Can I go climbing and hill walking in Wales?

Posted by Elfyn Jones on 13/05/2020
Can you go hill walking and climbing in Wales?

As lockdown evolves, access to the outdoors is now changing. However, this is still different in England, Wales and Scotland. In Wales, the emphasis and the law is still to stay at home unless you have a “reasonable excuse” to do so, and whether you can go climbing or hill-walking is unclear.

Exercise is rightly considered a “reasonable excuse”, and the good news is that the limit on how much daily exercise can be undertaken has been removed. However, that exercise must be within an area that is local to where you live, and should be undertaken either alone or with other members of your household. Whether you can go climbing or hill-walking is unclear.

The regulations in Wales are very different from those in England. In Wales, all non-essential travel is still prohibited, and Welsh Government and Police Forces have made it explicitly clear that travel from England to Wales, and within Wales, for the purpose of exercise is against the law and they will be robustly enforcing this, including issuing fines and even court action if necessary.

The Welsh Government’s guidance

The situation regarding what type of exercises are allowed and what it’s possible to do “locally” has changed in the guidance issued by Welsh Government on May 11th. Despite that, the basic advice from Welsh Government remains the same: to stay local and stay home.

The regulations now state that it’s allowed to have unlimited amount of times to exercise away from the home (previously this was restricted to once a day), while the amended guidance no longer limits exercise to just walking, cycling and running. The old guidance specifically limited exercise to “low risk” activities, quoting the example of swimming or other similar activities on open water as being not allowed.

The new guidance, issued by Welsh Government late on May 11th, now states that:

“The form of exercise is not specified in the regulations, but in practice this is constrained by other restrictions that have been imposed……….and the overarching prohibition (which derives from regulation 8) on unnecessary travel. As one of the purposes of the restrictions is to reduce pressure on the Welsh NHS, our advice is that people should not undertake forms of exercise that involve a significant degree of risk”.

The BMC has already made the case in our Recovery Plan that activities such as bouldering and sports climbing do not statistically pose a significant risk, with Mountain Rescue England and Wales only reporting a total of 55 callouts involving rock climbers throughout England and Wales for the whole of 2017.

Welsh Government guidance states, “The intention is that exercise should be undertaken locally – as close as possible to the home.  In general, this should not involve people driving to a location away from home for this purpose.  No journeys of any significant distance should be taken, for example, just in order to exercise in the countryside or at beauty spots (many of which are closed in any event to prevent this).”

Welsh Government state that “Our laws are clear that you must exercise alone or with members of your household” and they have produced a useful  Question & Answer document to explain what is and isn't permissable. 

Can I go hill walking or climbing in Wales?

The BMC believes that if you are able to access a mountain or hill area directly from your home and that if that area is not within the closed areas of national parks, the implication from the guidance is that the activity of hill-walking or low-risk climbing activites falls within the guidance.

The guidance does not explicitly allow or not allow any particular form of excercise.  Having said that, the regulations in Wales surrounding social distancing are more stringent, and excercise can only  be undertaken alone or with a member of your household. You cannot meet up with another person outside of your home for excercise in Wales and the 2m social distancing regulation is legally enforcable. Gatherings of more than two people are illegal and groups of climbers or boulderers at a climbing venue would attract attention and could involve police action. 

Many car parks and even climbing venues remain closed and are on private land where sensitive and hard earned negotiations have been required to secure access in the past and where climbers might not be welcome at this time. 

Scale back your ambitions: be cautious, choose objectives within your technical and physical limits to minimise the risk of accidents and injury. 

Avoid very popular areas: seek out less frequented venues, be flexible and have backup plans to avoid overcrowding.

We are urging all climbers, boulderers and hill-walkers to act responsibly and to please follow the guidance, which we believe will limit the spread of the virus, protect our emergency services and maintain the reputation of our sport. There is a significant chance that if people act irresponsibly, we could see a return of some restrictions, so please continue to do your part for the good of everyone and to support our local communities across Wales.

Current instruction from Welsh Government is that every outdoor sports or activity has to submit a plan, in conjunction with other outdoor sector bodies to Sports Wales and Welsh Government to make the case for the reinstatement of that activity.

The BMC has already produced a plan for mountaineering and climbing activities and submitted this to Welsh Government and the indication is that full resumption of all outdoor activities may have to wait until the current lockdown phase in Wales is reviewed by government on 28 May before they can proceed.

In addition, many popular destinations remain legally closed.

Most open access areas and upland areas of the Brecon Beacons National Parks, the most popular areas of Snowdonia (including the Ogwen Valley and Llanberis Pass) and the Pembrokeshire Coast remain closed for all activities and even local travel to those areas is prohibited.

More information on the situation in England


More FAQs about the BMC and Covid-19

🌳 Can I start climbing / hillwalking? Yes, but be cautious in your actions, respectful of local communities and vigilant in avoiding transmitting the virus. Read our latest advice for June here and for the general return to climbing here

🌳 What's the situation in Wales? Read the full June update here

😷 When and how will the walls reopen?  Read the ABC's advice for walls and watch their live update here

🚗 What have the BMC access team been doing during this time? Read on

📜 Will the BMC keep running smoothly? Read more or watch our weekly live updates from our CEO

🏡 Do you have any advice for clubs and huts? All you need to know

⛰️ Which BMC events are cancelled? Take a look at our calendar 

✈️ I've got a travel insurance question Get your answers

🛒 Is the BMC shop open? Nope - it is now closed

We hope you stay safe during this unwanted adventure and let's come together as a community to help and support each other.


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