Travelling to new countries is a wonderful part of life, but there really is no place like home; and what a place to call home. Wild plains, shimmering lochs, sky-high mountains, lush meadows, dense woodland… Britain’s National Parks have so much to offer and more. There are 15 national parks in Britain in total; areas protected for their beautiful countryside, wildlife and cultural heritage. So, if you’re looking for a last minute get-a-way this summer, why hop on a plane? Opt for a staycation and get to know your home a bit better. We’ve selected five of our favourite national parks from different ends of the country. If your favourite’s not on our list, then let us know which one is in the comment section below.
The New Forest
Tucked away on England’s southern coast, the New Forest is 218 square miles of ancient woodland, charming villages and wild-looking heaths. It may be the smallest of Britain’s National Parks, but this pleasant area is one of England’s most picturesque spots. Once the hunting ground of William the Conqueror, the landscape has been shaped through centuries of grazing by the ponies, cattle and deer that roam freely across the park.
You’re never short of things to do in the New Forest, whether you fancy riding horseback through the forest, or exploring the many historic houses, museums and gardens. Visit in the early spring for wonderful bluebell trails through the woodland.
Things to do:
- Pay a visit to the beautiful Georgian market town of Lymington and dip a toe (or more) in the open air seawater baths; the UK’s oldest lido.
- Experience the park’s natural beauty on horseback. Go on a hack through the dense forest or canter over open fields, it’s the perfect way to get back to nature.
- Explore the historic town of Beaulieu. With its 13th century abbey, historic palace and stunning gardens and national motor museum, there’s something to keep the whole family entertained.
- Hop on board a real life steam train and pay a visit to the spectacular Exbury gardens, world-famous for its Rothschild Collection of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and rare trees and shrubs.
- Head out across miles of unenclosed land and soak up the atmosphere. Ramble along rivers, through woodland, over heaths, or head out to the coast.
Discover more: thenewforest.co.uk
The Brecon Beacons National Park in South Wales is 520 miles of wide open moorland, ancient castles and standing stones, steep river valleys with spectacular waterfalls, dramatic gorges and some of the highest peaks in southern Britain. It’s an area of wild natural beauty and a rich cultural history that has changed so much over the centuries. Discover the park’s industrial heritage and rural culture by exploring the number of interesting museums, market towns and canalside villages. Don’t miss the UNESCO world heritage site of Blaenavon, a major producer of iron and coal in the 19th century.
To the west of the Breacon Beacons themselves is Fforest Fawr, or “great forest” in English, a woodland area close to Castell Coch and Wales’ first Geopark. Established in October 2005, the park is full of rolling grass and heather-clad hills, broken by the occasional appearance of red sandstone. It’s an area of geological heritage, sculptured by ice then transformed by man over centuries.
If you think the Breacon Beacons is beautiful during the day, wait until the sun goes down. As Wales’ only dark sky reserve, this national park offers some of the blackest skies in the whole of the UK. You don’t need a telescope to watch the milky way unfold before your very eyes.
Things to do:
- Take a blanket and head out for a bit of star gazing. Learn the different constellations or watch as a meteor shower dances above your head.
- Pay a visit to Fforest Fawr. Children will love the magical sculpture trail through the forest and everyone will enjoy going back in time at the stunning Carreg Cennen castle.
- With a huge range of paddlesports and water conditions, from calm reservoirs to exhilarating rapids, there’s something new for everyone to try.
- Go Geocaching, a treasure hunt across the Brecon Beacons that’s great fun for all the family.
- Discover the area’s strong coal mining roots at Blaenavon, a UNESCO world heritage site honouring the miners and ironworkers of the past.
Discover more: breconbeacons.org
Loch Lomond and the Trossachs
Situated at the southern edge of the Scottish Highlands, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs is Scotland’s first national park. Snow-covered mountains create a dramatic back-drop to the endless water of Loch Lomond. At 24.5miles long, Loch Lomond is mainland UK’s largest body of water. A natural playground, there are plenty of watersports to enjoy, tiny rural villages to explore and rare animals to discover.
There are several ranges of hills in the park, the Trossachs being the most famous. Known as Rob Roy country, it’s said that the notorious outlaw hid himself away from his enemies in the thick forests that carpet the hills. The area’s wild beauty was also much loved by writer Walter Scott who immortalised the area in a number of poems. Today, little has changed. The forests are as green and thick as always and home to red squirrels, Britain’s only native squirrel. With stunning scenery and tranquil atmosphere, there’s no better place to spend time than on the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.
Things to do:
- Visit Puck’s Glen, named for the character from a Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s a wonderfully enchanting place plucked straight out of a fairy tale.
- Visit the Falls of Fallock and get up close with the special woven look-out point which extends out over the water’s edge.
- Hire a bike and head out into the beautiful scenery. There are flat tarmac tracks, wide forest trails for families and hard-core cycle routes for the more adventurous types.
- Tee up at one of the park’s many golfing ranges, suitable for all levels.
- Catch the waterbus and explore more sites around Loch Lomond.
Discover more: lochlomond-trossachs.org
What started as medieval peat diggings, The Broads have become the largest protected wetlands in the UK. A wonderful myriad of waterways set out over a seemingly endless, flat countryside, the area has been a boating destination since 1878 when the rail link to London suddenly made travel possible. Today tourists come from all around to navigate their way through the mass of rivers and broads (lakes), not to mention stopping off at one or two of the many waterside pubs.
But of course, you don’t have to go on a boat to enjoy The Broads. There are extensive footpaths running throughout the park. Huge skies, rolling farmland, picture-perfect villages and marshland full of wildlife, The Broads is an area of Britain that should not be overlooked. Head east and reach another one of Norfolk’s best assets, miles upon miles of golden sand beaches stretching the whole way around the coast.
Things to do:
- Hire a canal boat and take it out for a spin, whether it’s for a week or just a day.
- Go to one of The Broads’ many nature reserves. They’re excellent places to spot a huge variety of birds, mammals, fish and mini-beasts, from otters to kingfishers and perhaps even a rare bittern.
- Take a long walk along a long beach. Head to Horsey beach in the wintertime to see seals giving birth to their pups.
- Visit the Hardley windmill, the only windmill on the Broads to have its sails turning on a regular basis.
- Explore Fairhaven Woodland and Water Gardens: 130 acres of ancient woodland with nature trails for the kids, bird hides, a tearoom and a year-round programme of events.
Discover more: norfolkbroads.com
As the set of many films such as Robin Hood Prince of Thieves and Calendar Girls, the wild, rugged beauty of the Yorkshire Dales is not to be missed. It’s a mix of limestone hills and misty moorland, criss-crossed with dry-stone walls. This is prime walking country with gentle trails across the rolling fields and more extreme walks in the Three Peaks area of Penyghent.
The Yorkshire Dales National Park is a living, working landscape with each dale, or valley, commanding its own unique character and charm. Sheep graze on the uplands while stone-built villages and hay meadows speckle the landscape. Historical reminders are still present in the Viking place names and medieval castles. With outstanding scenery, protected wildlife and rich heritage, the rolling Dales have an unrivalled sense of tranquillity.
Things to do:
- Take the National Trust trail to Malham Cove and Gordale. Enjoy breathtaking views from the top of this huge amphitheatre-shaped cliff of limestone rock. Scenes from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows were filmed here.
- Go underground at White Scar Cave, the longest show cave in Britain. Discover centuries worth of stalactites and stalagmites and even an underground waterfall. Great fun for kids and adults alike.
- Take a train ride over the 24 arches of the Ribblehead Viaduct, a fantastic feat of Victorian engineering.
- Time travel back to the 14th century at Bolton Castle, one of the countries best preserved medieval fortresses which still bares the scars of battle today.
- It’s all aboard at Embsay station, as a traditional steam train takes you on a journey through beautiful scenery and traditional Yorkshire villages.
Discover more: yorkshiredales.org.uk
Don’t forget, there are 10 other national parks in Britain that we haven’t covered. You can see a full list of them here: nationalparks.gov.uk. Show your friends why staycations are the best by sharing this article on facebook and google+. Have you had an amazing British adventure in one of our national parks? Let us know about it in the comments section.