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Outdoors and lockdown rules (OR can you only go out if you have a scotch egg on a Wednesday?)

What are we allowed to do outdoors anyway? Does anyone really know? Are people lacking motivation, waiting for spring, stuck under a heavy weight of online tasks, avoiding bad weather or just confused about the rules? This blog discusses the vague guidance and how it may be affecting our health.

The past couple of weeks my family and I have been making youtube videos outdoors to keep us sane and to encourage others to get outside locally and keep active. Usually working with groups outdoors at least 5 or 6 days per week we are again not able to teach or lead outdoors due to the most recent 2021 lockdown. There’s not much we can do but we can go out and exercise as a family bubble, locally, and film it!

We have been doing this and it all feels helpful physically and psychologically to us and we’ve had feedback from others to say they are finding the videos helpful, but there has been some concern over what is actually allowed right now. There are urban, or in our case, rural myths about what is or is not allowed as exercise during lockdown. One of them being that you must stay within 5 miles of your home and another being that you can’t be outside and have food or drink or it counts as a picnic.

We have recently made a video specifically for people who may want to get outdoors but have no specialist kit, and then we paused to research if we were inadvertently doing something dodgy by encouraging a walk with a flask of food. So Jay and I got on the case and did a bit of sleuthing.

DISCLAIMER: So lets be REALLY clear-we are in no way encouraging anyone to socialise or be in places where they will need to be around others. Neither are we encouraging travel far away! Being in busy places with the general public is to avoided at all costs as is excessive travel.

Firstly, that urban myth about the distance you are allowed to travel from home. If it’s true that being more than five miles away from home is breaking a lockdown rule then here in Cornwall we would be a bit stuck as our nearest supermarket is more than 5 miles away. This raises questions immediately about the rules or guidance being London centric or at least city/town centric. We then have on the whole felt it reasonable to be 10 miles from home, that gets us most of what we need, food, exercise, fuel and wood for heating. However, when you dig to find out what the guidance actually is, there isn’t any more specific than “stay local”.

Secondly, the idea about not being able to eat or even drink a coffee when out, where has that come from? Maximum digging doesn’t unearth any rules at all about not being allowed to eat when outdoors exercising. This is interesting as many of my favourite outdoor youtubers have recently grounded themselves and are making videos in their gardens. We are not supposed to overnight anywhere away from home but eating outdoors while exercising is currently not advised against. What is advised against is socialising with others or allowing your children to play with other children they may meet when out. Common sense would say it makes little sense to stay for a prolonged period anywhere that is busy but it also says there’s no immediate need to move on if you haven’t seen another soul for an hour or so!

What there is guidance on is making sure when out exercising that you take your litter home with you, there is here we think an inference that people may have food or drink whilst out exercising, much litter is food and drink related.

Where has this all come from then? We think it can be traced back to the coverage of the £200 fine that two women were given following being found exercising 5 miles away from home with cups of coffee. The police were reported to have fined them both for being too far away from their homes for exercise and added that their drinks counted as a picnic even though they had made them and brought them out in reusable cups. Infact some shops and cafes are permitted to run take away services and many people take advantage of this whilst also out exercising. So like yogi bear we followed the picnic trail. We could find nothing official to suggest that picnics were discouraged let alone breaking any law or going against official guidance.

This all makes me wonder if very little needs to happen to make people police themselves. Noone wants to be stopped by the police and many are made nervous just by their presence. My youngest says she wouldn't go out without the rest of the family for fear of being policed by the actual police or nervous members of the general public. Asking on a social media group about what foods were favourite in a food flask for an outdoor outing, a friend in Somerset warned us in Cornwall about getting arrested for picnicking following an article based on women living in Derbyshire. News travels fast and far. The update by the way is that the Derbyshire police issued an apology to the women and are reviewing the fines given.

Boris obviously muddied the waters somewhat with his 7 mile bike ride outside of his own borough of Westminster, but with further investigation the outcome of that was that 7 miles of exercise away from home was fine with Matt Hancock “It is o.k. if you went for a long walk and ended up 7 miles from home, that is o.k., but you should stay local.” Says Matt.

So what does it all mean? For us we have felt the pandemic sting of many visitors to Cornwall even during lockdown. This sensitivity to visitors to our county (with only one hospital), has made us more aware of visiting far from our own immediate radius. I would love a Dartmoor wander right now but it is not only out of safety that we don’t visit but also out of politeness toward the people that live there. The example of climbers from the city travelling to Portland for climbing as their daily exercise allowance is a great example of what not to do-“Don’t be those guys” the chair of a university climbing society says.

Personally, I also feel as if I am making a massive commitment to keeping people safe and slowing the spread by not offering any sessions to groups, even though the outdoors is considered safer, as are many outdoor leaders currently. If I then carry on eating or cooking outdoors with my family in places where there are few if no people around, as a part of motivating my family to get out and exercise, then that’s o.k. with me but it turns out it’s o.k. generally and it’s not even breaking any rules or going against guidelines.

Many are aware of the mental health and physical health issues growing alongside the pandemic that are expected to affect us after the virus is under control. We are experiencing more barriers than before to getting outdoors and into daylight for exercise in our family. Online learning is a much bigger push than it was in the first lockdown and is having a huge effect on how much time is available for exercise and time outdoors. After loss of income, nothing in the pandemic has had more impact on our family than online learning. The insular, indoor and stationary nature of this education in the home has done much to damage opportunity for keeping physically and psychologically well, during what is already a difficult time for most.

The weather and winter season during this lockdown means that many are finding it harder to get outside than they did the first time. There are also reports of playgrounds being closed again. It makes little sense to make more barriers for people who need to get out for fresh air, daylight, a change of scenery, space from others and of course exercise.

“There are no restrictions in England on how you exercise and for how long” states the government guidance and so your exercise could last the day, in which case eating and drinking would be a necessary element of that exercise and that day. The once per day exercise is also not a legal requirement but a non-legal recommendation.

Last year I wrote a blog about cooking and sharing food outdoors during covid as it became apparent that many outdoor practitioners who usually made cooking a central element of their offer, had stopped doing so, mostly assuming it was not allowed due to being unsafe. Again in a similar way, fear and confusion led to the cessation of cooking in many outdoor settings when infact the guidance had barely changed from pre-covid, for school catering, food businesses and community cooking organisations.

We do need to consider of course that the nature of the virus has changed or is changing and that we don’t know everything about its current transmission, so even being outdoors in public areas may need more care than before. Noone can really know the situation for others accross the U.K. even more so whilst we are physically so isolated from each other. We are rural and there will be an upside and downside for us as there will be in towns and cities. As a family we have tried going out early, going out at night, going out when everyone else is making/eating dinner and going out in terrible weather, all pretty successful schemes designed to avoid crowds.

The main take home is, get out as much as you can, daylight hours are short right now, so make the most of them. You can go out and exercise all day if you want to as long as you avoid mixing with others not in your household. You can take food and drink with you to sustain you on extended exercise or even to punctuate a shorter period of exercise for fuel, motivation or fun. You are allowed to have fun. Rename your exercise, for us we go out on pocket adventures.

If you are stuck, here are some pocket adventures designed to give people ideas and inspiration to get out and about. Our most recent one starts and ends at home, no car travel and takes about half of the day. Others are short and sweet and need no kit at all. I’m keen to understand how you have found getting outdoors in lockdown this time around. Let me know how you have approached it.

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