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Our top five UK National Parks

We explore some of our favourite national parks. Perfect for picnics, long rambles and wildlife spotting.

McCarthy Stone Brecon Beacons waterfalls
Health and wellbeing
Posted 28 March 2023
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What is a national park?

Ever wondered what is a considered a national park? They are ‘protected landscapes’ that are known for their outstanding natural beauty, unique features, unpolluted dark skies (good for stargazing!) and abundant wildlife. They are preserved for the benefit of all of us – and of course for sake of the environment too.

How many national parks are there in the UK?

There are 15, ten in England, two in Scotland and three in Wales. They are all stunningly beautiful, but here’s our top five national parks for unforgettable days out.

 1. Dramatic peaks and rugged charm

Britain’s first national park, the Peak District, is also the most popular. It sits on the edge of the Pennines and mostly lies within the county of Derbyshire. It is divided into Dark Peak, made up of wild untamed moorland and White Peak which consists of limestone valleys and raw ridges. The Peak District is perfect for walking – serious walkers will love the iconic Pennine Way - climbing, caving and cycling. But if that all sounds too energetic, there are also some lovely towns and villages to visit too, like the pretty spa town of Buxton, which is also home to the Buxton Opera House. Other must-see attractions include Lyme park, House and Garden, the magnificent Chatsworth House, or for unusual subterranean adventures, explore Poole’s Cavern or take a barge trip through Sandedge Tunnel.

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2. Purple heathered moors and wild ponies

Dartmoor National Park in the heart of Devon is famous for its vast heather moorlands, ancient woodlands, towering tors and roaming Dartmoor ponies. From wild swimming to fishing and, of course rambling, it’s ideal for active adventures, but there is plenty of opportunities to relax and enjoy an iconic Devon cream tea in the many picturesque towns and villages. Try The Café on the Green, Widecombe in the Moor. Buckfastleigh also makes for a pleasant stop, with its famous abbey, Buckfast Tonic Wine and the South Devon Railway. Other popular attractions in the area include the imposing Castle Drogo, Becky Falls Woodland Park and the River Dart Country Park in Ashburton.

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McCarthy Stone National Parks Dartmoor ponies

3. Rocky mountains and glacial lakes

The Lake District National Park in Cumbria is a world-famous destination for tourists, ramblers, nature lovers and sailing enthusiasts, but there’s plenty of space for everyone. If you’re up for a challenge you can tackle the highest peak in England, Scafell Pike in around five hours, but there are plenty of easier walks to enjoy too. From the attractive town of Ambleside you can stroll to the striking Stockgyhll waterfalls or head up Loughrigg Fell for a stunning view of Lake Windemere.

As well as the many activities and boat trips on the incredible glacial lakes, you’ll find plenty to do in the popular towns of Keswick, Windemere and Penrith and a myriad of attractions including the Lakes Aquarium, Muncaster Castle and Beatrix Potter’s house Hill Top in Hawkshead.

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4. Romantic ruins, rivers and waterfalls

There’s plenty to explore in the beautiful Brecon Beacons National Park in South Wales, from climbing Pen Y Fan, the highest peak in the Southern UK to kayaking down rapids – or taking a more tranquil trip in a canoe or narrowboat along the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal. Alternatively you can enjoy the view from the towpaths and many waterside restaurants.

The famous Four Falls trail is the best way to take in the specular waterfalls, but it is steep in parts. The riverside Elidir Trail which ends at Sgwd Gwladus, the Lady Falls is a flatter and more accessible alternative. This being Wales you also can’t visit without exploring some of the park’s many castles, from the picturesque Abergavenny Castle and Museum to the haunting romance of the ruins of Carreg Cennen.

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5. Wildlife, boating and endless waterways

The Norfolk Broads national park offers 125 miles of navigable waterways, so from sailing to cruise trips, if you like messing around in boats this is the place for you. But that’s not all this unique destination has to offer. It is a teaming biodiverse wildlife haven and home to more than a quarter of the rarest species in the UK, including Britain’s biggest butterfly. The luscious green, flat landscape means the Broads are also ideal for leisurely cycling and walking.

And you’ll find plenty of attractive towns and villages to discover too, as well as historic houses and castles. Explore the remains of the Norman Bungay Castle or soak up the grandeur of Somerleyton Hall and Gardens.

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The Broads, Norfolk

Find your own country retreat

Safe, secure and sociable, McCarthy Stone’s stunning retirement homes in the countryside provide the perfect place to relax, enjoy life and meet new people. And with a range of retirement communities, McCarthy Stone offers a home for every retirement dream. Choose from:

Retirement Living developments: independent living for the over 60s, blending private, luxurious and low maintenance accommodation with a friendly community just outside the front door.

Retirement Living PLUS: assisted living for the over 70s, with all the benefits of a Retirement Living apartment but with thoughtful added amenities including a bistro and care support.

Retirement bungalows: secure, low maintenance - and stair-free – living, usually with a private garden and garage/parking.

•Retirement villages: a mix of housing: coach houses, cottages, bungalows and apartments usually with other amenities too.

With developments in fantastic locations across the UK, you’re bound to find one you love. Browse our retirement properties near you or get in touch with our friendly team if you have any questions.

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