Further Easing of Covid-19 Walking Restrictions

As the idea of walking a little further than we’ve been used to over the past 10 weeks or so starts to take shape, we will soon be able to spread our wings a little further and enjoy walks that have remained out of bounds for so long.

Union Wood, Sligo is open again – photo Deirdre Kennedy

As the next phase of Covid-19 restrictions is due to be lifted next Monday, June 8th, this will allow small groups who are not from the same family to gather for exercise, while adhering to certain constraints. Also, the travel restrictions will increase from 5km to 20km, enabling people to travel further from home than before. For people interested in walking, this change in the travel restrictions will be most welcome, enabling people to walk much further, or drive to walks which were previously outside of their 5km limit.

Walks in Sligo which have been closed off during the recent shutdown include Ben Bulben Forest Walk at Gortarowey, Union Wood near Collooney and Hazelwood. The good news for walkers is that these walks are now open, although people are reminded to maintain social distancing measures at all times.

One serious issue which has come to prominence due to the recent prolonged spell of dry weather has been an increase in the number of forest fires nationwide. Many of these may be started by accident, a discarded piece of glass may be an accidental way to start a fire if the sun’s reflection is strong enough. We have already had several incidents in Sligo involving forest fires this month and need to take great care in the current dry spell.

The Sligo to Ballina road was closed due to forest fire – photo Sligo County Council

If walking in the forest, please ensure you take no chances in relation to the lighting of fires for any reason. If you see any evidence of a forest fire, please inform the authorities as soon as possible by ringing the emergency services on 112, don’t assume someone else has already done so. Coillte remind us that under no circumstances should you approach a forest fire, they can spread quickly and are extremely dangerous. RED alerts for forest fires have been extended by Coillte until July 16th, so be vigilant.

A further layer of Covid-19 restrictions is due to be lifted on June 29th, making that month the only one so far with 2 such announcements, indicating the quickening pace of the lifting of restrictions as part of the roadmap recommended by the health authorities. All of that comes with the caveat that Government decisions could quickly be reversed if infection numbers begin to rise again or there is a general lack of adherence to what is permitted at the time.

And in that regard, urban areas, and in particular Dublin, are causing most cause for concern. While we are fortunate to have plenty of space in which to move, the restrictions are more problematic for large conurbations where lots of people vie for the same space.

It’s very hard to point the finger of blame at teenage groups or young children, who, having spent so many weeks in lockdown, and now tempted to spread their wings, even if it comes with an increase in risk. But the evidence being posted on social media of groups of young people congregating to drink alcohol in public parks is alarming. Other measures like allowing young children to cycle in public parks, while understandable, are also currently prohibited in certain locations, so it falls on parents to ensure that these simple guidelines are adhered to while they remain in force.

Another additional change to the lockdown will enable GAA clubs to allow walking to take place around the perimeter of their playing pitches, where they have clearly outlined walks that will enable social distancing to remain in place. And while we await decisions on the return of matches themselves, this will enable people who prior to the lockdown used the GAA facilities to return, bringing, as it will, some kind of regularity to their exercise.

The easing of restrictions is great news, but comes with the warning that we have to remain vigilant in every way and respect the restrictions that remain in place. The experts tell us that Covid-19 could be around for a very long time, and therefore we need to find new ways of using our public recreational spaces. So plan your walk, avoid places and times where it will be busy, and most of all, be constantly vigilant to ensure that you don’t put yourself, the people you are with, or the general public, at any risk.

For details on the best walks in Sligo, visit SligoWalks.ie.