10 of the best UK outdoor exercise spots

Jun 18, 2020

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The latest COVID-19 government advice means you can spend more time outdoors as long as you are following social distancing guidelines. Gyms, public swimming pools and indoor courts remain closed for the time being, but this doesn’t mean you have to give up on exercise — it just means you have to be creative.

You may be sick of home workouts, the Instagram lives may not be doing it for you anymore and you just want to be outside enjoying the British sunshine. From seasides to cliff climbing, we have rounded up the best places you can exercise in the U.K. that adhere to government guidelines.

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1. Cycling — London to Box Hill, Surrey

TADWORTH, ENGLAND - MAY 28: A silhouette of a cyclist and some walkers as they make their way along Zig Zag road on Box Hill on May 28, 2020 in Tadworth, England. The British government continues to ease the coronavirus lockdown by announcing schools will open to reception year pupils plus years one and six from June 1st. Open-air markets and car showrooms can also open from the same date. (Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images)

Box Hill is a great day trip from London. It’s a famous route having been featured on the Olympic 2012 road race, and now, many do this day trip to follow in Olympian cyclists’ tracks. As well as that, there are stunning views, and the area has gained National Trust status. The total route is about 85 miles with a steep climb, but the promise of great vistas at the summit gives you the momentum you need to finish it. Once you’re up, it’s a fairly flat route back to London, but make sure you save some time to see the stepping stone path before leaving.

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2. Paddleboarding — Exmouth, Devon

(Photo by Tomasz Olszewski / EyeEm/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tomasz Olszewski/EyeEm/Getty Images)

Paddleboarding is a workout for the whole body and great for core strength. A perfect spot to do it is Exmouth, Devon, as its waters offer a variety of conditions for water sports. Explore rivers, canals, reservoirs and lakes, and beginners can grasp the basics from the various schools that offer lessons and equipment hire (call to check current opening times, though). If you don’t fancy paddleboarding, then you can try windsurfing, kitesurfing or kayaking.

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3. Kayaking — Derwent Water, Cumbria

Derwent Water in The Lakes District, Cumbria. (Photo by Tomasz Olszewski / EyeEm/Getty Images)
Derwent Water in The Lake District, Cumbria. (Photo by T SolStock/Getty Images)

Derwent Water in the Lake District is also known as Queen of the Lakes, and there’s a 10-mile lakeshore circular path that takes you from Keswick’s foreshore to secluded headlands. Not only is this place good for kayaking, but there is also important wildlife. You might see Britain’s rarest fish — such as freshwater herring — birds and red squirrels. You can hire aquatic equipment to get out on the water, but again, check the opening hours. Don’t fancy kayaking? Not to worry — the lake is very popular for swimming all year round, albeit a little chilly.

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4. Surfing — Compton Bay, Isle of Wight

Beautiful light and fun little waves at Compton Bay on the Isle of Wight. (Photo by s0ulsurfing - Jason Swain
Beautiful light at Compton Bay on the Isle of Wight. (Photo by s0ulsurfing – Jason Swain/Getty Images)

Compton Bay is known as being the best place to surf on the Isle of Wight. Famous for having great waves and westerly winds, it’s a go-to for wave riders. It’s best to visit when it’s low or mid-tide, so check the surf report before you plan your day trip. It’s the perfect place for beginner- to medium-level surfers. Expert surfers tend to frequent Brook Bay, so there is less embarrassment if you’re new to the sport and fall off. Be mindful that this beach does not have a lifeguard service.

5. Hill running — South Downs Way, East Sussex

(Photo by kodachrome25/Getty Images)
Beautiful views for a long run. (Photo by kodachrome25/Getty Images)

Follow in the footsteps of seasoned runners by visiting South Downs Way. It’s one of 15 National Trails in England and Wales and is more than 99 miles in length, stretching from Winchester to Seven Sisters and Beachy Head at Eastbourne. A popular run starts from Queen Elizabeth Country Park, which includes Beacon Hill, Cocking Down and Kingley Vale. It’s about 22 miles long and has glimpses of some of the oldest trees in Britain. There’s also a shorter three-mile route that has plenty of hills, so perfect if you feel like trying interval hill sprints — a great way to get your heart rate up, which can aid fat loss.

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6. Cycling — Cadair Idris, Merionethshire, Wales

(Photo by Helen Hotson/Getty Images)
This is one for the super fit. (Photo by Helen Hotson/Getty Images)

Not for the faint-hearted, this is a steep 15.5-mile cycle route starting from the community centre in Abergynolwyn to the summit of Cadair Idris, a mountain near Dolgellau on the southern edge of Snowdonia National Park. It’s definitely for those who have an advanced level of fitness, as the track is mixed grassy slopes and gravel trails. But, it’s worth it when you reach the top as the views do not disappoint. If you don’t want to cycle up this steep route, then take the approximately three-hour walk up Cadair Idris.

7. Tennis — Bethnal Green Gardens, London

There may be no Wimbledon Championship this year, but that shouldn’t stop you from sharpening your serve. Bethnal Green Gardens’ courts are open to book for as little as £4 per hour where you can play a socially distanced game of tennis. Do make sure you book ahead, bring your own equipment and observe the new court rules here before attending.

8. Climbing – Lands’ End, Cornwall

(Photo by mbbirdy/Getty Images)
The end of the world! (Photo by mbbirdy/Getty Images)

If rock climbing is your thing, you’ve probably heard of the cliffs on the most westerly point of mainland England. It’s a fairly advanced and challenging climb, but possible for novices. In normal circumstances, there is also climbing tuition available. The Lands’ End landmark is currently closed until July, but you will have access to the breathtaking views of the coastal pathways. Be mindful of overcrowding, as this area is a popular hit with tourists and the British Mountaineering Council has published safety guidelines on its website, advising to have a backup option if it is busy.

9. Golf — Loch Lomond, Scotland

Golf is a great way to play sport while social distancing, and Loch Lomond Golf Club is a prime location. It has hosted the Scottish Open and is regarded as one of the best 100 golf courses in the world — but also the most exclusive. You need to be a member or be with a member to play here. If you are finding it hard to get in, then there are courses at Skibo Castle, the Renaissance and Archerfield for a one-off game.

10. Bowls – North London Bowling Club, Highgate Village, London

You don’t need to be a pensioner to enjoy a game of bowls. It’s becoming a bit of a hit with the hipster generation, as it’s an excuse to do some light exercise combined with a few socially distanced drinks. There are more than 150 bowling greens in London, but the North London Bowling Club is set in the serene setting of Fitzroy Park. The nearest tube station to the club is Kentish Town, and then either a 20-minute walk or a short bus ride. This is a perfect family game and will certainly bring out your competitive streak.

Bottom line

If you are still feeling unmotivated to get outside and exercise, you should try to make it the first thing you do before getting bombarded with the day’s chores or work. There are also plenty of yoga, pilates and fitness videos on YouTube and Instagram which you can do in the park to change up the scenery. Try to get a workout partner to help motivate you or join a class on Zoom. It’s important to find an exercise that you actually enjoy, so try a few options before you commit to one.

Featured photo by Tim Graham/Contributor/Getty Images 

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