• Karen

Keeping it local: how to make the most of lockdown walks

We learnt a long time ago that regular walks are vital for keeping both body and mind on an even keel, and that’s never been more apparent than now. But what do you do when your favourite routes are a non-essential car journey out of reach? Here are a few resources and tips for making the most of the walks on your doorstep.

1. Go early or go late

Squeeze extra value out of your well-trodden local paths by varying when you set off. Our favourite local route, the French Mill circular, was one we only ever used to undertake on a weekend morning but, as we found during the spring lockdown last year, it comes into its own at sunset, when the low sun casts a gentle glow over the fields (and sheep!), showing familiar views in a completely different light. It’s one of the reasons why local artist Rachel Sargeant finds inspiration in retreading the same paths at different times and in different weathers and seasons, and Amber has taken to photographing the same spot on Shaftesbury’s Pine Walk whenever she passes.

If you can haul yourself out from under the duvet - and we’ll confess we don’t always find it easy - there’s a lot to be said for a sunrise walk too. It’s a joy to be out when the world is awakening and there’s a certain smug satisfaction that comes from stealing a march on the day: it’s a magic hour of time that’s properly your own. Remember too that in winter, catching the (later) sunrise is an easier win, and often more spectacular, than in summer. It’s very much the case here in Shaftesbury: the picture above was taken at dawn on New Year’s Eve.

2. Find the path less travelled

Before the first lockdown, we thought we really knew Shaftesbury. We both love walking and we’ve each lived here for a long time. But it took the restriction of not being able to jump in the car and head for our favourite beauty spots to truly get to know all the footpaths and tracks that criss-cross the countryside around our little town. This is not a sponsored post (although it might look like one!) but we swear by the wonderful Ordnance Survey app. For the very reasonable sum of £2.99 a month, you have unlimited access to all the OS Explorer and Landranger maps for the whole of Great Britain. All public rights of way are clearly marked so you can very easily identify new footpaths and, as you can plot your own routes, calculate their approximate distance and duration, or try some suggested by other app users. We’ve discovered so many different paths this way, including some spectacular ancient holloways that are very close to home.

Of course, you may not want to subscribe to a country’s worth of maps when you can only walk from your doorstep for the time being, in which case you could buy the local OS Explorer map for your area, which comes with a free digital download that you can use in the same way as the app. Or, for a free alternative, FootPathMap shows you all the UK’s footpaths, bridleways and byways and works well on a mobile.

3. Notice your surroundings

There has been a great deal said and written already about how many of us have been finding a greater sense of connection with nature during these periods of lockdown. Slowing down, watching and listening allows us to observe nature, its colours, forms, sounds and textures, in a level of detail that the accelerated pace of normal life does not always permit. Whereas before we might have walked past a tree or hedgerow plant and identified them in those broadest of terms, many of us now have an increased sense of curiosity about the plants and wildlife that surround us. Apps such as PictureThis and Warblr can help us to learn the names of the plants and birdsong that we see and hear on our daily walk.

Spotting the early signs of the shift in seasons has also put a little extra spring in our step, if you forgive the terrible pun. Look for the buds forming and the spring bulbs beginning to peek above ground. None of it is big or showy yet but it soon will be. When the constant stream of gloomy news threatens to overwhelm us, it helps us to know that nature is still following its usual rhythm and that the brighter days will return.

This same mindful approach to walking - observing, watching, noticing - has a place in the built environment too: in our small market town, we find ourselves looking up above street level and reappraising the details, the window shapes, ghost signs, the jumble of chimney pots where rooftops intersect. Which leads us on to…

Gold Hill, Shaftesbury, taken from Great Lane
A lesser seen view of Gold Hill

4. Take photos

Challenge yourself to see things differently on your walks by finding new ways to photograph familiar places and views. Shaftesbury is best known for the classic view of Gold Hill, taken from the top with the cottages tumbling down to the left, but there are other vantage points from the lanes around the town that give a completely different perspective, none of which we’d paid much attention to before lockdown. We’ve also played a few rounds of ‘Where in Shaftesbury?’, posting details from the streets and buildings around the town to our WhatsApp group of local friends and challenging them to identify the location. Amber presented a regular feature by this name on our local community radio station, This is Alfred. There’s not much she doesn’t know about stink pipes or benchmarks...

5. Plan for the future

Despite how it feels right now, we won’t be in lockdown forever and the wider world of walking opportunities will open up again. Use this time to research the walks you’ve always wanted to do, or to find some new inspiration. Karen is busy planning the next stage of the South West Coast Path; even if you don’t fancy doing the whole thing, the South West Coast Path Association’s website is packed full of ideas for routes you can do in a day or on a short break.

For Dorset walks, we also recommend the following:

Dorset AONB website: https://www.dorsetaonb.org.uk/explore/

Cranborne Chase AONB website: https://cranbornechase.org.uk/exploring/walking-cycling-horseriding/ (the Cranborne Chase overlaps the boundaries of Dorset, Wiltshire, Hampshire and Somerset)

Jurassic Coast website: https://jurassiccoast.org/visit/walking-the-jurassic-coast/

AllTrails website: https://www.alltrails.com/england/dorset/walking

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