Things to do at home: Learn the secrets of happiness, watch a Royal Opera House performance and tour a great British garden

What you need to do about walking your dog, caring for horses and other pets, during the Covid-19 pandemic.


Every Wednesday morning, Country Life runs a round-up of the best things to see, do and book over the next few weeks. We’ve been doing it for years. Now, however, every event on the calendar has been cancelled or postponed, so we’ve put together a list of things that you can still do, while still keeping yourself and your family safe.

Stay safe, keep well, and we hope that the suggestions below — always to be considered in line wit the government’s official advice on keeping safe during the Covid-19 outbreak — will help you stay sane and fulfilled, at least as far as possible.


Watch an opera

Every Friday, the Royal Opera House premieres a full-length version of one of their operas or ballets on their YouTube channel — part of their #OurHouseToYourHouse initiative to encourage people to stay at home and entertain them during the lockdown.

The series started with a narrated version of Peter & The Wolf danced by the pupils of the Royal Ballet School — perfect for children as well as adults. For die-hard opera fans, the following Friday brought the 2009 staging of Handel’s great pastoral opera, Acis and Galatea, conducted by Christopher Hogwood.

View this post on Instagram

We’re very excited about our second free broadcast taking place this Friday, Acis and Galatea. The piece is a rare collaboration between The Royal Opera and The Royal Ballet, directed by acclaimed choreographer Wayne McGregor. Handel’s work is a tale of love, tragedy and liberation with the eternal love between mortal shepherd Acis and goddess Galatea doomed by the jealous cyclops Polyphemus. The distinguished cast includes Danielle de Niese, Charles Workman, Lauren Cuthbertson and Edward Watson, with Christopher Hogwood conducting the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Catch it on 3 April at 7pm BST on our Facebook page or YouTube channel – keep an eye on our feeds for more announcements coming soon and subscribe to our YouTube channel to stay up to date. #OurHouseToYourHouse

A post shared by Royal Opera House (@royaloperahouse) on

Coming up next for a bit of light relief is Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte, which premieres on April 10 (online, that is — the original recording is from 2010, with Thomas Hengelbrock as a conductor, with Maria Bengtsson as Fiordiligi, Jurgita Adamonytė as Dorabella and Pavol Breslik and Stéphane Degout as Ferrando and Guglielmo, respectively.

The performances remain available to watch on the Royal Opera House’s YouTube channel well after they have been first screened. And there’s another major plus: unless you consistently managed to nab top stall seats at ROH, you’ll have never enjoyed a better view.


Learn something new — including the secrets of happiness

Whether you are interested in particle physics or Buddhism and modern psychology, a wide range of courses and lectures is available online — mostly for free. Digital course provider Coursera has hundreds of options from some of the world’s leading universities and educational institutions, including Yale’s famous ‘happiness course’, or ‘The Science of Well-Being’, as it’s officially known. The course, created by by Professor Laurie Santos, was wildly popular among undergraduates at Yale before going online (over 30 million people have tried it) and seems a perfect tonic for the times.

Yale is far from the only big-name university sharing knowledge like this. London colleges including Imperial, the University of London, the University of Edinburgh, as well as American giants like Yale, Princeton and Stanford. The vast majority is free unless you want a certificate of completion.

If you’d rather explore a specific topic in depth — say, for example, the wines of California, watercolour techniques or the history of Steppes warriors — The Great Courses Plus bring you experts from the National Geographic, the Smithsonian Institute and the History Channel. Their options have a slight American bend and require payment — but they are well-regarded courses and the first 14 days are free.

For those who’d rather learn through books than watch videos or listen to lectures, the Internet Archive has made available their library of 1.4 million books across the world for free. This is a temporary measure, in place until the end of June, to make up for the fact that people cannot access their local libraries. However, you may want to note that the Authors’ Guild object to this as some books are still in-copyright, so you might prefer to stick to downloading only the older, public domain material.


Tour some of the great gardens of Britain — and the world

Many of the finest gardens in Britain are at their apogee right now, which makes it a terrible shame that they’re closed to visitors. Some, however, offer a way of enjoying their sights and sounds (if  not their smells) from the comfort of your own living room. Waddesdon Manor has an extensive online garden tour with audio commentary from their experts, while the RHS offers lovely virtual tours of spots such as Wisley.

Of course, if you’re visiting from your armchair you need not be constrained by the borders of Britain. The New York Botanical Garden has some great virtual tour videos; though though they are, understandably, produced as jazzily as you might expect from our friends across the pond. Gardener’s World it ain’t.


Sing along to a West End musical

Ever felt the urge to sing along with the actors at a West End musical? Now you can belt out your favourite songs at leisure because there will be no other audience except you (and perhaps your family and pets, so make sure they don’t object). Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber and Universal have teamed up to stream a full-length classic by the musicals maestro every Friday. Each show stays live for 48 hours, giving people the opportunity to watch it at the weekend.

The first was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and coming up is Jesus Christ Superstar. But perhaps the greatest screening of all will be By Jeeves, the one Lloyd Webber musical that flopped and is therefore virtually impossible to catch in a theatre. ‘I’m very very fond of it, and so will you,’ says Lord Lloyd Webber. Performances are available on the newly launched The Show Must Go On channel on YouTube.


Take part in Birdwatch

The RSPB is currently running a ‘Breakfast Birdwatch’, taking place between 8-9am weekdays — a time when many of us would have been commuting to work, doing the school run, or otherwise unable to enjoy nature.

The organisation’s nature reserves are closed, but they’re encouraging people to share pictures, videos and questions regarding birds spotted either in the garden, from the window or while out for your daily exercise. There’s a Facebook and Twitter page with a hashtag, #BreakfastBirdwatch, which will help them, share and respond to your messages.


Enjoy the greatest art in history

While getting out to the nation’s art galleries isn’t an option at the moment, many of them have superb online tours so that you can ‘visit’ from home — by which we mean your computer, tablet or phone.

Top of the list is the National Gallery’s online tour, which uses Google’s street view system to let you wander the halls and enjoy the masterpieces which are currently behind locked doors. They’re not the only ones, however, by any means: even some smaller galleries have similar things, such as Martin Yeoman’s latest show.

View this post on Instagram

🎨 Happy birthday to Vincent van Gogh, born #OnThisDay in 1853. Today van Gogh is one of the most popular of the Post-Impressionist painters, although he was not widely appreciated during his lifetime. He is now famed for the great vitality of his works which are characterised by expressive and emotive use of brilliant colour and energetic application of impastoed paint. Van Gogh painted several versions of 'A Wheatfield, with Cypresses' during the summer of 1889, while he was a patient in the psychiatric hospital of Saint-Paul de Mausole, in the village of St-Rémy in the south of France. The landscape includes typically Provençal motifs such as a golden wheat field, tall evergreen cypresses, an olive bush and a backdrop of the blue Alpilles mountains. Van Gogh wrote of painting outdoors during the summer mistral, the strong, cold wind of southern France, which here seems to animate the entire landscape. Everything is depicted with powerful rhythmic lines and swirling brushstrokes that convey Van Gogh’s sense of nature’s vitality. We are temporarily closed until 4 May 2020 as a precautionary measure to help contain the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Visit our website for the most up to date information. Vincent van Gogh, 'A Wheatfield, with Cypresses', 1889 © The National Gallery, London. #vincentvangogh #vangogh #wheatfield #wheatfieldwithcypresses #nationalgallery #nationalgallerylondon #museumfromhome

A post shared by National Gallery (@nationalgallery) on

Some options go even further. The British museum has a virtual tour can connect to a 3D virtual reality headset, but in the absence of one of those we found it fiddly getting it to work on a normal computer.

Far simpler is Google’s art and culture page, which features more than 500 museums and galleries around the world — including the most famous galleries in cities such as London, New York and Paris — with a number of key works from each.

Walking the dog

Unless you’re showing symptoms or self-isolating, you’re allowed to leave the house, once a day, for exercise. Dog owners can, and should, take their dogs with them. If you’re in a household with more than one adult, the Kennel Club’s advice suggests that the adults go at separate times in order that the dog can enjoy more than one bout of exercise.

Those who are self-isolating should either exercise the dog in the garden if they have one, or try to make arrangements for somebody else to exercise their dogs — some dog-walking services are offering to walk the dogs of the vulnerable.

Beyond that, the Kennel Club also has tips on exercising dogs in your home, from playing hide-and-seek to making home-made toys and games.

Those worrying about the health of dogs or any other pets should call their vet — only emergencies are being seen at the moment. A company called FirstVetwww.firstvet.com — is offering free video veterinary consultations until the end of April to help worried owners.

A Dogue de Bordeaux at the recent Crufts dog show at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham — hard to believe this was just a couple of weeks ago. Credit:AFP via Getty Images.

Horse yards are now being locked down across the country, with the horses being looked after by minimal staff. Those who are the sole carers of horses are permitted to carry on looking after them, and walking them if medically necessary, but nothing more — and in particular no riding, for fear of injury that could over-burden the NHS. Our sister publication Horse & Hound has more advice.

Here are some more suggestions for how to keep healthy in mind and spirit, based on current advice, and in the knowledge that, unfortunately, things will get worse before they get better.

Enjoy spring breaking out in the British countryside

As per government advice, you are allowed to leave your house once a day for one form of exercise. You should avoid travelling significant distance, but it’s a good chance to take a walk out into nature, while remaining 2 metres apart from any other walkers and never, ever stopping to chat.

For ‘armchair’ walking, Fiona Reynolds — who is Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge — wrote a wonderful article about walking Hadrian’s Wall. You should also check out our list of Fiona’s other walks around Britain.

Hadrians Wall near Houseteads Roman Fort, Vercovicium, Northumberland, England, United Kingdom

Hadrians Wall near Houseteads Roman Fort, Vercovicium, Northumberland, England, United Kingdom

Catch up on your reading

About as obvious a suggestion as there could be, of course, and yet we’d be remiss not to mention a few suggestions. The books section of the Country Life website has all sorts of interesting and unusual titles, not least in our recent round-up (which was a huge hit just after Christmas) of seven fascinating books which will change your understanding of the world.

It’s a perfect time for getting to grips with the doorstep-sized tomes which you’ve been putting off. Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy, recently concluded with The Mirror and the Light, is probably your starter for 10.

Dream about your next house

The property market leapt into a new gear following the general election at the end of last year — not necessarily due to any enthusiasm for the outcome, but mainly because it seemed to have brought some certainty back into what would happen this year.

How wrong we were — things are even crazier now than they were in the worst moments of 2019.

And yet, we know that this disruption won’t be permanent, so if you are thinking of moving in 2020 then there’s no reason not to keep looking for property around the nation. Getting out and about for viewings might be complicated — those in vulnerable categories will of course have to put any such thoughts on hold for a while — but it’s a perfect time to delve into Country Life’s property articles or the the 600,000+ property listings at countrylife.onthemarket.com.

If you want to move but aren’t sure where to head, see our guides to the 50 best places to live near London and where to live in the Cotswolds.

We also have regularly-updated round-ups, hand-picked by our editors to give a flavour of some of the best properties out there.

Get out into the garden

For keen gardeners, an enforced stay at home couldn’t have come at a much better time. Winter is at an end and the trees and flowers are set to burst into leaf and colour. It’s an ideal time— and while you should not go to a garden centre, many places will deliver plants by post these days.

We’ve got plenty of tips on the website for the green-fingered as well. Draw inspiration from some of Britain’s best gardens, or take tips from some of the nation’s top gardening experts — including Alan Titchmarsh, who writes regularly for Country Life.

Here are a few of our favourites from recent times:

Warnell Hall Gardens, Sebergham, Cumbria Photograph: Val Corbett/©Country Life Picture Library

Warnell Hall Gardens, Sebergham, Cumbria Photograph: Val Corbett/©Country Life Picture Library