Guide to visiting the UK’s national parks by public transport2 September 2022
A guest blog by Sue Cassell, courtesy of Campaign for National Parks. Sue’s full-length blog can be found on the Campaign for National Parks website.
I love walking and I love our beautiful and varied landscapes. But I hate driving. I agree with Colin Speakman that our nation’s love affair with the car, which has brought huge freedom, is also generating massive environmental downsides, not least when it comes to visitor impact on our National Parks. So, I use buses and trains to reach the countryside, and I encourage other to forgo the car in favour of public transport. I have a blog – My Great Outdoors – that aims to provide information and inspiration for car-free enjoyment of our stunning landscapes.
Here are some ideas for exploring some of the UK’s National Parks car-free this summer and autumn:
Catch a bus from the centre of Sheffield to the Peak District National Park in under one hour.
Castleton is a great base from which to explore. Until 3 September an additional bus service, the Hope Valley Explorer, runs from the Upper Derwent Valley down to Castleton and up to Winnats Pass/Mam Tor.
Why not also try the new bus service Snake X57 which travels between Manchester and Sheffield via the A57 and Snake Pass? Alighting at Snake Pass you could walk south on the Pennine Way to Edale and catch a train back home. The Hope Valley train line runs between Manchester and Sheffield, with stops in the Peak District at Edale, Hope, Bamford, Hathersage and Grindleford.
Love open-top buses? In New Forest National Park there are three open-top bus routes, running from 25 June to 18 September.
The hop-on, hop-off tours run every day with a choice of three routes. From the top deck you’ll get a bird’s eye view of the open heaths and ancient forest. The buses connect with regular services from Bournemouth, Poole, Salisbury and Southampton.
Arrive in style to Exmoor National Park via the West Somerset heritage railway.
The service runs through to Dunster station, from where it’s a 20-minute walk to Dunster Castle and village. Holders of West Somerset Railway tickets get a 20% discount on admission to the castle.
The National Park Authority website has some brilliant downloadable walks for those without a car. Plus, there’s a summer open-top bus service along the coast between Minehead to Lynmouth – this hop-on, hop-off service runs daily including Sundays and Bank Holidays.
Sample Dartmoor National Park by catching a bus from Exeter city centre to Castle Drogo.
In the summer, the Haytor Hoppa is a circular, scenic bus service which starts and finishes in Newton Abbot or Bovey Tracey – hop on and off to explore places or go walking on the eastern side of Dartmoor. The Haytor Hoppa calls at Haytor Visitor Centre and Widecombe-in-the-Moor.
Take a ride on Britain’s most scenic bus route in North York Moor National Park.
The award-winning 840 Coastliner runs daily from Leeds, Tadcaster, York, Easingwold and Malton, and serves Pickering, Thorton le Dale, Goathland and Whitby.
The National Park is also home to the famous North Yorkshire Moors Railway, along with the dramatic Esk Valley Railway. For a great half-day’s walk, take the train to Grosmont and walk to Whitby, following the ‘leaping salmon’ trail signs along the Esk Valley Walk.
Walk the 52-mile Herriot Way through the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
The walk can be started at Aysgarth, Hawes, Keld or Reeth, all of which are served by the Dalesbus. Then there’s the Settle to Carlisle Railway (with connections at Leeds) – check out their website for downloadable walks. Throughout the summer DalesRail runs a Sunday service connecting Lancashire stations to the Settle-Carlisle line, providing direct train access to the Dales from Blackburn, Blackpool and Preston.
Walk coast to coast through Northumberland National Park.
The Hadrian’s Wall Country Bus AD122 links major sites along the Hadrian’s Wall corridor between Newcastle and Carlisle. If catching the train to access Northumberland National Park there are several stations to the south of the Park including Hexham, Bardon Mill, Haydon Bridge and Haltwhistle. The East Coast Main Line has services between London, Newcastle and Edinburgh stopping at Alnmouth, from where you can travel west into the Park.
Hop on the Conwy Valley railway through Snowdonia National Park to Betws-y-Coed and Blaenau Ffestiniog.
If planning on climbing the highest of the peaks in Wales, the Snowdon Sherpa is a unique bus service that travels around the foot of Snowdon, linking the six main routes up the mountain.
Reach the Brecon Beacons National Park by train from the mainline to Abergavenny.
Plus, regular daily bus services – including the T4 from Cardiff to Newtown via Brecon; the T6 runs from Swansea to Brecon; and the X55 Cymru Clipper service from Swansea and Neath and Pontneddfechan, serving both the Angel Inn and Dinas Rock, providing easy access to Waterfall Country.
Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park are easily accessible by public transport.
Once you’ve arrived, the National Park’s waterbus service departs from piers and pontoons around Loch Lomond and Loch Katrine, meaning you can explore at your leisure whilst taking in the stunning scenery of these two iconic Scottish lochs.
The Cairngorms National Park is easy to visit by train.
There are stations in the west of the National Park at Dalwhinnie, Newtonmore, Kingussie, Aviemore and Carr-Bridge. Trains between London’s Kings Cross and Inverness stop off at either Kingussie or Aviemore. There are ten services each way daily and a sleeper service from London.
Top tips for making a success of car-free travel to and within our National Parks:
- Plan your itinerary (and book) ahead. Traveline is brilliant for journey planning.
- Search out the best value and most flexible fares (e.g. discounts for railcard holders, explorer and family bus tickets, etc).
- Look on the websites of the National Park Authorities for ideas and information. Many give travel advice and downloadable walks.
- Ordnance Survey maps can be invaluable. There are some great map reading courses which to give you confidence when exploring away from major trails.
- Know exactly where bus stops are in advance (I use Google Earth which gives me a satellite view, What3Words is also helpful) and arrive in plenty of time to catch the bus.
- Have a ‘plan B’ in case of missing the last bus. I note down the phone numbers of local taxi firms, just in case.
- Above all, have confidence. Enjoy the journey as much as the destination. You will experience sights and conversations that are unique to public transport journeys and beat car travel any day.
To find out more about the work Campaign for National Parks does to campaign for improved access to National Parks, see their car-free National Parks report.