Five reasons to visit Britain’s National Parks

July heralds Britain’s National Parks Week (22-29), where an eclectic range of events, from seaside safaris, forest walks, family fun days and treasure trails, take place across our 15 National Parks. All boast diverse and ancient landscapes, communities with rich cultural roots going back thousands of years and are must-visit destinations of natural beauty and tranquillity. Each is unique and special in its own way; here’s why a visit to Britain’s National Parks should be on your itinerary.

 

Cool ways to explore the countryside

Outdoor pursuits are ubiquitous throughout the National Parks, with a huge variety to experience. Enjoy boating? Head to the Broads National Park, where pleasure boating, especially on board a barge, has been part of life through its myriad of inland waterways since the early 19th century. Looking for an activity to get that adrenaline pumping? The Lake District National Park boasts the highest concentration of outdoor activity centres in the UK – check out Honister, an innovative adventure attraction (and also England’s last working slate mine) for a brilliant buzz. Neighbouring Yorkshire Dales National Park is famed for its limestone geology, making it one of the best places in the UK for caving and potholing. And the only coastal national park, the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park in west Wales, is perfect for watersports from coasteering and surfing to sailing and kayaking. 

 

The chance to spot rare wildlife
Bring those binoculars…because the National Parks are home to rare and endangered species of wildlife. Scotland’s Cairngorms National Park – the largest of all the parks – is home to high plateaux with the rarest habitats and is the most southerly site in Europe for snow buntings. In fact, one in four of the UK’s endangered species have their home in this park, such as the golden eagle. Down on England’s east coast, in the Broads National Park, a quarter of Britain’s rarest species have their home here, while around 20 per cent of Wales’ Snowdonia National Park is specially designated by UK and European law to protect its distinctive wildlife. That includes the Snowdon Lily and the Snowdon beetle (both unique to Snowdon). And native wildlife often gives a National Park real character; check out the Dartmoor Ponies, a part of the Dartmoor National Park’s cultural heritage, and the iconic New Forest Ponies roaming free in the woods of the New Forest National Park.

 

Be inspired by contrasting landscapes
There are such varied landscapes within each National Park that depending on which area of each park you’re in you’ll find a wealth of distinctive environments. The Brecon Beacons National Park in south Wales, for example, is a mix of caves, gorges and waterfalls, hilltops, cliffs and broad valleys, as well as farmed landscapes, lakes and rivers. While down in the south-west of England, Exmoor National Park is one of heather and grass moors, wooded valleys, wonderful coastal views and upland farms. Exmoor is an International Dark Sky Park, as is Northumberland National Park in the north east of England; plus, the latter’s landscape is so geographically important, there are five Sites of Special Scientific Interest here, such as its volcanic and glacial features.

 

You’ll be stepping onto a film set
You might just recognise some of our National Parks’ landscapes and features from the silver screen, and from the pages of legendary novels and poems. The Peak District National Park in central England, for example, has been used many times as a film location, thanks to its multitude of magnificent stately homes – Chatsworth has starred in Pride & Prejudice, as has Lyme Hall; Haddon Hall was the background setting to Jane Eyre, Elizabeth and Moll Flanders while North Lees Hall, as well as appearing in Jane Eyre and Pride & Prejudice, starred in The Other Boleyn Girl. Elsewhere, Dartmoor’s landscape appeared in Steven Spielberg’s War Horse, while the Lake District is famously the inspiration for Romantic poets Wordsworth and Coleridge and children’s authors Beatrix Potter and Arthur Ransome.

 

Stay in unique accommodation
You’ll find everything from campsites to charming B&Bs, cosy inns and luxury hotels throughout National Parks, as well as accommodation that’s rather extraordinary. In Scotland’s Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park wild camping is permitted in certain sections, an incredible way to experience the true beauty of the nature. Experience a glamping site with a difference at the North York Moors National Park at La Rosa campsite and stay in gypsy caravans with décor ranging from circus-themed, fairy tale themed, ‘psycho candy’ (all pink) and 1970s funky Africa! At the opposite end of Britain, on the edge of the beautiful South Downs National Park in south England – the country’s youngest national park – you can even stay on a 1964 Routemaster London double decker bus in Blackberry Wood, kitted out with sleeping, kitchen and dining areas!

 

Spotlight on: Peak District National Park

  • The Peak District was the first designated National Park in Britain, in 1951.
  • The park stretches into five counties: Derbyshire, Cheshire, Staffordshire, Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, meaning it’s accessible from the cities of Manchester, Sheffield, Derby and Nottingham.
  • With 1,600 miles of public rights of way across footpaths, bridleways and tracks, this is great walking country. Love cycling? Hit the park’s 65 miles of off-road dedicated cycling and walking trails, with cycle-hire centres at Ashbourne, Parsley Hay, Derwent Valley and Middleton Top. It also boasts a treasure trove of disused railways to explore – the park owns 34 miles of them at High Peak Trail, Tissington Trail and Monsal Trail.
  • Head to the medieval market town of Bakewell, home to one of the UK’s most important agricultural markets. Make sure you try its famous Bakewell puddings (flaky pastry base, moist almond and jam filling, said to be invented by lucky mistake by an 18th-century kitchen maid).
  • The National Park has 2,900 listed buildings, including the world-renowned stately homes of Chatsworth, the medieval Haddon Hall, the Norman Peveril Castle, Bakewell’s medieval bridge as well as centuries-old farm-buildings and cottages.
  • There are plenty of interesting villages to explore. Castleton is famous for its caverns, and the “shivering mountain” of Mam Tor, Winnats Pass and Peveril Castle. Then there’s Eyam (“plague village”), Hathersage (reputed grave-site of Robin Hood’s friend Little John), Tideswell (14th century “cathedral of the Peak”), Ilam (Swiss-style architecture), Ashford-in-the-Water (classic English riverside village), and Tissington (Tissington Hall and close to Tissington Trail).
  • The Peak District has a distinctive custom to look out for: well dressing! Originally a pagan ceremony to honour water gods, it’s now a summer tradition in dozens of villages. Different villages decorate their wells or springs with natural, ephemeral pictures made of flowers, petals, seeds, twigs, nuts and berries, pressed into soft clay held in wooden frames. Well dressing weeks also include carnivals and streets decorated with bunting.

Stunning Scotland walks to do this summer

Scotland’s majestic highlands and lowlands, magnificent coastline and picturesque national parks guarantee scenery to take your breath away. So why not pull on a pair of good walking shoes, pack up a picnic and head out on an invigorating walk to drink in these incredible views. We bring you just a few of the best to embark on as we look forward to those long summer days.

 

Lady Mary’s Walk, Crieff, Perthshire

Short distance

Verdant woodland and tranquil riverside views along the banks of the River Earn greet walkers along this pretty four-mile track. Named after Lady Mary Murray, whose family were local early 19th-century landowners, the walk steers you past an old railway line, a small sandy beach and cute elements such as benches with poems carved into them. The variety of trees along the walk – some of which are more than 150 years old – is sublime, ranging from beech and oak to lime and sweet chestnut trees. See them in full bloom in the summer or come in the autumn for awesome canopies of burnished red and dazzling yellow. The walks also take you over Laggan Hill – a great stopping point to catch your breath and step back to admire the surrounding countryside.

Bring your camera for: the abundance of wildlife – otters, kingfishers, herons and oystercatchers all call this place home.

How to get there: The nearest rail stations are at Perth and Gleneagles – travel to either from Glasgow within an hour – then take a bus or hire a car to Crieff.

 

Loch Ness 360°, Highlands

Long distance

A new complete trail pathway looping around the entire circumference of this famous loch in the Scottish Highlands is due to be ready this summer, called Loch Ness 360°. The 3.6km section of the South Loch Ness Trail will link up with the Great Glen Way, which heads up the north side of the loch. Approximately 70 miles in total and marked clearly throughout, there are plenty of guesthouses and B&Bs to stay along the way – as well as some fantastic historic sites. The walk begins in Inverness, heads down the Great Glen Way on the north side of Loch Ness via Drumnadrochit and Invermoriston and over to the pretty town of Fort Augustus. From there pick up the South Loch Ness Trail and head back to Inverness.

Bring your camera for: When you spot Nessie of course! Also, for the sheer number of gorgeous views of Loch Ness itself.

How to get there: It takes around 25 minutes by bus from Inverness, itself 3.5 hours by train from Edinburgh.

 

John Muir Way, central Scotland

Long distance

Scotland is home to the remarkable 134 miles (216 kilometres) long John Muir Way, a coast-to-coast route where walkers encounter both beautiful scenery and a taste of Scotland’s ancient, industrial and urban landscapes. Although a long walk, there are plenty of places to stop along the way and most of the route is flat with easy gradients, plus a few hill climbs. You’ll pass by the Roman-built Antonine Wall barrier, once-abandoned canals and the famous banks of Loch Lomond. Most walkers journey west-east in ten stages, from coastal Helensburgh to Dunbar, where Muir himself (who was well known for championing the USA’s Yosemite National Park) grew up.

Bring your camera for: Views of the incredible engineering achievements of the Falkirk Wheel and Forth Rail Bridge.

How to get there: Direct trains link Helensburgh with Glasgow in 45 minutes, and Dunbar with Edinburgh in 25 minutes.

 

Arthurs Seat, Edinburgh

Short distance

A decent hill walk in the centre of a city is easily achieved in Scotland. Head up on this short walk from Edinburgh’s Royal Mile to Arthur’s Seat in the Scottish capital’s Holyrood Park. An ancient volcano, Arthur’s Seat sits 251 metres above sea level, resulting in amazing, panoramic views of Edinburgh below. You will need your energy to hike up to Arthur’s Seat so if you’re looking for a slightly easier walk with views out over the best of the city, walk the Salisbury Crags. However, if you choose to hike to Arthur’s Seat the rewards are great – as well as the views you can visit the 15th century St Anthony’s Chapel and Duddingston Loch.

Bring your camera for: the stunning views across Edinburgh.

How to get there: Bus or walk to Holyrood Park from the city centre.

 

Falls of Clyde and New Lanark, Lanarkshire, southern Scotland

Short distance

Discover powerful waterfalls and inviting riverside walks at the Falls of Clyde, which you can reach via the historic New Lanark UNESCO World Heritage Site. The route also takes walkers past a wooded gorge, fields and woodland as well as to a peregrine falcon watching area. Make sure you stop by at the visitor centre first to pick up interesting information about the area, as well as details on badger and bat walks and the many species of birds found here.

Bring your camera for: the viewpoint for the Corra Linn. This 27-metre waterfall was described by the famous 18th-century poet William Wordsworth as 'the Clyde's most majestic daughter'.

How to get there: The train takes an hour from Glasgow to Lanark, which is 1.5 miles/2.5 km from New Lanark, and then take the bus.

 

Loch Morlich, Cairngorms National Park, Highlands

Walking the loop around Loch Morlich, set in the heart of Glenmore Forest, offers extraordinary views of the northern Cairngorm mountains. This 3.75-mile route is all the more charming because of the sheer diversity of the natural surroundings; here you’ll experience a mountain backdrop, beaches to relax on when the sun shines, and pine-scented forests to explore.

Bring your camera for: the award-winning Loch Morlich Beach.

How to get there: Train to Aviemore from Glasgow in 2.5 hours and then a 20-minute bus or taxi.

Spend the year by the sea in Wales

Throughout 2018, Wales is celebrating the 'Year of the Sea' by highlighting the huge range of activities and ways to enjoy its white-sand beaches, endless sea views and 870 miles of picturesque coastline. So why not make this the year to indulge in some coastal Welsh adventures?

 

Outdoor pursuits

Wales is the birthplace of coasteering, a way of navigating the coastline without a boat or boards. There are numerous adrenaline-pumping adventures on offer such as rock-scrambling, seal-spotting, sea cave exploring and cliff jumping. The experienced guides at Celtic Quest Coasteering in Pembrokeshire will tailor your experience to be as mild or as wild as you like it.

As a playground for water sports, Wales also offers everything from kitesurfing and paragliding to paddleboarding and wild swimming. Or why not take a boat trip to one of the 50 Welsh islands that lie off the coastline?

 

Nature and conservation

Get to know the local wildlife with a Seacoast Safaris cruise where sightings include the distinctive residents of Puffin Island; keep your eyes peeled and you might also spot seals, porpoises and dolphins along the way.

Visit the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre, managed by The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, to learn more about Welsh marine life. Join one of their dolphin survey research trips, and you can even listen to these sociable mammals via an underwater microphone.

Gaze at the Stack Rocks and Green Bridge of Wales where centuries of crashing sea water has carved the dramatic rock arch and pillars. Access is via an army tank range, so check it's open before you visit. 

For an equestrian fix, enjoy a scenic horse ride along Druidston Haven beach with Nolton Stables; the secluded sandy stretch is bordered by cliff formations and rock caves.

 

Soft adventures on land

Walk, jog or cycle the 870-mile Wales Coast Path, the world’s first uninterrupted route along a national coast. Admire the beaches, estuaries, cliffs, and woodlands; wander the urban waterfronts and docks, or explore coastal fortresses such as Manorbier Castle in Tenby.

At the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea, you can also find out about the country's industrial history and the pirates who famously roamed the Welsh seas.

 

Where to relax

Head to Portmeirion, made famous in quirky 1960s drama The Prisoner. Set in a designated conservation area, this charming Italianate-style village on the coast of Snowdonia National Park in north Wales overlooks the River Dwyryd estuary, and is home to numerous independent cafés, shops and Snowdonia’s only spa.

Soak up the sun or enjoy a windswept walk along some of Wales’ 230 beaches. The National Trust look after 157 miles of it; visit the website for their pick of the top shorelines to explore.

 

Savour the sea

If you like your food with a view, book a table at Coast restaurant on Coppet Hall beach near the village of Saundersfoot in Pembrokeshire, which serves up fresh fish and seafood alongside uninterrupted views over Carmarthen Bay.

Langland’s Brasserie in Swansea is nestled right on the seafront and is home to delicious locally sourced food with stunning views of the bay. The fish and seafood platter is a favourite with diners.

For modern bistro food with a side order of sea views, dine at AA Restaurant of the Year for 2017-18 Beach House Restaurant, overlooking Swansea’s Oxwich Bay. 

 

Coastal events

Set up 21 years ago by a group of fisherman who wanted to highlight the local seafood, Cardigan Bay Seafood Festival, which takes place this year on Sunday 8 July, is the perfect event to sample fresh Welsh fare.

On Friday 13 July, join the annual Wales Swim at Tenby’s North Beach, where swimmers tackle a 1.2 or a 2.4-mile course in one of the country’s biggest open water swimming events.