Discover The English National Parks: The Peak District, Yorkshire Dales, South Downs, Northumberland, Lake District, Norfolk Broads, New Forest, Dartmoor, North Yorkshire Moors & Exmoor.
Despite the density of its population, England manages ten national parks and half the country’s population lives within an hour’s drive of their nearest park.
Unlike in some countries, however, these are not wilderness areas. People live and work alongside some of the country’s most breathtaking beauty spots and it’s a testament to the skill of the National Parks Authority that catering for those varying needs is managed so harmoniously.
The Peak District National Park was created in 1951, the first of England’s ten parks. To this day it receives the second highest number of visitors, thanks in part to its proximity to cities such as Sheffield and Derby.
Broadly speaking, you can divide the park into two distinct geographic regions. To the south is the White Peak, home to pretty limestone valleys such as Dovedale.
To the north are the dramatic gritstone ridges of the Dark Peak and Kinder Scout, the park’s highest point and the place where a mass trespass in 1932 set the wheels in motion for the legislation that would protect England’s beauty spots in decades to come.
Another of England’s early parks, the Yorkshire Dales is especially popular with walkers and climbers.
In Malhamdale, you’ll encounter Malham Cove, a splendid cliff carved at the end of the last Ice Age and topped with limestone pavement. Nearby is Gordale Scar waterfall which plunges down a limestone ravine in spectacular fashion.
Closer to the park’s western edge are the famous three peaks – Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough – which form part of the Pennines, and encircle the head of the valley of the River Ribble.
In the heart of the national park lies Wensleydale, lauded for its cheese.
The South Downs
Established in 2010, the South Downs is the newest of England’s ten national parks. This area of chalk downland extends from Hampshire to East Sussex.
Part of the park actually sits on sandstones and clay; known as the Weald, this is where you’ll enjoy the panoramic views from the park’s highest point, Blackdown.
But it’s those white rocks that hog the limelight, not least the commanding vista of the Seven Sisters cliffs, arguably its biggest drawcard.
Further north than any other English national park is Northumberland National Park.
It covers almost a quarter of the county of Northumberland, containing the Cheviot Hills in the north, with moorland to the south where you’ll also find the central section of Hadrian’s Wall.
Kielder Forest, the largest tract of planted woodland in Europe is also found within its boundaries.
Northumberland National Park is also a good place to spot wildlife, including the increasingly rare red squirrel, plus roe deer and even wild goats.
Stargazers will be keen to learn that it forms part of the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park.
The Lake District’s 13 verdant valleys radiate out like spokes on a wheel; within them nestle the sinuous bodies of water that give the park its name.
This, England’s largest national park, is also it’s most visited and it won’t take you long to work out why. Its pastoral landscapes were beloved by poets and writers like William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter.
Today’s visitors flock to honeypots like Grasmere, Keswick and Ambleside. Traditional steamers ferry day-trippers across Ullswater and Windermere but you won’t need transport to hike its brooding fells. Experienced walkers will relish the challenge of scaling Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain.
The Norfolk Broads
The Norfolk Broads is England’s smallest national park but receives plenty of visitors thanks to its proximity to London.
What were once peat workings later flooded, creating a series of waterways that are today known as the Broads.
These navigable rivers and lakes earned a level of protection in 1988 similar to that given to national parks.
Though it’s possible to take a boat trip for the day, many visitors to the Broads enjoy spending a longer period of time exploring this pretty corner of Norfolk and Suffolk, chugging gently past reed banks and windmills to moor up beside country pubs.
Once you discover the charms of the New Forest National Park, wild horses won’t drag you away – literally!
The park’s wildlife, which includes cattle, donkeys and deer as well as the famous ponies, are allowed to roam free thanks to centuries-old common grazing rights.
Rent a bicycle in the honeypot town of Brockenhurst and explore the woodland trails that criss-cross this gorgeous part of Hampshire in Southern England.
Alternatively, head to one of the area’s many equestrian centres and venture out on horseback instead.
When you’re saddle sore, there are plenty of characterful village pubs that are just perfect for resting those tired feet and legs.
The West Country is blessed with many areas of extraordinary beauty and Dartmoor National Park is of course one of them.
This part of Devon is characterized by wild moorland pockmarked by granite rock formations known as tors.
Its deep and winding river valleys boast picturesque walking trails and historic highlights such as Bronze Age stone circles, Neolithic tombs and long-abandoned farm buildings.
Charming villages and market towns provide a place to overnight, among them the Stannary town of Ashburton, quaint Widecombe-in-the- Moor with its ancient church and Buckfast, famed for its abbey and tonic wine.
North Yorkshire Moors
One of the most attractive things about the North Yorkshire Moors National Park is its diversity. It encompasses coastline, dale and forest as well as the moors which give the park its name.
By the sea lies the delightful fishing village of Staithes and the cobbled streets of Robin Hood’s Bay, once the haunt of smugglers.
Inland, highlights include the postcard-perfect village of Hutton-Le-Hole, where sheep grazing on the village green is a common sight. History buffs won’t want to miss the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey and Helmsley’s castle.
Designated as a national park in 1954, this fantastic place is one of the jewels of the southwest. Exmoor boasts unspoilt moorland and a spectacular coastline as well as woodland and river valleys.
The landscape is an ancient one, and home to England’s oldest breed of native pony.
Base yourself somewhere charming like Lynton and Lynmouth, Dulverton, Porlock or Dunster. Whether you choose to hike a section of the South West Coast Path or take a more sedate drive through this bucolic corner of Devon and Somerset, you’ll be enchanted by what you see.