So many people took literal first steps towards a love of the outdoors in some of the UK’s national parks and our team are no different. Here are our favourites, along with the moments and memories that made us love them for life.
Favourite national park: The South Downs
I was using parts of it before it existed as a National Park. I grew up and went to school in the most deprived part of my home town and I could easily access parts of it by foot and escape for a while. I’d walk along the Brighton to Rottingdean undercliff path, with the waves crashing during storms. I felt a little at risk and alive from nature but safe enough to be there on my own or with my school friends. It was a path that took me to another world away from my ordinary one.
I could hear the fog horn from the marina at one end from my bedroom window and it is still my favourite sound. I wish I had appreciated more what was on my doorstep. Sadly there are just as many children who live on the same deprived estate that don’t know how close they are to escaping for a bit.
Start at Brighton Marina, which is a little rough and ready, and walk along the undercliff to Rottingdean (about 4 miles). I recommend a wet and windy day with some good boots and waterproofs. But not too windy or it gets closed. There are a few pubs in the village at the end but head for The Plough. If you are lucky you might see one of the best lightning shows in the country over the sea.
Fun fact The race hill in North East Brighton, which is part of the park, crosses over one of the main roads. A bit like a level crossing, its closed occasionally, but for horses, not trains. It opens up again once they’ve raced by. My school bus home was quite often stuck while they galloped past. It was hit and miss if I would make Home and Away in time!
Favourite national park: Dartmoor
It has such a variety of landscapes - barren moors, wild forests and river swims in the Dart. Also the fact you can camp in some amazing spots without the worry, feeling connected to nature and making it into a multi-day hike. Every year my friends and I head down to a secret spot on the River Dart to cook under the stars, sit round the campfire and swim in the dart - it feels so familiar to us now and I have some amazing memories of this place.
Head for Sharrah Pool for a river dip or to Crazywell Pool near Burrator Reservioir. The latter is beautiful and hidden amongst the hills. You'll pretty much have it to yourself
Letterboxing is an activity that started in Dartmoor. Inside some of the cairns/holes in rocks there are glass jars where you can leave a postcard or letter for fellow travellers to find. I found about it on my last visit and will be doing it next time.
Favourite national park: Eryri/Snowdonia
I’ve been going there for years with my parents and exploring with friends as I got older. My parents have a holiday cottage there and I’ve got so many happy memories from special occasions – celebrating New Year with drinks outside under the stars, summer birthdays with friends, walking across the Barmouth Bridge to go to the beach, exploring Harlech Castle and so many hikes.
It’s one of the rare areas of the UK that still feels really wild. It also has so much history and myth connected to it, and there’s a real sense of magic in this part of Wales, like you’ve stepped back in time somehow.
Most people head straight for Yr Wyddfa/Snowdon, but Cader Idris is another really gorgeous hike and usually much quieter. The surrounding area is beautiful too, the quiet little village of Dolgellau is great for refuelling after the walk.
I’m fairly sure Eryri was the first national park in the UK to reclaim its non-anglicised name (with Bannau Brycheiniog/Brecon Beacons following soon after). I think this is a really cool and an important move towards reconnecting with the history of the UK and its different cultures and rediscovering our connection to the land.
Favourite national park: Pembrokeshire Coast
It’s just beautiful and can seem less busy than other national parks, which always appeals to me. I once spent a week driving around Wales in my campervan and it was the place I spent most of my time. My absolute favourite moment was seeing seals and their pups at the Blue Lagoon near Abereiddy beach. It was cordoned off to make sure they were undisturbed but you could still see them from the top of the hills - so special.
Solva is my favourite place. The beach is really long, so you can walk completely alone. You can also connect to the Welsh Coastal Path for beautiful walks and it has a lovely cafe called Mamgu that sells different flavoured Welsh cakes every day. I do have a soft spot for Little Haven too though!
Nowhere in the park is more than 10 miles from the sea!
Favourite national park: The Lake District
My grandmother spent most of her life in the lakes, walking the mountains and following in the footsteps of the great Alfred Wainwright. As she got older and couldn’t walk far anymore, she still used to come along to sit in the car and enjoy the view whilst we walked (sometimes she would wander off, which was a bit alarming) Like Wainwright one of her favourite mountains was Haystacks overlooking Buttermere. She requested that a small amount of her ashes be scattered from the top of the mountain when she died. When that day came, my cousins and I set off up the mountain (after an obligatory stop for pies) We were almost at the top when cousin Kieran said to cousin Reuben “have you got Grandma?”… “no, have you not got Grandma?” turns out, we’d left grandma in the car (but managed to remember the pies). Cousin Reuben honourably ran all the way back down the mountain to collect her and bring her back up the mountain… thankfully this time she hadn’t wandered off.
I feel so lucky to spend so much time in one of the wilder places we have in the England, the grand lakes and towering mountains make your worries seem insignificant. The collective care and love you find from the local people, the friendly nods and hellos from fellow walkers, all make you feel like you belong. You want to be a bigger part of the place, help it thrive and survive.
Warnscale Bothy – take the walk we did to scatter my Granny’s ashes and you’ll come across Warnscale Bothy, one of the best views you’ll find in England. Brave a night in the bothy even! But better still, avoid the crowds and head for the East. My favourite spot to walk is the Duddon Valley, a wide valley with walks through woodlands and past some amazing river swim spots. Stop for lunch at The Blacksmiths Arms.
Pencils Were Invented in the Lake District – you can even visit the pencil museum in Keswick. More importantly, Sticky Toffee Puddings were also invented there. The beautiful vistas at Ullswater somehow inspired Francis Coulson to create the very first sticky toffee pudding in the 1970s. Visit the Sticky Toffee Pudding Company shop in Cartmell for their goodies (also sold elsewhere in Cumbria)
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