Don’t fancy going back to the gym? There are plenty of ways to get your exercise fix outdoors. Eve Boggenpoel has a round-up of the best locations in Britain to walk, cycle, hike and generally get fit.
With popular beaches and beauty spots seeing a surge in popularity, how can you get your outdoor exercise hit and still be Covid-safe? We’ve uncovered eight of the best remote locations in the UK for socially distanced outdoor exercise to help you switch things up without succumbing to the virus. Whether you want to take on an Olympic level mountain bike trail in Essex, run over sand dunes in North Cornwall or wild swim in the Yorkshire Dales, we have taken the hard work out of finding your perfect outdoor fitness escape.
1. Hadleigh Park, Essex
Getting there: Access is via a residential street off the A13. It’s a 40-minute train journey from London and the nearest station is 2.5 miles away.
Facilities: A large car park, toilets, cycle shop, training centre and cafe.
What to expect: Rolling hills and expansive estuary views at the site of the 2012 Olympic mountain bike course. There’s a skills area where you can practise different techniques and a pump track where you can learn to generate speed without pedalling. Trails include green for beginners; blue for intermediate and red for the very experienced, with 1.7km of ascents, dramatic rock drops, tight twists, snaking climbs and gap jumps.
Best for: Off-road cyclists of all levels. Bike hire/lessons available at hadleighparkcycles.co.uk.
Stay Covid-safe: Download car parking app MiPermit to minimise contact. There’s a queuing system at the cafe and outdoor seating area, and the toilet block is cleaned twice a day.
Find out more: Free; hadleigh-park.co.uk
2. How Stean Gorge, Yorkshire Dales
Getting there: Seven miles from Pateley Bridge. The nearest train station is 23 miles away, but you can hire a mini-bus from the centre.
Facilities: Toilets, showers, car parking and a cantilever cafe with glass floor over the canyon.
What to expect: A half-day gorge-walking adventure, with a 45ft abseil into a wooded limescale gorge. Then wade, swim, slide down rock slopes and scramble over boulders as you traverse the river with an expert guide. Canyoneering wetsuits, neoprene socks, gloves and harness are provided.
Best for: Water babies and adrenalin junkies, although sessions are tailored to the group.
Stay Covid-safe: Wetsuits, carabiners and ropes are cleaned before use. Private bookings (up to eight people) include your own toilet and showers, cleaned and mist sprayed to cleanse the air. Mixed groups have extra social-distancing measures.
Find out more: From £60 per person; howstean.co.uk
3. Holywell and Crantock beaches, North Cornwall coast
Getting there: Access is via unnamed roads off the A3075. Newquay station is 3.5 miles away and Western Greyhound busses 585 and 587 pass nearby.
Facilities: Car parks at both beaches; toilets, drinks, sandwiches and cakes from a quirky truck at Crantock.
What to expect: Exposed rocky headlands, vast expanses of sand, towering dunes and a hidden cove. The National Trust has one- to six-mile hikes through open grasslands, over dunes and along cliff edges, joining the South West Coastal Path at times, or you can download an OS map and create your own routes over common land.
Best for: Hiking, trail running, surfing, SUP (boards available to hire) and wild swimming.
Stay Covid-safe: Take sanitiser or gloves for the car park machines or pay by phone. Follow the guidelines displayed for use of toilets.
Find out more: Free; nationaltrust.org.uk
4. Mugdock Country Park, Glasgow
Getting there: By bike, from Glasgow Botanic Gardens, head away from the city on the Great Western Road, then turn right into Cleveden Road, where the circular cycle route begins (see below). By train, Jordan Road station is on Cleveden Road.
Facilities: Mugdock Country Park has a visitor centre, shop, toilets and cafe.
What to expect: This 17-mile route is mainly on quiet roads, with a couple of good climbs (1,148ft in total), although you can extend it by to Strathblane and back. Campsie Glen and Ben Lomond can be seen on a clear day, and you can take a dip in the loch at the top of the hill.
Best for: Road cyclists and hardy wild swimmers!
Stay Covid-safe: Only two people/two households allowed in the shop, cafe and toilets. Hand gel is provided at the toilets.
Find out more: Free; access the route at https://ridewithgps.com/routes/33564245, courtesy of scottishcycling.org.uk
5. Derwent Valley Heritage Way, Derbyshire
Getting there: Start at Heatherdene, on the A6013. Bamford train station is 2.5 miles away, and there’s a bus service from there.
Facilities: Car park at Heatherdene
What to expect: The 55-mile waymarked walk follows urban, rural and riverside paths from Derby to the River Trent. It takes in a canal, old railway tracks, reservoirs, a quarry, tors, open countryside (some within the Peak District National Park) and historic sites.
Best for: Hikers with an interest in local history. You can also cycle or horse riding small sections of the path, or canoe from Darley Abbey to Derby.
Stay Covid-safe: Take gloves or hand sanitiser as the car park is cash only.
Find out more: Free; derwentvalleytrust.org.uk; canalrivertrust.org.uk
6. Ashdown Forest, Sussex
Getting there: Nearby train stations are Sheffield Park and Horsted Keynes. The Forest Centre is on Coleman’s Hatch Road.
Facilities: There are 40 free car parks in the forest, and several places to eat, including cafes, hotels, pubs and a garden centre.
What to expect: This Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is one of the largest public access sites in the South East. Here you’ll find tranquil woods, 10 sq m of heathland, fallow deer, deep-sided rushing streams, and wide-ranging views to the North and South Downs. You might even spot the bridge where Winnie the Pooh played Pooh sticks…
Best for: Mapped walks of up to 14.5 miles, trail running, horse riding and working out in natural surroundings.
Stay Covid-safe: If footpaths become busy, you’re asked to maintain distance and be respectful. You can also wander at will on the common land areas.
Find out more: Free; ashdownforest.org
7. Brecon Beacons, Wales
Getting there: Trains from Cardiff, Swansea and Shrewsbury. National Express and Megabus will transport bikes if packed. If travelling by car, it’s within easy reach of the M4, M50 and A40.
Facilities: There’s a large car park, toilets and cafe at the Visitor Centre (close to the village of Libanus, 9km south of Brecon).
What to expect: This Unesco Global Geopark has the highest mountains in southern Britain. At 520 sq m, the terrain varies from red sandstone peaks to lush countryside, with rolling grassy moorland, heather-clad escarpments, reservoirs, jaw-dropping waterfalls, limestone crags and wooded gorges.
Best for: Everything! Hillwalking, fell running, cycling, rock climbing, abseiling, canoeing (try the Brecon Water Trail), sailing, windsurfing, kayaking, SUP, whitewater rafting, wild swimming, caving, horse riding and even bog snorkelling!
Stay Covid-safe: You’re asked to avoid touching gates and styles with bare hands. Find up-to-date Covid information at beacons-npa.gov.uk.
Find out more: Free access; breconbeacons.org
8. The Ridgeway National Trail, Chilterns
Getting there: Many people start at Avebury Stone Circle, 6 miles west of Marlborough on the A4361. Nearest station is Pewsey, 10 miles away, and buses include the 42 and 49. The official start, Overton Hill, is a 35-minute walk from Avebury.
Facilities: The car park Overton Hill has a two-hour time limit. There’s a car park, restaurant and toilets at Avebury (entry £5; see nationaltrust.org).
What to expect: This 87-mile route is England’s most ancient pathway and passes through two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, including the spine of the Chilterns. Open downland and rolling hills give way to woodlands and secluded valleys and the banks of the Thames, with the occasional interlinking town or village. Look out for interesting archaeological monuments and white horses cut into the chalk.
Best for: Hike or run the waymarked length with overnight stopovers, or do it in bite-size, circular routes. You can also cycle or horse ride certain sections (see website below).
Stay Covid-safe: Specific advice available on the website below, but you’re advised to carry sanitiser with you and wash your hands as soon as you get indoors.
Find out more: free; nationaltrail.co.uk