Measures announced on Thursday 21 May by Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon point to a more cautious and gradual easing of lockdown restrictions than have already taken place in England. It's a long way from the travel free-for-all south of the border ushered in last week by Boris Johnson, and instead the emphasis remains to 'stay at home'.
Scotland's 'Route Map' out of the crisis is a staged return towards some semblance of normality, with Phase 1 likely to come into effect on 28 May. The situation will be reviewed every three weeks thereafter, with the pace of the step changes being determined by the progress of the virus.
In light of the sudden easing of travel restrictions in England last week, hopes were high before the announcement that Scotland would soon see a similar return to freer access to the crags and hills. However the changes in the immediate term look more modest.
Under Phase 1, people in Scotland will be able to:
- Travel 'short distances' for outdoor leisure and exercise, but the advice is to stay close to one's local community, 'broadly within five miles', and to travel on foot or by bike where possible.
- Meet up with another household outdoors, in small numbers, while observing physical distancing.
In this phase the Scottish Government are planning to allow "unrestricted outdoors exercise adhering to distancing measures and non-contact outdoor activities in the local area – such as golf, hiking, canoeing, outdoor swimming, angling – consistent with the wider rules and guidance applicable to any activity in this phase."
Hillwalkers will note the specific mention of hiking, though it is worth pointing out that since walking has been allowed thus far throughout lockdown, this is nothing new. For most walkers the general principle of remaining within a five mile radius of home will rule out hillwalking as we generally know it. How prescriptive is the five-mile limit? The Scottish Government seem unclear at this stage, so expect more discussion of this over the coming days.
So how far is five miles? For anyone struggling to visualise where they should or should not travel to take exercise, the circle drawing tool on this mapping site may be handy.
Climbing would have been unlikely to receive a specific mention in the Route Map, but might there now be leeway within the Phase 1 measures for some limited climbing close to home? If other sports are to be permitted - in the company of someone from another household, and observing the necessary distancing - then on the face of it there seems no reason that climbing would be excluded.
Mountaineering Scotland, Sportscotland and others will be meeting tomorrow, and may then draw up guidelines.
Until specific advice is produced for Scotland, it may be worth noting the BMC safe climbing guidance issued last week for England and Wales:
Even if people in Scotland can climb from 28th May, does that mean we should? Those keen to get going may point out that the NHS is no longer in danger of being overwhelmed, a major reason at the start of the crisis for putting climbing on hold.
Measures set out in Phase 2 of the Route Map see little change from the point of view of walkers and climbers, except that 'people will be able to drive locally for leisure and exercise purposes'.
Phase 3, likely to be implemented mid July at the earliest, will see gyms allowed to open subject to physical distancing and hygiene measures. Might this offer scope for some climbing walls to re-open?
At this stage there would also be a relaxation of restrictions on accommodation providers, in time, hopefully, for summer holidays.
The key message for walkers and climbers is that in this phase it will be possible to drive beyond your local area for leisure and exercise. So in this important respect it is only in Phase 3 that we are likely to see a return to some semblance of normal life in the outdoors in Scotland.