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.

60 minutes from… Edinburgh

If you’re coming to Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh, this summer to enjoy the world’s largest arts festival, you’ll simultaneously discover why it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as why it’s one of Britain’s greatest foodie destinations and nightlife hotspots. Yet its proximity to gorgeous beaches, a romantic castle or two, and another of Scotland’s incredible cities means travelling an hour or less out of the city will lead you to discover the sheer diversity of Scotland’s landscapes, heritage and culture all on one day trip.

 

The Borders

Picturesque coastlines in the east and rugged hills and moorlands in the west greet you at the Scottish Borders (bordering northern England), all of which is easily reached thanks to the Borders Railway, which connects Edinburgh all the way to the Borders town of Tweedbank in less than an hour. Have your camera at the ready on this lovely rail journey as you pass by iconic architectural gems such as the Lothianbridge and Redbridge viaducts. Alight at Tweedbank to visit Abbotsford House, the home of famed writer Sir Walter Scott; this romantic mansion was built during the early decades of the 19th century, and very much reflects the tastes of one of this era’s most prominent authors. Close by is the attractive town of Melrose, not only the home of the magnificent 12th-century Melrose Abbey but also to two National Trust for Scotland gardens; Priorwood, which has Scotland’s only dedicated dried flower garden and Harmony Gardens, a beautiful walled garden with breathtaking views over the abbey and the nearby Eildon Hills.

 

Glasgow

Did you know that Edinburgh, the capital, and Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, are only an hour apart? A lively, creative city, Glasgow is renowned for its mighty industrial heritage and world-class shopping as well as its vibrant arts, culture and music scene; it’s a UNESCO City of Music. Discover why it won this status on a Glasgow Music City Tour, while fans of street art should check out Glasgow’s first dedicated tour to the genre, the City Centre Mural Trail. Football lovers can take tours of the world-famous Rangers and Celtic Football Clubs, while you can discover the city’s artistic and industrial legacy across inspirational museums such as the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery at the University of Glasgow and the Riverside Museum of Transport and the Tall Ship on the banks of the River Clyde.

 

North Berwick

In just half an hour by train you can swap Edinburgh’s cityscapes for coastal relaxation; North Berwick and its stretches of golden sands are spectacular – and if it’s glorious views you’ve come for, you won’t be disappointed. Sweeping vistas look out to Bass Rock, home to the world’s largest northern gannet colony, and the Forth Islands; take a boat trip out to the islands for an even closer inspection, and bird lovers should also pay a visit to the town’s Scottish Seabird Centre. Alternatively, if you fancy a game of golf which overlooks these wonderful coastal scenes, tee off at either of the town’s excellent links courses, the Glen Golf Club and the North Berwick Golf Club.

The town itself is home to a fine collection of cafés, bars and shops, from vintage-style tearooms to stylish coffee shops…also make sure you hit the fish and chip shops and ice-cream parlors, it’s de rigueur at a British seaside resort! For heritage seekers, don’t miss the 14th-century fortress Tantallon Castle and Dirleton Castle, which houses some of the oldest castle architecture in Scotland, which are both close by.

 

Stirling

If you’ve ever watched the film Braveheart, you’ll want to visit Stirling. The iconic National Wallace Monument, which overlooks the scene of Scotland’s victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, gives a fascinating insight into the world of Scottish hero William Wallace. History pulsates through every inch of Stirling; explore the streets of the medieval old town, encounter intriguing royal history at Stirling Castle, and even see the world’s oldest football at the Smith Art Gallery and Museum. Perhaps one of the most absorbing attractions that tells the stories of the area’s past is the Battle of Bannockburn Experience. This 3D, immersive experience takes you into the heart of one of Scotland’s most historic battles, ending with a visit to the Battle Room where visitors can take part in the interactive battle game. And, if you’re a fan of the hit TV show Outlander, take the time to visit Doune Castle, around 15 minutes out of town; scenes were filmed at this splendid castle, as they were for Game of Thrones and Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

 

Peebles

South of Edinburgh, on the banks of the River Tweed, lies Peebles, a small, attractive town with a distinctly artistic vibe, that’s framed by gorgeous countryside scenery. Scottish novelist John Buchan, author of The Thirty Nine Steps, made his home here and a picturesque 13-mile walking route is named after him, the John Buchan Way. Or head out hiking in Glentress Forest, which is also brilliant for mountain biking, its trails being one of Scotland 7stanes (seven mountain biking centres in southern Scotland). Despite its size, Peebles boasts a number of art galleries and studios and it’s historic past is prevalent on every corner; ancient relics are dotted across town, from the ruined Cross Kirk to an old Mercat Cross (which depicts a town’s right, granted by a monarch or baron, to hold a regular market).

 

You might also like…

  • Rosslyn Chapel for intricate carvings and unique stonework at one of the most intriguing places of worship in Scotland, in the village of Roslin, 30-minutes’ drive from Edinburgh. Discover its story from its founding in the 15th century to its depiction in the novel and subsequent film The Da Vinci Code.
  • Musselburgh, a historic market town that derives its name from the mussel beds found on nearby shores. It’s also home to the oldest racecourse in Scotland – which hosts many race meets throughout the year – as well as to the historic nine-hole Musselburgh Links, which has royal connections going back to the early 16th century.
  • Linlithgow Palace, to explore the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, a palace that was once a stopping point for royalty en route between Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle. Visit in the summer to enjoy its annual jousting spectacle.