Nine ways to explore closer to home

Bel Dixon By Bel Dixon

​Amid the intense challenges, perhaps the most positive legacy of lockdown has been more people discovering outdoor spaces closer to home. Many of us want to keep the momentum going by being active outside. And we can. It’s all about finding quieter outdoor spaces closer to home and experiencing them in new, exciting ways.

Lockdown has brought cleaner air and less traffic and, according to a Sport England survey, resulted in almost two-thirds of English adults seeing exercise as more important than ever.

So to keep you active outside, these nine tricks should help you to continue to enjoy exploring more from your front door.

Please note, the rules on getting outside are different in England, Wales and Scotland. You'll find the latest guidance and regulations through the following links for England, Wales and Scotland.

Plus, you can find activity advice by region here.

1. Greenspaces

Imagine if there was a free app that mapped out all the green spaces around our homes. Places we can walk or cycle to. Places in which we can relax, breathe a little more deeply and recharge. Places that are new to us and - because they’re less well known - are also less busy.

Well, great news - there is. Ordnance Survey’s free Greenspaces layer reveals parks, golf courses, playing fields, country parks, nature reserves and access land. It also features allotments and, those underrated green spaces, cemeteries. Lockdown has brought a massive rise in people using Greenspaces - that’s gone up by a whopping 1728% since February. Download the OS Maps app or head to the desktop version, zoom in on the area around you and see pockets of green popping up locally to you.

Greenspace layer in OS Maps
Chap on bike in hills

2. National Cycle Network

At times recently it’s felt like there have been more bikes on the roads than cars. From newly-enthused, dedicated cyclists to entire families out for a spin, thousands more have been bitten by the bike bug. They’ve hunted out traffic-free cycle paths and less busy routes. They’ve discovered the carefree, car-free joys of getting further than they thought and powering along under their own steam.

What’s more thousands of miles of traffic-free and quiet on-road cycling routes can be found, again for free, on OS Maps. Ordnance Survey has added the National Cycle Network routes to its mapping data after teaming up with the cycling charity Sustrans. Go online and zoom into your local area - you’ll see a spider’s web of routes spinning out. Each one offering endless opportunities to head out with the family, discover the local quieter places and get fit too.

3. Local explorations

Overcrowded beaches and overwhelmed National Parks; at times in this pandemic England’s visitor hot spots have been as busy as on bank holidays - except this time attractions, pubs, cafes and some car parks and toilets have been closed. The National Parks have issued a four-step guide to visiting an English National Park during COVID restrictions. This urges us to know and follow Government advice and plan ahead and check what’s open and what’s closed. It also points out if it feels too crowded, it is too crowded, and asks us to be kind and give other visitors, locals, farmers and national park staff a break.

Girl jumping lake
River in forest

We can also hunt out less well-known places, close to home. Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are prime places to walk, run, cycle and simply feel better for being outdoors. There are scores across England - see a map of their locations here. Each AONB has a website with the current local access advice.

Countless other open spaces are designated as protected for their wildlife or geological interest. The Natural England website features a map with links to local areas - there are 189 in Greater London alone.

4. Getting active

And then there’s experiencing the places around us in new ways. From PE with Joe, to alfresco, online kettle bell classes and garden yoga by Zoom. Perhaps we can now walk, run and cycle just a little further. It’s worth bearing in mind though that this is the time to plan outings, be aware of risks and not attempt activities we’re not familiar with.

You can find specific guidance by activity and region here.

Click to find activity guidance by region

5. Zooming in

Travelling shorter distances doesn’t always mean we encounter less in the outdoors. Reducing the radius might mean we just have to look at things differently. Daily lockdown walks saw many of us paying much more attention to the weeds sprouting from cracks in the pavements and the flowers somehow growing out of wonky walls. Then there are the birds, butterflies and clouds to be spotted, in urban and rural areas alike.

The Field Studies Council has more than 200 publications, starting at around £2.50, to help turn any new-found interest into knowledge. They cover habitats ranging from gardens, parks, hedgerows, woods and shores to things as diverse as bees, flowers, spiders, lichens and bugs.

And then there are the clouds. From cirrus to stratus via altocumulus, gazing skywards can be as scientific or as creative as you like. The Met Office has guides that'll help with the former; let your imagination loose on the later.

6. Trees

Towering trees in city parks, smaller species in residential streets, the shade-shrouded quiet of copses and woods. Wherever we find them, in whatever form, there is something grounding and good about a tree. They’re even better once you know a bit more about them. The Woodland Trust has web pages helping you tell your sycamore and hawthorn from your lime - they also have a free tree identification app.

7. Creating a bit of green

Along with discovering green spaces, how about creating them? In a web article, the Chair of London National Park City Paul de Zylva, points to lockdown activities that can have a much longer legacy: growing herbs on window ledges, planting bee-friendly pots, exploring local parks and green spaces.

The National Trust’s website is full of tips on wildlife-friendly gardening and growing herbs, suitable for those living in cities and the countryside alike. While Ordnance Survey GetOutside Champion and BBC TV presenter, Kate MacRae, has put together a wealth of live wildlife webcams and absorbing family nature challenges.

8. Wildlife

Lockdown saw us moving around less, but wildlife moving around more - social media was full of sightings of stoats and weasels in gardens, and foxes strolling down empty streets. The National Trust reported “emboldened wildlife” at some of its properties. This ranged from peregrines nesting in a ruined Dorset castle, partridges strolling around Cambridgeshire car parks and cuckoos being heard at Osterley in west London for the first time in 20 years.

So how can we spot the bolder, braver creatures near us, and what are the best ways to behave? The National Trust suggests sticking to paths, keeping dogs under control, not approaching wildlife and taking our litter home. Simply being aware that wildlife might be in unexpected places helps, as does not making lots of noise; Dartmoor National Park suggests “treading lightly and listening carefully.” Combine that with finding quieter outdoors spaces closer to home and we might have one of our most positive lockdown legacies.

Sheep and lamb
Horse in trees

9. Love where you live podcast

Has 2020 seen you ditching the car and walking, running or cycling instead? Enjoying the sense of a smaller, slower, quieter world? Then get ready for a wealth of tips on how to keep those local explorations going - in the GetOutside podcast Love Where You Live edition.

listen now

Edited 21/10/2020

Bel Dixon By Bel Dixon


Bel is a life-explorer, newby-climber, student-kayaker, joyful surf-rider, hiker, sea-swimmer, smiler.

Find out more about Bel here.