Putting the "great" in the great outdoors
There are 15 National Parks in Britain and they contain some of the nation's most beautiful and inspiring landscapes. They attract around 100 million visitors every year who flock to enjoy the leisure opportunities the parks provide.
You’ll find some of Britain’s best walking, cycling and horse riding locations and a whole host of other adventure activities. Add to these 15 national trails and nearly 50 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and you’ll find you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to exploring Britain’s famous countryside. The 15 National Parks are:
South West: Dartmoor | Exmoor
These two areas of moorland are beautiful, expansive, wind-scoured and truly wild. You can camp wild on Dartmoor and both are superb for walking and hiking, have unique species of pony and are excellent areas for horse riding.
South East: New Forest | South Downs
The New Forest National Park is celebrated for its ancient woodland and heathland first given protection by William the Conqueror nearly 1,000 years ago. Ponies graze on wild heaths speckled with purple heather and wild deer flit beneath gnarled oak and beech trees. To the east of the New Forest lie the South Downs, an area stretching 100 miles from the edge of Winchester to Beachy Head. It’s best known for its famous rolling downlands that lead to the white, sheer cliffs at Seven Sisters and Beachy Head.
East: The Broads
This great, flat expanse of Eastern England punctuated by wide expanses of water is one of the most important wetland areas in Europe. Its 125 miles of waterways are best navigated by boat and our peppered with great pubs, historic churches and distinctive windmills.
Heart of England: Peak District
Britain's first national park and Europe's busiest is a diverse landscape, comprising heather-sprayed moorland, murky limestone caves, gentle hills and gritstone outcrops. It straddles several counties in central northern England, is a centre for rock climbing and is the landscape that inspired Jane Austen.
North West: Lake District
From 16 sparkling lakes and England’s highest mountains, to sheltered valleys and salty seascapes, Cumbria and the Lake District have inspired and captivated generations of visitors and famous writers and poets such as William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter. But there’s more to see than just scenery. The area has a rich heritage to discover, a vibrant and contemporary cultural scene, and a growing reputation for fine food and drink.
North East: Northumberland | North York Moors | Yorkshire Dales
Listen to the call of the upland birds, saunter through picturesque villages of honey sandstone, build sandcastles or sit and watch the world go by. All around are the signs of past generations - historic abbeys, embattled castles, churches, crosses and ancient trackways. Northumberland National Park stretches from Hadrian’s Wall to the Scottish border while the North York Moor spread westwards from the east coast of Yorkshire. The Yorkshire Dales park straddles the central Pennines in the counties of North Yorkshire and Cumbria and is a favourite destination for walkers, cyclists and horse-riders.
Central Highlands: Cairngorms
Explore one of the last real wildernesses in Europe, home to red deer, osprey and golden eagle. Its mountains, glens and shimmering lochs have inspired generations of visitors and for many its stark grandeur is the quintessential Scottish landscape.
Central: Loch Lomond and the Trossachs
The ‘bonnie bonnie banks’ of Loch Lomond as immortalised in song and verse are a true taste of the Scottish Highlands just under an hour from Glasgow. Take a steamer across the loch, climb lofty Ben Lomond, visit Rob Roy’s grave or try local whisky at the Loch Lomond Distillery.
Wales’ famous uplands are known for their craggy mountains, brooding natural landscapes and grey-green slate villages. You’ll also find secluded valleys, Snowdonia’s famous heritage steam railways and some of Britain’s most imposing castles.
South: Brecon Beacons
The Brecon Beacons National Park is an area of spectacular landscape that covers 542 square miles in Mid Wales. Stretching from Hay-on-Wye in the east to Llandeilo in the west, it includes four ranges of mountains; the Black Mountains, the Central Beacons, Fforest Fawr and the Black Mountain (Mynydd Du). Don’t miss the charming village of Crickhowell and Abergavenny, renowned for its food festival.
South East: Pembrokeshire
Britain's only truly coastal national park is a sweeping crescent of jagged cliffs, sandy beaches, wooded estuaries and wild hills, a place of sanctuary for wildlife and a centre for water sports. You’ll also find Britain’s smallest city, the charming St David’s, and the 186 mile Pembrokeshire Coast Path that boasts some of Britain’s best sea views.
The 15 national trails of England and Wales provide walkers, cyclists and horse riders with around 2,500 miles (4,000km) of long distance paths extending through Britain’s countryside.
They have been constructed by joining existing paths and trails together to give maximum access to outdoor spaces traversing some of the finest natural landscapes in England and Wales, including national parks and ‘areas of outstanding natural beauty’. In Scotland there are 4 equivalent trails known as ‘long distance routes’.
For anyone interested in cycling, walking or horse riding, the trails provide a fantastic leisure resource and are well worth a visit.
Visit the National Trails site.
‘precious landscapes whose distinctive character and natural beauty are so outstanding that it is in the nation's interest to safeguard them.’
Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) landscapes range from coastline to water meadows, and there are 40 in England and Wales (35 in England, 4 in Wales and 1 which straddles the border) and 9 in Northern Ireland.
If it is natural beauty you seek, areas of outstanding natural beauty are bound to please.