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15 ways to experience winter in our national parks

Travelling in winter is always rewarding. You avoid the summer crowds, get the best rates on accommodation and see places in that magical pale winter light. Blustery hikes make it all the more satisfying to pull up a chair by a pub fireside and sip warming drinks as the feeling comes back to your toes and look over menus on which summer salads have given way to rich, red dishes of solidity and substance. Now imagine all this, coupled with some of the most spectacular scenery there is around. That’s what visiting the UK’s 15 national parks in winter is like. From the furthest edge of the Cairngorms to the depths of Dartmoor, they offer you beauty and adventure in an enormous number of ways. To help protect these precious wild spaces, we’ve made Campaign for National Parks our charity partner. Here’s a reason to skip summer and visit any one (or all 15) of them in the beautiful winter weather.

1. The Cairngorms - Around Aviemore, there's some great skiing in the Cairngorms, but if you're completely mad and we get a rare heavy snowfall, try Snowholing as well!  

2. The Norfolk Broads - The bird watching here in winter is spectacular, as it's where many migratory species hit the coast. You'll see huge flocks of geese, plenty of raptors and might (if you're alert and lucky) see cranes, waxwings, and buntings.  

3. Bannau Brycheiniog  - We'd normally advise looking down at the land when you're out in a national park, especially if you're walking a sharp ridge, but the stars here, thanks to the tiny population in the park and surrounding areas, are stunning... if you get a clear night. 

4. Pembrokshire Coast - If the surfing here isn't for you, then join Craig Evens (and Llew, his golden retriever) on  winter coastal foraging courses, learning how to eat off the land and turn your bbq into a banquet of discoveries. 

5. Dartmoor - Make this beautiful place a gym for your soul, with Wild Roam, who run fitness sessions in the great outdoors that finish with a cold water river swim.

6. The Lake District – No matter how cold it gets on the outside, you’ll be warm on the inside, with a Gin and Whiskey tour at The Lakes Distillery. Or, stick to the core Lakes activity and take on winter hiking. It’s important to stay safe, so a navigation course with Harriet could be just the thing.

7. The New Forest – Cycle trails criss cross The New Forest with something for all abilities, although there’s not too much at the top end of the extreme spectrum. They’re great for miles of trundling, although in winter, expect to get merrily muddy.

8. The South Downs – the large open swathes of The South Downs make it perfect for spotting and marveling at starling murmurations. Small ones are common sights and some huge instances have been observed.

9. The Peak District – A green (and warm) way to see the Peak District is on one of the new Tesla tours, but if you’re up for more of a chilly challenge, try the excellent caving there instead.

10. The Yorkshire Dales – Otters have flourished in the Dales in recent years and winter’s shorter days give you more chance of spotting these elusive, mostly nocturnal creatures. Although it’s just outside the park, there’s a great spot at Staverly where a sunrise walk might get you a little otter action.

11. The North York Moors - Head to the gardens of Mount Grace Priory, Castle Howard or Burton Agnes Hall in February to see winter's passing heralded by spectacular displays of Snowdrops. 

12. Loch Lomond & Trossachs - Ever felt that a mountain peak just wasn't giving you a good enough view? Try seeing the breathtaking frosted hills and the wates of Loch Lomond from a sea plane. 

13. Eryri - There's every chance that the park's famous peak is shrouded in cloud, so hug the valleys instead on the Talyllyn steam railway, which you can hop on and off to explore waterfall walks in the Celtic Rainforest.  

14. Northumberland - There are 53 castles in Northumberland and you can tour them all if you really crave crenellations. If you're sticking strictly to the national park boundaries, then head for Harbottle. 

15. Exmoor - Visit Exmoor's 'Little Switzerland', a name it was given in the 19th century by poets Southey and the Shelleys. The circular walk from Lynmouth to the Watersmeet Tea Room is a joy even in rough weather and there are carpets of white flowers in the aptly named Snowdrop Valley if you visit late in winter.

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