From star-gazing beyond our stratosphere to simply surrounding yourself with the sounds of nature, here’s what you can expect from each of England’s 10 national parks.Less
Choose a walking route to meet your fitness level and keep an eye out in the woodland – this is one of the few places in England where you can still spot red squirrels. A section of Unesco-heritage listed Hadrian’s Wall – the Roman wall running coast-to-coast – goes through the south of the park. Take a glimpse at “some of the darkest skies in the world” at Kielder Observatory, which is open year-round, for a chance to spot the Milky Way and other astronomical wonders.
The Lake District is not only a great place for hill walks and water-based activities, but it has many literary connections too. Ever wondered what inspired Beatrix Potter to write The Tale of Peter Rabbit? Then you (and any little ones) will love connecting the surrounding landscapes with the stories at the World of Beatrix Potter. Lakeland has inspired writers and many other creatives with its stunning hills and reflective lakes.
Best explored by car, The Moors are made up of windswept moorland, dales (valleys) and coast, where heather blooms in the summer months. Most of the moorland is open access land, meaning you can roam away from the paths. You can take the steam train from Pickering to Whitby (reopening 1 August, 2020) and follow walking trails that connect the stations along the route. A stop at picturesque Goathland is likely to be popular with Harry Potter fans, as it doubles as Hogsmeade station in the movies.
The Yorkshire Dales is home to the hills that form the popular Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge -- a walk of 24 miles that must include all three peaks, and be completed within 12 hours. Nearby is the 30-m-high Ribblehead Viaduct, an incredible piece of Victorian engineering, that carries the Settle–Carlisle train line. The park is an adventure playground for cyclists, with hundreds of miles of trails lined with drystone walls that lead through scenic valleys.
England’s first national park, the Peak District is the southernmost point of the Pennines. Climbers head to the gritstone outcrops of Stanage Edge or the Roaches to ascend the cliffs and boulders, and, with many underground formations, this is a popular destination for cavers too. Those that prefer to wander cave networks rather than scramble through them can join tours at the vast limestone caves of Poole’s Cavern or the mining experience at Treak Cliff Cavern.
The Broads is a protected wetland made up of shallow lakes and navigable waterways in Norfolk (and part of Suffolk). The area is absolutely teeming with wildlife, so if you’re a keen bird-watcher, love butterflies, or are hoping to spot a seal pup, this is the national park for you. Experience the varied habitats of reed beds, fens and marshland on a boat trip – tourist boats go out daily from towns throughout the Broad, or hire one yourself for a more hands-on experience of life on the water.
The South Downs offers more than 600 sq miles of countryside shaped by centuries of farming. Take any of the car-free trails, bridleways, paths and even old railway lines for stunning views that stretch across the Weald and all the way to the coast. The 100-mile-long South Downs Way follows the chalk and flint ridge all the way from Winchester in the west to the seaside town of Eastbourne.
The New Forest – made up of heathland, woodland, bogs, farmland and coastline – is neither new, nor totally forest. Don’t be surprised to see ponies, cattle or donkeys stroll casually into the road. They roam free in the Forest, let loose by commoners, who are local landowners with the right to allow their livestock to graze in the national park.
Exmoor offers a varied landscape of rocky river valleys, desolate moorland, and coastal cliffs. The twin villages of Lynton and Lynmouth are connected by a Victorian cliff railway, with Lynton at the top and Lynmouth and its pretty harbour on the shore. Mountain-bikers will find a wealth of challenging tracks and bridleways in the park, or enjoy some of the superb views on an on-road cycle. Exmoor, with exceptional star-gazing opportunities, was Europe’s first designated Dark Sky Reserve.
Dartmoor has vast moorland dotted with dramatic granite tors (outcrops or stacks of rocks, usually on a hill), and deep wooded river valleys. Whilst the landscapes may seem desolate, there’s evidence of human activity in this region dating from the Bronze Age. Follow one of the themed walking routes to better understand the landscape, and look out for the iconic Dartmoor ponies grazing on the moors as you go. Wild camping is also allowed in large parts of Dartmoor.