Getting to Know the National Parks
Known as ‘Britain's breathing spaces’, there are fifteen National Parks across the UK, full of rolling hills, rugged coastline, stunning mountains and ancient woodland. Every visit to a National Park is special and memorable and we have a guide to some of these splendorous places to help you get the most from your trip:
The only national park in the east is the Norfolk Broads, one of the country’s biggest inland waterways stretching across 200 square kilometres. The best way to explore this unique wetlands waterscape is by boat, and visitors can hire one and navigate themselves or buy tickets for a guided tour through this wondrous environment. Punctuated by attractive villages such as Oulton Broad, the Broads are home to rare bird species like the bittern and marsh harrier, so have your binoculars at the ready.
Stretching from Winchester in Hampshire to Eastbourne in Sussex, the South Downs is the largest of the national parks in the south of England. Its chalky hills are great for walking and cycling and offer fantastic views of the surrounding countryside and the sea as you head down towards Sussex. The other national park in this part of the world is the New Forest, characterised by ancient woodland and rolling heathland.
Formally, a royal hunting forest, Exmoor is a national park stretching across north Devon and Somerset and is known for its deer and other wildlife. Made up of woodland, valleys and farmland, Exmoor has a dramatic coastline with cliffs overlooking the Bristol Channel – Great Hangman at 800ft is the highest sea cliff in England. If you’re feeling peckish order a cream tea in one of the park’s pretty villages.
Nearby Dartmoor in south Devon has 450 miles of public rights of way, offering a myriad of walking routes. The national park also has cycle routes, both on and off road, and options for kayaking climbing, and horse-riding.
In Derbyshire and South Yorkshire, the Peak District was the first designated national park in 1951. It offers great walking country and is home to famous hills such Kinder Scout and Mam Tor. Beyond the countryside, there are picturesque towns like Bakewell and Buxton, while the beautiful village of Hathersage has one of the nicest heated outdoor swimming pools you will hope to find – complete with 1930s bandstand.
The North York Moors is another national park that combines fantastic countryside with iconic buildings and welcoming villages. Among the rolling moors and woodland there are the atmospheric ruins of Rievaulx Abbey and the majestic stately home of Castle Howard. The old coastal smuggling village of Robin Hood’s Bay is also well worth a visit.
The Lake District in Cumbria needs no introduction with its spectacular combination of hills and water. Wander lonely as cloud across Wordsworth country, famous for lakes such as Windermere, Coniston and Ullswater.
Stretching across the top of England is the Northumberland National Park where the Cheviot Hills offer stunning views. Visitors can pick their way along the remarkable Hadrian’s Wall – a World Heritage Site – that runs from the Cumbrian coast in the west to the Northumberland coast in the east.
There are three national parks in Wales including the Brecon Beacons, which offers a real taste of the outdoors with more besides. Additional attractions here include Llangorse Lake, the largest in Wales, and Blaenavon World Heritage Site – a preserved ironworks and coalmine where visitors can take a tour underground.
The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park has a rugged coastline famed for its wondrous coves and beaches while inland there are Iron Age forts to visit.
Snowdonia National Park is a land of woods, mountains and lakes boasting the highest mountain peak in England and Wales. At 1,085 metres above sea level, there are many ways to ascend Snowdon including the mountain railway, which offers passengers a leisurely five mile journey to the summit.