The creation of national parks in the UK has its roots in a revolutionary idea. Early ramblers, such as the romantic poets Coleridge and Wordsworth, felt that being in nature had a restorative influence on the human soul, and that the opportunity to explore the country’s wildest landscapes should be a privilege open to everyone.
Since the Peak District was first designated a national park in 1951, the UK has added 14 more sites to the list, ranging from historic coastlines and beauteous mountain ranges to the gentle downs of southern England.
Although each site is a revered sanctum where one can be immersed in the chilled splendour of the British countryside, national parks are also the UK’s playgrounds, full of fun activities for all ages.
Whether you’re looking to expend energy during a full-throttle adventure trip, with climbing, sailing and kayaking, or simply want to stretch your legs, you’ll find something to suit your needs at one of these great destinations.
Below is a selection of our five favourite UK national parks you can access via our network, perfect for a summer holiday getaway.
The vast and ancient moorland of Dartmoor National Park is a truly wild and wonderful place to visit. Woven throughout the 388 square miles of unforgettable landscape, including tors, hills and stony outcrops, you’ll find paths leading to the area’s key landmarks, perfect for walking and cycling.
Among the Devonshire park’s many treasures are Okehampton Castle, a fine ruin in the care of English Heritage; the beautiful Buckfast Abbey, home to a community of Benedictine monks; and Lydford Gorge, with its dramatic waterfalls and abundant wildlife.
Getting there: The nearest GWR stations are Exeter, Newton Abbot, Totnes, Ivybridge, Okehampton and Plymouth. For details of onward travel, head to visitdartmoor.co.uk.
Best known for its heather-clad moorland, Exmoor is also home to several hundred acres of woods and a stretch of Somerset’s most stunning coastline. For sheer variety, this southwest national park rivals many of the others, with a diversity of wildlife to match.
Exmoor is best explored by foot, with routes suitable for most abilities. Consider joining one of the many guided walks that will take you via some of the park’s most popular landmarks, such as the Valley of Rocks, with its stunning views out to the Bristol Channel, as well as some hidden gems.
If you’re planning an overnight trip, Exmoor is one of the best places in the country for stargazing. With little in the way of light pollution, you can see the sky come alive like never before.
Getting there: Take a GWR train to Taunton station, Tiverton Parkway station (approx. 60-minute bus journey from Exmoor National Park) or Barnstaple station (approx. 30-minute bus journey). For more details, visit exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk.
New Forest was first ordained ‘new’ way back in 1079 when William the Conqueror appropriated the land as one of his royal forests. Designated a national park in 2005 – and in this sense, it’s one of the ‘newest’ of the bunch – New Forest is an idyllic getaway, where ponies, cattle and donkeys roam free.
When you’re done exploring the ancient woodland, open moors and clifftops, relax at one of New Forest’s many spa retreats. Among them is Chewton Glen Hotel, a traditional country house with a modern twist – you can stay in one of the hotel’s 14 treehouse suites, high up in the canopy.
Getting there: Take a GWR train to Southampton Central station and then a 35-minute onward bus journey to Ashurst New Forest.
Open moors for as far as the eye can see when you visit the beautiful New Forest
To visit South Downs National Park is to travel back in time. The area’s earliest inhabitants settled on the downs some 5,000 years ago, farming and mining for flint. A thriving region throughout the Iron Age, it was later a chic neighbourhood for high class Romans.
There’s a quintessential Englishness to the landscape of the downs, with its rolling, green hills that stretch as far as the white, chalk cliffs of East Sussex. Such are the views, Neolithic hunters are said to have once used the downs to spot herds of animals in the distance. Head to Chanctonbury Ring (PDF) to get the best vantage, with breath-taking panoramas looking out to sea and over the North Downs.
Getting there: Take a GWR train to Chichester then an onward bus to Midhurst.
If you’re looking for an activity-filled getaway, with the option of abseiling, hiking, rafting and more, look no further than the fabulous Brecon Beacons.
The South Wales mountain range is not only one of the UK’s most celebrated landscapes, with fabulous walking opportunities, it’s also perfect for those seeking something a little more adventurous.
Hawk Adventures is just one of many providers offering outdoor activities and equipment hire. The award-winning company has been on a campaign of thrill since 1990, with half-day and full-day adventures available.
Getting there: Take a GWR train to Cardiff, Neath,Swansea or Hereford and then an onward bus journey.
The Brecon Beacons’ dramatic landscape lends itself perfectly to an adventure-filled holiday
Worried that plans may change? No need! Until 31 March, you can change your advance purchase tickets fee free with GWR, so you can book, and travel, with confidence. Find out more on our Advance ticket page.
15 July 2021 Places to stay ISports and adventure I
Thatched-roof cottages, golden stone buildings, great pubs and British countryside. Visit the Cotswolds with GWR. Check out one of the prettiest patches of rural England, only a short journey London Paddington.