Guide to Britain's best country parks and estates
The 20 best country parks, great estates and green spaces for gatherings with friends and family
Finding the perfect place to meet friends and family in the countryside can sometimes be a little tricky, especially when several generations are meeting up. What may bring joy to exuberant children, for instance, may not prove exactly granny and grandad’s cup of tea. The solution is to choose a location that has something for everyone – and where better than one of Britain’s wonderful country parks, estates, gardens or woodlands?
To help you find the ideal rendezvous, we’ve hand-picked 20 of these special places. They’re all easily accessible, provide handy facilities, are packed with interest and offer fantastic walks for both the wildly energetic and the more relaxed rambler. All you need to do is find a time and a date. Fill your boots!
• Please check with venues before you travel. Opening times may vary, and some venues may require booking in advance.
20 best country parks and great estates
Culzean Castle, Maybole, Ayrshire
The magnificent 260-hectare estate that surrounds this palatial clifftop castle encompasses sandy beaches, ancient caves, hidden follies, wild woods, a lake, play areas and café. Spot deer, llamas, wildfowl and butterflies. nts.org.uk/visit/places/culzean
Beecraigs Country Park, Linlithgow, West Lothian
Up in the Bathgate Hills, this 370-hectare park is home to red deer, Highland cattle, North Ronaldsay sheep and Hebridean sheep. There are walks and mountain bike routes, or you can have a go at orienteering on one of the park’s nine courses. The kids will love the adventure playground’s wigwams and flying foxes, and there’s a visitor centre, loos and two cafés to choose from. westlothian.gov.uk/beecraigs
Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, Aberfoyle, Perthshire
Covering a vast area to the east of scenic Loch Lomond, this forest park within a national park promises lungfuls of fresh air and extraordinary views of wild mountains. Start at the Lodge Forest Visitor Centre with its loos and café, nearby wildlife hide and waterfall. Then head out on foot or cycle along one of the many signposted trails. You could even explore Loch Katrine by steamship. forestryandland.gov.scot/visit/forest-parks/queen-elizabeth-forest-park
Rosliston Forestry Centre, Rosliston, Derbyshire
Right at the heart of the National Forest, the centre promises woodland, meadow and pond fun for all comers amid the owls, kestrels and kingfishers that call it home. Take off on walking and cycle routes or choose from the many activities on offer, including archery, falconry, astronomy, crazy golf and laser games. Afterwards, enjoy panoramic views from the licensed Hub Café. roslistonforestrycentre.co.uk
Killerton house and garden, exeter, Devon
Killerton is a stunning Georgian house set in 2,600 hectares of historic parkland, with ancient woods, farmland and orchards, plus a flower-filled garden to explore. Build dens, climb an extinct volcano and visit a working watermill. nationaltrust.org.uk/killerton
Ham Hill Country Park, Stoke Sub Hamdon, near Yeovil, Somerset
Cragside, Rothbury, Northumberland
Discover the gadget-filled house and gardens of Victorian inventor and genius landscaper Lord William Armstrong. Follow Cragside's miles of woodland footpaths past water features to Nelly’s Labyrinth in the rhododendron forest. nationaltrust.org.uk/cragside
Lanhydrock, Bodmin, Cornwall
There’s more to Lanhydrock than the stupendous Victorian country house. The substantial, colourful gardens include a remarkable parterre (formal garden of plant beds laid out in symmetrical patterns), while the huge estate can be explored via footpaths of differing lengths or on mountain bikes along exciting trails of different grades (cycle hire available), taking visitors through ancient woodlands on riverside paths. There’s also a plant shop, two cafés, an ice-cream parlour and a play area. Booking is essential. nationaltrust.org.uk/lanhydrock
Newstead Abbey, Ravenshead, Nottinghamshire
Once home to Lord Byron, the 12th-century abbey sits in glorious parkland and formal gardens whose lakes, ponds and cascades are fed by the beguiling River Leen. Explore the many themed gardens, from Japanese to sub-tropical, and hunt for clues on the fun indoor and outdoor family trails. newsteadabbey.org.uk
Lepe Country Park, Lepe, Hampshire
Set on the edge of the New Forest, with a mile of beach to explore and ravishing vistas of the Isle of Wight to feast on, Lepe can lay claim to being one of Britain’s most diverse and beautiful country parks. Ramble its pine-bordered clifftops, plunge into stunning wildflower meadows, or go birding by the mudflats and freshwater ponds. Learn about Lepe Beach’s role in D-Day with a free self-guided audio tour, or take to the nature trail or five-mile circular Lepe Loop walk. There’s a visitor centre, adventure playground, licensed café and refreshment kiosk, too. hants.gov.uk/lepe
Margam Country Park, Neath Port Talbot
Industrial South Wales might not seem the obvious place to seek out a countryside walk with the family. However, if you venture just two miles from Port Talbot on Swansea Bay, you’ll come upon over 400 hectares of majestic woods, parkland and gardens waiting to be explored.
Margam Country Park bristles with outdoor attractions for both adults and children, is free to visit (just a parking fee) and is home to more than 400 fallow, red and endangered Père David deer. margamcountrypark.co.uk
Bodnant Garden, Colwyn Bay, Conwy
Perched on a steep hillside, Bodnant has 32 hectares of beautiful wildflower meadows, grand flower-filled terraces, water gardens and majestic woodland to explore, with various kiosks serving refreshments. Book in advance. nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden
Beeston Castle and Woodland Park, Beeston, Cheshire
Perched on the summit of a dramatic crag, Beeston Castle is the stuff of fairy tales. Enjoy views of the Welsh mountains as you explore the 13th-century fortress, a reproduction Bronze Age roundhouse and 16-hectare woodland. Look out for bats, buzzards and peregrine falcons then enjoy refreshments in the café. english-heritage.org.uk
Queen Elizabeth Country Park, Horndean, Hampshire
A sensational slice of the South Downs National Park, the Queen Elizabeth encompasses no fewer than 809 hectares of downland and woodland. There are chalkland butterflies aplenty, skylarks singing above, a range of trails for cyclists and ramblers, including an interactive story walk specially for children, along with an adventure play park, assault course and brand-new restaurant. hants.gov.uk/thingstodo/countryparks/
Pembrey Country Park, Pembrey, Carmarthenshire
For a bit of an adventure, make for this 200-hectare park to try out the dry ski-slope, toboggan ride, crazy golf, pitch-and-putt, horseriding, adventure play area and train rides. There’s also a visitor centre, cafés and calming nature trails, along with an eight-mile-long Blue Flag sandy beach. pembreycountrypark.wales
Abbey Gardens, Bury St Edmonds, Suffolk
These gardens are a pocket of floral splendour around the riverside ruins of an 11th-century Benedictine monastery. Acres of majestic gardens are teamed with a sensory garden, children’s playground, treehouse and willow maze. westsuffolk.gov.uk/leisure/parks/abbey-gardens.cfm
Mugdock Country Park, Mugdock, Stirling
With 240 hectares encompassing a wide range of habitats, you’ll share Mugdock with roe deer, pine martens, sparrowhawks and a wealth of other wildlife. Roam the woods, heaths, moorland and wetland on the extensive network of footpaths (mostly wheelchair- and mobility scooter-friendly). Take a journey through time, too. The park boasts a Stone Age site, Bronze Age farm, medieval castle, Neo-Gothic mansion, Victorian gardens and a gun site from the Second World War. There’s also a visitor centre, restaurant, tearoom and two children’s play areas. And all just 10 miles from the centre of Glasgow. mugdock-country-park.org.uk
Crombie Country Park, near Dundee, Angus
Have a go at Geocaching or walk one of the trails crossing this 80-hectare woodland surrounding Crombie Loch. Red squirrels and woodpeckers galore!
Capstone Farm Country Park, Gillingham, Kent
A huge swathe of former North Downs farmland is now a wonderful patchwork of ancient woodlands, orchards, meadows and a fishing lake, with a café and children’s play areas, too. medway.gov.uk
Beacon Fell Country Park, near Garstang, Lancashire
Walk the sculpture trail, hit the visitor centre and café, then climb up through pretty woodland and moorland to breathtaking summit views of the Irish Sea.
Dixe Wills is the author of a shelf-wearying host of books about Britain including The Z-Z of Great Britain, Tiny Islands and Tiny Churches.