We're often surprised how many people don't realise that there are 15 national parks across the UK. They're all excellent to visit, and although you'll definitely recognise lots of the names, there will likely be a few you've never heard before. We wanted to highlight each park individually, starting with the 10 parks in England, then the 3 parks in Wales, and finally the 2 parks in Scotland. Let's get into it:
First of all - what is a national park?
As the National Park UK website explains - a national park is an area of land which has been designated as a protected area of land due to its special qualities. When an area of land has a particularly high number of special qualities such as stunning landscapes, natural beauty, diverse wildlife, and interesting historical sites, it is considered to be worthy of an official National Park title. This means that the government will help to protect and enhance the area so future generations can enjoy it.
- Steven Spielberg filmed 'War Horse' here and described it as one of the highlights of his career
- Dartmoor is an important archaeological area and has the highest concentration of Bronze Age sites in the UK
- If you're walking about the woods, keep an eye out for the Black Ash Slug, the world’s largest land slug. These slimy guys can grow to 6 inches long!
- Exmoor is one of the smallest national parks in the UK at just 693 square kilometres in size
- Exmoor has the highest coastline on the British mainland (the highest point is 314m)
- The Lake District is home to some of the most diverse freshwater habitats in England. This includes mires, arctic-alpine communities, and lakeshore wetlands.
- The Lake District has the highest concentration of outdoor activity centres in the entire UK, so there is plenty to do!
- Archaeologists have discovered that there have been people in the Lake District since the end of the last Ice Age.
We recently conducted a poll to see if locals thought the Lake District is a good place to live, and the results were overwhelmingly positive.
The New Forest
- The New Forest was actually created by William the Conqueror in the early 11th century as he wanted a royal hunting ground
- You'll find lots of free-roaming animals there including ponies, cattle, donkeys and pigs
North York Moors
- The park is home to more than 800 scheduled monuments (protected against unauthorised change)
- Almost a quarter of the national park is woodland, and there are more than 2000km of rights of way paths to explore
- This is the Northernmost national park in the entire country and is renowned for how clean and fresh the air is
- This is the largest protected dark sky area in Europe
- There is a network of former railway line trails throughout the park which is more than 30 miles long
- Keep an eye on the rock faces and you might spot a Ring ouzel, a very rare bird found in the Peak District
- During the summer months you could expect to find as many as 30 different species of butterfly fluttering about the wildflowers
- The popular walking route The South Downs Way goes through this national park, and at 100 miles long it takes you through some incredible landscapes and scenery
- You'll find ancient dry-stone walls throughout the park (some estimate more than 5000 miles of dry-stone walls) and they're a really defining feature of the area. Some of these walls are more than 700 years old
- More than 40% of the national Park is moorland, making it ideal for wildlife such as black grouse
- On a clear night Brecon Beacons is an excellent place to see meteor showers
- The park is home to blanket bogs which are playing an important role in the battle against climate change due to how they act as a carbon store
Horse Riding at the Brecon Beacons
Loch Lomond & The Trossachs
This was the first national park established in Scotland and it centres around the impressive Loch Lomond. It's ideal for walking, with 6 of Scotland’s Great Trails found in the national park and a nice mix of Highlands and Lowlands. It's also only a short distance from cities like Glasgow and Stirling, so ideal if you want to spend some time in the city before diving back into the natural beauty of the park.
Just north of here you can find the Glencoe Nature Reserve where it is possible to become a Lord of Glencoe.
Find the official website here - https://www.lochlomond-trossachs.org/
Dark skies parks
Many of the national parks in the UK are particularly good for dark sky stargazing, and 4 of them have been awarded with an International Dark Sky Reserve status. Some of the parks are particularly great for seeing the Milky Way. Here is the breakdown of where to go if you want an amazing dark sky experience:
- Brecon Beacons National Park - Awarded as an International Dark Sky Reserve
- Cairngorms National Park - there is a Dark Sky Discovery site at Glenlivet Estate
- Exmoor National Park - was awarded as an International Dark Sky Reserve in 2011
- Lake District National Park - there is a Dark Sky Discovery Site at Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre
- Northumberland National Park - was awarded as an International Dark Sky Park
- North York Moors National Park - has Dark Sky Discovery Sites at Danby and Sutton Bank National Park Centres
- Peak District National Park - has Dark Sky Discovery Sites at Surprise View, Parsley Hay and Minninglow
- South Downs National Park - awarded as an International Dark Sky Reserve
- Snowdonia National Park - awarded as an International Dark Sky Reserve
- We'll give a special mention to Galloway Forest Park, because even though it isn't an official national park yet (although we're feeling hopeful that it will be soon), it's one of the best dark sky areas in the world.