There are eleven registered National Parks in Great Britain, ten of which were created after the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act was passed by the government. The eleventh is the region known as the Norfolk Broads, which gained national park status in 1989, despite not being, strictly speaking, a national park. There may well be two addtional parks in the next couple of years if current legislation goes ahead, though whether these will simply be protected by similar laws to the Broads remains unclear.
The eleven national parks are as follows:
- The Lake District - Created in 1951
The largest and one of the oldest of the national parks, found on the North West Coast of Britain and run by the lake District National Park Authority. The landscape of the park is one of the most dramatic in England, encompassing steep crags, plunging valleys and shimmering lakes and has inspired artists, poets and writers throughout the ages. The park is well known as Swallows and Amazons country, after the books of Arthur Ransome and is best accessed using the M6 which runs along it's eastern boundry.
- The Peak District - Created in 1951
The first national park to be created in England, found in the 'Heart of England' at the south end on the Penines and run by the Peak District National Park Authority. As it's name suggests, the landscape within the park is mainly the rolling hills of the Penines as well as quite a wide swath of the Derbyshire countryside. The Penine Way cuts through the park, which is very popular with hikers and campers. Best reached from the M18, M62 or A52 depending which direction you're coming from.
- Dartmoor - Created in 1951
Dartmoor is one of two national parks found in the county of Devon and is run by the Dartmoor National Park Authority. The landscape is mainly moor and woodland with some agricultural land at the fringes and contains many archaeological and ecological sites. There is also a section of the south Devon coastline incorporated into the park. The moors are famous as the setting for Lorna Doone and also for the dartmoor ponies that range, semi wild accross it. Another notable fact about Dartmoor is that quite a lot of it is covered by military firing ranges, so it's best to check the website to see when and where shooting is taking place before you go. The park is accessed best from the A38, the A30 and the A386.
- Snowdonia - Created in 1951
The first of the three Welsh parks to come into being, Snowdonia is one of the most breathtaking locations in the United Kingdom. Covering a vast area of wild, craggy mountains, Snowdonia is one of the main sites for climbers, cavers and hikers as well as being the second largest national park in the country. It is also the home of Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales. The park is best reached via the A5. Snowdonia is run by the Snowdonia National Park Authority.
- The North York Moors - Created in 1952
Found, surprise surprise, north of York in the darkest depths of Yorkshire, the North York Moor is the largest area of moorland in Britain. It incorporates a large section of the eastern British coastline, as well as wide areas of Yorkshire farmland. It has the largest amount of woodland of all the national parks and also contains some of Britains most important abbey sites. Accessed easiest from the A170, A171 and A172.
- Pembrokeshire Coast - Created in 1952
This is the only truly coastal national park in Britain, despite other parks such as Exmoor and The North York Moors including areas of coastline. The park is one of the smallest in the UK, but is home to the widest number of seabirds, and also is the location of Castell Henllys, the best preserved Iron Age settlement in Britain. It is run by the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority and best reached along the A487.
- The Yorkshire Dales - Created in 1954
Located in the middle of Yorkshire, the Yorkshire Dales is perhaps one of the less dramatic but more peaceful national parks and is run by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority. Best known as James Herriot country, the Dales are a large area of agricultural land, laid out across rolling hills and vales and spotted with small farmsteads, cottages and villages. The park is best accessed from the M6, A66 and A59.
- Exmoor - Created in 1954
The second of Devon's national parks covering a landscape very similar to that of Dartmoor, but with exmoor ponies and a stretch of the North Devon coastline. It is one of the smaller national parks, but this doesn't make the scenery any less wild or breathtaking. It is the stronghold of the fritillary butterfly and contains many unique species of tree and plant that are found nowhere else in the UK. It is run by the Exmoor National Park Authority and is best accessed from the A361.
- Northumberland - Created in 1956
The Northumberland national park lies just below the Scottish border and is the most archaeologically rich of the all the national parks. Containing a large chunk of Hadrian's Wall and numerous forts and villas dating from the Roman period, as well as many prehistoric sites, it is great for historical themed visits and expeditions. It is run by the Northumberland National Park Authority and is best reached along the A697, A68, A69 and A7.
- The Brecon Beacons - Created in 1957
The Brecon Beacons, though not as dramatic as Snowdonia, are some of the most beautiful rolling hills in the United Kingdom. A working landscape, the area is mainly agricultural, with hills similar to those of the Yorkshire Dales in England. Teiresias commented that the Brecons are also the home of the tallest peak in southern Britain, Pen-Y-Fan, which is well worth a walk if you're feeling lithe, fit and supple! The park is run by the Brecon Beacon National Park Authority and is best accessed on the A40, A470 and A465.
- The Norfolk Broads - Created in 1989
The newest landscape to obtain park status to date, the Broads are found in the south east of England and incorporate a vast area of Britains best wetland landscape, home to innumerable protected species of plants and animals. The water levels are carefully controlled and offer fantastic opportunities for boating and fishing, the navigation of the waterways being one of the main concerns of the Broads Authority. The fenland is most remarkable due to its extremely flat landscape, with very few contour lines except for places like the Isle of Ely. Reach the Broads on the A12 and the A146.
Two additional parks are in the pipeline, and these are:
- The New Forest
Action to make the New Forest a national park has been ongoing since 1999 and is now in it's final stages, the boundries having been set and final proposals given to the government. There is not, as yet, a New Forest Park Authority, but the area is cared for by The Countryside Agency, among others. The area consists of woodland and agricultural land and is an area of outstanding natural beauty as well as having a rich archaeological heritage.
Website: The New Forest does not yet have an official website, but a page of links concerning it's status as a national park can be found at http://www.cnp.org.uk/new_forest_links.htm
- The South Downs
The process of making the South Downs a national park began in 2000. It would incorporate a wide area of the Sussex and Hampshire Downs, an area that can be called the cradle of British agriculture, being the first area of England where farming began in the Neolithic. The park would incorporate some of Britain's most important archological sites, such as Stonehenge and Avebury, as well as preserving an area much under threat from development.
Website: As with the New Forest, there is no official web page for the South Downs national park as yet. A list of links can be found at http://www.cnp.org.uk/south_downs1.htm
For further information about these national parks, see the Council for National Parks website at