Panora­mas worth pro­tect­ing: the best of Bri­tain’s great out­doors

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Cover Story -

In a week cel­e­brat­ing our 15 Na­tional Parks, Richard Mad­den high­lights their virtues and why they should be cher­ished

My eyes used to glaze over at the very men­tion of the word ge­ol­ogy. But it is the fur­nace in which the price­less as­set of our Na­tional Parks was forged. Look at a ge­o­log­i­cal map of Bri­tain and you will see one of the most com­pli­cated ge­olo­gies of a land mass our size any­where in the world. And it is the pri­mary rea­son we are blessed with such a huge va­ri­ety of in­spi­ra­tional land­scapes.

There are 15 Na­tional Parks in main­land Bri­tain – 10 in Eng­land, three in Wales, two in Scot­land – and in a land as crowded as ours, they are more pre­cious than ever. As well as an in­valu­able recre­ational re­source, they are bio­di­ver­sity hotspots, a fi­nal refuge for en­dan­gered species such as the golden ea­gle in the Cairn­gorms or the swal­low­tail but­ter­fly in the Nor­folk Broads.

Over the years I’ve walked, cy­cled, caved, climbed, swum, coas­t­eered, sailed, kayaked, dived, rid­den or flown a paraglider in ev­ery one of our Na­tional Parks bar one (Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, I prom­ise to visit soon). Sin­gling some out for spe­cial men­tion feels like a be­trayal, like nam­ing a favourite child, and is based more on my own par­tic­u­larly fond mem­o­ries than any ob­jec­tive peck­ing or­der of merit. De­scribed in de­tail are the six I know best. a school friend, a ruck­sack, some ny­lon sleep­ing bags and a one-man tent, we strode out con­fi­dently one sum­mer evening long ago. Like first love, things did not go smoothly. We wan­dered into bogs that tried to suck us un­der and nearly died of fright mis­tak­ing Dart­moor’s ponies for wan­der­ing ghouls in the dead of night.

But, in be­tween, we swam in the translu­cent whisky-coloured wa­ters of the River Dart, fol­lowed the foot­steps of in­nu­mer­able for­got­ten an­ces­tors along stone rows and into stone cir­cles – Dart­moor has an amaz­ing 1,208 an­cient mon­u­ments – and dis­cov­ered the spir­i­tual home of Tolkien’s Ents in Wist­man’s Wood, one of three high-al­ti­tude dwarf pe­dun­cu­late oak woodlands and one of the most pow­er­fully at­mo­spheric an­cient forests in the coun­try.

The park is the largest open space in south­ern Eng­land and the Two Moors Way that runs 102 miles north-south across Devon is a great in­tro­duc­tion to both Dart­moor and Ex­moor.

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