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Must-Visit National Parks in England

English national parks, unlike their American counterpart, are not owned by the state, so tourists shouldn’t be surprised to find themselves in the company of landowners. With so many parks to choose from, it can be difficult to pick one for a fun weekend trip. We’ve selected a few that we think you’ll enjoy, so load up the camper van and get ready for some amazing scenery.

Peak District, the first of England’s national parks, is mainly located in Derbyshire. In an example of the famed droll English sense of humor, the park’s peaks aren’t particularly peak-noteworthy. Long before the tourists arrived, the region was occupied by some of the island’s earliest residents; by the time of the Bronze Age, the region was thriving. Then came the Romans, followed later by the Anglo-Saxons, who left their mark on the area.

The Lake District in Cumbria County enjoys the most visitors of all the parks. Remember your poets and writers? Robert Southey, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Ruskin John Keats, Walter Scott, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Alfred Lord Tennyson all have a claim on the Lake District. When William Wordsworth wasn’t wandering lonely as a cloud, he was admiring the scenery; his Guide to the Lakes was a boon to tourism for the region. The house of Peter Rabbit author Beatrix Potter remains a tourist attraction.

Located in South Devon, Dartmoor National Park is famous for its standing stones built during prehistoric times. Dartmoor’s past reaches back into the Bronze Age, but its most famous literary claim to fame is from Arthur Conan Doyle, whose detective Sherlock Holmes solved the mystery of The Hound of the Baskervilles, based on the regional legend of a spectral hound. Dartmoor is known for magic, but if Quidditch is your sport, consider this; J.K. Rowling set the Quidditch World Cup final between Ireland and Bulgaria on the moor in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

The North York Moors Park has Northern England’s largest Iron Age hill fort, but if you want to see something a little more “modern” try the Roman forts? Moving up the timeline, there are abbeys and castles from the medieval days. Geologists love this park because it’s a chance to peek into what England looked like when it was home to long-ago oceans, river deltas, and enormous ice sheets, along with dinosaur footprints.

New Forest National Park in Hampshire might be England’s smallest park, but it had a royal patron long ago, when William the Conqueror made it a hunting ground. William probably wasn’t much into flowers, but there are 700 species of wildflower growing in the forest.

The Broads National Park in Norfolk and Suffolk Counties is England’s largest nationally protected wetland, with over 125 miles of navigable waterways.  Numerous birds of the air, including mallards, coots, moorhens, Canadian and Egyptian geese and others, call The Broads home. Natives and tourists intent on a boating holiday have been heading to The Broads since the 19th century.

Northumberland National Park boasts 31 sites of scientific interest, three nature reserves, 432 ancient monuments and the smallest  population of all the parks. Walkers, cyclists, and horseback riders can enjoy the sights and sites of this park which has Hadrian’s Wall and the Scottish border nearby.

In contrast to Northumberland National Park, South Downs National Park in East and West Sussex and Hampshire has the biggest population of all the parks. Having opened in 2010, South Downs is new to the national park neighborhood. Evidence of the earliest humans to live in England is found here, but it also has a modern cultural showing too, with West Dean College’s collection of the surrealist art of Edward James.

Exmoor National Park in Somerset and Devon Counties was formerly a royal hunting ground until it was sold off in the early 1800s. Home to England’s highest sea cliffs, visitors now enjoy the sailing opportunities afforded by the coastline and harbors.

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