Having a lovely lockdown in the parks

We are lucky that the current lockdown rules allow us to go out to exercise (once a day only!) and that the parks are still open. There has been some confusion over what counts as “exercise” but the general guidance is that walking, running and cycling are OK; more “sociable” activities are not.  

The weather has been absolutely glorious, and parks are full of people exercising: walking, running, cycling, playing with children, walking dogs and generally having a fine time. You can hardly move for people self-isolating out there.  

Some self-isolation in the park:

I have heard that police are doing patrols, making sure that people aren’t taking advantage of the generosity of the lockdown guidelines, but I haven’t seen any police around. Someone told me that he saw a police officer in a park shooing away some people who were sitting on a bench. You’re allowed to walk, jog or work out, but no sitting, apparently. 

These people, for example, were not complying with lockdown guidelines:

At first glance it looks like an ordinary weekend afternoon in the parks, but if you look again you see that almost everyone is either alone or in a pairs and a lot of people – more than half, I would say – are running or doing exercises. The rest are mostly walking in a purposeful sort of way or walking dogs (although I have definitely seen a bit of sunbathing going on). Everyone is very careful to stay clear of others, moving off the path if they meet someone coming in the other direction.  

(Having said that, I phoned a neighbour the other day to ask if he would like to participate in a balcony concert and he barely gave me a chance to say hello before he launched into a twenty-minute tirade about how he and his wife had decided to stop going for their daily walk in the park because you can’t move for joggers and dog-walkers – “and it’s so unhygienic – they’re all flinging their sweat all over the place!” They were now taking their daily walk along the Thames, he said, where there were fewer people. “You should definitely try it.” So I took his advice and the next day instead of going to work out in the park I went for a run along the Thames, flinging sweat at everyone I passed.)  

Parks in Italy have closed and people aren’t allowed to go more than 200m from their houses. My friend Jackie, who usually goes out running in the countryside, has spent weeks gradually going demented as she tries to work out a way to get a three-mile run out of her immediate surroundings. She got stopped by the polizia the other day (read her blog post about it here) and told that she wasn’t allowed to go running (although they said, bizarrely, that walking was permitted). She didn’t believe it, so she went home and phoned the police station, and they said that of course running was permitted. Either way, now she’s jumpy about going out running.  

She told me that it’s all gone a bit Third Reich in Italy, with people policing each other’s observation of the lockdown rules and occasionally enacting vigilante justice. She heard of one incident where a woman was walking along the street and people leaned out of windows to shout at her to go home and one person even threw a bucket of water over her – at which point it emerged that the woman was a pharmacist doing deliveries of medicines. Jackie says she feels like a criminal when she goes out without a mask, even though masks can’t be had for love nor money at the moment. 

A friend in Spain tells me that dog-walking is one of the few reasons people are allowed out of their homes, and dogs are suddenly finding themselves being passed from pillar to post, being walked more than any perrito was ever intended to walk. She sent me this:

The French have cottoned on to the same trick. This is what all their pauvres petits chiens look like at the moment:

In South Africa you’re not even allowed to take your dog for a walk. (To be fair, gardens there tend to be big enough for dogs to play in, but a dog still enjoys an outing now and then.) My uncle and aunt in Johannesburg have a sizeable garden but they still take their dog out to run around in the park. I asked my uncle how the dog was taking the lockdown, and he said she was missing her walks. 

“But then we thought maybe it was just the outing she was missing,” he said, “so we put her in the car, took her to the park and then turned round and came straight back home. And she was so happy!” 

I’m very grateful to be able to go to a park every day – it makes it feel more like a holiday than a lockdown. There are several parks near me – and they’re all full of spring flowers at the moment and looking very pretty – so I’ve been doing the rounds of them. Here are some pictures:

King’s Stairs Garden. I thought I had found the perfect place for a solitary workout, but, to my annoyance, it turned out to be a busy thoroughfare:

Greenwich Park. The white dome is the observatory. (I sent this picture to my friend Ashley in Cape Town and she said “Is your sky very clear and blue at the moment?” I said yes, and she said theirs was too. I had thought it was just weather, but perhaps it’s because there’s so little air pollution at the moment):

Greenwich Park again, where you can wear yourself out charging up and down hills:

Stave Hill Ecological Park:

Which is lovely to run in but has some narrow paths where it is very awkward to try and pass someone while maintaining 2m between you:

Southwark Park:

Folkestone Gardens:

4 thoughts on “Having a lovely lockdown in the parks

  1. It’s lucky that the police find it easier to look in your trolley at the supermarket (and punish you if they find a bunch of [non-essential] tulips in there) than they do to count how many times a day you go to the park. I imagine there are lots of people who are exceeding the regulation ‘one exercise outing per day’. The temptation is terrific! … balmy weather, spring flowers, green grass – and fellow home-occupants driving your crazy. But why not … as long as they observe the “stay 2 metres apart” instruction, as per your photo of the sign in Southwark Park.

    But here’s the thing: that sign says “Stay 2 metres apart” but it also says “Stay at home”. But if you’re in the park and observing the command to stay 2 metres apart, how can you at the same time stay at home?

    And even more baffling is the instruction on that sign to “Protect the NHS”. Are you protecting the NHS by going to the park and staying 2 metres apart? Or by going to the park and staying 2 metres apart and staying at home?

    Or are you protecting yourself – and fellow park users?

    And, in any case, does the NHS need protection? … from your daily exercise, that is. I would have thought the NHS would be better protected by being provided with better supplies of protective clothing and equipment (which is the protection it is NOT getting).


  2. Lovely to see this pictures!! They are beautiful! So glad you are able to get out and stay active without the pesky police stopping you for no reason! I think some of the lockdown rules here are so ambiguous because no one wants to make a definite decision. Friends of mine have been stopped simply for walking their dogs! Crazy.


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