AS ENGLAND headed back into lockdown earlier this month, most of Wales was breathing a sigh of relief as we exited the two-week firebreak - but for those living in one of Wales’ most popular border towns, life has been quite different.

During his daily visit to Monmouth town centre from his home nearby, 91-year-old John Carter says he feels as though he is still in lockdown due to the empty streets and closed shops.

“Three shut down here not long ago,” he said, pointing down Church Street in the town centre. “I’ve been coming here most days for years and it’s the quietest I’ve ever seen it.”

While Monmouthshire’s high streets, like those across the UK, were struggling long before the pandemic, the county’s border towns like Monmouth and Chepstow have had it particularly tough.

Many traders say that by the time England comes out of lockdown on Wednesday, December 2, they will have spent the best part of six weeks without half of their customer base – half being in Wales and the other in England.

South Wales Argus:

John Carter

“There is confusion in what you can and can’t do here,” Mr Carter added. “I had a puncture in my mobility scooter the other day and I rang a man in England to come and fix it. He said he couldn’t because he was in lockdown, but I consider a puncture in my tyre an emergency – it’s frustrating.

“I can’t stand this one lockdown in Wales and then another in England. Throughout my life I’ve always felt Wales and England have a togetherness, and I’d hate to see us lose that.

“I feel mostly for the pubs, they’ve been hit so hard by this here.”

One pub that has probably been hit more than any other in Wales is The Boat Inn at Penallt, which overlooks the River Wye and is less than 100 metres from England.

Landlady Debbie Burch says the majority of her locals are from Redbrook, which is in England.

South Wales Argus:

The Boat Inn

“We didn’t open after the firebreak and we won’t be opening until December 3,” she said. “I would have found it very difficult to constantly turn our locals away, so I thought it best to stay shut.

“We’re lucky we had a pretty good summer which is carrying us through, but it is a bizarre situation. Of course a UK-wide lockdown would be much better for us, it is having a serious impact.”

Natasha Hawkins, manager at Green and Jenks deli at Agincourt Square, says she believes many people think Monmouth is in England, and they have seen a decline in customers from both sides.

“It’s been a difficult period because a lot of people who come and visit us are visiting Monmouth from England and Wales – they probably don’t live here,” she said.


“They come to stay in the caravan parks, and losing those visitors has hit us hard. I think it’s something you’ll hear from many traders like us here. We rely on visitors, especially in the build up to Christmas.

“People are confused. I get people coming here asking if they can sit in. I think some avoid coming because they might feel embarrassed about not being sure of the rules.

South Wales Argus:

Natasha Hawkins

“I think that comes from being a border town. People aren’t sure if we’re in Wales or not.”

Carole Davies, owner at Harts clothing store on Monnow Street, lives just two-thirds of a mile into England.

“The last month has been awful for us,” she said. “I don’t think we are getting many visitors from further into Wales. Perhaps it’s because we’ve had relatively few cases and we were the only area in the region that wasn’t in local lockdown.

“It’s almost as though Monmouth has been separated from everywhere else, and we’ve been lumped in with England.

"Monmouth is my nearest town, but I can't come here to shop for clothes. It’s ridiculous.

South Wales Argus:

Carol Davies

“I would be very worried for us if there is another lockdown at all. I think it’s at the stage where another one – especially before Christmas – would not be possible for many businesses.

“Our high streets – especially those at the border – are on their knees. If we can’t see our family for Christmas in order to prevent another lockdown then I think that’s something we will have to do. Many people have not seen their relatives for months.”

Husband and wife Lynn and Jane Saunders have seen their relatives once in the last year, and were in Monmouth on Monday for the first time since the first lockdown in March.

South Wales Argus:

Monnow Street on Monday

“We’ve been isolating because Lynn is vulnerable,” Mrs Saunders said. “We wanted to come to support local traders, because we had an idea of the troubles they were facing here as a border town – but we can’t believe how many of the shops are closed and how quiet it is.

“I don’t think it’s fair on people living just over the border – but I feel mostly for the traders. It’s taken away a huge chunk of Christmas for them."

John Keysell, who lives just over the border in England, has decided to sell his house, partly – he says – because he is fed up with the confusion.

“When we moved here it wasn’t an issue, but now it’s unbelievable,” he said. “More than 50 per cent of the people who live here would do their shopping in Monmouth or Chepstow. It’s terrible for traders and for residents – many of whom are elderly. Are we asking them to travel 19 miles to Gloucester to do their shopping instead?”