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.

Best Spring Breaks For English Tourism Week

The spring equinox (Tuesday 20 March) marks a time to celebrate woodlands bursting with daffodils, fields filled with adorable animals and long, warm, country walks. To celebrate, take advantage of the offerings for English Tourism Week (17-25 March), where a wide variety of local and national events, discounts and special offers are being made available. See below for a round-up of new season openings and offers across the country, for the perfect spring break in England.

 

FLOURISHING FLOWERS

Take in Wordsworth’s Daffodils with Sharrow Bay’s spring offer, Lake District

Walk in the footsteps of Romantic poet William Wordsworth this spring and gaze out across the ‘host of golden daffodils,’ adorning the banks of the very lake which inspired Daffodils - one of Britain’s best-loved poems. The original country house hotel and the inventor of sticky toffee pudding, Sharrow Bay sits right on the shores of Ullswater in an unrivalled lakeside setting and offers some of the Lake District’s most spectacular views of the famed spring landscapes. Situated within the newly-appointed World Heritage site, the hotel is the ideal starting point for a range of walks to admire the awakening Lake District scenery. 

 

New event: See Dazzling Daffodils at Hever Castle, Kent

21-25 March

See 14,000 daffodils bloom in the grounds at Anne Boleyn’s childhood home at this new event. Master grower Johnny Walkers of Walkers’ Bulbs, and winner of 35 RHS gold medals, will be onsite giving talks and tours and sharing his encyclopedic knowledge of bulbs accrued over a lifetime growing daffodils.

STAY AT: One Warwick Park, Tunbridge Wells

From its origins as a brewery and school house, this harmonious and unified building brings a luxury guest experience to the historic spa town of Royal Tunbridge Wells. 

 

REJUVINATING BREAKS

Stay on England's most northerly commercial vineyard Farfield Farm, York

17-25 March

Relax and stay at this small family run business producing award winning wines in a farmhouse on an idyllic six-acre vineyard. Set on south facing slopes at the foot of the Yorkshire Wolds, the setting is rural and peaceful yet only six miles from the market town of Malton with regular food markets and food festivals. Castle Howard is nearby, as is the North York Moors Railway, plus for some city life it’s also a short drive from York. 

 

Enjoy 2 nights for the price of 1 in March at Chewton Glen, Hampshire

1-28 March (subject to availability)

With only 50 rooms available at this rate, celebrate spring with 130 acres to explore including a nine-hole golf course, a plush croquet lawn and indoor and outdoor tennis courts. Subject to availability until 28th March 2018, only 50 rooms available on a first come, first served basis.

 

Langdale Hotel offers a Brimstone Spa Break from 23 March, Lake District

23 March – 4 November

Set quietly on the Langdale Estate in the secluded Langdale Valley, Langdale Hotel offers chic rooms, nature walks right from the doorstep and an ultra-stylish dining experience, as well as Brimstone Spa, which includes a Himalayan Salt Steam, Finnish Sauna, Ice Fountain, Herbal Sauna, Mineral Salt Steam and Laconium as well as a relaxation pool which spans from indoors to outdoors. The Spa Break is available from the 23rd of March until the 4th of November and includes a night’s stay in a Lakeland Signature Roomy Room complete with lavish breakfast, a 55-minute treatment for each guest and a Spa Deli Lunch, as well as spa access throughout the stay.

 

ADORABLE ANIMALS
Spot wildlife at Chatsworth House during their season opening, Bakewell, Derbyshire

24 March

2018 will see Chatsworth House and Garden presented in its full glory following the culmination of the 10-year long restoration project. Come to the season opening on 24 March, and view the exhibition of the largest restoration and conservation project ever undertaken at Chatsworth. 
The park is home to red and fallow deer, sheep, cattle and many wild animals. The grass you walk on is a crop grazed by sheep, cattle and deer; the river provides fish and the woods game and timber. 

STAY AT: The Devonshire Arms, Beeley

This traditional country Inn is located on the Chatsworth Estate and has fourteen hotel bedrooms owned by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. It’s a short walk from Chatsworth House and blends its idyllic village setting with contemporary comfort.

 

Beautiful British gardens open for lambs and spring bulbs at Kentwell Hall, Suffolk

17-29 March

Standing within the most extensive moat in the county and over 25 acres of gardens and ground, Kentwell Hall is Suffolk’s hidden gem and one of England’s finest Tudor houses. Kentwell’s gardens will be beautiful with the grounds covered in daffodils and the spring bulbs and fruit blossom all flowering, with new-born lambs in the Tudor Stables. Kentwell has extended the Story Book Adventure Trail to encourage more children to get outdoors and now includes 19 stories and characters; from the enormous ‘Crunching Munching Caterpillar’ to the magnificent ‘Gorilla who wanted to Grow Up’. 

STAY AT: The Black Lion, Long Melford

The Black Lion has 10 bedrooms including snug, luxury, grand luxury and family rooms. Chestnuts interior design team has cleverly combined The Black Lion’s traditional and antique style with a luxurious and warm feel. 

 

SPRING WALKS

Book onto a walking holiday, Somerset

18-25 March

Choose from five night guided walking holidays in Bath, the Cotswolds, Exmoor, Somerset and Wiltshire, with Bath West Walks. Each holiday will enable you to come into contact with nature, wildlife and local heritage. Among the places you can visit are Avebury, Bourton on the Water, Lorna Doone Valley and the National Trust's Stourhead. Mention English Tourism Week to obtain your 10% discount.

 

Freshen up with a Spring Nature Trail, Blickling Estate, Norfolk

29 March – 15 April

Help the kids let off some steam by taking them to a 55-acre playground in the heart of the Norfolk countryside. The team at the Blickling Estate have organised a series trails so that families can brush away the cobwebs and get active during the Easter holidays. Learn about nature, marvel at the first buds of spring and see if you can spot any birds building their nests. You can also enjoy sow-and-grow sessions in the walled garden and a family-friendly cycle trail. 

STAY AT: Bucks Arms, Blickling

This traditional 17th century pub and former coaching inn offers fantastic views of the surrounding Blickling Hall Estate. 

 

For more information on English Tourism Week, go to:

www.visitengland.com/english-tourism-week 

The story of a royal romance

Love is very much in the air in Britain, with Valentine’s Day almost upon us and the upcoming nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

A few chapters ahead in their own love story, next week also marks the royal visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to Sweden and Norway. We mark their blossoming relationship with four places in Great Britain to feel the love.

 

St Andrews, Scotland

The University of St Andrews in the quaint coastal town of St Andrews in Fife is where the couple’s story began. William arrived in 2001 to study art history (he eventually switched to geography), where he met Kate who was on the same course. Follow in their footsteps, wandering around the university quads, and admiring the striking architecture.

Nearby, climb the 156 steps to the top of St Rule’s Tower at St Andrew’s Cathedral for panoramic views across Fife. It’s free to visit, and the cathedral ruins hint at the grandeur of what was once Scotland’s largest church, and a meeting point for medieval pilgrims. You can also make your own two-hour ‘pilgrimage’ to Edinburgh by train.

 

Anglesey, Wales

Before their engagement, the couple lived on the island of Anglesey, just off the northwest coast of Wales.

Marking the official start of their life together, Anglesey was a particularly special place to call home and the ideal base for William’s job as a Royal Air Force Search and Rescue pilot.

Get swept away by its wild beauty along the 130-mile Anglesey Coastal Path which circles the island, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. You can also explore on horseback and enjoy views of the Menai Straits and Snowdonia’s mountains.

Anglesey is also known for its ancient sites – there are around 120 megaliths and burial chambers scattered across the island. Add to this, historic lighthouses, medieval castles and pretty harbours and it makes for a picture-perfect break.

 

Norfolk, England

The Queen gifted the secluded Georgian estate of Anmer Hall to the future monarchs, also giving them plenty of privacy to raise their children. It’s also just two miles from the Queen’s own beloved Norfolk residence of Sandringham, where William spent much of his childhood.

The couple have been spotted in local towns including Holt, where the Duchess has been seen browsing independent shops to furnish their countryside retreat.

Check in at the Kings Head Hotel in King’s Lynn for a romantic weekend retreat. It’s rumoured the royal couple dined here. You can also visit Sandringham’s spectacular house and gardens, including the museum’s extraordinary collection of royal vehicles and rare memorabilia. The grounds are free to explore.

 

London, England

In 2017, the couple and their two children (with a third on its way) moved into a 20-room apartment inside Kensington Palace to step up their royal duties, dividing their time between here and Norfolk.

Also the home of newly-engaged Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, visitors can tour public areas of the palace, including the lavish King and Queen’s state apartments.

To re-create your own special proposal, consider dinner and drinks at the west London institution that is Bluebird Chelsea or the unusual dine-in-the-dark Dans Le Noir ? in Clerkenwell, east London, where the pair are reported to have enjoyed pre-wedding dates.

Finish up with Kate and William’s Royal Wedding Tour of London to trace their whirlwind romance. Spots include their favourite Mayfair nightclubs, designer shopping haunts, the jewellers selling that engagement ring, and the hospital where their children were born.

 

Editor’s Note

Sandringham House, Gardens and Museum, and Sandringham Church, are open daily from Saturday 31 March until Sunday 21 October 2018, EXCEPT 23rd to 27th July inclusive. Visitors should check the variable opening times for the museum, house and gardens before travel.

Planning a regal wedding

Preparations are now in full swing for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding, with the big day taking place at Windsor Castle in May 2018.

With Royal Warrant Holders spanning in industries across the country, you too can have your own royal-inspired nuptials. Here we round-up the key ingredients you need to plan a regal wedding.    

 

Bottles of Bubbles

It wouldn’t be much of a wedding without the pop of a cork and an overflow of Champagne. And to emulate the royal couple’s nuptials, you need look no further than your local Waitrose. The first supermarket chain to be awarded a Royal Warrant by the Queen, the branch in Windsor is a regular supplier to the Royal Household, and with shops all around England, extravagance need not be a journey too far.

For an authentic English wine tasting experience, head to Chiltern Valley Wines in Oxfordshire and try before you buy. Holding a Royal Warrant since 2007, the vineyard is located in an area of outstanding natural beauty that’s the perfect spot for wine tours and tastings, £15 per person.   

 

The Icing on the (wedding) cake

Located just six miles from Her Majesty’s Sandringham Estate, the Norfolk market town of Kings Lynn is home to the crown jewels of the area’s cake shops and bakeries. Smiths the Bakers – run by the same family since before World War II – serves treats for the sweetest of teeth. For a personal touch, put in an order for a classic Victoria sponge and head to Richard Hughes Cookery School at The Lavender House for a class on cake decoration to really impress your wedding guests.

Serve up delicious canapés on beautiful Wedgwood China from England’s capital of porcelain, Stoke-on-Trent.

 

Royal blooms

Pay attention to ground level décor with exquisite and lavish floral decorations to adorn your wedding tables. Those with a flair for florals can book a flower-arranging class with Chelsea Flower Show medalist, Hampton Court Flower Show Designer and Royal Warrant Holder Rosemary Hughes. If you don’t fancy all of that hard work, head instead for the beautiful displays of Royal Warrant holding florist Edward Goodyear whose shop is located at 6 Cardinal Place in London’s Victoria.

 

Suited and Booted

Prepare to put on a show and dress like a prince or princess from head to toe. It’s your wedding, after all. Ladies should start with lingerie from London’s Rigby and Peller and hosiery from Leicester’s Wolsely, with outerwear from the likes of Burberry or Stuart Parvin. For wedding dresses fit for a duchess, head to Browns Bride in London’s upmarket Marylebone – home to big name designers like Valentino and Vera Wang to make your big day feel unique. If you’re looking for ethereal touches of glamour, blushing brides-to-be should head to Alice Temperley Bridal, which offers dresses that are both dreamy and decadent. Pair with your favourite pair of Anello & Davide shoes.

 

For boys, tailoring is key. Get bespoke suits measured up at Market Harborough’s Frank Hall Tailoring, and match them with a crisp shirt from Grosvenor shirts.

 

Or consider a tailored tour of Savile Row, where picky princes can choose between myriad Royal Warrant Holders including Gieves & Hawkes, Benson & Clegg and Henry Poole. Take in the whole lot on a fashion insiders’ tour with Urban Gentry. A three-hour private tour for you and up to four of your entourage costs £165 and is completely customised according to your taste (or shopping list).

 

Before your wedding guests arrive, splash on some panache with one of Penhaligon’s fragrances. The perfumer offers a perfume profiling service - sit down with a cappuccino and choose your favourite tones and scents before the expert staff match you to a perfect perfume. Free of charge and there’s no need to book - Penhaligon’s offers this as a walk in service.

Top 12 Romantic locations

Love is in the air, following Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s engagement. If their upcoming nuptials have inspired you to take your own romantic mini-break, why not visit one of these 12 beautiful locations with that special someone in your life. 

 

1. Isle of Anglesey, Wales

What place could be more appropriate for a young couple to spend the first years of their married life than the Isle of Anglesey? After all, here they have not just one special day for lovers, but two - the small island of Llanddwyn on the west coast of Anglesey (only an island at high tide), was once the home of Saint Dwynwen, the patron saint of Welsh lovers, who lived in a monastery there and Welsh lovebirds remember her on 25th January, an extra Valentine’s Day!

 

2. St Andrews, Scotland

St Andrews, the romantic Scottish town in the Kingdom of Fife, is now undoubtedly synonymous with the courtship of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, after they met at the town’s historic university.

 

3. The Isles of Scilly

The Isles of Scilly located just 28 miles off the Cornish coast in the Atlantic Ocean, so must be accessed by air or sea, providing a real sense of escape. The Scillies comprise five inhabited and numerous uninhabited islands. Any honeymooning couple can enjoy romantic walks around the stunning scenic islands. To truly enjoy the romance, newlyweds can also discover the islands by boat – enjoying a sail around the uninhabited isles or to see the abundant marine wildlife including puffins, basking sharks, gannets and even occasionally whales. For those who prefer to spend time on land, there are ancient monuments to discover, horse riding along the beach, and castles and forts to explore.

4. Isle of Eriska, Scotland

Isle of Eriska - Scotland has long been a favourite romantic location for the Royal Family, with many holidays spent at Balmoral, the Queen’s Scottish home, originally purchased by Queen Victoria. Eriska is located in the heart of West Argyll, 12 miles north of Oban. During the 10th Century, the west coast of Scotland was subject to a surge of Norse invasions, including by Erik the Red, hence the name of the island. The sheer remoteness of the island, along with its breathtaking scenery, means that this is a fabulous honeymoon spot. As well as glorious nature walks and wildlife spotting (the island is home to otters, badgers, deer and sea birds), there is golfing, clay pigeon shooting and windsurfing on and around the island. It is also well-situated for exploring the Highlands, including Oban and Fort William. The Isle of Eriska hotel is a 19th Century country house, which has been converted into a warm hotel, complete with spa.

 

5. The Peak District

The Peak District is the area that inspired Jane Austen to write Pride and Prejudice (it is thought that Pemberley is based on Chatsworth House and Bakewell is represented as Lambton in the novel), and the region has a fantastically dramatic romantic landscape. The Peak District was named as Britain’s first national park in 1951, and includes welcoming country pubs, original coaching inns and lots of local festivals throughout spring and summer. Nearby Bolsover Castle is also particularly romantic, situated on a hilltop overlooking the Vale of Scarsdale, and with the beautiful Venus Garden. The Garden includes secluded love seats, statues and a fountain – perfect for a peaceful stroll.

 

6. Norfolk Broads

Just a couple of hours away from their central London wedding, the county of Norfolk offers both the beautiful countryside of the Norfolk Broads, as well as stunning and lesser-known beaches, the county is the ideal spot for a remote honeymoon hideaway. Couples can even enjoy seal-spotting and sailing off the coast. Holkham beach on the north coast was the location for the romantic final scene in Shakespeare in Love.

 

7. St Pancras International Station, London

Start a romantic getaway by meeting under Paul Day's 30 foot tall statue, The Lovers, at St Pancras International station where you can then enjoy a glass of champagne at the Longest Champagne Bar in Europe.

 

8. Shere, Surrey

Shere in Surrey is a little quintessentially English village, just 30 miles from London. Sitting in the heart of the rolling Surrey Hills, with a pretty pub, 12th century village church and duck pond it’s easy to see why romantic films such as ‘The Holiday’ and ‘Bridget Jones Diary’ have used this location for their films.

 

9. Bath

With beautiful Georgian architecture and stunning scenery Bath is a great place for a romantic break. Enjoy a couple’s day at the Thermae Bath Spa then fly over the rooftops of the Royal Crescent before drifting out to the surrounding countryside in a hot air balloon.

 

 

10. Hever Castle, Kent

The Gardens at Hever Castle were last year voted the ‘most romantic garden in the South East’. One of the most important historic castle on the English landscape Hever Castle was once the family home of one of England’s most famous Queens – Anne Boleyn, the intriguing second wife of Henry VIII and mother of Elizabeth I.

 

11. Sark, Channel Islands

Why not settle down for a romantic night under the stars on Sark, the world’s first ‘Dark Sky Island’. As the smallest of the four main Channel Islands, Sark has quaint villages bordered by a breath-taking, craggy coastline and is a haven for rare wildlife. The ‘dark sky island’ status has been awarded by the International Dark Sky Association and is in recognition of the exceptional blackness of the night sky that makes for spectacular stargazing on the island.

 

12. Lower Slaughter, Cotswolds

Stroll hand in hand down Copse Hill Road in Lower Slaughter, which has been given a Google Street View award as the most romantic street in Britain. This quaint Cotswolds village sits beside the little Eye stream and is known for its unspoilt limestone cottages in the traditional Cotswolds style.