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Trail talk: Britain’s National Parks- A family album

Seventy years ago, on 17 April 1951. The Peak District was designated as the first of the United Kingdom’s National Parks. There are now fifteen. Ten in England, three in Wales and two in Scotland. There are none in Northern Ireland though one has been proposed.

Beer and walking go hand in hand. England's highest pub, the Tan Hill Inn, lays in the Yorkshire Dales on the Pennine Way. An essential overnight halt
Beer and walking go hand in hand. England’s highest pub, the Tan Hill Inn is in the Yorkshire Dales National Park and also lies on the Pennine Way. It is, of course, an essential overnight halt

It is a nonsense of course to suggest that National Parks alone represent the finest countryside that the UK has to offer, though they come damn close! In addition to National Parks there are also Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), or National Scenic Areas in Scotland, deemed of equivalent landscape quality and natural beauty, but are instead more locally managed as opposed to having dedicated National Park authorities.

National Parks in the UK were prevented from becoming a reality earlier due to landowners’ protectionist atitudes. The old order fiercely resisted a proposed ‘freedom to roam’ Bill in the 19th century. Change could not be entirely halted and there were increasing challenges and resistance to the fences and gamekeepers that prevented a public determined to walk in the open. Demands for greater access to the hills, moors and tops led directly to the famed ‘mass trespass’ of Kinder Scout, that also resulted in exemplar prison sentences for those unfortunate enough to be selected for punitive action. The media ensured that the wider public were ever more aware of the struggle over access that was taking place. Two World Wars slowed progress and it wasn’t until a White Paper on National Parks in 1945 that real progress toward their establishment began to gain pace. The first four parks were designated in 1951, Scotland finally got round to passing the National Parks (Scotland) Act in 2000. This explains the paucity of National Parks in Scotland, their only two being designated in 2002 and 2003.

The UK's National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Beauty, prior to the designation of the South Downs as a National Park in 2010
The UK’s National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Beauty, prior to the designation of the South Downs as a National Park in 2010

When Miss Three Points of the Compass was born, her parents were determined to introduce her to as many of the National Parks and AONBs as was possible on family holidays. Over the years we walked, paddled, rowed, rode, cycled and sailed our way through, over and across just about all of them. I recommend this as an ideal manner in which to introduce your family and the next generation to their country of birth. It provides not only a degree of appreciation of the natural beauty of their country, but also builds on the contents of that all-important family memory bank.

The Brecon Beacons was established as a National Park in 1957. The 519 square mile park includes the highest ground in Britain south of Snowdonia. The short 'waterfall walk' became a great favourite for the Three Points of the Compass family, to be fitted in one most visits, not least becvause you get to walk behind the sheet of water at Sgwd-yr-Eira
The Brecon Beacons was established as a National Park on 17 April 1957. The 519 square mile park includes the highest ground in Britain south of Snowdonia. The short ‘waterfall walk’ became a great favourite for the Three Points of the Compass family, to be fitted in during most visits, not least because you get to walk behind the sheet of water at Sgwd-yr-Eira
The Brecons can be green and lovely, but conditions can change quickly and the exposed tops dodgy for the unwary and unprepared. Small wonder that this is a favoured training area for the British military
The Brecons can be green and lovely, but conditions can change quickly and the exposed tops can be dodgy for the unwary and unprepared. Small wonder that this is a favoured training area for the British military. My most recent visit to the area was when I traversed the Black Mountains when completing Offa’s Dyke in 2018
A Brecon Beacons walking holiday with schoolfriend joing us
A Brecon Beacons walking holiday with schoolfriend joining us

As Miss Three Points of the Compass got older, she missed her friends so it was a simple decision to ask her ‘bestie’ to join us on occasional weeks in the hills. In the beginning I was surprised to find that she had never walked all day in the hills, had never walked along a ridge, had never walked in the clouds….

I was more aware than ever that introducing my daughter to the countryside from a young age had been one of the best things that we could have done for her development. This was not without its challenges. It did become a struggle to get her in to areas where, horror of horrors, there was no phone signal! Occasionally, weariness and teenage laziness took over. After a full days walking, daughter and friend would prostrate themselves on various beds or settees, clutching iPhones, until called to the table where they would devour enough food to feed most of the occupants of the nearest village. On one particular longer tour of Scotland, a ‘family meeting’ was called as yet-another-mountain was having its toll. It was time to put walking and scrambling briefly to one side and substitute more prosaic activities.

The Cairngorms are a large area- 1467 square miles. Within which it is still possible to escape the 1.4 million visitors to the area, in a non-coronavirus year that is
The Cairngorms are a large area- 1467 square miles. Within which it is still possible to escape the 1.4 million visitors to the area, in a non-coronavirus year that is. One of our younger National Parks- only designated on 6 January 2003
The descent from Cairngorm. The sun is shining and it's a beautiful walk. Hard to believe that we scuttled down off the top while lighting struck the hillside just a few hundred metres away, blasting rocks into the air
The descent from Cairngorm. The sun is shining and it is a beautiful walk. Hard to believe that earlier in the day we had promptly scuttled down off the top while lighting struck the hillside just a few hundred metres away, blasting rocks into the air
Dartmoor. 30 October 1951. 369 square miles
Dartmoor National Park was established 30 October 1951 and covers 369 square miles. The Three Points of the Compass family first traversed it when walking the Two Mooors Way long distance path but later revisited to explore further
Lunch halt, Miss Three Points of the Compass explores a Tor
Lunch halt, Miss Three Points of the Compass explores a Tor on the moors. Far too much energy!
Exmoor. 19 October 1954. At just 268 square miles it is one of the smaller Parks but has a large number of visitors
Exmoor National Park was established 19 October 1954. At just 268 square miles the park is one of the UK’s smaller but has a large number of visitors each year. A growing Miss Three Points of the Compass willingly joined parents on family walks but seperating her from her mobile phone became ever more difficult

Lake District on 9 May 1951 885 square miles
The Lake District was established as a National Park on 9 May 1951 and covers some 885 square miles. This has remained a favourite destination for our family
A different Wainwright every day, or three...
Our family visited The Lakes many times. It is classic English walking country. A different ‘Wainwright’ or two to be explored every day. A ‘Mr. Kiplings’ would be devoured on our return to the car at the end of a days walk, then a visit to an excellent pub on the way back to our campsite, planning the next day over map and pint
Paddling
Paddling…
Rowing
Rowing…
Riding
Riding…
Sheep and the hills- the two are one and the same
Sheep and the hills in the Lake District- two sides of the same coin
Loch Lomond & The Trossachs. 24 April 2002. 720 square miles
Loch Lomond & The Trossachs. Established on 24 April 2002 and covering 720 square miles
A roof box had to be purchased to hold all the paraphernalia taken on a family car camping touring holiday of multiple weeks
Our Hilleberg Keron tent at official lochside campsite. A roof box had to be purchased to hold all the camping, walking and cycling paraphernalia taken on family car camping touring holidays lasting many weeks.
New Forest. 1 March 2005. 224 square miles
The New Forest National Park was established on 1 March 2005. The Three Points family has explored much of it’s 224 square miles but walks have always had to be balanced against the necessary intake of frequent Cream Teas
New Forest ponies are seen on every day
The New Forest may be called ‘new’ but is anything but. William the Conqueror had set this area apart as a royal hunting reserve in 1079. New Forest ponies roam the area, as do cattle, donkeys, sheep and pigs at certain times of the year. Ponies and deer are seen on every walk

Three Points of the Compass has explored much of the Norfolk Broads National Park by foot, such as when walking the 35 mile Wherryman’s Way from Norwich to Great Yarmouth, a walk that deserves more attention. However exploring the Broads properly really entails taking to the water therefore a couple of boating holidays were enjoyed by the Three Points family..

Norfolk Broads. 1 April 1989. 117 square miles
Norfolk Broads National Park was established 1 April 1989. The meandering waterways cover 117 square miles and we usually managed to moor up a short walk from a decent hostelry
Evenings were an ideal time for Three Points of the Compass to revisit a childhood pastime, and share the mysteries of angling
Evenings on board on the Norfolk Broads were an ideal time for Three Points of the Compass to revisit a childhood pastime, and share the mysteries of angling with his mostly uninterested family
It was while visiting the sandstone crags of the Wainstones, in the North York Moors with my family in 2014 that I determioned to return to this area and walk the Clevelend Way some day. I wrote about that walk here
The North York Moors were established as a National Park 29 November 1952 and cover 554 square miles. It was while visiting the sandstone crags of the Wainstones with the Three Points family in 2014 that I determined to return to this area and walk the Cleveland Way some day. I subsequently wrote about that walk here
Northumberland National Park was established 6 April 1956 and covers 405 square miles but it really a park of two halves. Our family explored much of the North East Cheviots by cycle
Northumberland National Park was established 6 April 1956 and covers 405 square miles but it is really a park of two halves. Our family explored much of the North East Cheviots by cycle. The managed woodlands of Kielder Forest can appear a little boring to many, but there is variety if sought out
No visit to Northumberland can be complete without visiting the Roman Wall. We walked part of it in 2010 and we all said that one day we would return to explore further
No visit to Northumberland can be complete without visiting the Roman Wall. We walked part of it in 2010 and we all said that one day we would return to explore further.
We returned to this part of the country in 2014 to walk the entirity of the Hadrian's Wall Path
We returned to Northumberland in 2014 when we walked the entirety of the Hadrian’s Wall Path
Sycamore Gap. Is this the most photographed point on Hadrian's Wall? Mrs and Miss Three Points of the Compass had to join the club
Sycamore Gap. Is this the most photographed point on Hadrian’s Wall? Mrs and Miss Three Points of the Compass had to join the club
Peak District National Park was established 17 April 1951 and comrises of the White Peak and Dark Peak. The fomer so named becuase of the prominant light coloured Limestones, the latter named after the darker gritstones. Here, Miss Three Points of the Compass explores the gritstones of Kinder Scout. The highest point of the Peak District
Peak District National Park was established 17 April 1951 and is comprised of the White Peak and Dark Peak. The former so named because of the prominant light coloured limestones, the latter named after the darker gritstones. Here, Miss Three Points of the Compass explores the gritstones of Kinder Scout, the highest point of the Peak District
The Peak District was the first of the UK's National Parks- established in 1951
The Peak District was the first of the UK’s National Parks- established in 1951
The White Peak has contrasting gentle rolling slopes, split by steep sided valleys. It is superb walking country
The White Peak has contrasting gentle rolling slopes split by steep sided valleys. It is superb walking country
Mrs Three Points of the Compass, April 2011
Mrs Three Points of the Compass in the Peak District, April 2011
The Pembrokeshire Coast was an early introduction of Miss Three Points of the Compass to our National Parks. Rock pooling is always an adventure
The Pembrokeshire Coast was an early introduction for a young Miss Three Points of the Compass to our National Parks. Rock pooling is always an adventure and introduces natural history at an early age
For such a stunning part of the country, we were astonished at how few people we met on our walks
For such a stunning part of the country, we were astonished at how few people we met on our walks on the Pembrokeshire Coast. A 180 mile long distance trail runs through its length and Three Points of the Compass shall be returning to walk this in the coming years
Any day on the Pembrokshire Coast could experience almost any form of weather. A bright, hot and sunny day could deteriorate to a blustery wet afternoon, or vice versa
On any day on the Pembrokshire Coast we could experience almost any form of weather. A bright, hot and sunny day could deteriorate to a blustery wet afternoon, or vice versa. The superb sunsets are best enjoyed with a fish and chips supper

Snowdonia was established as a National Park on 18 October 1951. It covers 827 miles and takes in a glorious mountainous region in northwest Wales. We first explored the area when visiting all of the Great Little Trains of Wales.

Snowdonia was another National Park introduced early on to Miss Three Points of the Compass. Perhaps a cliche, but a sole choice of image is of the three of us on the summit of Mount Snowdon
Snowdonia was another National Park introduced early on to Miss Three Points of the Compass. Perhaps a cliche, but my sole choice of image is of the three of us on the blustery summit of Mount Snowdon, the highest point in Wales

Our little family frequently enjoyed days out in parts of the South Downs but the park was the last in the UK to be designated a National Park, on 12 November 2009, administratively operational the following year. So despite visiting it, it was not more thoroughly explored as not befitting our self-imposed strictures. However Mr and Mrs Three Points of the Compass walked through it when walking The Wealdway and Three Points of the Compass again explored its length when walking the South Downs Way through its heart a couple of years later.

Mrs Three Points of the Compass toiling up the first real climb since leaving Eastbourne in the South Downs National Park
Mrs Three Points of the Compass toiling up the first real climb since leaving Eastbourne when the two of us walked the Wealdway through the South Downs National Park
The South Downs were designated a National Park on 31 March 2010
The South Downs became a National Park on 31 March 2010
The South Downs Way crosses the National Park. Here, Three Points of the Compass approachews the Seven Sisters on the final day of his walk
The South Downs Way crosses the National Park. Three Points of the Compass approaching the Seven Sisters on the final day of his walk of that long distance trail
The view from the limestone pavements of Malham Cove in the Yorkshire Dales National Park
I wouldn't like to choose, however the Yorkshire Dales is certainly up there amongst the finest of walking destinations in the UK
I wouldn’t like to choose, however the Yorkshire Dales is certainly up there amongst the finest of walking in the UK
Stone built and lonely barns are dotted across over 840 square miles of Dales landscape.
Yorkshire Dales National Park
The Yorkshire Dales were established as a National Park on 16 November 1954

If they never had National Park status, these superb areas of the UK would still be there. But by offering such designation, there has been additional protection offered, more money available, the preservation of such places as working environments has been better assured. The Three Points family has enjoyed our time in these honeypots over the years and shall return often, though perhaps less frequently than before, for there is so much more of the UK to also enjoy.

As my mother grew less able to move about, we were still able to get her to the most beautiful parts of the UK so that she could at least see the hills, deer and her beloved pheasants from the windows and garden of our cottages
As my mother grew less able to move about, she was not able to join us any more on country walks but we were still able to get her to the most beautiful parts of the UK so that she could at least see the hills, deer, hares and her beloved pheasants from the windows and garden of our cottages. This was our last holiday together, in the Brecon Beacons National Park. Covid took her from us this year

5 replies »

  1. What a superb set of memories! We left the UK over 20 years ago and are now in Canada but there’s no doubt that the UK national parks are something special, and much as I love the mountains here in BC, I occasionally get a craving for some simple countryside walking, especially if there’s a pub or a cream tea to be sampled!

    Like

    • Thanks Andy, and coming from a resident of Canada’s expansive and wonderful spaces too! It is many years since my time on the plains of Alberta, one day I will make it to the mountains.
      With overseas travel a somewhat dodgy proposition this year, I will be returning to the UK National Parks, along with a few million others I think…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah I’ve been reading about how insane it’s been in the UK with people flocking to certain areas. My family lives close to the New Forest and they gave up trying to visit last year as it was so busy. Hope you can find some quieter spots! And you definitely need to visit the mountain parks of Alberta and BC for a dose of awe.

        Liked by 1 person

      • There are many quiet areas that are not too hard to find, but there are always bottlenecks, not my thing at all. I think our National Parks might be due a miss this year, or at least during the warmer months. Plenty of choice elsewhere

        Liked by 1 person

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