Fancy taking park walks to a whole new level? Why not explore some of the finest National Parks Britain has on offer. What makes a national park? Yeah, we didn’t know either until we found the National Parks website.

They’re funded by the national government and offer people access to thousands of public footpaths. What’s more, all of the National Parks are on a mission to help the environment; over the past year there were more than 330 conservation projects in action. So to see all this bountiful nature, grab your boots, pack an ordinance survey map (leave those silly walking poles behind) and start hiking!

1. The Broads

Apparently, The Norfolk and Suffolk Broads are Britain’s largest protected wetland. That means there’s a lot of beautiful landscape and hundreds of miles of water. Naturalist Ted Ellis (do you know him? No, us neither) said once that the Broads is a “breathing space for the cure of souls”.

The Broads were once thought to be naturally formed because of their size and natural appearance. But in the 1950s it was revealed that they are actually the result of ancient peat diggings. Peat was extracted from great pits and used as fuel for homes and construction – which left behind great waterways to explore.

So cure your soul with some wildlife watching, and catch glimpses of rare birds. And with all that water you should absolutely do some sailing, kayaking, or paddle boarding.

Where to stay: The Brisley Bell

2. Dartmoor

Think Heathcliff and Cathy territory here. Wild, open moorlands and deep river valleys are your playground. There’s around 450 miles of striking tors and swathes of heather to explore. 

It’s attracted the rich and famous for centuries. Steven Spielberg once said: “I have never before, in my long and eclectic career, been gifted with such an abundance of natural beauty as I experienced filming War Horse on Dartmoor.” It’s inspired others too, including chief crime writers Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie.

Try walking Stallmoor stone row, the longest in the world, or climb a tor for a unique view point. Or even just take a posh picnic.

Where to stay: Boringdon Hall

3. Exmoor

If there’s only one reason to go to Exmoor, it’s to see wild ponies. And wild red deer. Oh, and epic views from towering sea cliffs that overlook the sea. So there are quite a few reasons in fact. There are also lots of quaint villages full of character and charm to explore. 

Stargazing is also a big thing here. Exmoor is Europe’s first International Dark Sky Reserve – which basically means the sky is super sparkly. On a clear night you can see the Milky Way and shooting stars without the need for a telescope. If that sounds like your cup of tea, then sign up to the annual Exmoor Dark Skies Festival in October. 

Where to stay: Dukes Sidmouth

4. Lake District

Not only is the Lake District a National Park it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ancient woodlands are pockmarked with lakes and tarns, which means flora and fauna are in abundance. 

Apparently the Lake District has the highest concentration of outdoor activity centres in the UK. So you better be ready to do some activities. Start with mountaineering – apparently the area birthed the British pastime. You’ll have unrestricted access to the fells and the backdrop of some insane lakes.

Where to stay: Linthwaite House

5. New Forest

The New Forest is packed full of rich history. It’s been an important cultural and archaeological site for centuries, acting as a royal hunting ground, a place for ship-building, an area for salt-making and has been a key military coastal defence for around 500 years.

Loads of animals roam free here, including wild ponies, donkeys, pigs and cattle. It’s a very gentle landscape and there are lots of activities to do here from walking and cycling to foraging trips. And there are a great selection of pubs too.

Where to stay: Chewton Glen

6. Northumberland

Northumberland sits just south of Hadrian’s Wall and is the least populated of all the National Parks. Visit The Sill, a National Landscape Discovery Centre to show you what to do and how to explore the expansive space. They host lots of events and activities if you’re in the mood.

Beware though, the Ministry of Defence owns a lot of the land and troops can be seen training in the area. But don’t worry, these parts are clearly sign-posted as off limits. The training area in fact accounts for 23% of the Northumberland National Park.

Where to stay: Lord Crewe Arms

7. North York Moors

This national park is perfect for a family outing. There are plenty of nature walks to do and why not do some foraging while you’re at it. If you’re lucky, you might be able to spot the moorland merlin, the UK’s smallest bird of prey, or a group of whales off the North York Moors coast.

It’s not all parkland here either. At every turn there’s something new to see: Gothic ruins, Victorian steam trains, Cistercian monasteries, stately homes, fishing villages. That’ll certainly keep everyone busy for a weekend.

Where to stay: Talbot Malton

8. Peak District

The Peak District is all about drama. Massive rock faces decorate the White Peak and Dark Peak for plenty of bouldering and rock climbing. You can also explore the Monsal Trail, a network of tunnels that was used in the days of the steam engine that run through the valleys.

There’s so much to take in here. There are underground caves to explore and plenty of historical stories to tell. The area was, after all, the inspiration for Emily Bronte. You can visit North Lees Hall to read up on it. Or visit the iconic towers of the Derwent Dam flown over by the 617 ‘Dambusters’ squadrons on their training missions.

Where to stay: The Peacock at Rowsley

9. South Downs

A short trip from London, the South Downs is probably the easiest to get too and a nice introduction to the countryside for delicate townies. The rolling hills really hark back to the ‘green and pleasant land’ we always hark on about. It’s the newest addition to the line-up having only been added in 2010 after lots of people campaigned about it.

There are over 3,300km of trails to walk, cycle and hike. Or you could even splash out and do a hot air balloon ride. You might already be familiar with the chalky cliffs of the Seven Sisters – a sunny walk along the south coast.

Where to stay: The Crab & Lobster

10. Yorkshire Dales

This national park seems reminiscent of Postman Pat’s heyday as he trundled past stone houses and walls. And it’s true, the place is full of dry stone walls and hay meadows and really friendly people. 

You can’t stay here without a visit to a few local food festivals. The area is packed full of farmers’ markets, micro-breweries, and cheese. Yup, lots of cheese. Make sure to drop by the world-famous Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes.

Cycling is also a must, as is a walk to one of the many waterfalls in the area; there’s the Hardraw Force – the longest unbroken drop in England – Ingleton Falls, Janet’s Foss and Aysgarth Falls which featured in ‘Robin Hood Prince of Thieves’. If it’s good enough for Kevin Costner, it’s good enough for us.

Where to stay: Grantley Hall

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