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Coronavirus: 25 ways to have fun outdoors while social distancing


Forest bathing

Forest bathing

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Wild running

Wild running

Tai chi

Tai chi

Tai chi

Tai chi

Getty Images/iStockphoto



Getty Images/iStockphoto



Getty Images/iStockphoto



Getty Images/iStockphoto



Forest bathing

Coronavirus means many of us are having to keep away from others, but being cooped up inside can be tough on wellbeing. Mental health charity Mind says you can still get outside and benefit from fresh air and the natural environment while minimising your risk of catching the virus.

1. Birdwatching

Birdwatching is a good way to get out in the fresh air and interact with nature, says Phil Carson, policy officer for sustainable farming with the RSPB.

"I think it's a good thing to do because you get away to quieten your mind and it's quite a mindful activity. It allows you to tune out, appreciate the things that are around you and focus on something that isn't on TV or negative news," he explains.

"If you're going to a shoreline or estuary, you can still see some of the wintering waders and wildfowl.

"You can see curlew along the shoreline, which is pretty brilliant to look at, and there are redshank, another iconic bird, if you are around Belfast Lough.

"Coming into spring, if you are in woodland you're starting to see migrant species coming back, such as the chiffchaff, a warbler from northern Africa which is starting to make its way through."

Rewarding places to birdwatch include the RSPB's Portmore Lough nature reserve which has plenty of wide open spaces where you can stay clear of other people while getting your wildlife fix.

"Some of the waders are coming into breed there at the moment - you could see little grebe along the lake shore, reed bunting in amongst the reeds and wigeon and teal as well.

"Anywhere that has woodland would be quite interesting this time of year, such as Belvoir Forest or the woodlands in the Glens of Antrim are always pretty good," Phil adds.

2. Cycling

The National Cycle Network offers more than 800 miles of cycling routes where you can pedal away to your heart's content, mostly on quiet country roads and including 106 miles of traffic-free paths. Find a wealth of long, medium and short rides at cycleni.com.

3. Walking

Walking can enhance our wellbeing and reduce the risk of depression by 20-30%.

More than 700 walking routes are listed on the WalkNI website, from leisurely strolls through gardens to vigorous treks along the Ulster Way, with digital maps, hints and advice. Visit walkni.com.

4. Hunt for fossils

Fossils can be found anywhere, even in your garden, but are easiest to find near the seashore on beaches, under rocks, or by rivers, such as in Colin Glen.

Watch for signs of plants and animals that once lived on the earth - the best ones are often discovered loose on the ground.

5. Foraging

We've a wealth of outdoor delicacies just coming into leaf and flower at this time of year, from the pungent wild garlic that can be used in pestos and garlic butters to the tender young tree leaves for salad.

To find out more, visit forageireland.com or consult the iconic Food for Free book by Richard Mabey.

6. Running

Couch to 5K, the running plan for beginners, has really taken off. The plan involves three runs a week with a rest day between, gradually building over nine weeks, at the end of which you should be able to run 5K. You can go it alone with the One You Couch to 5K app, which gives you a choice of coaches and helps you track your progress.

7. Art

Drawing or painting can be a great way to connect with nature without stomping through miles of mud.

Artist blogger Ella Masters advises bringing a small sketchbook and using drawing materials that dry quickly, such as pencils, pastels or thin layers of watercolours.

8. Tai chi

We've all seen footage of people in China outside in parks performing the elegant moves of tai chi.

Bangor-born Tai Chi teacher Michele Gibson (67) says: "Normally we do our classes indoors because the weather in Northern Ireland is not generally very suitable, but it can be practised outside - in China they do it outside all the time.

"But you can do it in snow as long as you're well wrapped up - you can do it outside at any time."

Michele says Tai Chi is a series of exercises that work on different parts of the body.

"They tend to be breathing exercises as well as movement. The movements are aerobic without being like an aerobics class, so they're good for your heart and lungs in a very gentle way," she says.

"Tai chi is good for high blood pressure. It massages all your internal organs and it's very good for your balance.

"It's good for your muscles and tendons, keeping them strong and keeping your bones healthy. It's an all-round good exercise which can be done by anybody. It can even be done sitting down, although it's mostly done standing.

"I would recommend it to anybody who feels they need a little exercise but doesn't want to pound it out in the gym. It's not overly taxing. If you get up sore the next day you are not doing it right."

9. Go on a picnic

There's nothing stopping you from wrapping up in a warm coat and hat, filling a thermos of hot tea and talking yourself up to the top of a mountain.

There are loads of places off the beaten track for a picnic with a view, from Divis Mountain and Cregagh Glen to the rugged Kearney coastal walk on the Ards peninsula.

10. Photography

This might just be the excuse you needed to dig out that expensive DSLR camera and learn how to use it. Northern Ireland has a wonderful wealth of different landscapes, from the spectacular Mountains of Mourne to the endless misty isles of Lough Erne, and now might be a good time to capture them on film.

11. Wild swimming

This might be one for later in the spring - having said that, there are a few groups of hardy individuals who will take the plunge all year round, including Team Dash and Splash in Bangor and the Orchid Bathing Club in Portrush. If you decide to go it alone, consult the Outdoor Swimmer's Code at outdooreswimmingsociety.com and research hazards before you go.

12. Outdoor yoga

Why choose a dusty community hall for your yoga workout when you can salute the sun from a sunny park on as the birds sing all round you?

All you need is your yoga mat and bottle of water and you're all set for perfecting your warrior pose.

13. Spring scavenger hunt

If your local walks are starting to feel a bit stale, give your kids a mission and send them on a woodland scavenger hunt.

Draw up a list of things to find, such as new green leaves, scented blossom, springy moss, sticky leaf buds and a lichen-covered twig. Visit woodlandtrust.org.uk for ideas.

14. Mountain biking

Mountain biking is a high adrenaline and exciting way to get out in the fresh air without coming into contact with others.

But Outdoor Recreation NI marketing office Ethan Loughrey says you don't even have to be super-fit to go mountain biking, with the advent of the new electric bikes.

"One of the benefits of the fitness elements is getting out on the bike, but the new electric bikes allow people who are unfit or older to get out and get some exercise as well," he says.

"Most of our National Trails Centres have trails between 16km and 27km so there is a good workout, and the good thing about it is that you can stop and admire the view along the way.

"All the National Trail Centres have very scenic spots where you can stop, such as Kodak Corner at Rostrevor Forest.

"There's a lot of research showing how good getting out into nature is for you and for your mental health."

It's advised that people who haven't gone mountain biking before shouldn't go alone and Ethan recommends that people should pick a trail difficulty level that suits them - it's green for beginners, orange for intermediate and red for advanced, with black for particularly fast routes.

"Mountain biking is still very popular and we're seeing a lot of people on social media being out and about a lot more than normal at the minute. It's a nice way to get away from hearing about the virus 24/7," Ethan says.

"Everything can be a bit overwhelming with the front pages, but mountain biking can get you away from that and give you a bit of perspective while giving you some exercise."

15. Pokemon Go

Worldwide mobile game Pokemon Go normally encourages players to get out walking, but they've made changes to make it easier if you don't want to venture into busy areas, such as encouraging Pokemon to appear close to where the player is.

It means fans can play from home or walk in quieter areas where they will still find more Pokemon.

16. Wild running

Get off the beaten track by going wild running, taking it off piste and into the fields, forests, moors and mountains, where you can experience the thrill of running through spectacular landscapes without the need for tricky navigation.

17. Geocaching

Geocaching is a unique outdoor adventure that is taking place all around the world, with participants using the Geocaching app and a GPS device to navigate their way to containers called geocaches, millions of which have been hidden around the world - there are 1,284 in Belfast alone.

It's a good way to get active while adhering to social distancing standards.

18. Rockpooling

Bring a bucket and venture onto the rocks for some rockpooling, a fun activity that allows you to explore the tiny wildlife on our shoreline.

Go on a day when it's quiet and calm. Groomsport harbour is a good spot.

19. Gardening

It really doesn't matter whether you have half an acre or just a doorstep - you can always get into a bit of gardening, even if it's in a pot or a window box.

Now is the time to start chitting your potatoes and sowing seeds and in no time at all, your plants will be starting to appear. Visit the Gardeners' World website for advice.

20. Fly a kite

You might not have flown a kite since forever and it's one of those things you think about doing on the beach. But all you need to fly a kite is a bit of wind and an open space - and you're away.

21. Forest bathing

Forest bathing, or 'shinrin-yoku', was developed in Japan in the Eighties after the government found that two hours of mindful exploration in a forest could reduce blood pressure, lower cortisol levels and boost concentration and memory.

Take time to really focus on the natural world, from the rays of sunlight to birdsong echoing through the canopy.

22. DIY

All those little jobs you were putting off outside - well, now might be the time to catch up. Fix that gate or replace the roof on the shed.

Not only will you have immersed yourself in something that needs to be done, but you'll feel a great sense of achievement.

23. Fishing

Northern Ireland's waters are some of the most lightly fished in Europe, with a plethora of diverse and easy to access fishing waters, not to mention a world-class game fishing scene from March to October.

Search angling on NI Direct to find out more.

24. Go stargazing

You don't need an expensive telescope when you start stargazing - just a pair of binoculars and you can study the moon or watch Saturn and some of the moons of Jupiter.

Choose a clear, cloudless evening and find a spot that doesn't have too much light pollution.

25. Make a home for wildlife

Bring nature to your garden by creating homes for wildlife. The Ulster Wildlife website has everything from plans for a bug hotel to a design for a hedgehog home.

Before long, your garden will be buzzing with activity. Find out more at ulsterwildlife.org.

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