Every year, an estimated 110 million people head to national parks across the UK. With social distancing restrictions likely to remain in place in the coming weeks, they could be the perfect place to explore and get outdoors.
Planning a trip to the great outdoors may be commonly associated with the summer months, but there’s still plenty on offer in winter too. Pull on walking boots and wrap up warm and there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy the beautiful landscapes as we head towards spring.
The Peak District was the first area to be designated a national park in 1951 after the government faced pressure to preserve natural beauty and provide recreational opportunities to the public. It wasn’t long before other areas were named national parks too, and there are now 15 to explore across the UK:
- Peak District
- Lake District
- Pembrokeshire Coast
- North York Moors
- Yorkshire Dales
- Brecon Beacons
- The Broads
- Loch Lomond and The Trossachs
- New Forest
- South Downs
You’ve probably visited at least a few of our national parks, but there are plenty of reasons to plan another trip.
1. Take in the beautiful views
The national parks are selected for being areas of outstanding beauty, so it goes without saying the views are stunning. But the variety between the different areas means they’re all worth a visit. From the towering mountains of the Scottish Highlands in the Cairngorms to the green, sloping valleys of the Yorkshire Dales, heading to the national parks can really give you an appreciation of how diverse and beautiful the UK is. National parks guarantee a stunning backdrop for your trip. Several are also designated Dark Sky Reserves and could provide you with incredible views of the stars after dark too.
2. Get a glimpse of British wildlife
If your home means you’re usually surrounded by buildings and roads rather than green spaces, it can be easy to forget how much wildlife we have in the UK. The rich habitats of the national parks are the perfect place to spot wildlife. You’ll have a chance to glimpse a huge variety of birds soaring above you, including kingfishers, goshawks and much more. If you’re lucky, you could see red squirrels, deer or even wild ponies as you take in the parks.
3. There are hikes for all abilities
Heading out on a hike can lift your mood and improve your physical health. When you first think of hiking, getting off the beaten track might spring to mind and there are plenty of chances to do this or choose adventurous routes. But the national parks offer walks for all abilities, including short loops that are perfect for beginners. The parks also have 1,386 miles of routes designated as suitable for people with access challenges, ensuring everyone can enjoy the spaces.
4. You don’t have to hike to explore
If hiking isn’t for you, there’s more than one way to take in the national parks. Cycling is a popular option, whether you want to wind your way through country lanes or head into rugged landscapes with a mountain bike. Depending on where you head, you can explore on a boat, The Broads, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, and Lake District are ideal destinations if you want to relax on the water. Another option you may want to consider is to go through the parks by train. Several rail lines will take you through the landscapes so you can enjoy the countryside as you sit back and relax, the Snowdown Mountain Railway can even take you to the summit of Mount Snowdon.
5. A trip can boost your mental health
Mental health has become an important topic as the Covid-19 lockdown meant more people were forced to stay home and reduce social contact. But getting outdoors for fresh air, exercise and exploring the natural world can improve your mental health. Research looking at the impact of lockdown, led by the Basque technology centre AZTI found when lockdown restrictions allowed people to visit natural places, levels of depression and anxiety were lower. Visiting a national park, or other green space near your home, can help you unwind, relax and improve your overall wellbeing.
6. It’s a chance to bring history to life
Each national park has its own history that you can uncover. If you want to combine history with exploring the parks, a bit of research beforehand can unearth plenty of hidden gems that are worth your time. The Lake District, for example, includes huge historic houses and gardens, such as Muncaster Castle and Hill Top, Beatrix Potter’s farmhouse home, industrial structures, Roman settlements and stone age remains. Some of the historic attractions may require a fee to visit and keep in mind that indoor venues may be closed due to Covid-19 restrictions.
7. Appreciate what the UK has to offer
With traditional overseas holidays being uncertain in the coming months, day trips in the UK and staycations are set to become more popular. Heading to one of the national parks this winter is a great reminder of the stunning destinations we can visit without needing to set foot on a plane. You might even find your new favourite holiday location.