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.
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.
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.
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.
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..
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.
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.
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.