Britain’s Best National Parks
Posted on July 24, 2017 by Kate
The UK is home to 15 National Parks, each with their own special slice of British wonder and heritage. Not only are they a place to fill your lungs with great British fresh air, they are also areas that inhabit so much of what makes the UK great – majestic forests, stunning landscapes and extraordinary wildlife. Entirely natural resources that cannot be replaced, it’s never been more important that we conserve the beauty and cultural heritage of these great spaces in order for future generations to continue to gain from their wealth of benefits.
To celebrate National Parks Week (24 – 30 July) we’ve round-up the very best of Britain’s ‘breathing spaces’, and what makes them so great.
1. The Lake District
England’s largest National Park, and recently named a Unesco World Heritage site (if you hadn’t heard), it only seems fair to begin with this beautiful space in our round-up of top five UK National Parks. It’s almost impossible to think of the Lake District without visualising long days rambling amid the rolling Fells, but what is less well known about the Lakes is how simply brilliant the food offering is – a ‘foodie’ heaven, with a multitude of sweet and savoury treats. Each with their own distinct history.
You’ll be hard pressed to find a pub in the Lake District that doesn’t serve a classic Cumberland sausage with mash and onion gravy, and this meaty treat has over 500 years of history in this part of the world. In order to be a ‘true’ Cumberland sausage, it must come from the originally named ‘Cumberland pig’ – a unique breed that is especially heavy making for the most flavoursome pork. Alternatively, for those with a sweet tooth you simply cannot visit the Lakes without trying the famous Grasmere gingerbread. Sitting somewhere between a cake and a biscuit, its secret recipe was created by Sarah Nelson in 1854, and take it from us, is delicious. There is really only one place to get your fix of this gingerbread – the Grasmere Gingerbread Shop located in the heart of Grasmere Village just next to the church.
For the ultimate pub grub, head to Ambleside for an evening of culinary delights at The Drunken Duck (be sure to try one of the beers from their very own Barngates Brewery), or book a table at the Lake Road Kitchen, which recently featured in The Sunday Times best 100 restaurants in the UK.
Holbeck Ghyll, a favourite of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s in the first series of The Trip, is a fine-dining phenomenon boasting unrivalled views across Lake Windermere, while tucked in the delightful village of Cartmel (home of the sticky-toffee pudding) you’ll find the twice Michelin-starred restaurant, L’Enclume – an experience like no other.
Within its 267 square-meters of land, Exmoor National Park presents a unique landscape of moorland, woodland and countryside – offering true feelings of remoteness, whilst located atop a scenery of cliffs plunging deep into the Bristol Valley. By day, Exmoor is the ideal place to explore the great outdoors on foot, with over 100km of footpaths and bridleways – however it’s the night time when Exmoor really comes to life. Aside from the herds of sheep that are almost impossible to avoid on the hill tops, what many may not realise is that Exmoor National Park is also famous for its crystal clear night skies, and one of the few places in England where low levels of light pollution allow visitors to experience a phenomenal celestial canvas that’s sadly disappeared from much of the country.
For thousands of years, humans have been looking into the stars and wondering what they see, and the stars in our atmosphere have formed the basis of many myths, legends, and even religions. Stargazing in Exmoor National Park can be enjoyed all year-round – simply go outside on a clear night and look up! The darker months provide longer nights and therefore extended viewing hours, while the late summer and autumn often provide the best chance of seeing a shooting star. The park has also identified some places they deem particularly good to enjoy the night sky, some of which include: Holdstone Down, County Gate, Webber’s Post, Landacre Bridge and Haddon Hill.
In 2011 Exmoor National Park was the first place in Europe to receive International Sky Reserve status by the International Dark Sky Association, meaning that the night-sky is protected from any artificial light pollution, officially making Exmoor the best place to stargaze in Europe. From the 19th – 20th October this year, Exmoor National Park is hosting its first ever Dark Skies Festival, with numerous activities allowing you to get lost in our atmosphere.
3. Loch Lomond & Trossach National Park
Loch Lomond and the Trossach National Park is arguably one of the most picturesque National Parks on our round-up. With 39km of perfectly still waters and home to red deer, oak woodlands, and of course, the iconic furry highland cow, the Trossach National Park is a must for the bucket list.
This park offers a range of stunning strolls for every type of rambler. For the keen walkers amongst you, try the Three Lochs Way – navigate your way across the Highland Boundary Cross and experience Loch Lomond, The Gareloch and Loch Long in all of their glory. For those keen for a a slice of culture, the Hidden Heritage Trail is the perfect day out. This walk takes you on a journey back in time to the 13th Century when Vikings ruled the shores, and sailed to conquer highland settlements. While you stroll, take a moment to glance up to The Cobbler (Ben Arthur) peak between Arrochar and Tarbet, the site of the earliest mountaineering range in the highland region! But it’s not just mountaineering the area is famed for, the Loch Lomond Golf Club is a favourite for tourists due to the phenomenal views you can experience while potting a few holes with fellow golfers. The Trossach National Park is also home to 8 natural waterfalls, each with unique characters that are well worth a visit – just be sure to keep those cameras dry. For avid culture vultures, the Park offers a range of art and literature tours allowing for a fully immersive experience into the rich and mysterious past of the Highlands. To round off a day exploring this great national wonder, we recommend a visit to the family run Loch Lomond Brewery to sample great quality Highland ales, ‘perfect for thirsty walkers’!
4. South Downs
Famous for its 638 square miles of rolling hills, the South Downs is the UK’s newest National Park. Extensive damage to the chalk downland in the Second World War delayed it from gaining official national park status until now, but the National Park authority takes great care in its protection ensuring it is sustained all year-round.
Despite taking a while to get there, we can’t emphasise enough how well deserved its National Park status is. The South Downs are blessed with a rich tapestry of wildlife, countryside and tranquillity that keep visitors coming back year-on-year. The landscape is any wildlife enthusiast’s heaven, with a diverse range of activities to enjoy and so much to be learnt about the critters who inhabit the area. For all budding naturists, don’t miss out on the fantastic pondemonium event on the 1st August, allowing you to delve into the park’s ponds and study the wildlife. If you’re really up for a challenge, why not walk the great South Downs Way? Starting in Winchester, the first capital of England, and ending at the white cliffs in Eastbourne, this walk is no mean feat. A whopping 100-miles of south coast seascapes await you, but the beauty of the challenge is that you can enjoy it entirely at your own pace. And take it on good authority – there’s a great range of quaint pubs and guesthouses more than happy to welcome muddy boots!
5. Peak District
From the UK’s most recent National Park, we end our round up with the UK’s first ever National Park – the Peak District. With a plethora of stately homes spanning centuries, picturesque scenery, Bakewell Pudding and Mermaid’s Pool – it’s not difficult to see why the Peak District is the longest standing National Park.
Any keen rambler will know that the Peaks make for a wonderful walking trail, and if you’re a first timer to the area, there’s a fantastic guided tour that you can take across the landscape, helping to bring the countryside to life. Alongside walking, there are many other activities to enjoy, and a sure favourite is cycling along the Monsal Trail. Whizzing through four abandoned railway tunnels that formerly made up the popular Midlands rail route from Manchester to London, this trail offers both a great way to keep fit while soaking up some of the history that makes the park so great. The tunnels are 400 meters long, well-lit and completely closed off to traffic so you can pedal along at your own pace with no distractions! While there is so much to see along the trail, make sure you don’t forget to stop at the Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop for a slice of traditional Bakewell Pud to make up for all those lost calories!
So whether you’re a budding Chris Hoy or new to the saddle, there’s a fantastic range of cycling trails for all abilities. If you’re looking to fit in some great exercise whilst experiencing unforgettable views, the Peak District is a must-visit this summer!