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1) SOUTH DOWNS
Our newest national park was first proposed in 1947 but it didn’t open until 2011. Much of it is gently rolling chalk grassland ending with the Seven Sisters sea cliffs, but more than 20% is wooded Weald. It attracted Turner, Austen, Kipling and Elgar and millions still enjoy its timeless beauty. Home to ancient yew trees, it is one of the few UK sites with every native reptile and amphibian species.
Standing on Snowdon’s summit is an awesome experience. Last summer I had panoramic views across stunning mountains to the sea. You don’t have to be as strenuous as Edmund Hillary – the historic railway can get you to the peak. There are also other mountains to climb, gorgeous valleys, sandy beaches, welcoming villages and the world’s first inland surfing lake at Dolgarrog.
3) YORKSHIRE DALES
Last year it grew by almost a quarter and now covers 840 square miles. I’ve known these dales since boyhood, their waterfalls and caves, drystone walls and hay meadows, limestone and rolling valleys. A few years ago I discovered the Norber erratics’s amazing rock formations – huge boulders perched atop much smaller, younger rocks as a result of the Ice Age melt. Well worth a visit.
4) LOCH LOMOND AND THE TROSSACHS
Stretching from the lowlands to the Highlands, this offers some of Scotland’s finest scenery. Within Britain’s fourth biggest park are 21 Munros, 50 rivers, 22 larger lochs and two forest parks. I’ve stood on the bonny banks of Loch Lomond with the distant hills capped in snow – it is breathtaking. The West Highland Way passes through and wildlife is abundant, including black grouse, red squirrels and porpoises.
5) PEAK DISTRICT
Britain’s first national park, set up in 1951. Almost 20 years earlier the trespass on its highest peak, Kinder Scout, kickstarted the campaign for public access; now 2,000 miles of trails criss-cross the park. Starkly beautiful, the landscape is also a quarrying site. Semi-precious fluorite, known as Blue John, is mined near Castleton with jewellery crafted at Blue John Cavern (not a misprint!).
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