Iesha Small

writer, speaker, charity strategist

Exploring society, education, leadership and how to live a meaningful life.

National Parks, awe and wonder close to home

 

Taken in Snowdonia, Wales

Sometimes we travel thousands of miles at great expense to experience beauty and awe. My quest to visit all of the UK National Parks has taught me that we have world-class landscapes which can delight and inspire in the UK.

“The beauty of the world is itself a kind of company and they lived in one of the most beautiful spots in the world.”- Katherine Rundell, The Wolf Wilder

Beautiful secret

Growing up in London, I didn’t realise what a beautiful country England is. We lived on the outskirts of South West London so there were plenty of public green spaces like Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common, I’d say they were pleasant places to while away some hours with friends and family rather than spectacular destinations in their own right.

The first landscape I experienced in England that took my breath away was Cornwall. I visited with a friend and we took a coach because we were students, and it was cheap. Within a few minutes of disembarking, I knew the cramped nine-hour journey was justified. I remember wandering around and noticing the palm trees and feeling like I was in another country.

The start of a quest

A few years later, I visited the Lake District on one of my first holidays with M. It was October and rainy. As I attempted to walk on the hill near our hotel in Oxenholme I was blown around like a crisp packet in the wind. And yet there was a bleak beauty. I understood why the poet William Wordsworth had found the region so inspiring and as we visited some of the lakes, I understood why overseas tourists flocked to the area.

I had no concept of National Parks until a I read a supplement in a paper one weekend a few years after we’d visited the Lake District. It was long enough ago that we still bothered with a print version of a newspaper every weekend (Does anybody under 65 still do that?)

There was a pull-out section with stunning photography from each of the 15 UK National Parks* and I knew that I wanted to visit all of those locations.

“National parks are world-class landscapes with the power to inspire everyone, they’ve been designated on behalf of the entire nation because of their incredibly special qualities.” – National Parks UK

UK National Parks I’ve visited (in order of first visit)

  1. Lake District – The UK’s most popular National Park. Wander lonely as a cloud but only in colder months without the throngs of tourists.
  2. Peak District- The National Park I’ve visited most often. I first visited without a car. One of the most accessible national parks via public transport.
  3. The New Forest – Ponies, ponies everywhere. Ponies are to the New Forest as pigeons are (were?) to Trafalgar Square.
  4. Northumberland- well worth a visit if you like clear skies. There is minimal light pollution at night. Highly recommend YHA, The Sill to have some refreshment while walking along Hadrian’s wall.
  5. Exmoor- highly underrated. Great for a romantic getaway, pretty empty compared to nearby Devon. Exmoor also has numerous wild ponies in random places but they are less famous than their New Forrest counterparts.
  6. Yorkshire Dales – Yorkshire is a beautiful county with friendly people. I visited alone after a nearby work trip and had a great time. Special shout out to the tour guide at Ingleborough Cave who gave a very informative tour complete with Dad jokes.
  7. South Downs- the newest addition to the National Park family (became a National Park in 2010), easiest to get to for people who live in the South East of England.
  8. Snowdonia- my first visit to Snowdonia was also my first visit to Wales. The drive to Llanberis through North Wales was like driving though a film set. I audibly gasped as I rounded bends and caught sight of gorgeous mountains and lakes. There were sheep in the children’s playground and randomly crossing the road. Apparently, sheep are to Wales as ponies are to The New Forest.
  9. Norfolk Broads- We can get to the Broads in about 2.5 hrs from our house. One Saturday last February, we impulsively visited Horsey to take the kids to see the hundreds of seals that chill on the beach there each year (within arms’ length).
  10. North York Moors- great walks. Beautiful coast. I didn’t spend long enough here and definitely want to return.

UK National Parks I’ve yet to discover

  • Dartmoor
  • Pembrokeshire Coast (Wales)
  • Brecon Beacons (Wales)
  • Cairngorms (Scotland)
  • Loch Lomond and Trossachs (Scotland)

 

I’m lucky enough to have been to some beautiful places in my life. I’ve felt the wonder of the sea while I sat at night on a beach in Barbados, watched Hummingbirds dart between flowers in Trinidad and shivered in cold and awe while watching the Northern Lights dance across the sky in Norway. All of these experiences were remarkable and imprinted themselves in my mind. I can honestly say that I’ve experienced as much pleasure and wonder from visiting the UK National Parks which are here at home.

Life and travel in the UK is projected to open up due to Coronavirus restrictions lifting but it seems like international travel may be restricted for some time. I was about to encourage you to visit some of the UK National Parks to satisfy any wander lust but on reflection maybe I’d rather you didn’t so I can keep their beauty for myself…

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*Depending on when I read the supplement it may only have been 14 at the time as South Downs is a fairly recent addition in 2010

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If you are interested in the human side of leadership then my book The Unexpected Leader is for you.

National Parks, awe and wonder close to home