Virtual escapes: Britain's incredible National Parks

Discover the magical landscapes and extraordinary wildlife of Britain's 15 national parks, from the mountains of Snowdonia and the coastline of Pembrokeshire to the lakes of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, and the hills of the Yorkshire Dales

Mountains, lakes and reeds
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We all love the great outdoors, but sometimes actually getting out there can be difficult. Perhaps you have limited mobility and find the logistics of experiencing the wider landscape challenging, or maybe the Coronavirus crisis means you don’t feel comfortable travelling. Perhaps you don’t deal well with the cold, or maybe that dream location – and the time and money it takes to get there – feels just out of reach.

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We at BBC Countryfile Magazine have always shared wonderful wildlife stories and beautiful landscapes, not only to inspire future trips but also as a means for vicarious adventure.

Our virtual escapes series brings together some of the most awe-inspiring nature and landscape videos from across the UK, meaning you can sit back and relax from the comfort of your home and get your fix of the great outdoors even if you can’t physically be there.

Here, we explore the the the sights and sounds of Britain's sensational national parks.

Winter waterfall
Sgwd Ddwli Uchaf or Upper Gushing Falls on the Fechan River in the Brecon Beacons National Park in winter/Credit: Graham55582, Getty

Discover more virtual escapes

Our virtual escapes series brings together a collection of spectacular films, taking you on a visual journey through the British landscape. Discover majestic mountains, shimmering shores and peaceful rivers with our virtual escapes.

Big cliffs and rocky beach by sea

Brecon Beacons

Home to a mix of mountains and moorland, standing stones, castles, waterfalls and wildlife, the Brecon Beacons National Park extends for 42 miles from east to west, and is divided into three distinct areas: the Black Mountains in the east, the Brecon Beacons and Fforest Fawr in the centre, and the Black Mountain region (formerly called the Camarthen Fans) in the largely Welsh-speaking west.

Discover the Beacons' rivers, abbeys, lakes and mountains with this virtual tour from Dawid K:


Broads

A unique patchwork of rivers and lakes, the Broads is not – as was once thought – a natural landscape, but a result of intensive peat digging in the Middle Ages to provide fuel. The empty pits flooded, forming lakes known locally as broads.

When combined with the area’s natural rivers, they make up a network of more than 125 miles of navigable waterways, nowadays mainly used for recreation. Renowned for its biodiversity, the Norfolk Broads are home to more than a quarter of Britain’s rare species, from birds and butterflies to mammals and fish.

Experience the Broads from the air with this peaceful virtual escape from Broads Authority:


Cairngorms

The Cairngorms National Park was established in 2003, and later extended in 2010. It is our largest national park – almost twice the size of the Lake District – and is home to four of the five highest mountains in Britain. The park is pockmarked with 60 lochs and many more lochans (small lochs), along with more than half the surviving Caledonian forest.

A quarter of Britain’s threatened animal, plant, insect and fungi species are found in the Cairngorms, some of which are endemic to the park.

Feel the immense scale of the Cairngorms through the seasons with this virtual adventure from SCOTLAND: The Big Picture:


Dartmoor

Dartmoor National Park comprises 386 square miles of moorlands, forests, rivers, wetlands and craggy granite tors. The area is considered by many to be Britain’s bleakest national park, but in spite of this reputation its varied habitats and prehistoric remains are a great draw for many outdoor enthusiasts.

It is a breathtaking and mysterious place. The moor’s light distorts well-known places into unrecognisable forms, shadows stretch across its heath, and the gorse holds tight to its luminous yellow.

Experience the ethereal beauty of Dartmoor with this incredible time-lapse video from Dartmoor National Park:


Exmoor

A wild expanse of open moorland, woodland and rivers, plus a spectacular coastline, Exmoor was designated as a national park in 1954. It comprises 267 miles of moorland, coastal cliffs, river valleys and woodland and shares land with two counties, Somerset (71%) and Devon (29%).

Step back in time and discover Exmoor's ancient past with this Exmoor National Park documentary:


Lake District

Of all the national parks in Britain, the Lake District in Cumbria is arguably the most celebrated. The park comprises 912 square miles of high mountains, lakes, rivers and coastline, and receives almost 16 million visitors a year. No wonder, then, that it was loved so dearly by Beatrix potter, Alfred Wainwright, Arthur Ransome and William and Dorothy Wordsworth.

“Always there will be the lonely ridge, the dancing beck, the silent forest; always there will be the exhilaration of the summits. These are for the seeking, and those who seek and find while there is still time will be blessed both in mind and body”, wrote Wainwright in The Western Fells.

This cinematic drone film by Michael Lazenby explores the beauty of the park from the air:


Loch Lomond and the Trossachs

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park was established on 8 July 2002 and became operational on 19 July 2002. Five days later, on 24 July, the park was formally opened by Anne, Princess Royal.

The national park is known for its beautiful lochs and imposing mountains – there are 21 Munros (mountains over 3000ft/914m) and 19 Corbetts (2,500ft-3,000ft/762m-914m).

Loch Lomond is the largest waterbody in the park, stretching 5 miles (8km) across at its widest point and 24 miles (39km) long. It has the largest surface area of any Scottish loch and is 190m deep and its deepest point.

Enjoy the serenity of the park with this virtual journey by Aye in the Sky above the mighty Loch Lomond:


New Forest

The New Forest is anything but new. It was created by William the Conqueror in 1079 as a place where he could hunt deer and wild pigs – the so called ‘beasts of the chase’. Nowadays, the landscape’s use has change dramatically, largely thanks to the designation of the New Forest National Park in 2005.

From vast heathland hills and ancient trees to butterflies, reptiles, wading birds and wild ponies, the national park is a vital refuge for some of Britain’s most precious species.

Join broadcaster Simon King as he explores the landscape and wildlife of the New Forest National Park:


Northumberland

Northumberland National Park is located in the north-east of England. Established in 1956, about 70% of the park’s 405 square miles (1,049 square kilometres) is open moorland.

Red grouse and tiptoeing curlews hide among the heather. And alongside this wildlife, there’s Hadrian’s Wall, stretching for 73 miles across the Northumberland landscape.

Northumberland has some of the darkest skies in the UK – experience their beauty with this time-lapse video from Northumberland National Park:


North York Moors

The North York Moors National Park comprises woodland, moorland, rivers and coast, rich in heritage and wildlife.

The area was designated as a national park on 28 November 1952 and covers 554 square miles. It has 26 miles of coastline and a highest point of 454 metres (Urra Moor at), along with one of the largest concentrations of ancient trees in northern England.

Discover the North York Moors extraordinary landscape and wildlife with this virtual exploration of the park from the North York Moors National Park:


Peak District

In 1951, the Peak District – comprising most of Derbyshire and parts of Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Yorkshire and Staffordshire – became Britain’s first national park.

The park is made up of two contrasting regions. To the north is Dark Peak, a wild and open landscape of heather and bog and black granite outcrops. While to the south lies White Peak, where picturesque mill towns sit among lush valleys and limestone caves.

Journey through the Peak District with this stunning video by NazEffect:


Pembrokeshire Coast

Established in 1952, the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, designated within the county of Pembrokeshire, is one of three national parks in Wales.

Covering 243 sq miles, it includes an incredible coastline of natural arches, stacks and sea caves, along with a wealth of sandy beaches and seaside towns – all can be discovered on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path.

Away from the coast, the park also includes marshes, inland forests and the rolling Presell Hills.

Visit Pembrokeshire from your home with this virtual tour from Visit Pembrokeshire:


Snowdonia

Snowdonia was Wales’s first national park, formed in 1951 to protect the environment, particularly around Snowdon – the highest peak in England and Wales at 1,085m (3,560ft).

It remains the largest national park in Wales, celebrated for the sheer diversity of its landscape: 15 mountain tops over 900m (3,000ft), 23 miles of glistening coastline, limpid lakes, serene ancient woodland and cascading waterfalls are all found within the park’s 823 square miles of north-west Wales.

Take a virtual tour of the national park with Jim Cossey video:


South Downs

It is hard to determine where the South Downs start, but they end dramatically and conclusively, plunging into the English Channel at Beachy Head, immediately east of the Seven Sisters, near Eastbourne.

Like the North Downs of Kent and Surrey, they consist of a steep scarp slope and a long, more gentle dip slope. In the South Downs, the escarpment faces north, which renders the turf cool and mossy, while the dip slope ambles away southwards, towards the English Channel, and is dissected by deep and hidden dry valleys, known as combes. Much of this gently sloping land consists of vast arable fields.

Four swollen brown rivers cut through and divide up the South Downs – the Arun, Adur, Ouse and Cuckmere. Each of the resultant sections of downland is distinctive, but the greatest landscape character difference lies between the western downs, of Hampshire and West Sussex, which are often steep, incised and wooded, and those of East Sussex, which are open and rolling.

Experience the tranquil beauty of the South Downs with this quiet virtual escape from South Downs National Park:


Yorkshire Dales

The Yorkshire Dales was established as a national park in 1954 and today receives more than three million day visitors every year. There are 2,628kms of footpaths and 618kms of bridleways, offering visitors the chance to spot the park’s 1,000 species of moths, its 100 species of nesting birds, and more than 30 species of mammals.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park may be land-bound, but what it lacks in coastal drama it makes up for in magnificent moorlands, village-filled valleys and striking limestone crags.

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Enjoy a year in the Yorkshire Dales with this video from the Yorkshire Dales National Park:

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