They arrived at Bristol Temple Meads train station clutching cans of booze, a change of clothes and this year’s most essential New Year’s Eve accessory – a negative lateral flow test.
The closure of nightclubs and restrictions in bars and pubs in Wales was not going to stop a determined band of Welsh fun-seekers hopping across the border for a big night out on the English side of the Severn.
“Mark Drakeford [the Welsh first minister] doesn’t want us to have a good time in Cardiff but he can’t stop us coming over here,” said Luke Spear, a 22-year-old bar worker. “Covid has affected young people a lot. I spent my 21st birthday in lockdown. We’re going to have a good time now.”
Gabe Mason, 23, a student from Swansea, said he believed the Welsh government had been too cautious. “I think they have panicked, to be honest with you.”
Mason was accompanied by a carrier bag filled with cans of lager. He and a group had booked rooms at a budget hotel. “Usually we would go out in Swansea,” he said. “We’ve all been vaccinated and had boosters so we’re not worried.”
The Welsh government has been criticised by many in the hospitality industry for bringing in strict rules while the UK government has allowed a pretty normal New Year’s Eve to take place.
Drakeford told people thinking of travelling to England from Wales for New Year’s Eve celebrations to “think consciously and carefully” but stopped short of asking people to stay put.
Chanel, a 26-year-old nursing assistant from Cardiff, was planning to dance the night away at Bristol’s Motion club. “I don’t think Omicron is any worse than the flu. We’ll be careful, we’ve all got our negative tests, but we don’t want to miss out any more. We’re here to rave,” she said.
Keeley, a bar manager, also 26, said she feared Cardiff would be horribly quiet. “At the place where I work there’s no band and no DJ. They’re stopping serving drinks at 11.30pm. People will be wandering around the streets at midnight. It’s such a shame.”
It was not just a Cardiff exodus. Pubs and clubs all along the English side of the border were reporting large numbers of Welsh people arriving. And though the Scottish government asked people not to cross the border for Hogmanay and argued that to do so broke the spirit of its hospitality restrictions, inevitably, some defied the request.
Grahame Vallance, who runs the Coach and Horses pub in Carlisle, eight miles from the border, said: “I’ve noticed a lot more Scottish people coming in – a lot of Rangers scarfs, Celtic scarfs. They are still showing caution. It’s not like: ‘Wahoo, let’s get on with it!’”
Back at Temple Meads, British Transport Police patrolled the station but the mood was jolly and festive. Amy Norman, 23, of Caerphilly arrived with cans of pre-mixed gin and tonic. She said: “We just wanted a night out. I don’t understand the rules. I don’t see why places have to close in Wales but they can be open in England – it doesn’t make any sense.”
Some were heading farther afield. Jake Alexander, 27, a media company worker, was travelling from Wales to London. “It’s time to party,” he said. “A lot of my friends in Cardiff have been crying off events because they are so bored of the rules. Table service is fine when it is quiet but who wants to do that on New Year’s Eve? And the rule of six in Wales is no good when you want to get out there and usher in the new year. So it is Islington for me.”
Eve Humphries, 24, who works for an education company, said: “I just want to get on with life. I’m leaving my friends in Cardiff and heading off to stay with friends in London. I don’t want to be looking over my shoulder and people ticking me off for breaking the rules. People of my age want to get out there and live life. I’ve just so, like, had it with rules, rules, rules. I love Wales but not on a dead New Year’s Eve.”