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This is, allegedly, the only place in the world where you can visit a colony of nesting Mute Swans. (Trust me, they are not mute). A Benedictine monastery was established at Abbotsbury in the 11th century and the monks began farming swans - which often featured at medieval banquets. The monks have long gone, but the swans are still there (different ones, obviously). If you visit Abbotsbury Swannery these days, you'll find about 600 swans, all free to roam. The colony is established adjacent to a shallow lagoon, the Fleet, which lies behind Chesil Beach. It's a unique location.
The Brecon Beacons National Park in South Wales was established in 1957. It is a mountainous area covering 519 square miles (1344 square kilometres). In fact, the Brecon Beacons includes four distinct mountain ranges, the Black Mountain range in the west, the Brecon Beacons themselves, often referred to as the Central Beacons, where the highest mountain, Pen-y-Fan, is located (2907 feet/886 metres), the Fforest Fawr upland area and, just to confuse everyone, the Black Mountains in the east - which include a peak called Black Mountain.
Brecon Beacons National Park is famed for its waterfalls (like Henrhyd Waterfall and Ystradfellte), caves and forests; you can lose yourself in its wilder parts. It is proud to be an International Dark Sky Reserve and, like many of Britain’s National Parks, the Brecon Beacons are used for military training, including by elite special forces. The area is also packed with ancient sites, castles and industrial heritage. There is even a narrow-gauge heritage railway, the Brecon Mountain Railway, which runs about 5 miles between Pant and Torpantau.
Principal settlements in the Brecon Beacons National Park are Brecon, Crickhowell, Gilwern and Hay-on-Wye – famous for its bookshops and literary festival.
The Broads in East Anglia, usually known as the Norfolk Broads despite part of the area being in Suffolk, cover an area of 117 square miles (303 sq kilometres).
This is a place to mess about in boats, spot wildlife and is only a couple of hours by train from London. It is low-lying – the highest point is Strumpshaw Hill in Norfolk at just 125 feet (38 metres). The ‘broads’ are lakes, formed from flooded medieval peat pits dating back to at least the 12th century. Now they provide a 125 mile network of navigable waterways and rivers with a back-drop of fens, woodland and picturesque villages.
The Norfolk and Suffolk Broads is an internationally important area of protected wetland and contains more than 25% of Britain’s rarest wildlife. Birds, like bitterns, grebes, marsh harriers, teals, wigeons and warblers can be spotted. Clearly, there are plenty of fish and, if you’re lucky, you might see an otter too. The Broads is also home to hundreds of invertebrates and is the only place where Britain’s largest butterfly, the swallowtail, can be found.
The Broads was established as a national park by Act of Parliament in 1988.
Principal settlements in the Broads include: Stalham, Wroxham, Brundall, Acle, Loddon, Beccles and Oulton Broad.
Named for the mountain Cairn Gorm, the Cairngorm National Park in North East Scotland was established in 2003 and is Britain’s largest. Twice as big as the Lake District, it covers a diverse area of 1748 square miles (4,528 sq kilometres), which includes spectacular landscapes, wild mountains, moorland, forests, rivers and farmland. There are 43 mountains over 3000 feet (914 metres); the highest point is Ben Macdui at 4294 feet (1309 metres). So, this is challenging walking and climbing territory – and remote. The forests are part of the ancient Caledonian Forest that covered much of northern Scotland thousands of years ago. The Park is also home to some of Britain’s rarest animals, including the golden eagle, red squirrel and Scottish wildcat.
All of Scotland’s traditional wild creatures can be seen at the amazing Highland Wildlife Park and there’s a herd of reindeer that can be visited on the slopes of Cairngorm. The Cairngorm National Park experiences some of Britain’s coldest weather. It is one of the few places in Britain to offer the prospect of skiing on real snow – Aviemore being a favourite destination for this. You can also bungee-jump and play golf (but not at the same time).
There are castles and country estates, like Blair Castle and Balmoral, one of the Royal Family’s favourite homes (parts of the Balmoral Estate are open to the public at specified times, but not during the summer). The National Park has at least 6 whisky distilleries within its boundaries – and while you’re about it, why not attend one of the several Highland Games held at places like Braemar or Tomintoul.
Principal settlements in the Cairngorm National Park include: Aviemore, Ballater, Braemar, Grantown-on-Spey, Kingussie, Newtonmore, and Tomintoul.
Small community nature reserve, formed from part of the garden once owned by author and academic Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963). It is said the woods and pond helped inspire his books that featured the imaginary land of Narnia. The nature reserve is adjacent to Lewis' home for more than 30 years, The Kilns.
Dartmoor is a place for walkers, geologists, history enthusiasts, campers – or anyone who likes being outside. It is a sometimes mysterious, sometimes beautiful, sometimes harsh landscape, an upland area of granite heather-covered moorland. Its most famous natural features are its tors - classic examples of exposed intrusive vulcanicity. It also boasts wild ponies and an extraordinary number of prehistoric remains – standing stones, stone circles, rows and settlements – such as those at Grimspound and Hound Tor. Remote Wistman’s Wood is a frankly weird oakwood, with stunted trees growing on a moss-covered landscape. There are pretty villages too, such as Lustleigh, Widecombe in the Moor and Postbridge (with its 13th century clapper bridge). Parts of Dartmoor are used by the armed forces for training, but there’s plenty of room for everyone else.
Dartmoor National Park in Devon was established in 1951 and covers an area of 368 square miles (953 sq kilometres). It is an upland area of granite heather-covered moorland, completely land-locked, famous for its tors - classic examples of exposed intrusive vulcanicity.
Principal settlements in Dartmoor National Park include: Ashburton, Bovey Tracey, Buckfastleigh, Chagford and Moretonhampstead.
The seat of the Duncombe family since 1711, when the house was built by Thomas Duncombe (born Thomas Browne). His descendent, Charles Duncombe, was created Lord Feversham in 1826. The house is not open to the public, but 450 acres of parkland, gardens and nature reserve are. There is also a bird of prey centre on site.
Exmoor National Park is in the north of Somerset and Devon and covers an area of 268 square miles (694 sq kilometres). The Park was established in 1954 and the highest point is Dunkery Beacon at 1702 feet (519 metres). It is a varied area of moorland, farmland, deep valleys, ancient woodland and high sea cliffs, tumbling into the Bristol Channel. Kites and kestrels wheel overhead, otters can be found in the gushing streams, while red deer and ponies roam wild. Man has left traces from prehistoric times and in the middle ages it was a royal hunting forest. Today, picturesque villages and hamlets nestle comfortably in its folds.
It is also famous for the fictional Lorna Doone, and the Beast of Exmoor – an elusive creature which, if it exists, may be some form of large wild cat, like a cougar, released or escaped from captivity.
Principal settlements in Exmoor include Lynton and Lynmouth, Dunster, Porlock and Dulverton.
The Farne Islands are located a few miles off the Northumbrian coast and are known for their wildlife and association with St Cuthbert. In summer, the islands are home to some 150,000 breeding pairs of seabirds – most famously, puffins; but razorbills, guillemots and eider ducks are also among the around 23 different varieties of birds that can be seen there. The islands are also home to the largest breeding colony of grey, or Atlantic, seals in England; about 1,000 pups are born there every autumn. There are 28 islands but only 3 can be visited – Inner Farne, Staple Island and Longstone Island. Inner Farne and Staple are owned by the National Trust. St Cuthbert, who is pretty much patron saint of the North of England, lived on Inner Farne as a hermit in the 7th century; his chapel on the island dates from the 14th century. Young Victorian heroine Grace Darling lived with her family on Longstone Rock, where her father was lighthouse keeper. It was from there that she and her father set out in their small open boat to rescue survivors from the stricken SS Forfarshire which had struck Big Harcar rock in 1838.
To visit the Farne Islands, you need to take a boat from the village of Seahouses. There are several private boat operators, each one offering slightly different options, but as of June 2020 only one is able to land visitors on Longstone. You must wear warm clothing, sensible footwear and a hat to protect your head from diving birds.
The English Lake District, English Lakes, or sometimes simply ‘the Lakes’ are in Cumbria in North-West England. It is an ancient mountain area, eroded by glaciation which left behind the lakes when the ice retreated. The Lake District National Park includes all of the land in England higher than 3000 feet (910 metres). The highest point is Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England at 3208 feet (978 metres).
The National Park was established in 1951 and covers an area of 885 square miles (2292 sq kilometres). It is the largest and most visited national park in England and the second largest in Britain, after the Cairngorms. It also contains the deepest and longest bodies of water in England, Wastwater (258 feet or 79 metres deep) and Windermere (11 miles/18 kilometres long).
The Lake District can be beautiful, even pretty, but also bleak. This is serious walking and climbing country and real care has to be taken in places. The popular walks can be quite busy during the peak tourist season but, despite that and having some relatively large towns, you can easily find solitude up on the high fells. The Lake District is also renowned for being the wettest part of England – but, then, if it were not, it would be called something else, wouldn’t it?
Principal settlements in the Lake District are Ambleside, Bowness, Coniston, Grasmere and Keswick. The town of Kendal provides a good base just outside the national park area. The National Park Authority has its offices there – unsurprisingly, because prices within the Park boundaries can be horrendous.
The Lake District is a World Heritage Site.
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