Let our vendors take you on a great staycation

With getaways abroad largely on ice, we asked our vendors to tap into their unique knowledge of the UK to find the best British breaks

The summer getaway has been made tricky by Covid-19. For many, hopes of jetting off for sun, sea and sand on the continent have been scuppered. And the ‘reduced Covid-19 risk’ list of countries has taken a hit since quarantine measures were introduced for travel to Brit holiday hotspot Spain.

While tour operators that rely on Brits flying abroad have seen business dwindle, the ‘staycation’ boom has seen British hotels and B&Bs doing the flying instead since reopening. Barclays research estimates that the number of holidaymakers looking to British destinations as a ‘digital detox’ from lockdown video calls will surge by a third this year. Meanwhile The International Air Transport Association has warned that demand for flights was down 86.5 per cent on 2019 levels and the industry won’t hit previous heights until 2024.

But with more people on the lookout for places to go domestically, who better to ask than Big Issue vendors who spend so much time on Britain’s streets in all weathers working hard to sell the magazine?

We asked vendors to tap into their unique local knowledge to shed light on the unseen delights of the towns, cities and resorts where they sell the magazine and to offer up tips of other must-see locales worth the journey. We hope you like Cornwall…

Jim Hannah, Norwich

If you want to stay in the Norfolk city, Jim Hannah will be happy to show you why he has called Norwich his adopted home since leaving Hamilton in Scotland 40 years ago.

The cathedral is the true draw for Jim: “The cathedral is one of the places tourists visit most often. They always want to go to the main cathedral, which is Church of England, but we have two. There’s also a Catholic one up at the top of Grapes Hill and that’s lovely. I’ve been round them all. I like going in and seeing the drawings and stained-glass windows. There’s also an old church just across the road here. It’s called St John Maddermarket and is from the 1500s. You get in there for nothing.”

Jim is also no stranger to the surrounding beauty spots and joins Simon in recommending that you pull on your walking boots to make the most of the Norfolk coast.

“Great Yarmouth is only down the road really, about a 35 to 40-minute ride away. It could do with having some money pumped into it but it’s still nice. You’ve also got at the seaside Sheringham, Cromer, Hemsby, Lowestoft – a real choice of places and they’re not too far away.”

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Simon Gravell is feeling the pull of Cleethorpes this summer (Credit: Henry Perks/Unsplash)

Simon Gravell, Norwich

Simon knows a thing or two about value – as well as selling the magazine he’s also an antiques dealer.

That’s why he’s the perfect man to lift the lid on Norwich’s delights beyond Colman’s Mustard and Alan Partridge. While the city centre is certainly welcoming – as Simon’s customers have shown in his “fantastic” return to his pitch outside Topshop in the city – heading 20 miles out to the Norfolk coast is the way to go. The walks there really cut the mustard, he reckons.

“Head to Cromer and Sheringham, I’d highly recommend both of those. Cromer’s an old fishing port with the old East Anglia lifeboat station that is well worth a visit. There are some fantastic walks between the two and they’re not too far apart, you can probably do it in a day. And they welcome dogs, I think the sign outside the place even says that.”

Simon also has his sights set on Lincolnshire, too, following a spell living in Grimsby. It’s the perfect place if, like him, you do like to be beside the seaside.

“I’d recommend Cleethorpes. It’s a very small seaside resort that isn’t run down like major resorts such as Skegness, because it has had less people there that it can always cater for. It’s such a fantastic place. I really can’t wait to go there again myself – it’s such a friendly place, there are loads of B&Bs, there’s an excellent beach and you’re not far from anything inland as well.

“If the weather’s a bit naff you can go up to Grimsby to explore the fishing heritage there. I used to work in Grimsby so I have that affinity with fishermen, and there’s so much history.”

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Lee Welham drop-in
Lee's progress with housing has been halted by the pandemic

Lee Welham, Cambridge

Cambridge is known for its proud scholarly traditions and Lee Welham embraces that attitude to its fullest.

Not only does he sell the magazine outside the almost-900-year-old, Grade I-listed Round Church, he’s also becoming something of a tour guide for the place, thrilling tourists with facts and titbits from its history.

Lee is also drawn in by the university city’s green spaces. He tells us: “Christ’s Pieces was voted the fifth-best park in the UK. It’s lovely, and so well groomed. The rubbish is pretty bad at four o’clock in the morning but the team of council workers that clean these places up, they genuinely do deserve a medal. Cambridge always looks nice for the tourists.”

Daniel Mackenzie, Inverness

Travel into Inverness by train and chances are Daniel MacKenzie is one of the first faces you’ll see.

He’s been selling the magazine outside the railway station for the last seven years and is always happy to direct visitors to the best bits, whether it be the castle, the cathedral, Eden Court Theatre, the bus station or the river.

In the waters around the ‘Capital of the Highlands’ there’s a good chance you may be able to say hello to a dolphin – the Moray Firth, which reaches as far as Inverness, is one of the best places to spot them in the country.

“Inverness is a nice place with plenty to do to keep you busy. I’ve lived here all my life so every part of the city is famous to me,” he says. And Daniel has top tips for those who want to delve deeper into the past.

“To get to Culloden Battlefield, take the Croy bus. It’s cheaper to get a day rider ticket. And to get to Loch Ness, head for Drumnadrochit, where the visitor centre and Urquhart Castle are. If you’re in a car it’s easier, otherwise you have to get a taxi or bus. One question I haven’t been asked by tourists is whether there have been any recent Nessie sightings. But they still go to look for it.”

Pamela Clark, Brighton

Think Brighton, think beaches, but that’s not the body of water you should check out around the seaside resort, says Pamela Clark.

Our vendor spent the majority of lockdown crammed into a one-bedroom basement flat with fellow seller Paul Clarkson but has since been able to see a bit more of the place after the pair moved into a new property. The Big Issue supported the couple with a laptop during their spell off the streets and Pamela has been using it to keep a therapeutic diary of these uncertain times.

But there is plenty to write home about inside Brighton and round about, she says.

“Brighton Palace Pier is always great but that still isn’t open at the minute. I’d definitely recommend going carp fishing just outside Brighton. There are quite a lot of places to do that outside the city, which I was quite surprised by.”

If the sea air is not for you, Pamela is a big fan of heading up north to experience a touch of history and recommends a getaway to York.

“I’d head to York, it’s absolutely beautiful. The history of it is absolutely amazing, particularly for learning about the Vikings, which I enjoy. You get to experience how they used to live, how they made their own clothing and see the Viking museum. You even get to find out about the smells of the time which is less pleasant. For a family holiday York is really beautiful.”

Nick Cuthbert credit John Bradshaw
Nick has been keeping his card reader on a chair to help maintain social distancing (Credit: John Bradshaw)

Nick Cuthbert, Truro

For some a caravan in Cornwall is a dream break but for Nick Cuthbert it’s a way of life.

Truro M&S vendor Nick lives in a caravan with dog Bryony and cat Meow and while it made for a sometimes sweltering place to self-isolate during lockdown, it does have the bonus of putting Nick in the perfect position to sample the cathedral city as well as a chance to get some sun, sea and sand.

Although, with his selling hat on, Nick says a bit of rain is good for business and never dampens the spirits of visitors. “There have been tourists pouring in to Truro since lockdown lifted and it’s been rammed. That’s good for me. Truro can be very quiet in the summer sometimes but when it rains first thing in the morning, it puts a smile on my face. I know we’re going to have a good day on pitch because people stay and explore the town rather than going out to other attractions.

“My favourite beaches are Perranporth and Fistral at Newquay, which has allowed dogs all year so I can go there with Bryony. I like the rock pools and when the tide is out at Perranporth it’s three miles long so you can self-distance as well. I’ve been to Fistral recently and you’ve got two sides to it: one side is quite commercial and the other side is a lot better, it’s a big surfing beach and has lovely views.”

James Ring, Devon

James has a unique perspective on the UK – he has sold The Big Issue all over the country with the magazine supporting his lifestyle of moving around a lot. His outlook on life is: “Wherever I lay my head is home”.

But Kingsbridge in South Devon, where he currently sells the magazine, has got under his skin and he reckons the welcoming people in the market town make it worth a visit. Although the jaw-dropping views in the Area of Outstanding Beauty can’t hurt either.

When lockdown started to lift, James opted to take on a huge chunk of the coastal path in the south-east of England, and he reckons now is a great time to pull on your walking boots to do the same.

“I really liked Weymouth in Dorset because there are miles and miles of coastal footpaths and 100 per cent sand. The sand there is brilliant for sandcastles and there are quite famous sand designs that look like the Queen, for example, which are good to look at. I also saw the Northern Lights just above Weymouth too.

“When lockdown was off I walked 70 miles from Kingsbridge all the way down to Newquay, which I’d recommend – you meet plenty of interesting people out and about there. I’ve walked Land’s End up to John o’ Groats and I loved walking around Scotland. Ireland’s great for walking too if you can get there.”

Earl John Charlton, Newcastle

Earl has not had much opportunity to sample the delights of Newcastle in recent times. He’s been shielding from Covid-19 due to underlying health conditions and was forced to stop selling the magazine on his pitch due to a spell in hospital.

It is testament to Newcastle’s trademark friendliness that The Big Issue vendor was able to sell his 15 remaining issues from his hospital bed, with regular customers picking up the tab after Earl shared his plight on social media before he then handed the magazines out on the ward. But while Newcastle’s Bigg Market is off-limits for Earl at the moment, he still has plenty of tips for others seeking a visit to the North East and beyond.

“If you’re a northerner then you’ve got to head to the holy island of Lindisfarne where the Vikings first landed in the UK and to the beautiful coastline from South Shields to Sunderland and the historical Arbeia Roman fort to Tynemouth Priory.

“Torquay, Fife and Inverness are the three special places in my heart though, they’re beautiful places. When I was 14 I was sleeping on the beach in Torquay, enjoying the blue, clear waters and before that I was in Fife on the moors staying in a tent. Both places were so friendly and that stuck with me. Weston-super-Mare is a lovely place to go to too.”

DID YOU KNOW…

If you pay for the magazine you should always take it. Vendors are working for a hand up, not a handout.

Dave Martin, Derby

The current Covid-19 situation may mean that an annual trip abroad is on hold for many. But it’s not bothering Hammersmith vendor Dave Martin, who has never left the country.

And with a busy return to work back on his pitch, he rarely finds time to travel beyond the English capital these days, preferring to work on his art in the urban sprawl of London.

But when we asked Dave for his travel tips, it planted seeds for a return to Derby and the rolling hills of the Peak District where he grew up but has not visited for 30 years. “I’ve never even really thought of exploring London – in your day-to-day life selling the magazine you don’t get out that much.

“But I now fancy a little vacation back to Derby. The Peak District’s nice and you can enjoy a trail straight up to Yorkshire and plenty of caves to explore. There are the Potteries as well, which is more Staffordshire way, and the blue mines around as well.

“It’s a great place to go backpacking, such a nice area, and there is always Chatsworth House to have a look around too if that’s open.”

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St Michael's Mount is like the cheaper version of Mont Saint-Michel in France, says Birmingham vendor Bubble (credit: Benjamin Elliott/Unsplash)

Karl ‘Bubble’ Lamsdale, Birmingham

Despite his thick Brummie accent, Karl Lamsdale is not one for the industrial bustle of the city.

The Snow Hill Station vendor, known as Bubble, is currently building his pitch back up for a second time in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Bubble has faced the challenge before – he was seriously injured in a suspected hit and run incident back in 2018 and cheated death to return to his pitch five months later.

But he would divert tourists down the River Severn to Worcestershire, or even down to catch some sea air in Cornwall, rather than exploring Birmingham.

“I’d recommend getting out of Birmingham, I don’t know it that well. People ask me directions but I’m lost! I left the Midlands when I was 17 and didn’t come back for a long time. I’d say it’s best to go around Worcester. Or they call Stourport-on-Severn ‘Birmingham-on-sea’ because it has the canal basin there, that’s quite nice with a little static fair and a few nice pubs.

“I lived in Penzance for 20 years and I have loads of mates who I’ve travelled with over the years down there. I particularly liked St Michael’s Mount, which is like the cheaper version of Mont Saint-Michel in France, the castle off the Marazion. I also love the Minack Theatre, a brilliant amphitheatre built into the cliff in a back garden and they put on plays and stuff and it’s amazing, it really is a beautiful place worth a visit.”

Paul Snape, Nottingham

Paul is all about getting lost in the great outdoors on the outskirts of Nottingham.

The West Bridgford vendor, however, is not quite as transfixed by the city’s favourite fictional son Robin Hood.

But his advice remains the same for rich or poor: hit the green spaces.

“This is where Robin Hood comes from, but it’s a myth. There was no such person, even if we do have a statue. Sherwood Forest still exists, not much of it though.

“When I’m not on my pitch I go to Attenborough Nature Reserve a lot. It’s got a big lake and a little village inside a forest. It’s a good place for walking my dog, Staffordshire English Bull Terrier Lottie. There is quite a bit of green in Nottingham but on the outskirts, not in the city centre itself. But you’ve got the Arboretum, which is a park that people visit. It’s a big green area with trees and it has an aviary too.”

David Bailey, Leicester

Leicester might be known as the place where Gary Lineker and Blu Tack originated, but right now there is only one association that it is stuck with: the site of the UK’s first local lockdown.

That has meant that vendor David Bailey’s return to his pitch has been more long-awaited than most, and he has still not ventured back out on to the city’s streets to the sell the magazine, with The Big Issue supporting him financially alongside a bit of gardening work.

David is currently staying in one of the worst affected areas, Highfields, where infection rates only started subsiding last week following beefed-up lockdown measures. He says he has felt at risk of contracting the virus on the rare occasions when he leaves isolation.

As a result, David recommends leaving Leicester be at the moment and instead heading to Cornwall.

“I did take myself on holiday last October after saving up a bit of cash from the magazine to head up to Perranporth. It’s a stunning, stunning beach there, three miles of just sand. It’s incredibly beautiful – I used to go there with my late girlfriend and it was her favourite place, so I thought I would go there one more time. It was nice to have something that I could remember and Cornwall delivered that. I love Cornwall, it’s the English Riviera.”

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Amanda Hill, Cardiff

Amanda may have been getting into her rowing at the end of lockdown but she insists there is plenty to do on dry land in Cardiff.

We helped vendor Amanda, who sells outside Waterstones in the Welsh capital, with a rowing machine during lockdown after a problem with her back affected her mobility. She has since lost 11 pounds in her admirable efforts to lose weight to reduce the strain on her back.

And that has left her more able to get out and about to sell the magazine on her pitch as well as checking out some of Cardiff’s signature castles.

Amanda would recommend making the trip to Castell Coch (or Red Castle in English) north of the city to view the fantastical architecture enjoyed by Lord and Lady Bute back in the day. And while in Wales, she reckons you shouldn’t miss out on the chance to hit the beach or  explore the country’s trademark rolling hills.

“I’m biased because I’m Welsh but it really is such a beautiful country. So many views, so many moments. We’re not far from Castell Coch and that’s just such a beautiful historic monument. It’s not far to all the lovely beaches in Tenby and Swansea too, there’s just so much to see.”