People in Scotland are permitted to enjoy “unrestricted” outdoor exercise from tomorrow – but the message is still to stay local. Does that mean the mountains are back on the menu for some? Here’s the latest advice from outdoors organisations…

Scotland moves to the first phase of its lockdown exit plan tomorrow (Friday 29th May). Under the new rules, “unrestricted outdoors exercise adhering to distancing measures” is permitted, but there are still limits on travel. The Scottish Government’s COVID-19 Routemap states that people are “permitted to travel short distances for outdoor leisure and exercise but advised to stay within a short distance of your local community (broadly within 5 miles) and travel by walk (sic), wheel and cycle where possible.”

‘Further clarity required’

The advice coincides with hopes expressed by outdoors organisations to The Great Outdoors last month, but it will leave hillwalkers living in the central belt and larger cities disappointed. There was, however, a suggestion from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon last week that some flexibility could apply to the 5-mile travel limit and that the main aim was to reduce the pressure on outdoor hotspots.

“Five miles isn’t going to be a strict limit, but is intended to give you a guide because what we don’t want in this phase is for people to congregate at tourist hotspots,” she said.

In the light of this, Mountaineering Scotland has asked for further clarification on what is acceptable in terms of travel. CEO Stuart Yonnie said: “The next few weeks are going to be hard, particularly for our members living in the central belt and larger cities. They have had limited opportunity to enjoy the outdoors during lockdown and further clarity is required.”

‘Take it easy’

If you’re lucky enough to meet the travel guidelines then, in the words of Scottish Mountain Rescue, “welcome back”. Those planning to explore the hills on the doorstep this weekend, however, may want to exercise an extra degree of caution.

“As the lockdown gradually eases in Scotland, we urge all walkers to take things easier than normal, always keeping our vital emergency services and rescue teams in mind,” Ramblers Scotland director Brendan Paddy told the BBC. “Ramblers Scotland is also encouraging walkers to plan ahead, as local hotspots may be busy or facilities closed, and to take extra care to be responsible, especially on farmland.”

Scottish Mountain Rescue has urged hillwalkers not to feel guilty if they need to call Mountain Rescue – but the organisation has also emphasised that rescues will be slower, with fewer people and less helicopter support. It has also urged people to be self-reliant. “Plan your day carefully, stick to the type of days that you know you have done safely for several years already. Be sensitive to any local community that you are visiting, they are also worried.”

While the organisation says that “a lot of work” has gone in to new procedures to try and make callouts as safe as possible, it remains “slightly nervous”, adding: “particularly if we get a sudden rush of rescues at any point, we may then struggle to cope.”