Pembrokeshire Coast National Park

While not a stop on my UK National Parks road trip this summer, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is a park very close to my heart after visiting it at least once every year for the last 27 years. As a child and teenager, our annual summer holidays there were spent mainly on the beach at Tenby, only venturing further afield on rainy days where the beach was no longer an option.

Back then, our summers were mainly warm and sunny so these trips out of Tenby were rarities. Now our visits tend to be out of season, early September or late March and even on the occasions we do make it there at the height of the British summer, the weather is rarely nice enough to be able to sit on the beach for hours on end so instead, we’ve spent a lot more time getting out and exploring more of what the park has to offer. And what it has to offer is a lot. Enough to make it my favourite place in the World. Despite all the travelling I have done the last 10 years, I am yet to find anywhere that matches the beauty of Pembrokeshire.

I spent some time revisiting some of my favourite spots and at seeing some parts of the park I’d not been to before on a trip earlier this summer.

Tenby

Painted town houses in Tenby

In recent years, Tenby has been our base for most of our trips to Pembrokeshire National Park, usually hiring a static caravan at one of the Penally holiday parks. This year, due to demand for staycations and our trip being a bit of a last minute decision, we ended up staying inland near the market town of Narberth, right on the Pembrokeshire/Carmarthernshire county border but once settled in to our accommodation, Tenby was, as always, our first port of call on day 1 of our trip.

South Beach in Tenby

Parking up at Penally Station just outside of Tenby, we followed the coast path signs choosing to take the turning down to the beach at the Kiln Park junction rather than continuing along the path which runs behind the dunes.

Tenby South Beach and, below, views from a visit to Caldey Island

We walked along South Beach enjoying the views of Caldey Island which lies a few miles off the coast of Tenby. In a normal year, it is possible to take a day trip over to Caldey Island with boats regularly departing from Tenby Harbour – or Castle Beach at low tide – every day except Sunday. We last did this a couple of years ago and spent most of the day walking up to the lighthouse and along the island’s coastal paths enjoying spectacular views along the way.

The Arches, the entrance to the walled town of Tenby

From South Beach, we took the path off the beach and up to the Esplanade which offers more beautiful views of Caldey Island and also the much closer St Catherine’s Isle. St Catherine’s Isle has recently reopened to the public in the last few years although I’m yet to visit.

Tenby is a walled town and we entered at the Arches and wandered through to grab an ice cream from one of the many shops selling them. During the summer months, Tenby closes its centre off to traffic between 10 and 5 meaning the many cafes and restaurants can put their tables out in the street during these times.

After wandering through the town, we exited by Tenby’s North Beach. This huge sandy beach is my favourite of all the wonderful beaches on offer in Tenby. We stood at the viewpoint on the cliff and took in the view of the beach, the harbour and Tenby castle before following the path down to the golden sands.

Goscar Rock on North Beach

When the tide is out, it is possible to walk around from Tenby North Beach to Castle and South Beach but unfortunately this wasn’t the case today so instead we followed the path back off the beach and through the harbour.

From the harbour we walked up towards the remnants of Tenby castle upon the hill top for more spectacular views over the bay and a chance to visit Tenby’s lifeboat station, before returning to Castle Beach and walking back to Penally along South Beach.

Amroth, Wisemans Bidge and Saundersfoot

Walking the coast path from Wisemans Bridge to Saundersfoot

Day 2 and we returned to another old favourite – following the coastal path from Amroth to Saundersfoot and back. Parking up at the back of the small coastal town of Amroth, we walked to the end of the beach and turned up the road until we saw the acorn signpost pointing out the coast path.

We followed it up a steep hill through the woods until it opened out onto a field and past a caravan park before leading back down hill onto the road into Wisemans Bridge.

Wiseman’s Bridge Beach

Here we walked alongside the pebbly beach and then followed the sea wall path to Coppets Hall Beach on the outskirts of Saundersfoot. The tide was out enough to walk along the beach from here to the main beach in Saundersfoot where we grabbed tea and cake from a cafe in the small town and wandered around the harbour before retracing our steps back along the coast path to Wisemans Bridge and then Amroth.

Carew Castle

That evening, we had a ride out to Carew Castle and Tidal Mill to do a circular walk around it. Parking at the castle is free and from the car park, we walked back up to the main road, crossing it to follow signs to the small village of Carew Cheriton. Here, we stopped to look around St Mary’s Church, parts of which date back to the 1300s before following a riverside path from the village and across a wooden bridge which brought us back out at the main road across from the village of Milton. A public footpath across a field which took us back to Carew Castle where we followed the path looping up to the Tidal Mill and around the mill pond.

Carew Castle and millpond

When the tide is in, the walk looping Carew Castle offers beautiful views of it reflected in the mill pond and it looks especially pretty at sunset and we often do a shorter version of this walk just following the path around the castle and Tidal Mill without detouring to Carew Cheriton and Milton followed by drinks at the pub across the road!

Lydstep, Skrinkle Haven and Manorbier

Skrinkle Haven Beach

Day 3 and we drove a bit further up the coast past Tenby to Skrinkle Haven, a part of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path nestled between the more popular beaches of Lydstep Haven and Manorbier. Following the road signs to Skrinkle Haven, we drove past the YHA and up to the cliff top car park. From here there are amazing coastal views in both directions but the main attraction is the view of the beautiful Skrinkle Haven beach.

View of Skrinkle Haven

We picked up the coast path and wandered along it until we came to a set of steps leading down to the small Church Doors Cove, so called because of door-shaped caves carved into the cliffs by the sea. After climbing back up the steps from the rocky beach, we continued along the coast path a little further but came to Ministry of Defence land which the path seemed to detour around. While we had heard it is now possible to once again access Skrinkle Haven beach itself from the coast path after it was closed off for years, we couldn’t quite work out how so instead, decided to retrace our steps back to the car park.

Skrinkle Haven lies just down the coast path from the popular town of Manorbier with its castle and sandy beach. While we didn’t visit Manorbier on this trip, we have in the past and it’s definitley worth a stop, especially if you follow the coast path up from the beach in either direction for more beautiful views.

Lydstep Beach with Lydstep Haven Holiday Park behind

Instead of driving north to Manorbier today, we instead drove back towards Tenby stopping at Lydstep. Here there is a national trust car park and circular headland walk although it can be a little difficult to find and access as it is down a narrow one-track road with an unpaved section at the end a steep hill at the very end up to the cliff! It’s definitely worth it though.

Lydstep Beach

From the cliffs there are views across to Caldey Island and down to Lydstep Haven beach backed by the caravans on it’s upmarket holiday park. After walking a loop of the cliff, we returned to the car park and walked down the steep hill towards Lydstep Haven Beach. When the tide is out, it is possible to access sea caves from here but today, we just walked along the pebbly beach before climbing the hill back to the car park.

Freshwater East and Barafundle Bay

At Freshwater East

The beach that was always our rainy day ride out when we visited as kids, Freshwater East is a dog friendly, long sandy beach which is great to visit at low tide when the cliffs and caves at the far end of the beach become visible.

Freshwater East and, below, walking the coast path to Barafundle Beach from Stackpole Quay

After walking along the sands, we attempted to follow the circular ‘family walk’ along some of the coast path and up into the dunes which we remembered taking in the past but found that some of the arrows and numbered posts were missing. We managed to find our way around using a bit of guess work and from what we remembered from before and eventually found ourselves back at the car park.

Barafundle

After lunch on the beach, we continued along the coast to Stackpole Quay where we parked up at its National Trust car park to begin our walk across the coast path to Barafundle Beach. Often finding its way onto the ‘best beaches in the UK’ lists, Barafundle is a bit of a hidden gem. With no direct access, the only way to reach it is to hike across the headland to it.

Reaching Barafundle Beach

From Stackpole Quay, this is a relatively easy half mile hike from which you eventually follow a few steps down to the bay. As a child, it was always a beach I longed to visit and spend the day at playing on its golden sands and swimming in the sea, but with its isolated location and complete lack of facilities, I can now see why my parents were never as keen on the idea and we always stuck to Tenby’s North beach on sunny days!

On Barafundle Beach

Today however, I happily spent an hour or so sat on the beach and walking down to the sea front before walking back along the cliffs to the car park at Stackpole Quay.

Bosherton and Broad Haven South

We headed a bit further up the coast the next day to visit Bosherton Lily Ponds, another go to location on a rainy day when we were younger!

Broad Haven South Beach

Another National Trust Car Park from which we followed the path down to edge of the lily pond to begin our walk. We turned left, following the sign to Broad Haven South, to take the anti-clockwise route around. The walk was mainly flat and eventually brought us out at the junction with Broad Haven South, a large sandy beach home to Church Rock, a rock formation just off the coast.

Narrow bridge across the lily pond

After stopping for snacks, we returned to the path around the lily ponds continuing to follow it around and enjoying the views across the lily ponds. Whether or not the lillies are in bloom, this is a really pretty walk and a great place for spotting wildlife too. My favourite part of the walk is crossing a couple of long bridges across the pond.

The bridges are open on the one side and quite narrow which can make it a challenge if someone starts walking across from the opposite direction!!

St Govans

Above and below, views from the coast path at St Govans

After our walk around the lily pond, we took a short drive to the next point on the coast path, St Govans. St Govans is a small chapel built into the cliffs. From the car park, you can walk down some steps to the chapel and even go inside. I continued down the cliff from the chapel to the small bay beneath to enjoy the views before climbing back up to the car park.

From the car park, we followed the coast path along the cliffs to the point overlooking Broad Haven South beach. The views were again stunning.

Stack Rocks and the Green Bridge of Wales

The Green Bridge of Wales

Our final stop today was to see Pembrokeshire’s famous rock formations, The Green Bridge of Wales and the Stack Rocks. We followed the signposts to the Green Bridge down a long road towards the cliffs which lead past Ministry of Defence land and parked on the free car park.

A path from the car park split in 2 directions and we took the right fork towards the viewing platform for the Green Bridge.

Coast path views

After admiring the views and taking plenty of photos, we followed the coast path along the cliff to see the Stack Rocks, rock pillars lying just off the coast. We continued along the coast path for a while, enjoying the views before looping back to the car park and calling it a day.

Freshwater West and Angle

Looking down at Freshwater West Beach

It was off to one of my favourite Pembrokeshire beaches today, Freshwater West but first, after a wrong turn, we made a quick stop at the nearby West Angle Bay. This is a small beach, especially when the tide is is, but at low tide, it can be fun to walk to the rocks around the edges of the beach to explore the rock pools!

From Angle, we finally found our way back to Freshwater West and as usual, the first glimpse of the dramatic combination of cliffs, dunes, beach and crashing waves was breathtaking.

On the beach at Freshwater West

Freshwater West is known for its strong waves and surfers can often be seen bobbing around in the sea here. The beach is also famous for being used in one of the Harry Potter films – Shell House was built into the dunes here for the purpose of filming and although it has now been dismantled, the beach is often visited by fans of the films and books to see the site of Dobby’s grave. The 2010 Robin Hood film starring Russell Crowe was also filmed at Freshwater West!

Enjoying the view at Freshwater West

Today, we began our visit with a walk along the cliffs to a seaweed drying hut sat on top. From here there were beautiful views across the bay. We retraced out steps back down to the road and followed the path down to the beach taking a long walk along the sea front to the rocks and cliff at the far end before returning to the car. A great way to spend the day!

Heatherton

Adventure golf at Heatherton

We took a break from the coast today for a bit of family fun at Heatherton World of Activities, another favourite from family holidays of the past! The park is situated not far from Tenby by the village of St Florence. Currently, visitors have to pre-book passes for the activities so the park can keep attendance down and social distancing can be maintained. We opted for a 6 credit pass and used up our first 2 credits on a round of Adventure Golf then spent the rest of our credits on activities including pistol shooting, laser clay pigeon shooting and, our favourites, the bumper boats. A really fun day out!!

While we didn’t have chance on this trip, other fun family days out we have enjoyed on past visits to Pembrokeshire have included visits to Clerkenhill Adventure Farm for a round or two of Frisbee Golf and Oakwood Theme Park which we like to visit on an ‘After Dark’ day when the park and rides stays open until 10pm ending the day with a firework display.

Broad, Little and Sandy Haven

Broad Haven Beach

Today’s destination was Broad Haven. Not to be confused with Broad Haven South by Bosherton, this Broad Haven lies further up the coast and is a long sandy beach backed by a row of cafes and shops.

The tide was going out as we arrived meaning there was a huge expanse of sand leading down to the sea. We paddled along in the shallows and with the tide going out, were able to walk around into the next bay, Little Haven. On days when the tide is in, it’s still possible to walk between the two beaches but over the cliff top on the coast path instead.

Walking down to Sandy Haven

After a few hours, we left Broad Haven when, in typically Welsh fashion, the weather changed from glorious sunshine to cloudy with the threat of rain. With it still being early afternoon, we consulted our map on the back of the visitor magazine Coast to Coast and decided to visit Sandy Haven, an area we had not been to before.

Sandy Haven

Arriving just as the rain set in, we parked at a pull in just off the road and followed the coast path signs through a holiday park and out towards a rocky beach. This was a lovely, hidden away location, spoilt only by views of a power station off the coast in the distance. With the tide out, an array of rock pools were revealed and we had fun carefully scrambling over the rocks along the beach to find a way down to the sea.

St Davids

We began today with a ride out to the city of St Davids. As well as being the only city in Pembrokeshire, St Davids is also the smallest city in the UK!

We parked at the top of the town and walked down the main street towards the city’s cathedral. The Cathedral was open for visitors to look around. Next to the , is the medieval ruins of the Bishop’s Palace but as admission was by pre-booked ticket only, we couldn’t explore this any further.

Solva and Newgale

After grabbing a delicious ice cream in St Davids, we returned to the car and drove down the coast to the town of Solva, a place we had driven through many times but never stopped in.

Looking down at Solva from the coast path and below,
views from the coast path.

We parked by the pretty harbour and decided to follow the coast path signs to see where it took up. A quite steep, muddy track eventually opened out to give us amazing views over the harbour, and, as we continued further, we found ourselves on a cliff top with beautiful coastal views.

Rather than following the path any further, we returned the way we had come and instead, drove to the next bay, Newgale Beach. Like Freshwater West, Newgale is a popular surfing spot. The beach here is pebbly and we didn’t stop long before continuing our drive back to our accommodation making one last stop at the tiny bay of Nolton Haven along the way.

The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon
View of the Blue Lagoon

Not to be confused with the Centre Parcs-style Pembrokeshire holiday park of the same name near Narberth, today we were visiting The Blue Lagoon, a former slate quarry in Abereiddy. The quarry has since flooded, the slate giving it the colour that gives it its name.

A visit to this area of Pembrokeshire had long been recommended to us but for some reason, we had yet to make it there until today.

Traeth Llyfn

Parking for the Blue Lagoon is behind the small beach of Abereiddy. From the car park, we followed the coast path a short distance to the Blue Lagoon viewpoint. Straight away we could see the contrast in the colour of the water here to the colour of the sea. There were some visitors swimming, kayaking and jumping into the lagoon but we stayed on land and decided to follow the coast path a bit further along up to the cliff top overlooking it.

Strolling along Traeth Llyfn

From here, we walked along the cliff top path, a small cove soon coming into view in the distance. We continued along until we reached a signpost at the top of some steps reading Traeth Llyfn, or Llyfn Beach. We took the steps down to the secluded beach where the tide was out enough to reveal a pretty sandy cove and the perfect place to sit down for a while, enjoy the beautiful scenery and have a snack.

After climbing the steps back up to the coast path, we walked back towards the Blue Lagoon and Abereiddy Beach where we sat and had lunch.

Strumble Head

Abermawr Beach

After a quick stop at another secluded beach, Abermawr, we continued up the coast for an afternoon visit to Strumble Head, another part of the park we had never visited before.

Here we walked down to get a closer look at the lighthouse before following the coast path south for a bit to get beautiful coastal views and views looking back towards the lighthouse.

Looking for wildlife off the coast of Strumble Head

After retracing our steps back towards the car park, we walked down to a wildlife viewing hut built onto the cliff, looking out to see if we could spot any of the birds, seals or sea creatures listed on the building’s wall.

Failing to spot anything other than a few noisy seagulls, we returned to the car to drive back.

As always, we had had an amazing time exploring the Pembrokeshire Coast and out walking along the coast path and it had been fun to visit some new places along the way as well as revisit lots of old favourites and I can’t wait to go back.

Exploring the North York Moors National Park

We were nearing the end of 2 weeks on the road visiting some of the National Parks of England. Concentrating on the North, we had so far spent time in the Peak District, the Yorkshire Moors, the Lake District and Northumberland National Parks and now it was back to Yorkshire to visit the second of its 2 National Parks, the North York Moors.

A flying visit to Whitley Bay en route to North York Moors National Park

Leaving Ashington, our base for Northumberland National Park, we travelled down the coast making an early morning stop north of the city of Newcastle at Whitley Bay where we took a brisk walk along the seafront. We then bypassed Newcastle City and crossed the Tyne Bridge and made a second stop, this time to see the famous Angel of the North sculpture up close (it was smaller than we thought it would be!).

Whitby views from the top of the 199 Steps

It was then time to continue on back to Yorkshire where we eventually passed a sign to say we were within the boundaries of the North York Moors National Park. We had decided to assign the afternoon to visiting the coastal area of the park, leaving the next day, our only full day in the park, to get out onto the moors. So with that in mind, we followed the road signs to the seaside town of Whitby.

View of Whitby Abbey and church on the cliff top

Arriving at midday on a Sunday, we soon found ourselves in a queue of traffic into the town and into the harbour car parks. After a few loops of all the car parks in the area with no sign of any spaces becoming available any time soon, we decided to give up and head back out of town to the park and ride we had passed a mile or so out! Here, there were plenty of spaces available and,for £5 each, we got a return bus ticket into town.

It was the first time I had used public transport since the pandemic began but the buses were regular enough to be pretty quiet and it didn’t take long for them to reach the town centre.

The beach at Whitby

Whitby was busy enough that we felt the need to wear our face coverings in some parts of the town, mainly narrow streets that were like bottleneck, pushing people walking in every direction together into small spaces but once we got away from the main streets and harbour area, it was easier to socially distance and we felt much safer.

Whitby harbour

We followed signposts to Whitby Abbey, walking up the 199 Steps to the church grounds at the top and stopping there for a while to take in the views over the bay (and catch our breath!). Entrance to the Abbey was by pre-booked ticket only and we had decided not to go in but it was possible to see quite a bit of the Abbey building from outside.

Returning to the town, we got ice creams from Sprinkles Ice Cream Parlour then walked along the pier and down by the beach before catching the bus back to the car park and driving to check in at our hotel. As with the other National Parks we had visited, we would again be staying just outside of the park to keep the cost down, this time staying 2 nights at a Premier Inn near Middlesbrough.

The Goathland Hotel aka The Aidensfield Arms

On day 2, we drove back into the park this time taking the scenic route driving along more narrow, steep roads, passing through the small town of Grosmont, across pretty heather covered moors and and eventually arriving at our destination of Goathland.

The ‘Aidensfield Stores’

Goathland is well known as the village which doubled as Aidensfield in 90s TV show ‘Heartbeat’ and the town continues to play on this connection keeping up a sign saying ‘The Aidensfield Arms’ on the side of The Goathland Hotel, and shops such as the Aidensfield Village Store still selling Heartbeat related souvenirs.

After parking up, we walked straight through the village past all the shops and cafes and headed down the road toward the Mallyan Hotel, dodging the many sheep roaming freely around the roads, pavements and grass verges everywhere!

At the side of the Mallyan Hotel, is the trail head leading to Mallyan Falls. Taking a circular route, we followed the trail down lots of steps into a wooded area then along the river before scrambling over precariously balances rocks to finally see the waterfall come into view!

Views hiking from the waterfall back to Goathland
Stopping off in Beck Hole

Scrambling back over the rocks to the path, we then followed it alongside the river, up and down more steep steps and past some fields to the tiny village of Beck Hole where we stopped for a quick break next to the river before following the path for a long uphill walk back to Goathland.

After a walk around the village, we returned to the car just after midday and began our drive towards the south end of the park and the Hole of Horcrum. We parked at Saltergate car park from which there are sweeping views of the Hole of Horcrum. After taking lots of photos, we turned right and followed the path around the edge. From here it was possible to turn left and follow a path down into the hole or to continue around the edge. We continued straight on, crossing a stile onto a path that lead through Levisham Moor, surrounded by purple heather.

The Hole of Horcrum
Walking the moors along the perimeter of the Hole of Horcrum

While it is possible to do a complete loop of the Hole of Horcrum, we had only paid for 2 hours parking, not long enough to complete the 5 mile circular route, so after a while, we turned back and retraced our steps back to the car park.

Another view of the Hole of Horcrum

After lunch overlooking the Hole of Horcrum, we continued our drive through the park heading towards Pickering, then looping back north through the pretty riverside village of Hutton-le-Hole.

From here we continued to follow the road north as it opened out into beautiful hill top moorland, driving carefully to avoid the sheep milling around on the roadside or even in the road itself and stopping at pull in points to get out and enjoy the view.

At the Danby National Park Centre

Our final stop of the day was in Danby at the National Park Visitor Centre. The centre was part gift shop and part interactive exhibition centre with displays outlining the history of the park. After having a look around, we took a stroll around its woodland walk area before returning to the car and waving goodbye to the North York Moors National Park.

It had been a fun 2 weeks road tripping around the north of England to visit a total of 5 National Parks and we found that they all had something special to offer and that maybe we should make more time in the future to spend time exploring what is really just on our doorstep!

Watch my adventures in the North York Moors here:

Northumberland National Park

And a flying visit to Scotland!

A quick visit to Scotland and below, visiting Gretna’s Blacksmiths shops

A hastily arranged 2-week road trip visiting the National Parks of the northern England had so far taken us to the Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District National Parks. Now we were travelling further north to see Northumberland National Park, a park which before planning this trip, I admit I didn’t know existed! I mean, I knew of the area of Northumberland but just didn’t realise that part of it had national park status!

Looking at our route to the park from our Cockermouth base in the Lake District, we noticed just how close we were to the Scottish border so we decided to make an unscheduled pit stop in Gretna Green, pulling in to grab photos with the Welcome to Scotland sign then paying a quick visit to the Famous Blacksmiths Shop, a tourist stop with shops, restaurants and conveniences.

Housesteads Fort

Waving goodbye to Scotland, it was back to England to drive towards Hexham and visit Hadrian’s Wall. We had booked a timed entry ticket into Housesteads Fort, the ruins of an old Roman Fort next to part of the wall. Housesteads is jointly owned by the National Trust and English Heritage and is therefore free to members of both although there was a standard charge to park.

The fort ruins

Once parked up, we made our way up a long, uphill path towards the ruins in the distance. At the top of the hill, there was a building with a queue outside so we assumed we had to first go here to get our tickets scanned and gain entrance to the fort grounds. In fact, this was a small museum about Hadrian’s Wall.

Our tickets allowed us entry to the museum so we had a quick look around before walking back towards the ruins. Here there was an entry point and our tickets were scanned before we were allowed in to explore.

Stood on Hadrian’s Wall

With the ruins being outside and visitor numbers being kept low with timed entry tickets, we were not required to wear a face covering but were advised that there was a one way system in place around the ruins. It was interesting to see the remains of the Roman fort. Sections of the buildings were labelled as to what room they would have been and there were information boards providing more details and history as to what we were looking at.

Hadrian’s Wall ran along the rear of the ruins so we made sure we had photos with it before we left.

Hiking to Sycamore Gap

It is possible to walk from Houseteads to Sycamore Gap, one of the most photographed parts of Northumberland National Park but as it was a wet and windy afternoon, we decided to drive back on ourselves slightly to Steel Rigg car park from which the walk to Sycamore Gap was shorter.

At Sycamore Gap

We took a circular walk heading out alongside Hadrian’s Wall, scrambling up and over some steep hills before finally emerging at Sycamore Gap where a lone sycamore tree lies in the valley between 2 hills. From here, we returned to the car park on a less hilly public footpath path through fields and over stiles.

After our brisk walk in the wind and rain, we continued to our base for the next 2 nights, a Premier Inn in Ashington, north of the city of Newcastle and just outside the Northumberland National Park’s boundaries.

Entering Northumberland National Park

This was the park we had done the least amount of research on only really knowing that we wanted to see Hadrian’s Wall so that evening we used the park’s official website to look up walks we could do in other areas of the park.

Riverside walk in the Cheviots

So the following day, we decided to drive north towards the Cheviot Hills area of the park. Here, we parked in Hethpool car park and followed an easy circular walking route alongside a river, past Hethpool Linn waterfall and through fields offering views of the Cheviots Hills. We were hoping to spot a wild Cheviot goat or two along the way but unfortunately couldn’t spot any on the hills!

From Hethpool, we drove back to the pretty town of Wooler where we visited a local bakery for tea and cake before heading into the Beamish Valley area of the park. We pulled into Bulby’s Wood car park to eat our picnic lunch by the river.

View of the Simonside Hills driving through Northumberland National Park

Next we drove to the town of Rothbury. Parking slightly out of town, we followed the riverside path into the centre, looking around the shops there before looping back around.

From Rothbury, we took the scenic route back to Ashington driving south through Northumberland National Park towards Elsdon, pulling over regularly to enjoy the scenery before heading east back to our hotel for the evening.

While we had enjoyed our time in Northumberland National Park, we wish we had looked into what the park had to offer a bit more past the obvious visit to the Hadrian’s Wall area. Our favourite part of the day had been our drive through the park from Rothbury towards Elsdon and wished we had reached this part of the park earlier in the day and had time to do some walks here.

But for now, it was time to leave for our final park on our 2 week road trip, the North York Moors.

Watch my vlog of my trip to Northumberland National Park here:

Visiting the Lake District

Hastily rearranging our planned 5-week tour of US National Parks to a 2-week tour of UK National Parks, the Lake District was my ‘must do’, somewhere I had talked about visiting for as long as I could remember but never getting around to making plans to actually go!

So following on from our 3 nights in the Peak District and 3 nights in the Yorkshire Dales, we would be making the Lake District our next 3-night stop on our road trip.

Visiting the animals at the farm park

Trying to emulate some of the activities we would have down on our US trip, we stopped off along the way at Lakeland Maze Farm Park to have a go at their giant Maize Maze. Usually, this would have been a “let’s see what the weather is like on the day and decide then if we want to do it” type of activity but with Covid-restrictions rendering spontaneity obsolete, if we wanted to visit any type of attraction, it had to be pre-booked well in advance. Unfortunately, it had rained most of the morning for our hike around the Ingleton Waterfalls Trail in the Yorkshire Dales and as we left there, there was no sign of a change in this weather as we drove north-west.

Stuck in a huge maze in the rain, traipsing through mud and huge puddles, wasn’t the most fun we had all trip and as the rain got heavier, we resorted to using the maze map we had been handed as we checked in to find our way out quicker than we otherwise would have! Once safely out, we spent a bit of time saying hello to the animals at the farm before continuing to our Travelodge accommodation at the north end of the Lake District National Park in Cockermouth.

Lake side at Ambleside
Down by Lake Windermere – Ambleside Marina

For our first full day in the park, we had pre-booked a return boat trip across Lake Windermere, the largest lake in the park, travelling from Ambleside to Bowness-on-Windermere. Luckily, seeing as we’d booked outside seating on the boats, the weather had dramatically improved from yesterday and the sun was even trying to shine!

Our transport across the lake

Expecting the Lake District to be the busiest of the National Parks on our road trip, we had booked the first boat of the day to take us to Bowness. We parked up for the day in Ambleside town on the large, and rather expensive, Miller Bridge car park from where it was a mile walk to the waterfront. Being early, the car park was almost empty. After taking some pictures of the lake, we checked in and boarded the boat to Bowness.

Crossing Lake Windermere with Lake Windermere Cruises

With the boat acting as public transport between the towns, we were required to wear our face coverings for the duration of the 30 minute journey and every other row of seats was blocked off to ensure social distancing between parties.

It was a pleasant ride across the lake and once in Bowness, we had just over 2 hours to explore before we had to be back at the marina to catch the boat we had booked back to Ambleside.

Walking to Post Knott

Before departing, we had looked up short walks that could be done in the area and decided on a 1.5 mile walk to Post Knott for views over the lake. The mainly uphill walk took us through the busy town and then along a steep public footpath bring us out at Biskey Howe Toposcope. The views here were already pretty impressive and we took a moment to take some photos and catch our breath before following the route instructions we had downloaded and continuing on to Post Knott for more views over the lake before retracing our steps back into the town.

View from Post Knott
Bowness-on-Windermere marina and, below, at Cockshott Point

After stopping off at one of the many bakeries on offer to grab a slice of delicious looking cake, we walked back towards the marina and took the short lakeside stroll to Cockshott Point, a grassy lakefront area with a stony beach and we sat here to eat our cakes before wandering back in time to catch our return boat to Ambleside.

Bridge House, Ambleside

Once back, we strolled into Ambleside town and had a pre-booked lunch at the George Hotel before spending the afternoon looking around. Ambleside was smaller and slightly less busy than Bowness. We found our way to Bridge House, a small house built on top of a bridge which you can normally go in and look around but was currently closed due to Covid restrictions, and then we took the circular hike out into the woodlands to see Stock Ghyll Force, a nearby waterfall.

After a busy day, we walked back to the car park where we found cars now queuing to get in and find a space and as we drove out of Ambleside, we passed miles of traffic queuing to get into the town even though it was now late afternoon proving we were right about this being the busiest of the parks we would be visiting.

View from Whinlatter Pass on the way to Whinlatter Forest Park

Day 2 in the Lake District and, again trying to replicate activities we’d have down on our planned US road trip, we had booked a segway adventure at Whinlatter Forest Park. We arrived at 10am to find an already packed car park and only just managed to find a space to park up in then went to check in for activity.

Segway fun at Whinlatter Forest Park

We had segwayed multiple times on our visits to the US and in Europe but it had always been in city centres whereas in the UK, it’s only allowed off-road on private land. Our previous segwaying adventures had always been lengthy 2-3 hour tours but today’s would be just an hour, 20 minutes of which were spent setting us all up on the segways and practising before our segways were finally put into the easier to use full-power mode.

Riding on a gravelly surface with lots of quite steep up and down sections made the session more challenging – and a lot more fun – than we had expected and we really appreciated a stop at one of the highest points of the forest park which offered beautiful views across the Lake District. It was an amusing way to spend an hour and we were really glad we had booked it.

The view from one of the highest points in Whinlatter Forest Park

Segway session over, we returned to the car to find the packed car park had now been closed off with ‘sorry, we are full up’ signs outside the entrance. I’m not sure what we’d have done if we’d have booked an afternoon segway session!

Narrow roads as we inadvertently drive along Newlands Pass

With no set in stone plan for the rest of the day other than to spend it exploring the Lake District further, we had looked up the possibility of hiring canoes, kayaks or even a motor boat for that afternoon only to find everything fully booked days in advance so instead, we thought we’d do a circular walk of one of the lakes. After some investigation, we had settled on Buttermere Lake which various sites had told us was one of the quieter, lesser visited of the lakes and which only took a few hours to walk the entire circumference. So with that in mind, we started our drive towards the National Trust car park there.

Beautiful scenery along Newlands Pass heading towards Buttermere Lake

What we didn’t realise was that the drive from Whinlatter to Buttermere would take us along Newlands Pass, a beautiful scenic drive but also one of the windiest, steepest one track roads we’ve ever encountered! As we neared Buttermere, the drive was made more challenging by cars parked in pull in places and other inappropriate places slowing down traffic in and out of the village.

Waterfall along Newlands Pass near Buttermere

We could tell straight away that Buttermere was not going to be quiet at all and that we’d be lucky to find a parking spot but we gave it a go anyway trying both of the village car parks to no avail. It would seem that the Lake District, in the summer months at least, is one of those places where you need to get to your destination for the day early, preferably before 10.30am in order to get a parking space and then you need to stay in that place for the rest of the day because if you move on, you’ll probably not find a parking space at your next destination!

The site of our unplanned lunch stop

Unsure where to head for next but knowing that we would not be exiting Buttermere the way we came in – we’re not sure our car would have made it up the 25% gradient hill! – we kept driving until the road widened out and we spotted a place to pull over. It was still pretty scenic where we were and sheep were milling around on the road and in the open meadows around us so we had lunch in the car and, seeing as there was no reception to get on line, consulted a map.

Viewpoint on our circular walk around Grasmere Lake

We decided to try our luck at Grasmere, a town and lake which we had passed on the way to Ambleside the day before. Luckily, Grasmere had a huge car park and an even bigger overflow car park which we easily managed to find a space in! Relieved at finding somewhere to go, we walked into the town centre.

It was very busy with queues reaching around the block to enter its famous Gingerbread store and even for ice cream. We found a quieter ice cream store inside a church cafe and indulged in what we felt was a well-deserved treat then looked up walks we could do in the area as we sat and ate them.

Walking alongside Grasmere Lake

We decided on a 3.7 mile circular walk around Lake Grasmere and screen shot the easy to follow instructions before setting off. The walk took us out of the town and up to a viewpoint then through parkland running alongside the River Rothay where the path eventually opened out to the lakeside before looping back into the town. Apart from the initial steep path up to the viewpoint, the walk was mainly flat and easy and there were beautiful views across the lake. A perfect way to finish off our Lake District adventure!

Next up, 2 nights in Northumberland National Park

Watch my adventures in the Lake District here:

Yorkshire Dales National Park

Entering the Yorkshire Dales National Park

The second stop on my tour of UK National Parks was 3 nights in the Yorkshire Dales. Having spent a good portion of the day hiking in the Peak District, it was early evening by the time we arrived. We had again chosen accommodation outside of the park’s boundaries, this time in a Travelodge near the town of Skipton.

For our first of 2 full days in the park, we had booked to visit the nearby Bolton Abbey Estate. The site has 4 car parks to choose from and, having not visited before, we were unsure which to pick but eventually booked into the Riverside car park as it seemed to be somewhere near the middle of the grounds. We deliberately chose an early slot so we could make a full day of our visit and we arrived to find the car park almost empty and just a few dog walkers about.

At Bolton Abbey Estate
The priory ruins at Bolton Abbey

Seeing the priory ruins in the distance, we decided to walk along the river in that direction. It was a pleasant walk and it didn’t take us long to reach the priory. We were able to look inside the chapel which is still used for services and then we walked around to explore the ruins behind the main building structure.

From here, we walked back towards the river heading for the park of the estate we were most looking forward to – the Bolton Abbey stepping stones. Here, visitors can choose to cross a rather wide section of the river by hopping across a series of stepping stones.

It was harder than it looked with some of the stones being quite widely spread and one or two wobbling a bit as we trod on them and as much fun as it was, it was also quite a relief to safely reach the other side!!

The Valley of Desolation

After walking back along the other side of the river and making a quick visit to the cafe near the Riverside car park for a delicious locally produced chocolate Brownie, we followed signposts to walk to the Valley of Desolation. It was a relatively short and easy walk out to the very pretty waterfall.

After a picnic lunch, we finished our visit with a walk along one of the shorter trails through the ancient woodland of Strid Wood. An information board as we entered this area of the estate showed maps of the circular walks available and details on the length and difficulty of each walk and we found coloured the signposting of the trails once we were in the woods to be really easy to follow.

By the time we left Bolton Abbey Estate mid-afternoon, the car park was full and the park was extremely busy with families walking, picnicking and playing in the river and we were glad we’d thought to come early and seen it while it was quiet first thing in the morning.

Next, we drove to the town of Pateley Bridge to visit England’s Oldest Sweet Shop. On the drive there we had our first experience of some of the park’s narrower, steeper roads which were even less fun to drive along in the worsening weather. The quaint town of Pateley Bridge was busy for a Sunday afternoon and we had to queue for 10 minutes or so to enter the traditional sweet shop. After browsing the shelves and buying a couple of gifts, we called into a cafe further along the street for ice creams before driving back to our hotel.

At the Upper Falls

Day 2 in the Yorkshire Dales National Park we drove to the north end of the park, starting the day with a walk to Aysgarth Falls. Arriving just after 10am, we parked at the very quiet National Park Visitor Centre car park and followed the signposts across the main road to pick up the trail leading past the different parts of the falls. The trail took us through woodland to the Middle Falls then to Lower Falls before looping back to the now packed car park.

Arriving at Wensleydale Creamery

From here we followed the signs pointing in the opposite direction to the short trail to the Upper Falls. It was another easy, mainly flat walk along the trail and it didn’t take long to see all three waterfalls. While we enjoyed the walk, the falls themselves were not as spectacular as the Valley of Desolation waterfall at Bolton Abbey.

From Aysgarth Falls, we drove to the busy town of Hawes to visit Wensleydale Creamery. As well as a shop, restaurant and cafe, the creamery also offers the Wensleydale Cheese Experience – a museum and interactive exhibit which also allows you to peak in at the Wensleydale factory.

At the moment, some of the more interactive exhibitions are closed due to Covid restrictions so the entrance price has been reduced to reflect this but it didn’t stop visitors from wanting to enter and we faced a 30 minute wait to get our ticket and enter! The museum and its exhibits were interesting but our favourite part was watching the cheese being made in the factory.

Peering into the factory at the Wensleydale Cheese Experience

With queues for the Wensleydale shop reaching back and around the corner, we decided to follow our visit to the Wensleydale Cheese Experience with lunch at the Creamery’s cafe in hope that the store queues would subside in the meantime. After a delicious Wensleydale and Yorkshire Red Cheese on Toast lunch, we found the store queues had not gone down much at all so sucked it up and joined the end.

It took about half an hour to reach the main gift store but after looking around that, we then had another 10 minute wait to enter the cheese section! We couldn’t leave without buying some Wensleydale to take home with us though.

Ribblehead Viaduct

Although our visit to Wensleydale Creamery had taken a lot longer than we had anticipated with all the queues, we still had a good portion of the afternoon left so we decided to drive back to the southern end of the park for a stop at the village of Malham. Along the way we passed Ribblehead Viaduct so pulled over to take a few photos before continuing our drive along more narrow, steep, winding roads.

Malham Cove in the distance

While Malham village itself is a lovely place for a quick stop with its array of pubs and cafes, we were there to do the walk to Malham Cove, a curved, limestone cliff just outside of the town. We parked at the National Park Visitor Centre car park and walked through the busy town to the trail head. The trail ran alongside a babbling stream and with the sun deciding to suddenly shine, it was a pretty settling for an afternoon stroll.

It didn’t take long at all to reach the cliff face and we stopped there for a while to watch some adventurous rock climbers scale it before retracing our steps back to Malham and driving back to our Skipton hotel for the evening.

We had one more morning left in the Yorkshire Dales National Park before driving to our next stop, the Lake District, and we planned to spend it at the Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, a 5 mile circular trail that takes in 5 waterfalls as well as woodland and views of the Yorkshire Dales. The trail is on private land and therefore an entrance fee of £7 per person is charged. Parking was free of charge and again, arriving early at 10am, the large car park was quiet.

Unfortunately, we picked a grey, miserable day with some heavy downpours but while it made the trail muddy and slippery in parts, it did seem to make the falls look more dramatic! It took us just over 2 hours to complete the trail and we stopped for a look around the shops in the village of Ingleton before returning to the car park for a picnic in the car as the rain started bouncing again.

It had been a fun few days in the Yorkshire Dales National Park and we definitely felt we had got a good taster of what the park has to offer. Like with the Peak District, we could have easily filled another day or so hiking out to other beauty spots in the park or visiting other towns and villages and we would happily return to the area in the future.

Watch my trip vlog here:

Find out what I got up to on the next leg of my road trip, visiting the Lake District, here.

A short break in the Peak District

Deciding to spend 2 weeks on a road trip around some of the UK’s National Parks, none of which I’d spent any time in before, we kicked off our trip with 3 nights in the Peak District National Park.

To keep costs down, we had chose to stay in a chain budget hotel in the Derbyshire town of Chesterfield, right on the edge of the park and no more than 40 minutes drive from any of the areas on our ‘to see’ list.

A stop by the river in Matlock

As we made our way to the hotel midweek in the middle of August, it was an uncomfortably hot day with thunderstorms predicted for the evening and rain forecast for the next 3 days. Not exactly the perfect weather for a visit to a place where we planned to spend the majority of our time outside walking! We briefly entered the Derbyshire Dales part of the park that afternoon with a stop in the town of Matlock.

Looking down from a viewpoint on a walk towards High Tor.

Having spent a week planning our trip, we had discussed the possibility of visiting Matlock Bath’s Heights of Abraham attraction, a cable car ride up a cliff side with panoramic views and a range of attractions on offer from the top but as it was our travel day, we were unsure on what time, or even if, we’d make it on time for a stop in the area and, of course, with Covid-restrictions in place, any activities had to be booked in advance. As we left that morning, ride slots were still available for that afternoon but, making good time, we checked again as we nearer the area to find they had now all sold out. We realised that spontaneity on visiting attractions this trip was out of the question and we were going to have to book well in advance for anything else like this we wanted to do on this trip.

Instead of the cable car ride, we spent some time wandering into Matlock town and through it’s pretty park then back along the river detouring up a steep path towards High Tor to a view point before wandering into the neighbouring Matlock Bath, where we found a very touristy High Street lined with arcades, fish and chip shops and random money-grabbing attractions. In an attempt to avoid the busy footpaths, we crossed over to Derwent Gardens, a riverside park, and took a stroll along the river before returning to our car and continuing our drive to our Chesterfield hotel which would be our base for the next 3 nights.

Officially entering the Peak District National Park

For our first full day in the Peak District, we had booked an early slot to visit the recently reopened Chatsworth House and gardens near Bakewell. As we drove into the park we spotted a millstone boundary marker and seeing as it is a bit of a tradition on our US National Park trips to get a photo with the park entrance signs, we decided to pull over and do the same here!

Chatsworth House and, below, inside the house

Organisation at Chatsworth House was well done. We were careful to arrive just before our ticketed time slot and after parking, we had our mobile tickets scanned and were shown to an area where sinks with hot running water had been installed and asked to go up in our social groups to thoroughly wash our hands then put our face coverings on before being allowed into the house.

Only a few tickets were available for each time slot to cut down the number of people in the house at one time and a one way system was in operation around the property and we were asked to distance from the other groups that we were not attending with. This mainly worked except for times when groups in front stopped for an extended period to look at something or ask questions of the staff. If the corridors or rooms we were in were narrow at this point, it meant you were unable to overtake and had to wait for the groups in front to move on before you could get any further causing some queues to advance to the next room.

After looking around the house, we went for a walk around the impressive gardens. On a nice day, it would be possible to spend the day just in the gardens at Chatsworth alone but although we hadn’t had the thunder and rain storms which had been forecast, there was the occasional drizzle and the threat of rain in the air so after wandering down to the fountains and through the rock garden we decided to call our visit a day and move on.

Bakewell Bridge and, below, some of the many Bakewell bakeries on offer in the town

Since it was only a few miles away, we decided to head to the town of Bakewell next. We found that the signposts to the car parks around the town would disappear before we actually found the car park we were aiming for and ended up at a large, but seemingly very out of town parking area in a field. After parking up and paying for a couple of hours’ stay, we found there we weren’t on the outskirts after all and there was actually a shortcut into the centre over a bridge across the river. While the town had attempted to encourage visitors to socially distance with roadside parking areas now being use as coned off pavement extensions, we still found the town to be way too busy for our liking. We visited the National Park Centre there to pick up some souvenirs but unfortunately, the few park exhibitions there were cordoned off due to Covid restrictions so the centre was operating as little more than a gift shop. From here we made our way to the famous Bakewell Pudding shop and glanced through the window at the baked goodies on offer. The puddings themselves didn’t look particularly appetising and the cakes on offer seemed alittle overpriced so we moved on to find another bakery eventually settling on the Bakewell tart shop where we got a very generous portion of Bakewell tart for a more reasonable price.

We finished our visit to the town with a walk along the river to see the historic Bakewell Bridge before returning to the car and driving on to the town of Buxton.

St Anne’s Well in Buxton

Buxton was much quieter. We parked at the Pavilion Gardens and walked past the Buxton Pavilion into the lower part of the town where we visited the old Pump Room which now doubles as a visitor centre. While mainly just a gift store now, part of the building has been left as it would have been in Victorian times and information boards give an insight into the spa town’s past. Just outside is the historic St Anne’s Well from which you can fill your water bottle with natural spring water.

Part of the original Pump Room at the Buxton Visitors Centre

We picked up a leaflet outlining the Buxton Heritage Trail from the visitor centre which contained a town map pointing out the highlights. Many of the places mentioned were around the visitor centre area so it didn’t take long to walk to some of these. We finished our visit with a walk through the beautiful Pavilion Gardens before driving to the nearby Buxton Country Park for a late afternoon walk up to Soloman’s Temple.

Hiking in the Peak District – walking to Soloman’s Temple and, below, Soloman’s Temple and the view from the top

Rather than using the main car park, we parked at a smaller car park at the back of the park from which it was an easy hike to the rotunda on top of a hill. It was possible to climb a few stairs to the top of the building from which there were 360 degree views across the Peak District. The country park was a really great place to walk and get out in the open after spending time in the busy towns.

With the weather forecast now showing sunny spells rather than the originally forecast rain, we decided to spend the next day cycling the Monsal Trail, a former rail line now converted into a space for walking and cycling stretching from Bakewell to Wye Valley. Bikes can be hired from either end so we drove to the old Hassop Station near Bakewell and parked up for the day, arriving around 10am so there’d still be plenty of bikes to rent.

Map of the Monsal Trail at Hassop Station
Cycling across Monsal Viaduct

Cycling towards Wye Valley, the track was at a very slight, almost unnoticeable incline. It was just under 8 miles to the end of the trail and we’d been provided with maps showing the villages lying just off the trail should we want to visit them as well as the position of the Monsal Viaduct and the four tunnels along the route (which were great fun cycling through!!) so we could track our progress along the way. We chose not to leave the trail to venture into these villages at any point but there was a cafe at the old Millers Dale station directly on the trail which we stopped at for a well lunch. Once at the end of the trail, we turned around and cycled back the other way.

Another view along the Monsal Trail

Instead of returning our bikes as soon as we got back to Hassop station, we continued on to Bakewell to ensure we had fully completed the trail. It was a short downhill ride from the old station at Bakewell into the town centre and we headed straight to a cafe we had seen the day before to get well-deserved ice creams. Exhausted, we wheeled our bikes back up the hill to Bakewell station again and picked the trail back up to ride the mile back in the other direction to Hassop and finally return our bikes.

Although it is possible to complete the whole trail in under 2 hours, we took our time on the outbound cycle, stopping regularly to enjoy the views and read the information signs dotted along the trail and managed to make a day out of the activity, not returning our bikes until 3.30pm – more than 5 hours after we hired them. A really fun day out!

The trail head for Mam Tor

The next day, we’d be leaving the Peak District National Park for our next stop in the Yorkshire Dales National Park but we had one more activity planned that morning before heading off. Having spent most of our time in the south of the park we drove a bit further north instead to the Hope Valley region where we planned to walk up Mam Tor, a large hill in the High Peak area of the park. It was a Saturday and as we drove to the National Trust owned car park, we found cars already parked all along the roads around the area wherever they could fit. It was only 10am but the site was extremely busy and the car park was very tight, made worse again by people parking where they shouldn’t and not just in the marked bays. Luckily as we struggled to manoeuvre our way out of one section of the car park, someone parked there left and we managed to grab their space. Our National Trust membership gave us free paring here.

Mam Tor now in the distance as we make our way back along the circular walking route

We followed the circular walking route from the National Trust’s website for our walk but many people were just walking to the peak of Mam Tor then returning back down the way they came. The instructions for the walk were easy to follow and the walk wasn’t too difficult at all with the steps up to the peak of Mam Tor not being too steep. The worst part was descending along a narrow, overgrown, sandy trail down the side of the hill towards the woods.

Evidence of a landslide walking back from Mam Tor

Once back down on the ground, the last part of the trail back up hill to the car park seemed to go on forever, especially as we seemed to complete the trail up to that point pretty quickly, but there were plenty of places to stop for a breather under the pretense of taking in the scenery!

And with that it was time to say goodbye to the Peak District. It had been a fun few days and we felt we had fit a lot in but as always, there was plenty more on our list of possible things to do which we hadn’t got around to such as walking in The Roaches near Leek or touring some of the many caverns in the area. I guess I’ll just have to go back someday!

Watch my vlog of my trip here:

Find out what I got up to at the next National Park on my road trip, the Yorkshire Dales, here.

A UK National Parks Staycation

Like many people, I had big trvel plans for this year, namely a 5-week mammoth USA road trip passing through California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah and Arizona visiting a variety of National Parks. Luckily, while our route was planned, we hadn’t got very far in the booking process with just our return flights to LA and our first 2 nights’ hotel accommodation booked by the time we went into lockdown. We put our planning on hold and thankfully, as it became more and more apparent that our trip had no chance of going ahead, our flights with Norwegian Airlines were cancelled and promptly fully refunded and we went ahead and cancelled our LA hotel reservation.

While travel to the USA was out of the question, as restrictions in the UK slowly began to be lifted, we started to wonder if a trip here would be a summer possibility. While I’ve extensively explored the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Italy and a range of European cities, there is very little of my own country I have spent time seeing in anywhere near as much detail. Trips here for me mainly consist of city breaks to see a concert where more time is often spent travelling to and getting ready for our night out than sightseeing, or a few days somewhere on the Welsh coast walking my dog on the same 4 or 5 beaches each time. With our original trip being based on visiting USA National Parks, we wondered if we should maybe spend some time in the UK Parks.

So, still unsure if our trip would even become a possibility, we tentatively started doing some research.

With Wales and Scotland under separate rules and restrictions to here in England, we decided we should plan to stay away from the parks there in case we were still not allowed across the borders by the time August rolled around. That straight away cut down the possibilities to 10 English National Parks. The Norfolk Broads on the east coast, the Southern Downs, New Forest, Exmoor and Dartmoor in the south and the Peak District, Yorkshire Dales, North York Moors, Lake District and Northumberland National Parks to the North. Living in the Midlands, any direction would suit me as nowhere is very far in comparison to the distances we’d have driven in the US.

After some research, we decided rather than being over ambitious and attempting a full 5-week road trip taking in all of the parks when local lockdowns were very likely to come into force and disrupt our plans, we would concentrate on the parks in one area of the country and aim to spend about 10-14 days on our trip. Having seen a number of reports on crowds rushing to the south of England, we eventually decided to head to the parks in the north and came up with a 14 day itinerary during which we would hopefully spend time in the Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales, the Lake District, Northumberland and then the North York Moors. We’d begin our adventure midweek to avoid weekend traffic and made sure the days spent in the Lake District, the park we expected to be busiest, were also midweek when it might be slightly quieter.

By the time that it looked as if lockdown would be relaxed enough for our ideas to possibly come to fruition, we found that with everyone being forced into staycations, accommodation options were either very limited or extremely expensive so rather than staying in the parks themselves, we opted for chain hotels in towns on the outskirts of the park – making sure we went for the fully cancellable room options of course, just in case!

Hotels booked, a basic plan of possible activities was next. Covid restrictions meant spontaneity was not as much a possibility as usual. Attractions including National Trust properties, farm parks, boat trips etc were all working on a time-slot booking system and spots were filling up quickly but we were pleased to see most places offering transferable or even refundable tickets in case circumstances changed and visitors couldn’t it.

We wanted to stick with outdoor activities for the main part anyway so were banking on the weather staying mainly dry at least so we could busy ourselves with a range of walks to see the parks’ highlights. In preparation, we found the postcodes for all the car parks we might use and collected together as much change as possible – which is more difficult than it sounds in a world where contactless card payments are preferred everywhere – in case any of the park machines were cash only.

With the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme running Mon-Wed throughout August, park attractions weren’t the only thing we couldn’t be spontaneous with. Most restaurants were also operating a book ahead only policy so we had to think ahead as to where to eat on our trip sometimes booking more than a week in advance. Staying in the towns on the outskirts of the parks at least gave us more choice with this and allowed us to vary our cuisine a bit more. The scheme helped us to keep the cost of the trip down a lot along with finding various online vouchers to use at chain restaurants for the remaining days of the week and we kept the cost of eating out down further still by carrying a box of cereal with us for breakfast, buying rolls to make our own lunch and even taking a flask of hot water with us each day to make our own tea!

As we set off for the Peak District, we were fully expecting to have to give up and head home from our trip before reaching the end either due to weather issues or local lockdowns suddenly coming in but surprisingly we made it to all 5 of the parks on our list without interruption. It was certainly very different from our experiences of visiting the National Parks of America in the past with the UK parks being large areas containing lived and worked in towns and villages rather than being actual parks like in the US with an entrance, exit and a route to follow through taking you past all the highlights. We discovered early on that it was best to mainly keep out of the villages and towns after we arrived in Bakewell to find crowded streets and very little social distancing going on and from that point forward we aimed for open spaces where we could hike out to beauty spots on easy to follow trails, keeping a distance from others.

It was great to see a bit more of our own country, to get out into the countryside and go hiking and to drive through such beautiful scenery and while not quite as exciting as the trip we had planned, it was an adventure we would probably never have planned or experienced in normal circumstances.

Keep checking back for my write up of what we got up to in each park starting with our visit to the Peak District!

Birmingham

Being a tourist in my own city

I’ve lived in Birmingham all my life so to me it’s just home. These days, I rarely even visit the city centre despite it just being a 10 minute drive or 15 minute train journey away but after making friends from all over the country and even from around the World while travelling, I’ve had a lot of them visit me here expecting to be shown around everything Birmingham has to offer. Which got me to thinking, what does the UK’s second city (yep, it’s Birmingham, not Manchester as many assume!) have to offer it’s visitors?

Here’s my take on the best things to do in my home city and surrounding areas!

Unusual Buildings

Birmingham Library

Looking out at Centenary Square from the library at Christmas

A library might not sound like the most exciting place to start a visit to a new city but this relatively new addition to Birmingham’s city centre is housed in a rather interesting-looking modern building. The gaudy boat-like design has divided locals but is certainly eye-catching. As well as thousands of books inside, there’s a cafe and 2 roof-top gardens providing great views over the city.

The Cube

If interesting architecture is your thing then Birmingham has plenty to offer. As well as the Library Building, our famous Selfridges building (see the section on shopping!), and the Bullring’s Rotunda, you might be interested in seeing The Cube, so called for it’s dice-like shape and home to a few shops, restaurants, apartments and even a hotel. Visit Marco Pierre White’s skyline Steakhouse Bar and Grill for views over the city as you drink and dine.

Birmingham’s Venice

The NIA Arena, canalside at Brindley Place

Birmingham is said to have more canals than Venice and you can experience these without leaving the city centre as the central canal system network is easily accessed from the Mailbox shopping centre and Brindley Place. Take a stroll along the towpath or, in the city centre, sit out at one of the canalside bars or cafes.

Lego Giraffe outside the canal-side Lego Discovery Centre, Brindley Place

If you want to get out on the water, you can catch the water taxi or there are barges offering sightseeing and dinner cruises all departing from near Brindley Place.

Right next to the canal at Brindley Place is Birmingham’s National Sealife Centre which along with the usual ocean life, has exhibitions on the wildlife found in Birmingham’s canals!

Shopping

If shopping is your thing then Birmingham is the place for you! The main shopping centre, Bullring, is home to another of the city’s most recognisable buildings, Selfridges, as well as 3 floors of high street stores and restaurants.

‘Bully’ dressed up for Christmas!

Look out for ‘Bully’, the Bullring Bull sculpture outside the centre and often dressed up to mark special occasions such as Christmas, St Patrick’s Day and Birmingham Pride and, in complete contrast to the modern mall, St Nicholas’ Church, still standing in the square below.

Just across from the church, you will find Birmingham Markets selling a variety of fresh produce, household items and clothing at bargain prices.

Next to the Bullring shopping mall is High Street, home to the World’s largest Primark store. This recently opened store hosts 5 floors of fashion as well as a beauty salon and 3 cafes, including the much talked about Disney cafe!

Grad Central and New Street Station below

If you arrive to the city by train then you’ll more than likely find yourself at New Street Station, home to the new Grand Central shopping centre. The centre is mainly home to slightly more eclectic stores than Bullring but also a large John Lewis store. There’s also a food court with plenty of eating options.

If your tastes are a bit more high scale, then head to the Mailbox, also a short walk from New Street Station where you’ll find designer stores including Emporio Armani and Harvey Nichols. (It’s also home of the Birmingham BBC Studios which you can book a tour of!)

The Mailbox and the Cube, canalside in Birmingham
The German Market fills New Street at Christmas

Visiting at Christmas? Then you might be in the city in time for the annual Frankfurt Market. Sellers from Germany descend upon the city each year to set up a traditional German Market which runs all down New Street and up into Victoria Square. This year, the market will be back, bigger and better than ever, running from November 7th through to December 23rd.

Jewellery Quarter

Just outside of the city centre, this area is full of jewellery factories – a good proportion of the UK’s jewellery is made here – and independent jewellery shops. The area has been rejuvenated over recent years and is now a popular place to visit. As well as the many jewellery shops, there is a museum where you can learn the history of the Jewellery Quarter and take a factory tour and a growing number of bars, restaurants and cafes. There district is easily accessible by train, tram or a walk along the canal from the city centre.

Museums

For culture vultures, Birmingham is home to plenty of museums and galleries. Walk to Chamberlain Sqaure, past the Town Hall and Council House buildings and you’ll find the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Free to visit, the museum houses a large collection of art, an Ancient Egypt collection, exhibits on local history, a natural history collection and various temporary exhibits.

Nearby, just off Broad Street, is the Ikon Gallery. Also free to visit, the gallery houses 2 floors of contemporary art.

If science is more your thing then head to Thinktank, the Science Museum at Birmingham’s Millennium Point. The museum offers interactive exhibits on Science, Industry and Natural History that will keep kids entertained for hours. My personal highlight is the outdoor Science Garden – an educational playground!

For a bit of Birmingham history, visit the National Trust owned Back to Backs. The last surviving 19th Century back-to-back houses have been restored and can be toured by appointment.

Cadbury World

The Cadbury Chocolate Factory in Bournvile

Birmingham is famous for producing the UK’s favourite chocolate, Cadbury’s, and no visit to the city can be complete without venturing out of the city centre to Bournville Village, home of the original Cadbury Chocolate Factory. Cadbury World is home to interactive exhibits on the history of the factory in Birmingham and allows you to see inside the factory where the chocolate is still produced today. And best of all? You get a load of free chocolate to try along the way!!!

Cadbury World is easily reached by a short train journey from the city centre’s New Street Station to Bournville and the pretty, old-fashioned village itself is well worth a look around while you’re there.

Parks

Cannon Hill Park

I’ve always felt one of the things missing from the city centre is a green space, a park for workers to sit out in in their lunch break or to visit after work or a place for visitors to enjoy between shopping trips…we’ve plenty of nice open Squares but where’s our Hyde Park, Central Park or Boston Common?!

Cannon Hill Park

While not in the city centre itself, Cannon Hill Park is worth the short trip out to the suburb of Edgbaston. With plenty of open grassy areas for picnics or ball games, woods to wander through, pretty flower-filled gardens, a large boating lake on which you can hire pedalos, a fun park with children’s rides, a land train to take you around, an adventure golf course and two well-equipped children’s play areas, you can easily spend a day here. The park is also home to the Midlands’ Art Centre or MAC, host to various exhibitions, galleries, small theatre shows and a cinema usually showing cult classics and independent films.

Next door to the park is the Birmingham Conservation Park, known locally as the ‘Nature Centre’ where for a small fee you can see a variety of mammals, reptiles and birds including red pandas and monkeys!

There’s plenty of parking at the various entrances to the park in Edgbaston and Moseley but my favourite way to enter the park is to park up on Moor Green Lane opposite the Highbury pub and walk through Holders Lane Woods (entrance next to the Moor Green Lane Medical Centre) which leads into the south side of the park.

The Shires

Birmingham was home to JRR Tolkein, writer of the The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and you can wander around much of the area that inspired the lands he created in the books. Head to Moseley Bog and the nearby Sarehole Mill, now part of the renamed Shires Country Park where you can pick up a leaflet detailing the sites that inspired him and follow the ‘Tolkein Trail’!

Lickey Hills

Further out of the city, but worth the journey into South Birmingham in my opinion, is the vast Lickey Hills Country Park offering well-marked woodland and parkland trails and rewarding views across the city from it’s highest peaks.

Nightlife

If you want to party the night away, then there’s really only one place to head in Birmingham – Broad Street is lined with bars and clubs and drunken students and is your best bet for a lively night out. For something a bit more sedate, or a few drink before hitting the clubs, try the canalside bars at Brindley Place or the popular afterwork bars at the Mailbox.

Nearby attractions

River Avon walk with the RSC in the background at Stratford-upon-Avon

One of the best things about living in Birmingham is it’s central location and proximity to other cities and attractions. From the city centre, day trips can easily be made to Stratford-upon-Avon for all it’s Shakespeare attractions and beautiful riverside setting or to Worcester, a cathedral city situated on the River Severn. For some child-friendly fun, West Midlands Safari Park and Dudley Zoo are in easy reach for animal lovers or try Alton Towers and Drayton Manor theme parks for thrill seekers. The Black Country Museum is also close by for some living history where costumed actors show visitors what life was like in Victorian times.