Plan to visit the best national parks in the UK by train

Plan to visit the best national parks in the UK by train

They are called Britain’s breathing spaces for good reason. With fifteen national parks in total, we have oxygen oozing from so many corners it’s hard to know where to start. When you are ready to breathe it all in again, here are our tips on where to go.

Most British people have only visited a handful of UK national parks, southerners vowing to get up to Northumberland one day and northerners keen to suss out the South Downs. In fact, it is amazing how few Londoners have even trekked or cycled across the South Downs National Park, given that it is the closest to London. By showing you the national parks that are easy to access by train, you can plan a trip well in advance, save plenty of money in fares by getting in there quickly and then breathe in all that beauty. Never get stuck in a traffic jam again and be in the know. Unlike the 93% of people who travel to our national parks by car.

How to get to the Brecon Beacons National Park by train 

With highlights such as Black Mountain, Pen y Fan escarpment (886m) and an array of limestone valleys, this national park is just under 70km wide. One of three of Wales' national parks, be sure to stay overnight as it has also been recognised as an International Dark Sky Reserve. The main gateway train station is Abergavenny, famous for its superb local food and September food festival. Another option is to go to the ancient droving town of Llandovery on the park’s western border, perfect for trekking in Black Mountain and and also a great favourite with mountain bikers.

How to get to The Broads National Park by train

More well known as the Norfolk Broads, this national park has many rare features. The first is that its main gateway city of Norwich is located right on its edges. Second, it was actually man made by peat diggers over the centuries. Third, it has unique wildlife in its vast wetlands, from bitterns to butterflies, and also traditional local wherry boats to traverse them.  Take a mainline train to Norwich and then a local one to Hoveton and Wroxham. Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft are also popular with those who want to explore by boat or combine broads with beach.

How to get to the Cairngorms National Park by train

Two of the most popular stops for heading into Scotland’s celebrated mountain range are Aviemore and Kingussie. The former is already known as a skiing hub but with mountain biking, canoeing, climbing, white water rafting and gorge walking also on offer,  the Cairngorms are becoming one of the UK’s most exciting adventure destinations. It is also the UK's largest national park, 40% larger than the Lake District. Indeed, this Scotland national park flies its St. Andrew's flag proudly. There are lakes, of course, but mountains and montane climate are the great natural rulers here.  Five of Scotland's six highest mountains lie within the Park and there are 52 summits over 900m so pack your winter walking gear for this beauty. For more information on guided walks, see here. 

How to get to the Lake District National Park by train 

England's largest national park at over 2362km², its lakes, tarns and peaks are a thing of poetry, art and music. There are several trains to the Lake District, with the historic wool town of Kendal a stunning starting point, although you can head to the heart of it all at Windermere station too. This historic station is Just a skimming stone’s throw from the famous lake’s shore. Interestingly, the station, built in 1846, was opposed by William Wordsworth, as well as many other artists of the time who succeeded in stopping it from going any further into their beloved lakelands. Penrith is the gateway for the Northern Lakes and Oxenholme is another route on a different branch line to access the Kendal area.

How to get to Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park by train

One of Scotland’s two national parks, the name is deceptive because there are actually 22 large lochs, numerous smaller lochs and over fifty burns, or rivers, flowing through the Park too. With facilities to canoe, sail, fish and swim, take a train to Balloch which is on Loch Lomond to enjoy some wild water fun. Other lovely stops include Arrochar and Tarbet which is part of the Three Lochs Way, with views across to the Arrochar Alps. Or take the train to Ardlui on the shores of Loch Lomond, Crianlarich for walking on the West Highland Way and Tyndrum for hillwalking around Loch Lochy.  Even the names make you want to seek out the trains.  

How to get to the New Forest National Park by train

One of the few national parks with a station at its heart, making it an even more beautiful breathing space. The majority of it is in Hampshire, with a few wonderful Wiltshire bits too. Take a train to Brockenhurst to enter a world of woodland, wild ponies, wisteria-clad houses, woodlarks and warblers. More than a hundred mainline trains take you there every day, to head from track to trails. Because New Forest National Park has hiking and cycling trails a-plenty. Another good New Forest train station is Ashurst New Forest which is on the edges of the park.

How to get to Northumberland National Park by train

Historically the Kingdom of Northumbria, this is one of the jewels in the crown of the UK’s national parks. Highlights include Hadrian’s Wall, the wild places within the Cheviot Hills or Redesdale and North Tyne Valleys. Newcastle is the gateway town where you can connect with regional trains to Wylam, Prudhoe, Stocksfield, Riding Mill, Corbridge, Hexham, Haydon Bridge, Bardon Mill and Haltwhistle for access to the wild places. Even wilder at night, as this national park is part of the largest Dark Sky Reserve in Europe.

For Northumberland’s remote coast, you need to head to Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Head to the coastal stations of Alnmouth and Berwick-upon-Tweed to explore some of the UK’s wildest and most wonderful coast.

How to get to the North York Moors National Park by train

The vast, open spaces of its moors are famously captured in the work of the Brontë sisters, although the coastal areas of the park were also favourites of Lewis Carroll and Bram Stoker. The landscapes and seascapes in this national park are as varied as its literati. Take a train to York, Middlesbrough or Whitby. In fact, the train between Middlesbrough and Whitby follows the park at many points, especially between Great Ayton and Battersby.  Commondale and Glaisdale are great train stops for walks such as the 8km walk Glaisdale Egton Bridge circular trail.  

How to get to the Peak District National Park by train

This is UK’s first national park boasting dramatic Derbyshire moorland particularly around the Dark Peak, as well as the river valleys of the White Peak. Another national park adored by visual and literary artists, explore the likes of Dovedale which was captured in the works of Tennyson and Byron. There are lots of peaks, but also lots of stations to access them. The nearest train station to the Peak District is Glossop, considered to be the gateway town, but you can also take trains to the old spa towns of Matlock or Buxton for some of the park’s ancient heritage.

How to get to the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park by train 

For those who love a bit of wild and windy coastline, there is nothing like stepping off the train at Fishguard station and pretty much onto into the national park’s coastline which is part of the larger Wales Coast Path. This is actually one of the smallest of the UK’s national parks, and yet it is home to 12 Blue Flag beaches, offshore islands, large swathes of the Preseli Hills and the Gwaun Valley. Other stations to take you there are Tenby, Haverfordwest, Pembroke Dock and Milford Haven.

How to get to Snowdonia National Park by train

Snowdonia itself isn’t a secret, with the highest peak in Wales being placed on every child’s map of Britain at an early age. There are many secrets lying within this national park, however, such as the other great peak of Cader Idris, Mawddach estuarine trail or the stunning beach at Harlech. And Coed y Brenin is pretty much mountain biking mecca. Snowdonia train stations include Betws y Coed or Bangor for linking up with Snowdon Mountain Railway (see their site for booking). For coastal park head to Porthmadog, taking a stunning route from Shrewsbury through the Cambrian Mountains. Porthmadog is also home to the famous Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railway,  which you can book on their site.

How to get to the South Downs National Park by train

A priceless rural refuge for anyone living in the busy south-east of England, this is one of the best national parks near London and, in fact, the nearest. The grassy-topped wave of hills are what give the park its name but there are also ancient woodlands, rivers and the white cliffs of the Sussex coast.  Winchester and Lewes are the main gateways, with more regional starting points at Amberley in the Arun Valley, Southease in the Ouse Valley or Liss in Hampshire.

How to get to the Yorkshire Dales National Park by train

Limestone cragginess, dramatic dales, waterfall trails and ancient woodland are just a few of the natural highlights of this national park. The fact that it is accessible on one of the UK’s most famous scenic train journeys: the Leeds-Settle-Carlisle line is another highlight for us. One of the favourite stops for trekkers is Horton-in-Ribblesdale, which gives access to the Three Peaks. Skipton station is gateway to to Skipton Moor and the Aire Valley. Check out the superb Dales Rail Trails  book by Tony and Chris Grogan, with details of 32 walks from train stations.

For more information see the National Parks website for details on shuttle bus services within the parks, most of which are very active during the summer months.

Photo credits top to bottom: Foggy pines at the Cairngorms National Park begin to dry iStock ©uppy61, Norfolk Broads iStock ©Cloud77, Landscape in the Lake District National Park, iStock ©stockcam  Mountains and trees near Loch Lomond iStock ©theasis,  Mist over path to new forest woodland autumn iStock ©romorgran, Milky way core over Kielder Forest, Northumberland iStock ©Mark Bromham, Two Mountain Bikers Peak District National Park iStock ©jonpic, Beach, Mountains and Boy iStock ©abkirkpatrick. Homepage image: Roe buck in New Forest iStock ©Luke Parkinson 

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