In the 1950’s the first 10 national parks in the UK were created. It was hoped the national parks would help to conserve natural environments and allow the public to spend more time outdoors. There are now 15 national parks offering a wide variety of landscapes to explore from beautiful coastlines, to vast lakes and rugged mountains. In this guide we will take you through the locations and main attractions of all 15 UK national parks.
National Parks █
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Pembrokeshire Coast National Park in West Wales is Britain’s only fully coastal national park with 418km of rugged cliffs, serene beaches, stunning harbours and secret coves. Pembrokeshire’s offshore islands each have their own character and landscape with daily boat trips to islands such as Caldey and Skomer. There are prehistoric tombs, Celtic crosses, and Iron Age hill forts, as well as Victorian forts, medieval churches and Norman castles to explore. Being a coastal national park, wildlife such as seabirds, seals, basking sharks and dolphins can all be spotted, making it a must for animal lovers.
This national park is dominated by Snowdonia, the highest mountain in Wales. There’s a wide variety of different landscapes to see here from deep river gorges, waterfalls, and a coastline complete with fine sandy beaches. There are plenty of historic castles and picturesque villages such as Beddgelert to visit. The Narrow gauge railways are a popular attraction, with the Snowdon Mountain Railway giving visitors the chance to reach the summit of Snowdon. There are also multiple castles built by warring Princes in the 13th century including Conwy, Caernarfon, and Harlech castles.
This is England’s newest National Park featuring the world famous white cliffs at Seven Sisters, rolling hills, ancient woodland and charming villages. The South Downs landscape has been shaped for centuries by farming and has a rich cultural heritage. Take a bike or walk along the 160km national trail which will allow you to discover thriving market towns and historic estates.
The Yorkshire Dales in Northern England are characterised by lush green valleys, heather moorland, calming rivers and waterfalls. The Dales are home to the 3 peaks of Pen-y-ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside which are often climbed in 24 hours as part of the Yorkshire 3 Peaks Challenge. For any foodies, it is also home to the famous Wendsleydale cheese, which can be eaten while wandering through the stone built villages which sit among the flower rich meadows.
The Lake District is England’s largest national park and is now a world heritage site. The main areas of interest include Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain, the 16 lakes and Wainwright’s famous 214 fell walks. There are plenty of opportunities to go sailing, windsurfing, kayaking and rowing. Alternatively, explore on foot and experience the beautiful mountain scenery and landscape which has inspired many writers and artists.
Loch Lomond & The Trossachs contain 22 lochs, 21 Munros, and 50 rivers to ensure there is always a fantastic view across the water wherever you are. This is a place of contrasts with rolling landscapes in the south competing with high mountains in the north. There are also plenty of forests and woodlands including the UK’s largest National Nature reserve: The Great Trossachs Forest. With a variety of picturesque camping spots alongside plenty of golfing, horse riding, and climbing opportunities, there is always something fun to do!
The northernmost national park in England is one of the UK’s most tranquil areas with soft rolling hills, grand mountains and dark skies perfect for stargazing. For history lovers, there’s a selection of excellent museums such as the Vindolanda Roman Fort and rugged castles like Thrilwall. There are also tranquil country gardens and great photo opportunities at Belsay Hall.
The moors offer a beautiful coastline full of traditional fishing villages, cliffs and beaches. There is something for everyone, with art, history, food and views you won’t forget in a hurry. Visit Danby Beacon for fantastic panoramic views of the moor or travel back in time with the preserved railway.
The Brecon Beacons boast mountains, moorland, castles, caves and waterfalls spread across a stunning landscape stretching 520 square miles. The Brecon Beacons contain some of Europe’s finest surviving medieval castles, with the best example being the beautiful and haunting Carreg Cennen. There are plenty of reminders of times gone by with stones from the Bronze Age, Neolithic tombs, and ancient stone circles on show. Waterfall country can also be found within the park, offering fantastic opportunities for keen photographers.
The Norfolk Broads are the UK’s largest protected wetland. Take a trip to see the windmills spread across the landscape or the impressive ruins of St Benet’s Abbey, which has a history stretching back over 900 years. The Norfolk Broads are now home to over a quarter of the UK’s rarest wildlife and the scenic landscape has plenty of trails and paths to walk and bike through.
Cairngorms, the largest national park, can be found in the Eastern Highlands of Scotland. There is something for everyone here from the mountainous trails of Tolmount, to the tranquil beach of Loch Morlich. The national park is a haven for wildlife and there is a great selection of places to walk, cycle or hike. In the winter take a trip to Glenshee, the largest ski resort in Scotland with 40km of runs served by 22 lifts.
Located in Devon, Dartmoor offers open moorland, deep river valleys and is the only national park in England to allow wild camping. There are plenty of opportunities for a gentle stroll, or a mountain bike ride, allowing you to appreciate the stunning views. There are a variety of historical sites to visit including the spinster’s rock dating back to 3,000BC, Grimspound a settlement dating back to 1,500BC and Fernworthy reservoir.
Exmoor features woodlands, farmland, valleys and high cliffs alongside charming little villages that are just waiting to be explored. With some of the best locations for walking and cycling in Europe, Exmoor offers some outstanding views and the opportunity to see the iconic ponies and red deer. Exmoor was the first place in Europe to be designated a dark sky reserve so the lack of light pollution makes it a perfect location for star gazing.
Britain’s first national park is set between Manchester and Sheffield and offers a contrast of heather moorland hills in the North and limestone dales with rivers in the South. The Dark peak is famous for its moorland top covered with heather, cotton grass bog and steep valley slopes which make it an ideal spot for rock climbing. There are around 34 miles of family friendly trails for cyclists, horse riders, and walkers which give visitors the chance to take in the beautiful scenery.
The New Forest is a historic royal hunting ground with ancient woodlands containing trees that are 1000 years old. It features 214 scheduled monuments and 621 listed buildings with a long and proud history dating back to William the Conqueror who used the Park to pursue ‘beasts of the chase’. There are also plenty of walking, cycling, and horse riding routes to explore and some beautiful towns to visit including Burley, Beaulieu and Lymington.
The national parks were created to allow people to enjoy the UK’s natural environments for years to come. They offer a wide variety of different landscapes, terrain and cultures to enjoy so grab your walking boots and head out to a national park near you!
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