Leisure in lockdown: The facts

A handy guide for people in England looking for a safe place to exercise and get fresh air.

New guidance has come in this week (on 13 May 2020) slightly relaxing the rules on outdoor activities. In summary we can now:

  • Spend time outdoors, enjoying the fresh air, picnicking, or sunbathing
  • Meet one other person from a different household outdoors, as long as we follow social distancing guidelines
  • Exercise outdoors as often as we like, again with social distancing. This includes using outdoor sports courts or facilities but only with members of our own household or one other person, again with social distancing.
  • Visit a garden centre

The changes are small and many of us will carry on as before but the relaxation is significant.

Each country is restoring services in different ways and to different timescales. Here in the UK the four nations, who’ve been in lockstep since the pandemic was declared, are beginning to break ranks and subtly nuance their messages. In Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales the guidance remains the same – stay home, and only go out once a day for exercise as locally as possible.

Access to fresh air has been one thing we’ve been lucky enough to maintain in the UK, albeit with restrictions. Something our mainland European counterparts have not been able to do.

And now the guidance allows us to journey a little further afield.

Footpath through the Surrey countryside © rosemaryandporkbelly.co.uk
© rosemaryandporkbelly.co.uk

So, where can we go that’s open?

Although we’re now allowed to travel further to enjoy time outside, the advice remains that everybody should continue to avoid public transport other than for essential journeys. So you need to travel by cycling, walking or driving in your own vehicle.

Many beauty spots, public gardens and larger parks remain closed or have limited facilities like toilets and car parking, so it’s hard to find somewhere accessible but not too crowded.

And there’s a lot for the organisations who manage these sites to do before they can open up safely including cleaning all touchpoints and shared facilities, checking paths are accessible after weeks of disuse and looking out for wildlife that may have taken the quiet of lockdown to build a home in an unusual place.

If you have a secret woodland walk, we won’t give it away. Instead here are some resources that will help you find somewhere new to explore and keep track of any future changes.

Bookmark this page, share it with friends and family and use it to check the up to date situation before you set off.

National Parks and beaches

Travelling to visit a National Park in Wales or Scotland is not currently allowed, and that includes visitors from England.

Before heading off to any National Park or beach in England you should check the specific, local guidance and if you do decide to go and find once you’re there that you can’t keep 2 metres away from others then it’s too crowded to be safe.

Boat owners may now use England’s waterways but only for day trips or maintenance – overnight stays are not permitted.

As the Southdowns National Park puts it, remember the 3 Rs – restraint, responsibility and respect.

Current guidance for England’s National Parks

Discover Britain

The Royal Geographic Society has an entire website dedicated to the charms of rural Britain with a whole host of walking options from challenging hikes to five minute stop overs.

The Royal Geographic Society walking options

Walkers with Nordic poles, Surrey countryside © rosemaryandporkbelly.co.uk
© rosemaryandporkbelly.co.uk

Find a forest

The Woodland Trust has kept many of its woods open to the public, under strict coronavirus restrictions. But where places are particularly popular the car parks have been closed, so make sure you stay local and park safely. The good news is there are still bluebells around and plenty of insect and bird life.

The Woodland Trust

Forestry England provides a useful map, showing all their managed sites. They are in the process of opening up car parks but many will remain closed. They provide a daily update on their latest closures.

Forestry England map
Forestry England car park closures

National Trust

For several weeks the charity’s been working on its plans to reopen their parks and woodland areas. From 13 May some car parks in England are being re-opened to allow access to fresh air, open spaces and nature but car parks which are staffed and have facilities like toilets will take longer to re-open.

All car parks in Wales and Northern Ireland remain closed and all pay-for-entry places including houses and gardens are not re-opening yet.
Advice on what walks and open spaces are available can be found on their website.

National Trust walks and open spaces

Toddler walking through bluebells © Rachel Gleaves
© Rachel Gleaves

Nature reserves

There are plenty of green spaces even in densely populated cities and towns, and now we can start to use parks again for sitting in they’re bound to be even more crowded than before. But check if your area has a nature reserve, as these are often overlooked.

The Wildlife Trusts are a grassroots movement with more than 850,000 members and 35,000 volunteers working together to make nature part of life for everyone. Each Trust is a separate, independent charity, but they share ideas on activities and days out at different times of the year.

The Wildlife Trusts A-Z of nature reserves

Just remember that they’re unlikely to have any facilities (and many public toilets remain closed right now) and that these spaces are for the preservation of wildlife. So tread softly.


RHS Gardens remain closed but their plant centres at Wisley, Hyde Hall, Rosemoor and Harlow Carr are now open. And of course the internationally famous Chelsea Flower Show is putting on a virtual display this year.

RHS Gardens virtual Chelsea Flower Show

The National Garden Scheme remains paused with all private gardens closed until further notice, but keep their Garden Finder handy.

The National Garden Scheme Garden Finder

You can also go on a virtual garden visit.

National Garden Scheme sign

In time attractions with plenty of open spaces, like botanical gardens and privately owned parks will be able to re-open, at least partially.

Atlas Obscura

If you like a purpose to your walk and are looking for something a little quirky, this site is right up your street. We once did a detour off the M40 just to find a small plaque citing some strange alternative philosphy we barely understood.

A brief walk across an Oxfordshire field of curious sheep led us to the inscription about Lands of Exiles, part of the parallel universe project called Kcymaerxthaere. Fresh air and total bafflement!

Atlas Obscura hidden and unusual places of England

Lands of Exiles plaque, Oxfordshire UK © rosemaryandporkbelly.co.uk
© rosemaryandporkbelly.co.uk

Latest advice for people living in England from the UK government on
outdoor activities National Parks UK
National Trust coronavirus update
Forestry England coronavirus visitor information

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