8 of Our Most Excellent National Parks

Every summer we celebrate our 15 gorgeous green ‘breathing spaces’ with National Parks Week.

But our parks – stunning, accessible and perfect for picnicking – are worthy of celebrating at any time of the year.

So lace up your boots, top up the Thermos and join us for a tour of the very best countryside heritage and wildlife the UK has to offer…

Yorkshire Dales

Yorkshire Dales

The incredible limestone pavement of Malham Cove was some 12,000 years in the making.

Formed by melting ice and rainwater, the ‘pavement’ of Malham Cove is so otherworldly that Harry Potter himself chose it for a magical holiday in The Deathly Hallows.

Cross the stepping stones at Bolton Abbey before stopping for ice-cream at nearby Billy-Bob’s 1950s style ice-cream parlour – perfect for rounding off your tour of ancient Yorkshire with a twist.

Did you know? A whopping 9.5 million visitors flock to the Dales each year.

The Cairngorms                     

Cairngorms

Home to our highest mountain range and a huge Caledonian forest filled with Scots pines, the Cairngorms is the perfect place to challenge yourself.

Hike, climb or search for an elusive pine martin or reindeer in winter. And don’t forget the Scottish hospitality – a wee dram of whisky goes down well after a day in the mountains.

Did you know? At nearly 1,500 square miles this is the UK’s biggest National Park – you could fit over 10 Norfolk Broads inside!

Brecon Beacons

Brecon Beacons

Dark Sky Reserve status makes the Beacons almost as beautiful by night as by day. Wild Welsh mountain ponies can be spotted by day while a clear night offers an amazing display of stars and constellations.

Equally out of this world is the opportunity to get close to Wales’ unofficial national bird at the Red Kite Feeding Centre. Once used to keep the land free of carrion it’s now championed for more savoury reasons (but best keep those sandwiches wrapped up just in case!).

Did you know? Pen-y Fan is South Wales’ highest point at 2,907 feet above sea level. That’s over 5 Blackpool towers! 

Northumberland

Northumberland

The remains of Emperor Hadrian’s mighty wall snake along the park’s southern boundary.

With rampaging Picts beyond the wall no longer a threat, those seeking wilder experiences should try the Hethpool Wild Goat Walk – it gives you the best chance to spot the elusive Cheviot goats.

Did you know? Perfectly peaceful, Northumberland has a smaller population than any other National Park with just over 2,000 residents.

Loch Lomond & the Trossachs

 Loch Lomond

Within striking distance of Stirling, Edinburgh and Glasgow, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs is one of Scotland’s most accessible playgrounds.

Explore part of the 96 mile West Highland Way or, if you’re feeling hardy, paddle along the bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond itself.

Did you know? Loch Lomond contains 92,805 million cubic feet of water and maybe one monster: the lesser-known Loch Lomond beastie has been spotted several times over the years.

Norfolk Broads

Norfolk Broads

A watery wonderland in one of Britain’s driest places, the 60 broads – wide, shallow lakes created by flooded medieval peat pits – and 7 rivers are visited by 8 million people every year.

The swallowtail butterfly lives only here, bitterns and marsh harriers are on the increase and water shrews may be glimpsed by the eagle-eyed.

Boating is the Broads’ other major draw. Enjoy comfortable cruisers, relaxing waterside eateries and messing about on the rivers!

Did you know? The Broads were only discovered to be human made in the 1960s. Before that they were considered a natural attraction. 

Pembrokeshire

Pembrokeshire

If you’re lucky enough to be visiting Britain’s only coastal National Park, make sure you beat a path to the Pembrokeshire Coast National Trail.

Here you will find a fairy-tale seascape with ancient castles and Iron Age forts overlooking the water.  Look skywards for choughs and skylarks and out to sea for basking sharks and even orcas if you’re lucky.

They return annually to this wonderful bit of Wales. And who could blame them?

Did you know? Pembrokeshire has been voted one of the best coastal destinations in the world by National Geographic magazine (and anyone who’s ever visited).

Exmoor

Exmoor

Exmoor is known for its moorland, yet one of the park’s most celebrated features are the highest sea cliffs in England.

Kayak, walk or wind sail for the best views – and the best tales to tell afterwards! Inland you’ll find orchards, cider farms and ancient woodland.

This quiet park is a perfect place to enjoy not seeing another soul.  Apart from the famous ponies, of course – you’ll always be pleased to see them.

Did you know? Continental drift means that in 100 million years’ time Exmoor will be north of the Arctic Circle.   

National Walking Month – 10 spring walks to enjoy in the UK

With winter over and warmer, sunnier weather on the way, spring is a fantastic time of year to blow away the winter cobwebs and get out into the countryside for a spring walk.

From woodland to open countryside, coastal walks to picturesque villages, the UK is home to a number of fantastic walks that will allow you to enjoy the region’s abundant flora and fauna while getting a healthy dose of fresh air.

1. Walk the Cotswolds Way

Head west and enjoy all that Gloucestershire’s Cotswold Way has to offer. The route is 100 miles in total, running all the way from Bath to Chipping Campden. Depending on which part of the route you choose to walk, you will be able to visit Snowshill Manor, the iconic Broadway Tower, Sudeley Castle and Hailes, which is home to the ruins of a stunning abbey.

2. Daffodils in the Dales

Lovers of spring flowers will enjoy the Daffodil Walk in Farndale, North Yorkshire. This one and a half mile walk sees around 40,000 daff lovers each year see the carpet of bright flowers (reputedly planted by medieval monks of Rievaulx Abbey).

3. The South Downs Way

Those looking for lowland walking may enjoy a trip to the South Downs in Sussex, and the popular South Downs Way. One of the most popular South Downs Way routes is the ascent up to Chanctonbury Ring: the remains of a hill fort from the Iron Age which is circled with a ring of beech trees.

4. The Three Shires

For a longer walk through the countryside of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, the Three Shires Way is a 49 mile walk passing through beautiful rural areas and takes in picturesque historic villages including Shelton, Knotting and Lavendon.

5. Wales Millennium Coastal Path

If you would prefer a bracing coastal walk, head to Wales and the Millennium Coastal Path in Llanelli. This 22 mile stretch of pathway is completely traffic free, open to pedestrians and cyclists only, and takes in both coastline and stunning woodland.

6.The Wyre Forest

One of the largest ancient woodlands in England, spring in the Wyre Forest, on the border of Worcestershire and Shropshire, sees the forest come to life with seas of celandines, daffodils and bluebells – there’s also a Go Ape adventure course if you fancy an aerial view!

7. The Sizergh Castle Estate

Bird watchers should head to Cumbria where, at the Sizergh Castle estate, they may be able to catch a glimpse of the haw finch. The Sizergh Wildlife Walk also gives walkers a chance to see the estate’s hornbeam trees, various woodland flowers and great views.

8. Hiking in the Highlands

Use spring as a time to enjoy the Knoydart Peninsula in the Scottish Highlands, separated from the rest of Scotland by an imposing ring of mountains. Visitors must make the sea crossing from Mallaig, with guided walks and tours for those unfamiliar with this beautiful, wild location.

9. A Yorkshire Ramble

Enjoy the Hardcastle Crags woodland wildlife walk just west of Halifax in Yorkshire. With beautiful birds returning from warmer shores, animals coming out of hibernation and trees and flowers coming back to life, you can enjoy a gentle ramble and stunning views.

10. The Norfolk Coast Path

The Norfolk Coast Path is the perfect place to dust off the winter cobwebs, with bracing sea air, sand dunes and salt marshes. The Coasthopper bus service can take you from location to location, and bird watchers can enjoy guided bird walks arranged by the RSPB.

Celebrate National Walking Month

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Rhossili Bay: “Breathtakingly wonderful” seems like an understatement!

If you want to really feel alive and refresh those senses this summer, it’s time to get outside and start walking. This month is National Walking Month, and here in the UK we are extremely lucky; the terrain makes it the perfect place to walk. Whether you want a gentle, family stroll, or you are an experienced walker looking for your next challenge, our list of favourite scenic walks has something for everyone.

Easy or family walks

Rhossili Bay
Distance: 5 miles circular route
Starting point: Rhossili National Trust visitor centre
Suitable for walkers with little experience and families
Map

Rhossili Bay is such a stunning area it has earned itself the number 1 place to visit in Swansea on the independent review website, Trip advisor. Visitors to the area have left reviews on the website describing the area as “Paradise” and “Breathtakingly wonderful”.

But don’t worry. Despite the fact that 750,000 people visit Rhossilli every year, this beautiful walk never seems too busy and it’s the perfect walk for all the family. It covers moorland and one of the most glorious sandy beaches in the UK. It even has its very own shipwreck visible at low tide, the ill fated Helvetia that has been there since 1887.

From the highest point of this walk, you can see an uninterrupted 360 degree of the entire tip of the Gower Peninsula including Worms Head and Burry Holmes. On a clear day, you can even see as far as Devon.

Getting there: Catch the bus to this beautiful bay from Swansea, or you can drive and park in the National Trust visitor centre.

Wye Downs (using part of the popular North Downs Way)
Distance: 4.5 miles
Starting point: Church in Wye
Map 

Get to know the beautiful Wye Downs by following paths and tracks through open fields and luscious woodland. On this walk you will get the chance to see the fantastic Wye Crown, a massive crest that students cut into the chalk hillside in 1902 to honour the coronation of King Edward VII.

You will also pass through the Wye National Nature Reserve with its beautiful landscape of chalk, woodland and scrub. Moths, insects and orchids that are essential to conservation efforts have made their home here. From the nature reserve you will get the chance to take in enthralling views of the Devil’s Kneading Trough, a 260 feet deep steep dry valley.

On the way back, make sure you take time to look around the historic village of Wye and stop off at one of the pubs for a rewarding, refreshing drink

Ben A’an
Distance: 2.5 miles
Height: 1,491 feet
Start: 200 yards west of Tigh Mhor near Loch Achray
Map

The extraordinary views over the Trossachs and Loch Katrine from the summit of Ben A’an are what makes this walk unbeatable. Although relatively short, this walk involves steep climbs through woodland and steep steps on loose rock, so it’s more suited to those with a good level of fitness. Don’t worry though, it also covers easier terrain you can meander through and enjoy the stunning views while catching your breath.

Along the path there are large rock areas often used by picnickers. You will also find steep, rocky trails that offshoot from the main path, ignore these and stick to the main path. Typically, it takes about an hour to reach the summit, though if you’re really fit you can do it in much less.

The path ends at 1,491 feet at two rocky peaks, both of which give enthralling views across two vast landscapes of Scotland, west over Loch Katrine towards the ‘Arrochar Alps’ and and south east over Loch Achray towards the Campsies. If you’re lucky, you may even see the Sir Walter Scott steamer as she travels across Loch Katrine. One thing to remember is that this walk does get busy at times, but its popularity is just testimony to how beautiful it is.

Getting there: There is a car park A821 near Tigh Mor opposite the track.

For the more experienced walker

Dunskey Castle at Portpatrick

Dunskey Castle at Portpatrick

Southern Upland Way
Distance: 214 mile (340 km) coast to coast
Starting point: Portpatrick
Map 

Often overlooked for other Scottish walks such as the West Highland Way, The Southern Upland Way is a stunning, if rather tough, walk. It begins in Portpatrick, a small fishing village on the Scottish west coast and finishes in Cockburnspath on the east coast.

At 214 miles, this walk isn’t the longest in the UK, but is known as one of the toughest. Overwhelming mountains, thick forests and beautiful moors make up this enchanting walk. There is accommodation en route, however this walk is rather isolated and you won’t stumble across many day trippers or holiday makers on your way. The walk visits stunning spots such as Castle Kennedy, St John’s Town of Dalry, St Mary’s Loch, Galashiels, Lauder and Longformacus en route.

It’s worth remembering that on the Southern Upland Way the path can be challenging with a loose, steep, rocky and muddy surface. Hill walking boots are a must!

Winnie the Pooh Day – a short walk in the woods

Ashdown forest Sussex

There are few better forests to enjoy a walk in than Ashdown Forest in Sussex. After all, it was in this very location that Alan Alexander Milne and his son, Christopher Robin, found inspiration for the beloved adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

Many of the locations of Pooh’s adventures are lifted directly from real-life locations in the forest, such as Five Hundred Acre Wood (five times bigger than its fictional counterpart?). Other familiar locations include Gills Lap (Galleon’s Lap in the books) where you will find the Enchanted Place and Wren’s Warren valley, which houses the less jovial Eeyore’s Sad and Gloomy Place.

To repay the favour Pooh’s adventures have had on the area, the Poohsticks Bridge was renamed and renovated to look more like its fictional counterpart. Make sure you bring your own twigs!

For Winnie the Pooh Day we thought we’d share Ashdown Forest walking instructions, starting from Gill’s Lap…

Set atop the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Ashdown offers nearly 10 square miles of common land; in fact it’s supposed to be the largest public-access area in southeast England.

Gills Lap itself offers two walks: an adventurous 3 mile trek past Eeyore’s Sad and Gloomy Place and a half mile walk past the Enchanted Place, Heffalump Trap, Roo’s Sandy Pit and more.

From the Gills Lap car park a short 200 metre walk (which can seem a little longer with easily distracted youngsters and plenty of puddles!) leads you to the Enchanted Place on the right.

From there a left turn takes you a few metres down to the Heffalump Trap: a lovely little hollow where a lone pine grows.

Walk back up the path and turn left, after about 10 metres and you arrive at the tribute to Milne and EH Shepard, the illustrator of Pooh’s adventures. The views here are stunning, so it’s no surprise to find the author was so keen on dreaming up Pooh’s idyllic escapades there.

Turn right from the memorial and you soon arrive at the site of Roo’s Sandy Pit (the bank can little slippy, so be careful if you try to walk down it).

Follow the path round from the ‘Sandy Pit’ and you arrive back at the car park. It’s a short and sweet stroll through some of Sussex’s finest scenery. If you fancy rounding up your adventure with a little refreshment you might also want to pay a visit to the nearby village of Hartfield. There you’ll find Pooh Corner, a lovely little tearoom that contains plenty of refreshment and lots of Winnie the Pooh souvenirs.

Celebrating the Pennine Way

Opened on 24th April 1965, the 268 mile footpath follows the backbone of England, meandering through stunning scenery in the Peak District, Yorkshire Dales, North Pennines and finally, the Cheviots. It’s one of Britain’s toughest trails, but fortunately you don’t have to walk the whole thing in one go, there are plenty of places to take a shorter stroll.

The preferred route is south to north…with the wind, rain and sun at your back. Reverse our guide if a tanned face is what you fancy!

Kinder Scout

The Pennine Way begins in Edale, a lovely village in the Derbyshire Peak District. A couple of miles out from the start, you’ll begin an ascent which will treat you to sweeping, panoramic views and get you in the mood for tough terrain, from day one. The craggy, flat-topped plateau of Kinder Scout is a famous fell and more than 80 years ago, it was a place of revolution. Here, the British public protested with a mass trespass and demanded the ‘right to roam’. It was against this political backdrop, in 1935, that journalist Tom Stephenson first floated the idea of a long-distance footpath in Britain, inspired by the epic American Appalachian and John Muir trails. After 30 years of route-wrangling, the Pennine Way was born.

A little further on, you’ll find Bleaklow; a high, peat moorland with a history to match its name. In 1948 an American bomber crashed here whilst on a routine flight. A large amount of wreckage is still visible along with a memorial to the 13 servicemen who died.

Hebden Bridge

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Hardcastle Crags

Around 50 miles north into Yorkshire and the Upper Calder Valley is the market town of Hebden Bridge, a couple of miles off the main footpath. A circular, well-signposted footpath, (just under four miles long) has recently been created. It encourages walkers into the town to get fed and watered, and to visit the ancient village of Heptonstall on the way back. Also nearby is the National Trust’s Hardcastle Crags, including 400 acres of unspoilt woodland and a 19th century mill serving as a visitor centre.

Here, in a new project called Framing the Landscape, artist Ashley Jackson has enhanced the natural landscape with an oversized, free-standing picture frame. The aim is to encourage visitors and children to peer through the aperture and to look more closely; to re-engage with their surroundings and to be inspired to protect Yorkshire heritage for the future.

Malham Moor and Malham Cove

A historically significant and stunningly beautiful stopping-off point on the Yorkshire Dales section of the footpath is Malham Moor. Britain’s first ever National Trail, (aka the Pennine Way) was officially and ceremoniously opened here on April 24th 1965. A spectacular upland and farmland landscape, it makes for a ravishing ramble with far-reaching views. Explore the most quintessential of the Dales’ limestone landscapes and enjoy the majesty of Malham Cove.

The cove itself is a massive amphitheatre of a cliff formation forged from limestone rock and its vertical face towers an awe-inspiring 260ft high. Above the cove lies a large and rare patterned area of limestone pavement – a perfect and photogenic picnic spot on a calm day. Looking out from here, it’s not difficult to understand why Malhamdale has been attracting visitors from near and far, for centuries.

Haworth and The Brontë Parsonage Museum

This way to Wuthering Heights

This way to Wuthering Heights

Further north, and the trail passes close-by to the striking hill-top village of Haworth, the home of the great literary family, the Brontës. Immerse yourself in the captivating lives of any of the sisters’ heroes or heroines whilst visiting the Brontë Parsonage Museum which has the world’s largest collection of their letters, poems and early editions of the famous novels. Sink a pint in the famous Black Bull pub, where Branwell Brontë allegedly began his love affair with alcohol and opium, or avoid temptation with a trip to see the preserved steam engines at the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway.

Back on the Pennine Way itself, you’ll pass by Top Withens, a ruined farmhouse, reputedly set in the location which inspired Emily Brontë to imagine the hauntingly realistic home of the Earnshaws, Wuthering Heights. It’s a bleakly beautiful place, where you’ll feel close to the spirit of Cathy, Heathcliff… and maybe even Kate Bush.

Pen-y-Ghent

A highlight of North Yorkshire and of the Yorkshire Dales National Park is the peak of Pen-y–Ghent, and the Pennine Way takes you right up it! It’s one of the famous Yorkshire Three Peaks, along with Ingleborough and Whernside, (both of which are visible along the way) and is the scene for many scrambled dashes to complete the Three Peaks Challenge. Hiking the footpath from the village of Horton in Ribblesdale, you’ll climb the distinctively-shaped fell, also known as ‘The Hill of the Winds’ or ‘Hill on the Border’.

It’s a fairly strenuous but scenic ascent, climbing to 2,277ft.  The striking ridges that stripe along the sides of Pen-y-Ghent are the result of different layers of rock; grit, shales and half way up a band of familiar Yorkshire limestone.

High Force  

waterfall

England’s biggest waterfall

Leaving the Dales behind and heading into County Durham, the Way wanders into the North Pennines and its hazy, heather covered tops. The crowd draw here is High Force, England’s biggest waterfall. The gorge at High Force has been shaped over thousands of years by water and today it’s a roaring mass of froth where the River Tees crashes 70ft over the hard rock of Whin Sill into a plunge pool below. Spring and summer are wonderful times to visit this area as walkers are treated to a beautiful display of rare wildflowers. Autumn lends further drama to the falls, as the deciduous trees around the riverbank explode in a riot of colour. There are more fabulous falls at Low Force a little further downstream.

High Cup Nick 

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A true geological wonder

If you’re walking the Pennine Way from Langdon Beck to Dufton, you’ll pass one of the most impressive and dramatic sights on its whole journey. It’s a challenging hike to get there but High Cup Nick is a geological wonder – a classic U-shaped valley high up in the west of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. A deep chasm, this famous scar is a jaw-dropping formation at the top of High Cup Gill and overlooks arguably the best example of a glaciated valley in Northern England. You definitely have to see it to appreciate the grandeur of the greyish blue dolerite cliffs, standing as solemn sentinel over the valley in a setting which wouldn’t look out of place in the fantastical landscapes of Game of Thrones.

Kirk Yetholm

Whether you’ve been walking for weeks, days or just an afternoon, it’s always satisfying to reach the end of something. The small village of Kirk Yetholm in the Cheviot Hills, on the Scottish Borders is the final destination on the Pennine Way and a resting place for weary walkers. Apparently, if you follow the path all the way to its official conclusion, it will take you to the Border Hotel, where hard-worn hiking boots receive a warm welcome, and there’s local food, and of course, Scotch, on offer. On your way into the village, you can make a short detour up Green Humbleton to see the Iron Age hill fort at its summit, or join St. Cuthbert’s Way, which follows in the footsteps of the Saint who walked from Melrose to the priory at Lindisfarne, via Kirk Yetholm.

If you have any energy left at all, the 470 mile Scottish National Trail which opened in 2012 also begins in this village, and then weaves its way all the way to Cape Wrath! Well, now you’re here…

Find more info on the Pennine Way Association website