacious bedroom, large lounge and impressive en-suite with double-sized shower.

Creature comforts included tea and coffee-making facilities with daily top-ups, including fresh milk and biscuits, as well as two large-screen televisions.

In fact, the lodges are so comfortable that it was sometimes tempting not to make the short walk to the main hotel building – until it was time for dinner again, of course.

THE KNOWLEDGE 

Warner Leisure Hotels offers three nights on half-board at Bodelwyddan Castle, North Wales, from £250 per person for arrival on April 24; four nights arriving on April 20 from £260 per person. Includes entertainment, use of leisure facilities and sports activities (warnerleisurehotels.co.uk) More info at visitwales.com

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Arctic Circle travel: On the trail of Finland’s lights fantastic

And so reluctantly resolved to override any urges for idle chit-chat and with a suitcase full of thermals, I flew north to Rovaniemi the capital of Finnish Lapland. Perched on the edge of the Arctic Circle, the city is famous for being the home of Santa Claus and is as close as reality gets to a winter wonderland. As well as the chance to meet the big man himself, a chance of seeing the Northern Lights is what draws many to this remote part of the world.

According to the Finnish Tourist Board, the region is one of the best places to witness the elusive aurora borealis appearing on more than 200 nights of the year.

But as we flew into Rovaniemi Airport, my expectations sank as heavy grey clouds hung over us – it’s a four-day trip I reminded myself. It could clear up.

Nevertheless, our first stop was the SnowCastle resort in the coastal town of Kemi, a 90-minute drive away, which offered much to distract from the gloomy skies boasting an all-year-round ice restaurant, a traditional sauna as well as wintry excursions and activities.

On the shoreline of the frozen Gulf of Bothnia, newly-built luxury glass chalets face out over the vast expanse of ice.

Simply decorated in calming grey tones, the cabins are designed so visitors can snuggle up in bed and look out over the paralysingly beautiful frozen seascape.

I was tempted to do just that but our host Noora had other plans and after dropping off our bags she led us to a large hole cut into the 3in thick surface for a spot of “ice floating”.

Not one for outdoor pursuits, I was troubled to say the least, imagining some kind of brutal SAS cold water training exercise. Fifteen minutes later dressed in a Michelin man-style Arctic survival suit I found myself, against all odds, peacefully bobbing about in the zero-degree water gazing up at the sky.

I couldn’t help squinting to see if there was any sign of those dancing lights behind the clouds but no such luck. Hey ho, next was another icy encounter in the resort’s intriguingly named SnowExperience365 – imagine an enormous freezer with illuminated ice sculptures, an ice slide and an igloo-like ice bar with ice tables and benches.

No need to worry about warm beer here as it is kept at a chilly -5C even in the summer.

After a warming amuse-bouche of mushroom soup in the ice bar, we retreated to the warmth of the main restaurant and enjoyed a contemporary Arctic region five-course tasting menu including a stand-out dish of reindeer carpaccio with smoked lichen.

Over dinner I tell Noora about the cultural warning I’d received.

She agreed and joked: “This is small talk in Finland” then clamped her mouth shut and pulled a stern expression. So my friend was not wrong then.

In the morning we set off on an adrenaline-pumping quad bike ride through a snow-blanketed forest.

Not for the faint-hearted but it is a thrilling way to explore the Lappish wilderness – just remember to keep your mittens on the brakes.

More than 70 percent of Finland is forest and according to theWorld Health Organisation the air is the cleanest in the world. It was also named the happiest nation on Earth by the UN.

Dashing through the snow in the freshest air surrounded by unspoilt nature, it’s easy to see why.

Our next stay was the Apukka Resort. Just 10 minutes from Rovaniemi Airport and located in the middle of a Narnia-style forest, it offers stylish wooden igloos with heated glass roofs for sky gazing from the comfort of a warm bed.

Guests craving a little more luxury can stay in newly built suites inspired by “komsio” or traditional Sami cradles. Shaped like a “kota”, a Lappish teepee, the nest-like bed is located in the glass apex with a full 360º-view.

All cabins are a short, frosty, walk from the 100-year-old wooden lodge reception authentically decked out with sheepskins, furs and wall-mounted antlers. It has a buffet and a la carte restaurant serving a mixture of Lappish and modern dishes as well as a bar.

In the evening you can huddle around a log fire with a glass of mulled wine and, on certain nights, enjoy a side of salmon basted in butter and roasted on the flames in front of you.We were greeted by one of the resort’s wilderness experts, also called Noora (no really), who took us out deep into the forest for an aurora hunt on Apukka’s unique snow train.

Standing around 6ft tall, with a mass of blonde curls and a fearsome looking utility belt, Noora 2 cut an impressive figure as she leapt onto a snowmobile and towed us in our heated cushioned carriage.

Eventually we reached a large canvas kota and within minutes Noora 2 had a fire roaring.We waited patiently with hot chocolate and cookies but sadly those stubborn clouds showed no signs of ever shifting.

But it didn’t matter as Noora 2 kept us entertained with extraordinary campfire tales of survival, Finnish history and Lappish folklore.

The small team of highly experienced staff provide excursions from dawn to well past midnight.

Activities include snowmobile tours and guided snowshoe hikes for the adventurous. For a slower pace guests can enjoy reindeer sleigh rides as well as a choice of modern and traditional wood-burning saunas.

For me the most memorable activity was a traditional husky ride.

As we approached the kennels, the hounds howled with excitement eager to stretch their legs on the two-kilometre track.

Expect to fall face first in the snow at least once as husky mushing isn’t easy. But once you get the knack, it is the most joyful way to spend a winter’s morning.

Just before heading home I paused for one last moment in the soundless frost-kissed wilderness and finally understood why Finns don’t do small talk – it’s just air pollution after all.

THE KNOWLEDGE 

easyJet flies to Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland, from Gatwick and Manchester from £59 return. (easyjet.com)

A Komsio Suite at Apukka Resort, near Rovaniemi, starts at £300 a night in November. (apukkaresort.fi) A Seaside Glass Villa at the SnowCastle Resort in Kemi starts at £280 a night in November. (experience365.fi) More info at visitfinland.com

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