This time last year, the talk was about an “Easter like no other” as we all started to grow accustomed to life in the first lockdown. The phrase “like no other” is now being officially retired as we head into a second spring bank holiday weekend largely confined to our localities and watching the evening news through our fingers as the latest raft of Covid-19 numbers come in.
It is hard to look on the bright side right now. The winter had been tough, with miserable weather, the shutting of almost all social outlets, severe restrictions on home visits and the 5km limit on travel dramatically reducing our options for fun.
But brighter days are ahead, and not just because of the vaccine roll-out. The clocks have sprung forward, we will be able to travel further afield – if not now, then soon – and the worst of the winter weather is surely behind us, so the outdoors are once again opening up.
And while you may have grown weary of your neighbourhood and the familiar circuits you have been seeing on your daily walk, there are still places to go and adventures to be had in the days ahead. Here are just some ideas that might help you make the best of the situation in the days ahead.
Walkie this way: We recently came across a set of three LD Dolida walkie talkies selling online for less than €35. They come in a range of child-friendly colours and have a range of 3km. Pack these as you take your family on their 5/8/10km wander and it will transform the experience. And if anyone falls down a well, at least they should be able to make contact with the outside world.
Roller derby: Who knew that all it would take for otherwise sensible adults to replace their shoes and runners with rollerblades or skates was a global pandemic? Skating is certainly shaping up to be a top trend for 2021. You can buy yourself a pair of Blindside Pro Inline Skates for an adult – or at least an adult size – on the Smyths Toys website for €49.99. But if you break your hip you’re on your own.
Get more from the shore: If you are lucky enough to live close to the sea then explore the rocky shorelines and the pebbly beaches near you. The National Biodiversity Data Centre’s Explore Your Shore site will help you to identify what you find. exploreyourshore.ie
Find a new way to picnic: Search out a park or a woods or a field or a beach near your home that you have only rarely or never visited. Then find a shop or delicatessen that you are similarly unfamiliar with. Bring the two together. Buy yourself the fixings of a picnic from the unfamiliar shop and set off for the new park and as long as it is not lashing rain or absolutely Baltic, you’ll pass a pleasant afternoon in a different place eating different food.
Get stoned: We came across a nice tip on social media last week from a woman who identified herself only as Mary. She has taken to searching out suitable stones on her walks these days. She finds one that works, brings it home and then paints a message on it. On her next walk, she leaves the stone where others might see it. It keeps her entertained and it entertains those who pass it by. It’s free and it’s silly which, sometimes, is exactly what we need.
Guiding light: Is there a self-guided walking tour of your home town you could take? Most of the big towns and cities have downloadable walking guides that will make your walk more interesting. And if you remember what you have learned you can impress your family with your knowledge in the days ahead. Because everyone loves a know-it-all. Simply google “download walking tour” and where you find yourself and you will be good to go. Better still, check out Abarta Heritage (abartaheritage.ie) which has 40 free audio guides. Ingenious Ireland (ingeniousireland.ie) has all manner of audio tours as well.
Stick with it: If you live near a body of water, then exploit the hell out of it. One of the simplest and most entertaining ways to while away some time with small children is to find a river or stream, then find some sticks – one for each participant – and just throw them in them in the water (the sticks, not the children). Yes, we know it sounds too simple to be fun. But it is. Watch as the sticks race furiously downstream to a predetermined finishing line. If you want to add a jeopardy, the winner might get to choose what’s for dinner or what gets watched on the telly that evening. If you want a shorter version, find a bridge, chuck the sticks into the water from one side and then race across to the other side – the winner is the person whose stick comes out first. As we said, it sounds ridiculous – and, in truth, it is, but it will keep you entertained and, if you win, you get control of the remote or eat what you fancy for dinner.
Clean up: Rather than just wandering the streets and roads near your home, do it with purpose by making contact with your local Tidy Towns folk and see what needs to be done. It might be collecting all the rubbish that others have left behind, it might see you planting things or tending to things already planted or even giving things the odd lick of paint. The key thing is you will be making your community better and you may even be able to have the odd conversation with people who don’t live in your home – albeit it in a very socially distanced fashion. See tidytowns.ie to find your local committee. If no such committee exists in your area, you could still do a bit of a clean up as you walk. Wear gloves, mind you.
You want to ride a bicycle: A year into Covid and most roads and streets in Ireland have been so well trodden by people doing an endless loop, that there are surely little grooves starting to appear in the pathways. So rather than walk, cycle. You will experience your locality in a very different way on a bike, you can explore hitherto mysterious edges within your 5km – and who knows maybe it’ll be 10km soon – better on a bike. And if you don’t have a bike and live in an urban centre, sign up to one of the many bike rental schemes. In Dublin there’s the City Bikes, the Bleeper Bikes and Mobi for starters. Some of them are even electronic so you won’t break a sweat as you put your foot to the pedal.
Swim for it: The pandemic has seen an explosion in the popularity of sea swimming and dry-robe wearing. There are many hardy souls who have been prepared to brave the water in the dead of winter and then post pictures of their bravery and/or insanity on social media for us all to wonder at. The bad news is that the temperature of the sea water off Ireland in April is about 10 degrees Celsius which is not a whole lot warmer than it is in January. The good news is that many, many Irish people bought wetsuits last year and they are gathering dust in cupboards and attics. If you didn’t buy one then you can pick one up in Decathalon – online, obviously – for less than 50 quid. But – at the risk of stating the obvious – mind yourself and don’t take silly risks in water. Do not go overboard in your search for socially distanced swimming spots; stick to safer places where there are other swimmers.
Stars in heaven: Explore what lies above your locality on a bright night. Wait for a clear evening and find a place as unspoiled by light pollution as you can. Bring a flask with coffee or tea (or something stronger as long as you can get there and back on foot). If you don’t know what you’re looking at – and, if you are anything like us you probably won’t – download the Sky Guide app. It highlights the constellations, the planets and the satellites. All you need to do is point your phone up and a universe of wonder will be illuminated. There is a free version of the app but the enhanced version is better and costs less than a fiver.
Chips are down: Wouldn’t it be lovely to eat something without having to do the dishes afterwards? With all the restaurants in Ireland closed since late last year, the options for dining out have been largely off the table for months. But with the winter finally behind us, the option of eating outside the home is becoming a reality. So go to your favourite chipper – Shells in Sligo, McDonagh’s in Galway or Beshoff’s in Howth are three that spring to mind – treat yourself to the best that they have to offer, find yourself a bench, a wall a patch of grass or a tree stump and pig out. Apart from all the salty, vinegary goodness, you won’t have to do any washing up afterwards. And yes, it is the little things that we need to savour these days.
Knowledge quest: There are all manner of outdoorsy people out there who would love to be able to point you in the direction of fun things you might do close to home. There is fitfunadventures.com which currently has lists of the best things to do in places such as Sligo and Leitrim or dublinsoutdoors.ie for closer to the capital. Then there is Outsider Magazine – outsider.ie – which is a great resource for finding things to do around the country, from hikes to more extreme sports. Try alltrails.com/ireland for hundreds of hiking trails, running trails and mountain biking trails; and sportireland.ie for walking, biking, paddling and horse-riding routes all over Ireland. For some ideas on what to do in the capital, see visitdublin.com.
Be a proper tourist: All the most popular free outdoor attractions across the country are almost always overrun with tourists. Many of the outdoor spots – including the Botanic Gardens, Castletown House Parklands, the Connemara National Park, the Kilkenny Castle Parklands and the Cliffs of Moher are all open these days but only to those lucky enough to live close to them. If that includes you, resolve to explore them more in the weeks ahead. They will be quieter now than you will ever see them again (hopefully).
The path less travelled: If you live close to a park, there is a very good chance you have a set route that you follow. Shake it up a bit this weekend and in the days ahead. Look for a corner that you rarely or never visit and make that your new route. A good example of this is the Phoenix Park, which is handily within 5km of many thousands of Dubliners. Most people descend on the People’s Garden or the Wellington Monument on a sunny day. That leaves the Furry Glen area, with its gorgeous lake and lovely woodland, largely empty. Almost every big park in Ireland has its own furry glen – you just need to find it.
In tents notions: If you are anything like us you will not have spent a night away from your home for a very, very long time. The chances of you sloping off for a mini-break in the weeks ahead seem remote but if you have access to a tent and a patch of grass and you get a sense that there are a couple of nice days ahead, put the tent up and go pretend-camping. Have a barbecue, drink beer – or, you know, minerals if you’re under age. Just pretend you are on holidays – fake it till you make it, as the saying goes. And then, if it turns cold or you fancy a shower, your house is just seconds away.
Surf’s up: It is hard to beat an afternoon’s surfing when it comes to leaving your troubles behind, mainly because unless you are particularly brilliant at it, you have to focus on staying afloat so have little time to worry about anything else. The surf schools are all closed, but if you’re near the coast you can still give it a go. Strandhill in Sligo and Bundoran in Donegal and Inchydoney on Co Cork are ideal for beginners – as well as those who are considerably more advanced. You can buy yourself a surfboard for less than €200 on the Sligo-based www.sunset.ie and if you’d rather not invest that much you can buy a body board for less than 50 quid. But at the risk of repeating ourselves, take care in the water; don’t be stupid and stay alive.
Food glorious food: Find your local outdoor food market and then shop there. Not only is it a pleasant way to pass a couple of hours, you will be able to find nice things to eat and you will support people living and working in your local community.
Reassess your limits: When the whole notion of a lockdown was still novel this time last year a lot of people got sort of a kick out of the 2kmfromhome. com site. But when was the last time you were on it? You might be surprised to see some areas that are within your 5km radius. It can be modified to show you where you can go depending on the radius that is allowed under a particular set of restrictions. If you’re looking for a real thrill, widen the radius to 10km and see all the delights you have to look forward to!
InstaGood: Karen O’Leary is a tour guide based in Galway and, as you might imagine, has had some time on her hands over the last 12 months. She has used it well and come up with all manner of ways to get the best out of her 5km. One of her ideas that we liked was her Instagram challenge to herself. Every day she has to find a point of interest to photograph which she posts on her @guideingalway account. “This makes me look out for something new and appreciate it,” she says.
Treasure it: O’Leary also creates small treasure hunts for herself. So, on the list might be a place that you have heard of, but have not seen or visited properly before, or some feature in nature in your neighbourhood which you can revisit to see what effects the changing seasons have on it.
Indiana Jonesing it: No, we are not suggesting you find some class of revered archaeological site and use it as a battleground to fight time-travelling Nazis – although that does sound like a nice break from the boredom these days. Become an amateur archaeologist and explore your neighbourhood with different eyes. Where to start? Here: maps.archaeology.ie/HistoricEnvironment. This site offers a comprehensive and easy-to-use map of features of archaeological interest all over the country. You simply zoom in on wherever you are and it will reveal a world you may not know existed.
Sup, dude: If surfing or swimming sound too much like hard work, then we recommend stand-up paddleboarding. There are loads of bodies of water all over the country that are ideal for it. The aforementioned Outsider Magazine (outsider.ie) has a handy guide to where you might be able to try it out. As with surfing, the SUP centres and schools aren’t open just yet, but you can buy an inflatable paddleboard on the Decathalon website for about €300. But can we offer two suggestions? If you are going to spend 300 quid on something can you make sure you are going to use it? We reckon you’ll need to go out on it at least 30 times over the next six months to make it worth your while. Oh, and please don’t take any risks or go it alone or you might find yourself floating out to the Aran Islands.
Find the plot: Old graveyards are fascinating places. If there is one near you, set yourself the challenge of finding all the notable people who are buried there and then pop in and say hello. We do say this knowing full well that we live within touching distance of Glasnevin Cemetery.
More treasures: Community groups across the country have been doing what they can to help people out with fun activities. We like, for instance what Ranelagh Arts have done. They have a Treasure Hunt Down Back Lanes and Alleys which can be accessed here: ranelagharts.ie. The clues are a set of photos of hidden “treasures” in Ranelagh and environs and is “less about brainwork than about footwork” and the only way to find the locations of the treasures is to explore the many the back lanes, alleys and hidden places of the Ranelagh area covered by the map. If you are in a community group and have the capacity to do something like this, it might be good fun and people would love you for it. If you do (or have done) something like this, do let us know – we’d be happy to spread the word.