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UK rambling index: The best National Parks for new ramblers, keen hikers, foodies, and more

THE UK is lucky enough to be home to 15 picturesque national parks, making the country a rambler’s paradise. From stunning coastal scenery to fairytale forests, you won’t be short of breathtaking areas to explore. Whether you’re completely new to rambling or an avid adventurer ready to tackle a challenging hike, each of these 15 national parks is sure to impress. But which option is the best for you?

To help you plan your next outdoor adventure, Charles Clinkard – a family footwear brand celebrating their 100th anniversary in 2024 – have taken a closer look at all 15 national parks in the UK and ranked each one on several factors to find the best option for different walkers. Read on to discover the best park for your next ramble, from family-friendly hotspots to areas perfect for history buffs. And to check out our full findings, click here.

Best national parks for families: Exmoor and North York Moors

If you plan on taking your little ones with you on your rambling adventure, Exmoor is a great option for you and the family. While there are some hills, the land is relatively flat and there are no mountains in the national park, making it a less strenuous walk for younger children. There are also a number of accessible places to explore in the park, making it ideal for navigating pushchairs and wheelchairs (Visit Exmoor). There are plenty of fun activities and sights for kids of all ages too, from catching a glimpse of the native Exmoor Ponies to visiting wildlife parks and safaris. There are also theme parks nearby and water sports opportunities for older children.

For those looking for a good park for families further north, another great option is North York Moors. Like Exmoor, this national park doesn’t have any mountains and has a range of flat accessible routes without stiles to choose from (North York Moors). As well as family-friendly walks and cycling routes, the park is also close to the Yorkshire coastline where your little ones may even catch a glimpse of less commonly spotted marine animals, such as minke whales and white-beaked dolphins.

Best national park for foodies: South Downs

Looking for some delicious dishes to fuel your rambling adventure? South Downs National Park is a great spot for you, with a whopping 30 of the restaurants in the Michelin guide less than half an hour’s drive away. This includes several fine dining restaurants, perfect for foodies always on the hunt for their next favourite restaurant. Many of these Michelin guide eateries are in nearby Brighton, making this one of the best options for those looking to combine a rural rambling retreat with a city break.

Best national parks for birdwatching: The Broads and Yorkshire Dales

When it comes to wildlife, the UK has a thriving bird population which can be spotted in national parks across the UK. If you’re an avid birdwatcher and you’re looking for the best spot to catch a glimpse of your favourite species, the Broads is sure to be an ideal spot for you. Home to Britain’s largest wetland, this area is a great place for spotting birds like marsh harriers, and Eurasian wigeons and teals. There are a variety of other species to keep an eye out for too, including reed and sedge warblers.

The second great national park for bird spotting is the Yorkshire Dales, home to a wide variety of different species. Here you’ll find anything from ground-nesting birds like red and black grouse to wading birds like curlew. There are also a variety of breathtaking birds of prey to keep an eye out for, including peregrine falcons, kestrels, and even osprey.

Best national park for marine wildlife: Arfordir Penfro (Pembrokeshire Coast)

You may not associate the UK with marine wildlife, but there are some spots of the country where you’re likely to get a glimpse of a sea animal or two. The best national park for spotting marine wildlife is Arfordir Penfro (also known as Pembrokeshire Coast National Park) in the south-west of Wales. As well as being a great place to soak up some breathtaking coastal scenery, it’s also the ideal place to keep an eye out for marine mammals. From this park, there’s a chance to spot a variety of sea creatures, from Atlantic grey seals to minke whales. There are a variety of species of dolphin that visit this corner of Wales too, including porpoises and common and bottlenose dolphins (Arfordir Penfro).

Best national parks for history buffs: Eyri (Snowdonia) and Northumberland National Park

The UK is a country steeped in history, and our national parks give us a fantastic opportunity to delve deeper and educate ourselves. If you’re an avid history buff looking to combine a rambling retreat with a historical adventure, Eyrie National Park (also known as Snowdonia) is the spot for you. The area is full of historical landmarks, including the nearby iconic Conwy Castle, the ruins of the Roman fort Tomen y Mur, and the world-famous medieval Caernarfon Castle, which is considered to be one of the greatest buildings of the Middle Ages (Visit Wales).

Of course, we can’t discuss national parks rich in history without mentioning Northumberland National Park. This corner of the UK is steeped in history, home to the iconic Hadrian’s Wall, one of the UK’s most well-known historical landmarks. There are various historical ruins to explore along the wall, including Housesteads Fort, the ruins of a Roman army fort. But this isn’t the only piece of history in the park — you’ll find a variety of other fascinating historical sites, including Crindledykes Limekiln and Harbottle Castle.

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Best national parks for a challenging hike: Cairngorms and Loch Lomond and The Trossachs

For avid adventurers looking for the next big challenge, a visit to Cairngorms National Park is sure to make for an exciting trip. The park is home to the second largest mountain/Munro in the UK, Ben Macdui which stands at a staggering 1,309 metres above sea level. While the ascent is not too steep and the path is signposted, the terrain can be a little tricky to navigate in parts and visibility can be a problem on foggy days, so it’s best to only give this a go if you’re a confident hiker.

Scotland is home to many of the highest mountains/Munros in the UK, another of which being Ben Lawers, located in Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. This Munro is 1,214 metres above sea level, and it gives you some incredible views at the peak. A slightly less challenging hike than Ben Macdui, the terrain is relatively easy to navigate but it is still a lengthy walk, best for those with experience navigating moderate routes.

Best national parks for a short hike: Dartmoor and Peak District

If you’re looking to tackle a mountain ramble but want something a little less tall than the dizzy heights of Ben Macdui, the good news is that there are several national parks with smaller peaks to explore. Dartmoor National Park is a great option for those looking for a smaller hike. The highest peak in the park, High Willhays, stands at 621 metres, making it a small mountain. Although the moorland can be boggy after rain, the terrain is relatively easy to navigate, making this a good hike for those looking for something a little less than a 1000 metre+ mountain, but more than a hill.

Similarly, Kinder Scout Mountain in the Peak District is ideal for those looking for a shorter height. While this mountain stands a little higher than High Willhays at 636 metres, it is still relatively small in comparison to many of the UK’s mountains, plus you get some breathtaking views from the peak. Although shorter, walks up this mountain tend to be on the more challenging side, and can involve scrambling in parts. This mountain is best explored by experienced hikers looking for a short but challenging adventure.

Best national park for newbie ramblers: New Forest

Looking to get into rambling or hiking but don’t know where to start? The New Forest is the perfect place to slowly introduce yourself to this outdoorsy lifestyle. This is the second smallest national park in the UK (the first being the Broads), but you won’t be short of routes to choose from. There are plenty of accessible routes to explore for those new to rambling: the ground is relatively flat and terrain is easy to navigate in most areas. There are ample facilities throughout the park too, as well as over 130 car parks, making this a great option for those looking to dip their toes into the world of walking.

Best national parks for a bit of everything: The Lake District and Bannau Brycheiniog (Brecon Beacons)

It can be hard to choose just one priority when finding the perfect rambling spot. Fortunately, there are a few national parks in the UK which offer a bit of everything, one of the best for this being the Lake District.

With over 1,000 walking routes available to choose from on AllTrails, there are options for every style of walker, for those looking for gentle strolls to adventures up mountains. Speaking of mountains, there are 114 to choose from in this park, including Scafell Pike, the tallest mountain in England. You’ll also find a great selection of restaurants within a 30-minute drive of the park, including 20 listed in the Michelin guide, and a wide variety of historical sites and activities for kids of all ages.

Bannau Brycheiniog (Brecon Beacons) National Park is another fantastic option for those who are looking to experience as much as possible on a rambling trip. Here you’ll find a variety of different walking routes to choose from, as well as a choice of 23 mountains if you’re looking for a more challenging walk. There is a wide variety of wildlife to keep an eye out for in this area of Wales too, from mammals like otters to a variety of bird species and butterflies.

How to keep comfortable on a rambling adventure

Wherever you choose for your next rambling adventure, it’s important to make sure you have everything you need to stay comfortable. Walking and hiking can be very physically demanding, plus being outdoors in the elements can put your comfort to the test too. To enjoy your trip to the fullest, keep the following tips in mind.

Bring the right footwear
Footwear can make or break your comfort on a long ramble, so choosing the right pair is vital. The best footwear for any outdoor walk is always walking shoes or boots. These are specifically designed to keep feet comfortable on long outdoor adventures and provide you with ample support, reducing the risk of foot or ankle injuries.

If you don’t already have a good quality pair of walking boots or shoes, it’s a good idea to give yourself plenty of time to buy some before the trip. This will allow you to find the perfect pair for you and ensure you have the right fit. Poorly fitting walking footwear won’t give you the support you need, so it’s a good idea to measure your feet to find the best fit. You should also give yourself some time to try them out on a couple of test walks before your rambling adventure to ensure they will provide you with the comfort and support you need. We have a wide range of men’s and women’s walking boots and shoes to browse here at Charles Clinkard, from leading outdoor footwear brands such as Merrell, Grisport, Skechers, and more.

Prepare for the elements
Everyone knows how unpredictable UK weather can be, so it’s a good idea to prepare for every type of forecast on your trip. The best way to prepare for the elements starts with your packing list. Ensure you have plenty of rainy weather gear, including raincoats (which are much more practical than umbrellas while walking), rain hats, and waterproof trousers and socks. For warmer days, a sun hat and breathable T-shirt are essential, as well as a good SPF for protecting your skin. When it comes to that in-between weather, layers are a must-pack as they allow you to easily adjust your temperature when needed.

It’s also a good idea to research routes before you go so you know what to expect, and have some backup options in case they won’t be suitable. For example, you may want to avoid areas that get especially muddy and slippery if there has recently been a downfall, and opt for shady routes on especially hot days.

Prevent blisters
The last thing you want on a rambling trip is to develop a painful blister! Not only are they uncomfortable, but they can linger for a long time and maybe even become a hinderance for the rest of your walking adventure.

The good news is that there are plenty of ways to reduce the risk of developing blisters, one of which is making sure your footwear fits you perfectly. Walking boots or shoes that are too small will lead to excessive rubbing which in turn can lead to blistering, while footwear that is too large can also cause this excessive rubbing by slipping and sliding around your feet. If in doubt, get your feet measured to find the best fit for you.

The socks you choose can also affect how likely you are to develop blisters. It’s best to opt for a comfortable pair of specially designed walking or hiking socks. As these provide ample cushioning in the highest impact areas, not only do they keep your feet more comfortable, but they reduce friction which in turn reduces the risk of blisters developing. You’re more likely to get friction from your socks if they are damp, so it’s a good idea to opt for something waterproof, especially if you are walking in rainy conditions. To ensure your feet stay as dry as possible while walking, consider packing a small quick-drying towel and a spare pair of socks in your backpack for changing your socks if they become wet.

“Whether you’re a first-time rambler looking for the perfect place to get started, or a long-time walking enthusiast looking for your next adventure, you aren’t short of beautiful outdoor spots to explore here in the UK. With 15 national parks to choose from, there is something for every type of rambler, from family adventures at Exmoor or North York Moors to Eryri and Northumberland National Park for history buffs.

“The UK’s national parks have plenty of accessible routes, allowing everyone to enjoy the beauty of them. However, if you plan on taking the more challenging routes, it’s especially important that you bring the right footwear to navigate tricky terrain. Ensure you pack a well-fitting pair of supporting walking boots or shoes to keep comfortable and enjoy your rambling expedition to the fullest.

Rachel Clinkard, Ecommerce Director at Charles Clinkard