The UK’s fifteen national parks are an eclectic mix of landscapes, ranging from heather-clad moorland, rolling hills and craggy fells to expansive lochs, wooded valleys and sandy beaches. They’re home to our highest peaks, our deepest lake and miles upon miles of trails for everyone to enjoy. Oh, and millions of sheep (of which the Lake District’s hardy Herdwicks are by far the cutest). I’ve visited six of our national parks to date – some on multiple occasions, others just the once – and each of them holds a place in my heart.
Snowdonia, having been virtually on my doorstop for the majority of my existence, is the one I’ve visited the most over the years. I remember following our head teacher up the Watkins Path on a school trip way back when, gleeful at the prospect of an impromptu hike to the top of Snowdon, Wales’ highest peak. We never did make the summit on that occasion; three-quarters of the way up, it transpired that not everyone was suitably prepared, so we had to turn back. Fast-forward a few years and, fuelled on bacon butties, I made it to the top with my family (and a couple of toys which came along for the ride). I’ve since climbed it again twice, but I’ve only had clear views from the summit once. Snowdonia isn’t just Snowdon, though: there are beautiful waterfalls to see, heritage railways to ride and slate caverns to tour.
Doing my Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award at the University of Leeds led me to the Peak District, a national park widely known for its dramatic moorland in the north and limestone dales in the south. I, on the other hand, know only of its enveloping mist, bitter temperatures and snow-covered plateaus. (Remember when the UK had snow at Easter? Yep, that’s the year that I was doing my practice expedition.) One of these days, I’d love to go back and do a walk there that doesn’t involve wading through thigh-deep snow.
Next up, it’s the Yorkshire Dales, a perennial favourite. I completed my final expedition there, back in 2013, inadvertently squashing a mouse under my boot in the process. Since then, I’ve volunteered at Trailtrekker (an Oxfam fundraising event, which was discontinued a few years ago), hiked a small chunk of the Dales Way and climbed the Yorkshire Three Peaks (see these posts for more on Pen-y-ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside). I’ve also lost count of the number of times I’ve visited Malham Cove; if the name doesn’t ring a bell, the photo will – it’s been immortalised in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1). I wouldn’t say no to a trip up to Wensleydale one day for a spot of cheese and crackers with Wallace and Gromit.
The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award also took me to the North York Moors – only this time, I was on the other side of the fence, as a supervisor. Other than the campsites being the utter pits (think fields shared with cowpats of extreme proportions and spider-filled outhouses-cum-toilets), I have nothing but fond memories from those few days spent tootling round the national park. Unfortunately, I don’t seem to have all that many photos of from that trip. I’ll take that as a good excuse to return . . .
Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Lake District has cast its spell over many a visitor for centuries. Whilst Windermere, Ambleside and Grasmere draw the biggest crowds, forming a tourist triangle of sorts, that’s not to say that other parts of the park aren’t worth a visit. Quite the contrary, in fact. For starters, you can conquer Scafell Pike without having to contend with a human motorway of hikers, à la Snowdon’s Llanberis path. (Do tell me what the views are like from the top if you’ve been fortunate enough to have any; I could see precisely nought through the fog when I was up there.) Alternatively, board the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway, and discover scenic waterfalls, tarns and a former mill turned heritage museum in the quaint village of Boot.
More recently, I ventured up to Scotland to walk the West Highland Way and explore Loch Lomond and The Trossachs (more on this soon). I came home with a few blisters, many memories and a burning desire to do some Munro-bagging when I’m next en Écosse. (Feel free to drop me a recommendation in the comments!) If you’re looking for breathtaking scenery, this park won’t disappoint: it’s got expansive lochs, mountains and pinewood forests aplenty (plus some resident red deer). Scotland sets the bar high, that’s for sure!
National Parks Week runs from 22-29 July 2018.