Britain's National Parks: As nature intended

It's National Parks Week – a chance to celebrate Britain's varied wilderness, from wetlands to moors and mountains, says Sarah Baxter

What's the attraction?

Variety, that's what. Great Britain has 15 diverse national parks, from the New Forest's pony-grazed heath and woodland to the high mountain plateau of the Cairngorms. They are spectacular landscapes, and we love them: according to a 2012 survey, nine out of 10 English people say national parks are important to them.

The parks are also lived in and welcoming. And this is never more true than during National Parks Week (until 4 August;, which encourages us all to get the most out of Britain's wild places. There are special events going on until Sunday – for example, Northumberland's Walltown Quarry ( is transforming into a zipwire-and-zorb adventure world – but the main aim is to highlight the wealth of adventurous possibilities that national parks provide year-round.

Get wet

As the country's largest protected wetland, The Broads ( in Norfolk is the park for waterborne fun. The most traditional option is to wend through the bird-rich reeds on a wherry – the single-sail, gaff-rigged boats beloved of 19th-century Broadsmen. Wherry Yacht Charter (01692 630674; offers skippered trips on historic 10-berth boats, from £450 per day or £2,200 per week; you can assist the skipper as much or as little as you like.

To up the adrenalin levels, head for the Pembrokeshire Coast ( On TYF's No Limits weekend offered by GreenTraveller, you'll kayak, surf, coasteer and abseil the craggy shores, retiring to a posh bell tent each night (; from £290pp plus £7pppn campsite fees).

Learn from the land

Pick up heritage skills at Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland (northumberlandnational Here, plans are afoot to create a new Landscape Discovery Centre in Once Brewed by 2016; called The Sill (01434 344396;, it will run a range of outdoor courses. Trial workshops, giving a taster of what The Sill will offer, include Stone Carving (14 September; £60pp) and Pole Raising – the art of turning wood into table legs (29 September; £60pp) .

You can also learn a traditional rural skill in the South Downs ( The Weald & Downland Open Air Museum (01243 811363;, 50 acres of preserved buildings dating from between 1300 and 1910 near Chichester, teaches everything from scything (one day; £60pp) to heavy horse ploughing (one day; £85pp).

Spy wildlife

The Cairngorms ( is home to a quarter of Britain's rarest wildlife. The Wild Cairngorms hiking trip, run by Scot Mountain Holidays, aims to spot some of it; there are guided walks through varied habitats – from ancient pine groves to high plateaus – plus a dusk visit to try to glimpse elusive pine marten (01479 831 331;; four nights departing 17 October costs £431pp, full board).

At the other end of the country, Exmoor ( is another wildlife haven. Experience Exmoor offers luxury Land Rover safaris; it has exclusive access to National Trust tracks as well as expert spotters who can point out ponies, red deer and more (01271 889 316;; three hours £30pp).

Take to two wheels

With Yorkshire hosting the grand départ of the 2014 Tour de France, the Peak District (peak in neighbouring Derbyshire is getting in on the pedal revolution, too. The first Peak District Cycling Festival will be held 7-15 September this year, with more than 60 guided rides and activities; Peak Cycle Hire ( will offer half-price hire during the festival.

Or book a whole holiday: Peak Tours' four-day self-guided Heart of the Peak trip visits Buxton, Stanage and Chatsworth via spectacular cycle rides (01457 851 462;; from £230pp).

For white-knuckle fans, the Brecon Beacons ( has some of the UK's best mountain-biking trails – there are 14 single-track routes, offering plenty of choice; waterproof maps are available (01874 623 366;; from £5).

Lace up

Head to the Lake District ( to raise a glass to Wainwright, the author of the famous illustrated guides to the area. Ramblers Holidays' new one-week Ale & Amble trip, based at Hassness Country House on Lake Buttermere, combines hikes (including Haystacks, Wainwright's favourite) with its best pints, stopping frequently at atmospheric Lakeland pubs; departs 28 September (01707 331133;; £469pp including room and most meals).

Or delve into the Yorkshire Dales ( Inntravel's four-night self-guided Classic Yorkshire Dales break wanders between the park's castles, comely villages and drystone-walled slopes, stopping at characterful inns and guesthouses each night, between March and October (01653 617 001;; £378pp B&B).

Fuel your adventures

All this activity can build an appetite. Happily, Britain's protected areas often produce fine foods. Take the North York Moors (, where Real Staithes' new Mackerel: Catch, Cook, Consume trip sees you sail out from seaside Staithes, land your own fish, then learn how to prepare it (01947 840278;; two hours £20pp).

In Snowdonia (, sample the local delights on one of Snowdonia Safari's day-long food tours. Options include the Tipple Trail, which visits small wine, ale and liqueur producers, and the Cheese Chase, a fromagey foray around Wales's best dairy farms; next trip 20 September (07528 771483;; £75pp with lunch).

National park stays

Loch Lomond View's smart two-bed apartment on the lakeshore is part of a private castle (07710 409 299;; four nights from £365). You can get cosy in a shepherd's hut in the South Downs (023 92 632990;; from £75pn), or hide away in a Swedish-style wood cabin – complete with hot tub – in the Peak District (Bilberry Lodge; 01275 395 447,; from £80pn). For that classic cottage feel, try Widecombe Hay Loft, a snug Dartmoor retreat for two (01237 426 256;; from £250pw) or Rhyd-Fudr, an 18th-century mountain eyrie, perched above a Snowdonia lake (0844 5005 101;; two nights from £181; sleeps four).

Who Said That?

"[The Lake District is] sort of national property, in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy." William Wordsworth, poet

"One touch of nature makes the whole world kin." John Muir, naturalist

Insider information

"Visiting a national park is a wonderful journey of discovery. Start at national and look at the listings – there are events almost every day, from ranger walks to family activities. Do learn something about the park you're visiting and try to put something back – for instance, by buying locally sourced food." – Jim Dixon, Lead Officer for National Parks UK

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Corporate Events Sales Manager, Marlow,Buckinghamshire

    £30K- £40K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice