Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Coastal, Days out, Rural, Nature

With a whopping 46 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and 15 National Parks in the UK, there has never been a better time to escape to the countryside and revel in its fresh air and exceptional scenic views. Ranging from rugged coastal cliffs, towering mountain ranges and wild moorland to ancient woodlands, flower-filled meadows and picturesque villages, our precious and protected landscapes of the UK boast distinctive beauty, character, history, scientific importance and ecological value.

Explore the undulating fells and glistening lakes of the Lake District, marvel at seals and dolphins from the sweeping shores of the Pembrokeshire Coast, scale the snowy peaks of the Highlands and wander around the honey-coloured villages of the Cotswolds. That’s just for starters! Offering a wealth of outdoor pursuits, these captivating destinations are superb places for holidays and days out. Here’s a guide to some of our finest Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Parks that we think are a must-visit.

The Highlands

Renowned for its untamed beauty, native wildlife and rich cultural heritage, the Scottish Highlands are a true haven for lovers of the great outdoors. Grab your walking boots, jump on your bike or saddle up for an adventure by horseback through heather clad moors, enchanting forests, hidden beaches, magnificent peaks and unspoiled hills.

The Highlands

This natural playground, which stretches from the Cairngorms and fringes of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs to the outer reaches of the Hebrides and the dramatic northern coastline of Scotland, is sure to take your breath away. Keep a watchful eye out for golden eagles, red deer and peregrine falcons, and don’t forget to make a stop at the world-famous Loch Ness or one of the many castles from Balmoral to Blair, where fascinating history abounds.

Lake District

Described by poet William Wordsworth as ‘the loveliest spot man hath found’, the Lake District is England’s largest National Park covering an area of just over 885 square miles. Discover a landscape of dramatic fells, deep glacial lakes and atmospheric oak woodlands offering a labyrinth of walking and cycling trails, and an abundance of water sports.

Lake District

Admire unparalleled views from the summit of Skiddaw, cruise along the calm waters of Lake Windermere, get snap-happy at Aira Force waterfalls or visit the former home of Beatrix Potter, Hill Top, where she wrote her timeless classics such as Peter Rabbit; it is clear to see how the beautiful surrounding flora and fauna inspired her work.

Northumberland

Challenge yourself to two National Trails, visit spectacular waterfalls and woodland, delve into a fascinating Roman past at Hadrian’s Wall – a UNESCO World Heritage Site - or soak up the unique scenery of the Cheviot Hills - the Northumberland National Park is full of extraordinary wonders. Along with the National Park, the region also boasts the Northumberland Coast AONB, home to a 64km stretch of spectacular coastline from Berwick-upon-Tweed in the North to the Coquet Estuary in the South of the county.

Northumberland

Wide expanses of some of Britain’s finest sandy beaches are backed by rolling dunes and it is internationally noted for its wildlife. Striking rocky cliffs and isolated islands including Lindisfarne with its marshes and mud-flats, and the Farne Islands, a protected seabird sanctuary, offer some of the best habitats in Europe for waders and waterfowl. The coastline also forms a dramatic setting for the mighty Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh Castles, along with picturesque ports like Seahouses and Alnmouth. If that’s not enough, it is part of an International Dark Sky Reserve – the largest in Europe, where you can be spellbound by up to 2000 twinkling stars at any one time.

Peak District

One of Britain’s most iconic landscapes, the Peak District Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty allows for hiking over windswept moorland and towering mountains, climbing through deep gorges, delving into atmospheric caverns and ambling beside idyllic rivers. At its heart is the Peak District National Park, famously known for its awe-inspiring views and outdoor adventure, covering 555 square miles of open countryside with ancient stone villages folded into its creases.

Peak District

Rolling across the Pennines' southernmost hills from the dramatically named Dark Peak with its gritstone ‘edges’ to the White Peak made up of limestone dales, its heather-clad vistas provide an ever-changing natural spectacle all year round. Those seeking extra special panoramas should ascend Mam Tor and Kinder Scout or wander amongst Longshaw woodlands and the limestone gorges of Dovedale and Ilam Park.

North Yorkshire Moors

Pull on your walking boots, breathe in a lungful of fresh air and discover the wild and brooding North Yorkshire Moors. This ever-changing landscape is enchanting year-round, from spring when the sound of moorland birds such as red grouse, curlew and golden plover rings through the rolling heathland, to summer when the moors are blanketed in purple flowering heather, and winter when mist hangs above its sweeping expanses and a dusting of frost and snow turns the landscape into a magical winter wonderland.

North Yorkshire Moors

Rich in heritage and wildlife, the North York Moors National Park offers some of Britain’s finest rambles from countryside to coast, taking in mesmerising scenery as well as historic abbeys, castles, priories, traditional country pubs and picturesque hidden villages. Circle the entire National Park on the Cleveland Way or see it in its entirety as part of Wainwright's Coast to Coast walk. Be sure to look out for badgers, roe deer and hawks hiding among its ancient pine forests, babbling becks and heath.

Anglesey

Stroll along Anglesey’s 125-mile long scenic coastal path passing pristine golden beaches, mud flats inhabited by a plethora of birds and wildlife and Bronze Age monuments, offering a glimpse into the island’s past. You will soon see why almost this entire stretch of coastline from South Stack in the west to Puffin Island in the east is designated as an AONB.

Anglesey

Found just off the north-west corner of Wales, the Anglesey Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is an island home to sheer limestone cliffs, colourful coastal heath and a wilderness of sand dunes. These varied habitats are of a high level of marine, botanical and ornithological interest and coincide with three stretches of Heritage Coast. Whether you explore the imposing ruin of Beaumaris Castle – a World Heritage Site, take advantage of the wildlife spotting opportunities at Newborough National Nature Reserve or indulge in a wealth of outdoor activities including sailing, riding, cliff climbing, sea fishing and diving, this Welsh AONB is sure to impress.

Snowdonia

The Snowdonia National Park is characterised by misty mountains, ancient forests and rugged coastline - arguably some of Wales’ most dramatic landscapes. As well as its National Park, Snowdonia is surrounded by several AONBs including Anglesey’s spectacular coastline, much of the Llyn Peninsula, and to the east, the Clwydian Hills and the Dee Valley.

Snowdonia

This captivating destination boasts more than 1,000 miles of footpaths to explore, a fascinating array of historical sites including Iron Age forts, mesmerising waterfalls, nine magnificent mountain rages including Snowdon, Wales’ highest mountain, and 23 miles of coastline and sandy beaches. This diverse landscape is home to a cornucopia of rare wildlife and birds such as polecats, pine martens, ravens and red kites. Visit Snowdonia and witness some of the most powerful natural geological beauty found anywhere in the world.

Brecon Beacons

Action-packed adventure, hikes along hundreds of hill walks, canyoning in waterfalls, caving in ancient caverns and gliding over patchworks of beautiful Welsh countryside where red kite’s soar, the Brecon Beacons National Park has it all. Covering 520 square miles, there are four distinct mountain ranges, 268 scheduled ancient monuments, well over 3000 miles of hedgerow full of wildlife and hundreds of dazzling waterfalls to explore. Home to centuries-old legends, this is an enchanting place to visit.

Brecon Beacons

One the biggest draws to the Brecon Beacons is the fact it is one of the few places in the world to have been granted Dark Sky Reserve status, boasting spectacularly clear skies at night; trace out the patterns of the constellations, marvel the Milky Way and with a bit of luck, spot a shooting star or two. Whether you choose to conquer Pen Y Fan, South Wales’ highest peak or simply relax in the beauty and tranquillity of this Welsh National Park, you won’t be disappointed.

Pembrokeshire

The best way to experience the beauty of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, which covers an amazing 612 square kilometres from St Dogmaels in the north to Amroth in the south, is to pack a picnic and head out onto the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. Stretching 186 miles, the trail follows a preserved coastline offering an intricate ribbon of weather-worn limestone cliffs, great swathes of golden sands, hidden coves and a wonderful variety of wildlife.

Pembrokeshire

Spot puffins and Manx Shearwaters on the islands of Caldey, Grassholm, Skokholm, Skomer and Ramsey, admire grey seals basking on rocky outcrops and glimpse dolphins and porpoise half hidden by turquoise waves. There are plenty of opportunities for energetic pursuits including coasteering, sea kayaking, surfing, sailing and diving, and you will be spoiled for choice with Pembrokeshire’s selection of Blue Flag beaches such as Broad Haven, Tenby and Barafundle Bay.

Wye Valley

Winding sinuously down from Hereford to Chepstow, the Wye Valley AONB is widely regarded as one of the UK’s finest riverside landscapes. As well as attracting canoeists, climbers and riders, it’s hugely popular with hikers with its Wye Valley Walk through dappled wooded glades and Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail.

Wye Valley

Designated as a Site of Scientific Interest, the entire length of the Wye is a refuge for a variety of wildlife including dragonflies, more than 30 species of fish, kingfishers, polecats and 10 species of bat. It is also a premier salmon fishing river. Walk in the footsteps of prominent artists and poets, drawn by the splendour of its lush vistas of the Black Mountains, Golden Valley and the Forest of Dean, picturesque riverside settlements and grand ancient ruins including Goodrich Castle and Tintern with its 12th century medieval abbey. Symonds Yat Rock offers one of the best vantage points over the Valley, and if you’re lucky, you might spot some peregrine falcons.

The Cotswolds

Visit the picture postcard destination of the Cotswolds, a highly deserving Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and be enthralled with its rural charm. Covering an area of over 800 square miles across six counties, the Cotswolds AONB stretches from Bath and Wiltshire in the south through Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire to Warwickshire and Worcestershire in the north. It boasts gentle rolling hills, sweeping meadows carpeted with wild flowers and honey-hued quintessentially English villages such as Bourton-on-the-Water, Bibury and Chipping Campden.

The Cotswolds

For walkers, there are over 100 miles of impressive trails on The Cotswold Way National Trail, which runs between Bath and Chipping Campden. The highest point of the Cotswolds hill range is Cleeve Hill, which affords breath-taking views over Cheltenham and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, made up of limestone grassland, ancient beechwoods and rare flora.

New Forest

Home to one of the largest and most unspoilt areas of forest, pastureland, river valleys and heath, the New Forest National Park is a unique destination made for lovers of the outdoors. Take invigorating ambles through ancient and ornamental woodland where fallow deer dart between the trees, passing its famous New Forest ponies as you criss-cross along trails through open heather-covered heath, and keep your eyes peeled for grass snakes slithering through marshland near the south coast.

New Forest

As you explore the area pause at some of the quaint towns and historic villages such as Lyndhurst, Brockenhurst, Burley and Beaulieu, or make the most of the plentiful outdoor activities available including canoeing, sailing, horse riding and mountain-biking.

Exmoor

Rediscover your sense of adventure in the Exmoor National Park, a place dominated by its wild and tranquil moorlands. Recognised as one of the best locations for walking in Europe, there are over 1000km of footpaths and bridleways to explore, where you can catch a glimpse of wild red deer and iconic Exmoor ponies.

Exmoor

The National Park also has a dramatic unspoilt coastline with some of the highest sea cliffs in England and the longest expanse of coastal woodland, stretching 37 miles from Minehead in the east to Combe Martin in the west. Discover the magic of the night sky in its International Dark Sky Reserve and walk the footsteps of poets, writers and artists who have been inspired by this incredible landscape reaching from the Exmoor National Park to the Quantock Hills AONB.

Dartmoor

Explore extraordinary granite tors, deep wooded valleys, picturesque reservoirs and wide expanses of moorland in the Dartmoor National Park. Situated in the heart of Devon, this wild, windswept area is a favourite among walkers with challenging terrains criss-crossed by rough, winding trails. Two of the most popular routes are The Dartmoor Way, a circuit that visits several attractive towns and villages, and the Two Moors Way linking Dartmoor and Exmoor.

Dartmoor

This great wilderness is also home to Dartmoor ponies who live semi-wild all over the moor and are a classic sight to behold. Covering 368 square miles, there are a wealth of outdoor pursuits on offer including fishing, canoeing, cycling and horse-riding, as well as fascinating historical sites to discover such as prehistoric standing stones, stone circles and cairns. Don’t miss Upper Erme Stone Row, the world’s longest stone row, at 3,300 metres.

Posted by Kate Atkin on 19th March 2018