Can you drive to Swinsty reservoir for a walk?
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Last updated Feb 2, 2021
Cars at Swinsty reservoir in summer last year.

It is a simple question: can I drive to beauty spots like Swinsty reservoir in the Harrogate district for exercise? But a clear answer appears elusive.

Harrogate Borough Council’s newsletter last week said:

“Driving to the other side of the district, into the Nidderdale AONB or to either of the national parks is not acceptable.  If you do, you run the risk of a fine.”

Swinsty, Fewston and Lindley Wood reservoirs — popular spots with walkers and dog owners — are all located within Nidderdale AONB and the council’s comments prompted a fierce debate on Twitter.

Some questioned whether legally people could in fact be fined.

Another person tweeted it was ‘bizarre’ that you could join ‘droves of people in Valley Gardens but a quick hop up to deserted Nidderdale is risky and the coppers might fine you’.

But others said there had been a huge increase in local walkers and supported fines.

Today the Stray Ferret attempted to get clarity.

We approached the council, which said it was simply “amplifying North Yorkshire Police’s messaging about what local means”.


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North Yorkshire Police sent us two links when we asked for clarification.

The first was a quote from Superintendent Mike Walker, who leads the force’s response to covid:

“If the officer finds that the individual has travelled multiple miles to exercise and it’s outside of their local area, where there is plenty of provision and open spaces to exercise close to home, the officer has the option to encourage adherence or enforce the regulations dependant on the circumstances.”

There is no further explanation on how far “multiple miles” is. But Superintendent Walker adds that getting “embroiled in detail” can mean we “lose focus of the real reason we are being asked to limit movement”.

The second link referred to a reply by chief inspector Charlotte Bloxham to a resident’s question about what was classed as local travel.

“In relation to travelling for exercise it’s really clear that the message is to stay local in order to do that.

“You can exercise once a day and with one person from another household but the guidance is to stay local to reduce the spread of the virus.

“Local is defined as in your village, your town, your city or locality.

“We are not trying to be the fun police and try spoil people’s activities but it is for a really important reason.”

Some Twitter comments referred to recent guidance on the stay local message from the National Police Chiefs Council, which represents police chiefs.

“UK government guidance strongly requests that people do not leave their local area. However, the covid regulations which officers enforce and which enables them to issue fixed penalty notices for breaches, do not restrict the distance travelled for exercise.”

Government’s coronavirus guidance states:

“Outdoor exercise should be done locally where possible. But you can travel a short distance within your area to do so if necessary.

“For example, to access an open space.”


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