Exploring National Parks on two-wheels
Our national parks, our heritage
In 1949 the landscape of the UK was forever changed with the introduction of the National Parks and Access to Countryside Act. This act of parliament enshrined our rights to access open land and use the rights of way that criss-cross these wondrous islands.
In the 74 years since, we have seen the creation of 15 national parks across the UK that see over 100 million visitors each year. Each park is unique and offers something different, from the majestic mountains of Snowdonia, awe-inspiring bodies of water of the Lake District and the iconic ponies of Dartmoor. With 1,386 miles of accessible routes, including woodland tracks, cycle paths, bridleways and quiet country lanes, you could spend a lifetime exploring these gems and never get bored.
For a relaxed family day, you can not do better than The New Forest, the newest of the 15.
Perhaps most famous for its ponies which wander freely across the land, they are not the only animals which you will find there. Herds of cows and donkeys also make it their home. And if you visit in the autumn, you may be lucky enough to see the pigs that are turned out into the woodland to clear up the fallen nuts, in a tradition that harks back centuries called pannage. It is a wondrous sight to come across a herd of piggies snuffling through the undergrowth as you bike through the forest.
There are a huge array of family routes throughout the forest, all easy to get to and clearly marked. And if you head out from under the trees to explore the heather clad heathland you will probably come across abandoned WWII airbases which are slowly being reclaimed by nature. These airstrips make excellent racetracks for the kids to let rip on and find out who is fastest on two wheels.
You can spend a whole day exploring on your bike to return to base at the end of your adventure with tired but happy kids.
As the National Parks cover some of the country's best and most spectacular hills and mountains, it is no surprise that you will find numerous mountain biking trails across the country that offer a thrilling ride through spectacular scenery.
Kielder Forest, Northumberland is the largest forest in England. It also boasts of some absolutely excellent off-road tracks that are worth exploring. From the leisurely blue grade trails to the more extreme and heart racing black and orange trails, it caters for all abilities and differing levels of thrill-seeking. Perhaps as you are racing along its trails you will spot a red squirrel or two as this is one of the animals last remaining strongholds in England.
For the ultimate thrill seekers, why not take on the challenge that is provided by the Llanberis Trail, Snowdonia. A 9.6-mile route that scales the mountain itself. This is a route that will test your skills to the limit with its steep and rocky terrain. It is not one for the inexperienced or faint hearted. Due to the extreme nature of the route, there will be hike-a-biking so be prepared to push and/or carry your bike at times. Your hard work will be rewarded with the amazing vistas that surround you on all sides when you reach the top and the sense of achievement of doing something really special.
For those looking to take a slightly less adrenaline fuelled challenge on home soil, then you can follow one of the cycling trails that cross our national parks. There are four routes to consider. If you have the time and inclination, why not attempt them all?
The 80-mile Moor to Sea Trail in North Yorkshire takes in the sweeping beauty of the moors all the way to the seaside. There are two circular routes, the 90-mile Dartmoor Way and the 130-mile Yorkshire Dales Cycleway. Both of these offer a variety of terrains to navigate and sights to see. Or for those that have the stamina there is Hadrian’s Cycleway, a 173-mile route that follows the line of the historic Roman wall from coast to coast.
Time for something a bit different
Looking to add that something a little bit different to your ride? Then the national parks have you covered.
If you take a visit to Lake Windermere in the Lake District, which at 11 miles in length and up to a mile across, is England’s largest natural lake, you can follow the cycle routes that hug the shoreline and then hop on a boat to take you across to the other side. The views of this expanse of water are breathtaking and not to be missed. You also shouldn’t miss the chance to pop into the village of Ambleside to see its iconic Bridge House and stock up on some Kendal mint cake to fuel your pedal strokes on the return journey.
If trains are more your thing, then the North York Moors steam railway and the West Loch Lomond Way will let you add the excitement of train travel to your day out. Start your day by bike, but once you reach your destination you can relax and let the train carry you and your bike back to your starting point.
Be adventurous but be considerate
There is so much to enjoy and do and all of it is out there on your doorstep just waiting for you. Wherever you decide to go and whatever you decide to do, just remember to help look after the parks as they belong to all of us. You can do this by simply sticking to permitted routes and following the Countryside Code.
Before you embark on your adventure, ensure your skills match your ambition, research your destination, plan your route and be prepared for changeable weather and conditions. But most of all, be prepared to enjoy yourself and have fun on your bike as you get to know our national treasures.