Getty Images / WIRED
Llanymynech is an anomaly even in less chaotic times. The village, home to around 1,800 people, lies directly on the border between England and north Wales, the town split right down the middle by a single road. From Friday October 23 at 18:00 to November 9 at 18:00, the Welsh side will enter a full countrywide “firebreak” lockdown. The English side won’t.
In Wales, pubs, bars and restaurants, gyms, and all non-essential shops will be closed. People will only be allowed to leave their house to go to the shops to buy essential food, provide care or exercise. Primary schools will still reopen on November 2 after the half-term break, but non-essential travel from Wales to another country is banned, meaning that in towns like Llanymynech, it’s illegal to cross the road.
In the heart of town, two beloved local boozers stand on either side of this invisible border. “We’re a split village,” says Bob Hedley, the landlord of The Bradford Arms Hotel, a local pub situated around a meter from the Welsh border. His pub, on the English side of town, can remain open. Literally across the road stands The Dolphin Inn which has had to close its doors. “It is obviously a very difficult situation having to shut on Friday, especially as the two pubs across the road are open,” says John Turner, landlord of The Dolphin Inn. “Let’s just hope we and the other small businesses in the area can survive.”
Both The Bradford Arms Hotel and The Dolphin Inn have been following all the guidelines; track and trace; social distancing; face masks. But aside from requiring a photo ID and bank statement to prove an address, Hedley is at a loss as to how (or if) he can enforce these new rules on the Welsh side of town. “I’m not going to stop the old boys coming across the road for a pint,” he says. “That’s the only social life they have.”
Councillors aren’t sure how to control the situation either. “You can’t police these measures,” says Arwel Jones, a member of the Carreghofa Community Council, which includes Llanymynech. “Some of the houses are literally across the road from the pub.”
To Jones’ knowledge, no extra police measures are being introduced to catch thirsty lockdown breakers in his area, and he doesn’t believe that anybody will be arrested if they did. Life moves slower in Llanymynech, where Covid updates are regularly posted on the community notice board. “We’re quite fortunate being in a rural constituency. People are taking heed to the rules and regulations,” he reassures.
Covid-19 isn’t the first bonkers border-based conundrum Llanymynech has had to deal with. When Wales imposed a smoking ban on March 26, 2006, Llanymynech smokers weren’t forced out into the cold. They instead crammed into The Bradford Arms Hotel as the ban didn’t come into effect in England until July 1, 2007. On May 13 this year, English golf courses reopened after lockdown but Wales was yet to follow suit. This caused a problem for Llanymynech Golf Club, Europe’s only dual country course, which features 15 holes in Wales, two in England and one that crosses both countries.
These are natural “quirks” to living on the border, says Vivien Byrne, a clerk for the Llanymynech and Pant Parish Council. The coronavirus problem is much bigger. On the English side there are two pubs and a fish and chip shop, both of which can open as normal (but following guidelines). On the Welsh side there’s the village’s only post office and local shop, technically off limits to those on the English side.
“Over the years we’ve worked together to make the border less significant,” says Byrne. “When we had the original lockdown and everybody closed it didn’t cut one community off from another. But this is obviously going to be very hard. To see businesses on the Welsh side struggling because they have to close while those on the English side remain open is going to be very difficult.”
Llanymynech isn’t alone. From Saltney in the north (a ten minute drive to the center of Chester) to Shirenewton in the south, many towns along the 160 mile border are navigating choppy waters, stuck between two countries following different rules.
One of those is Chirk, found around a 20 minute drive north from Llanymynech. Chirk’s Welsh side hosts the town’s only train station, all the fish and chip shops and the local Co-Op. On the English side, barring a few holiday campsites and a hotel, The Bridge Inn pub stands alone on a picturesque patch of land just yards from the border.
Chirk local Tracey Jones took on the lease of the pub on October 14. The timing wasn’t great, but Jones thinks its rustic charm and views over the Chirk Viaduct ten minutes walk away were too good to pass up. “Although things may look dire at the moment I’m confident the business will flourish once things once again get back to some form of normalcy,” he says.
Without experiencing lockdown number one as a publican he’s waiting to see how the next few weeks will pan out. “Unless they plan to station officers on every border policing it is near impossible,” he says, but he has to tread carefully. Improvement notices have been handed to two Chirk pubs for failing to take appropriate safety measures. “I have to ask everybody when they come in if they are members of the same household and have to take what they say. However, the council expects me, as a local person, that I should know everybody,” one publican told the Daily Post.
While Jones is understandably concerned about his business, the impact these measures have on the town is much more concerning. “There’s not so much as a divide happening in the town, it’s more a despair,” he says. “For many people their only social interaction is down their local, so with the pubs currently shut their mental wellbeing will ultimately be affected.”
For Mark Jones, landlord of the Stanton House pub on the Welsh side of Chirk, another lockdown could spell disaster. In the past few months, Mark estimates his pub has been running at around a two grand loss per week. Given the financial woes and rising cases in nearby Wrexham – currently experiencing the highest rates in north Wales – Mark decided to close the pub before he was forced to. “Our main concern going into this lockdown is whether people will still come back out of it at the end,” he says. “Without some help financially we’ll be on our arses, to be blunt.”
Some help is available. Businesses affected by the lockdown can apply for a £5,000 one off payment if their rateable value – a valuation assigned to a premises based on a property’s annual market rent, size and usage – is between £12,001 and £50,000, but some businesses simply don’t meet that threshold. What can be done? Not even those who are supposed to know are entirely sure.
“I feel a bit left in the dark to be honest which is a difficult thing for a representative to say,” says Nick Ramsay, a member of the Senedd for Monmouth, a border town in south Wales county of Gwent.
Ramsay is in support of a Welsh lockdown in theory but says he’s been left in the dark by the Welsh government, that he hasn’t been given access to enough contraction data for his area and that without financial aid many of his constituents will struggle. He’s not even sure whether Welsh police have the resources to contend with the border problem.
“The police do have a duty to enforce laws passed by the Welsh government but I understand that it’ll be difficult to do this across the border,” says Nick. “It probably is unenforceable.” Ramsay thinks a “four nations” UK-wide approach would have been “much more effective”. For the time being that’s not going to happen, so for people on the border the life in limbo continues. “People are confused,” says Ramsay. “I’m getting asked lots of questions and I don’t have all the answers.”
More great stories from WIRED
💿 Meet the Excel warriors saving the world from spreadsheet disaster
🚀 Inside Gravity’s daring mission to make jetpacks a reality
🧥 Don’t get cold this winter. How to the get the most out of your home heating
🔊 Listen to The WIRED Podcast, the week in science, technology and culture, delivered every Friday
👉 Follow WIRED on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn
Get WIRED Daily, your no-nonsense briefing on all the biggest stories in technology, business and science. In your inbox every weekday at 12pm UK time.
Thank You. You have successfully subscribed to our newsletter. You will hear from us shortly.
Sorry, you have entered an invalid email. Please refresh and try again.