How to see the best of England's green and pleasant land this weekend

Richard Madden
Chanctonbury Ring - getty

This is the first Bank Holiday of the year that we've had a semblance of freedom. That National Trust have reopened 200 of their coast and countryside car parks, and an increasing number of outdoor destinations have become accessible once more.

We can all now go to parks and beaches to sunbathe, have a picnic or go fishing. To celebrate, we have put together a selection of destinations and outdoor activities around England to enjoy – safely and responsibly, of course.

Ashdown Forest, Sussex

Ashdown Forest in East Sussex is famous for being the home and inspiration of AA Milne, creator of Winnie the Pooh, whose story was featured in the 2017 film, Goodbye Christopher Robin. A combination of woods and heathland, it is a protected Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) with one of the largest areas of free public access in the south-east. There are more than 40 car parks open to visitors although the Visitor’s Centre remains closed.

Chanctonbury Ring to Cissbury Ring Walk, South Downs Way

The South Downs Way, one of England’s 14 National Trails, runs for 95 miles along chalk downlands between Winchester and Beachy Head above Eastbourne. This circular walk between Chanctonbury Ring and Cissbury Ring (both pre-historic hillforts) in West Sussex is just over eight miles and takes in two of the most iconic landmarks on the entire trail. The walk should take around 5.5 hrs and is graded easy to moderate with around 1,100ft of ascent. There is a car park just south of the town of Washington on the A24. 

Seven Sisters, East Sussex

The chalk cliffs of the Seven Sisters between Seaford and Eastbourne in East Sussex are in reality a lot more scenic (and white) than their more famous Dover cousins further east. Topped by a wide sweep of rolling grassland (making social distancing a doddle), they have stunning views over the English Channel. There are five car parks spread out along the adjacent roads. 

Seven Sisters - getty

Long Mynd, Shropshire

The Long Mynd is a vast heather and moorland plateau in the Shropshire Hills near the border with Wales. A firm favourite with walkers, mountain bikers, and free flyers (paragliders and hang-gliders), it is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with panoramic views over the Malvern Hills to the east and the Brecon Beacons to the west. There are two car parks in the adjacent Carding Mill valley which reopened May 21.

Kielder Water & Forest Park, Northumbria

Just a few miles from the Scottish border, Kielder Forest is part of the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park, the third largest Dark Sky reserve in the world. As well as its distinctive scenery, the Park is home to northern Europe's largest man-made lake and England's largest forest. The Lakeside Way follows the 27-mile Kielder Water shoreline and is suitable for walkers, cyclists, horse riders and wheelchair users. While the Kielder Observatory and the Kielder Waterside itself remains closed to visitors, the Park reopened seven of its car parks on May 20. 

Tennyson Down, Isle of Wight

A favourite of the Victorian Poet Laureate, Alfred Lord Tennyson, this grassy downland in the far west of the Isle of Wight has spectacular views over the Needles and the Solent to the cliffs of Dorset. The huge granite cross erected in 1897 as a memorial to Tennyson is the highest point of the Down (482ft). A seven-mile figure-of-eight walk around the headland takes about three hours. There is a car park at High Down Chalk Pit about a mile to the north of the memorial.  

Golden Cap - istock

Golden Cap, Dorset

At nearly 630ft, Golden Cap is the highest point on the south coast and England’s only natural World Heritage Site. Its grandstand view includes most of the western section of the Jurassic Coast including Lyme Bay, Bridport and the 18-mile sweep of Chesil Beach. Stonebarrow Hill’s car park is open and is a great starting point for 25 miles of footpaths around the Golden Cap estate. Further car parking is available at Langdon Hill.

Dunkery Beacon, Exmoor

From the large cairn atop Dunkery Beacon – the highest point (1,704ft) on Exmoor – on a clear day you can see both the Bristol and English Channels, the Brecon Beacons in Wales, Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor to the west, and even Cleeve Hill nearly 90 miles away in Gloucestershire. Exmoor is criss-crossed with footpaths so the beacon can be reached from any direction but one convenient option for the ultimate ‘picnic with a view’ is to park at Dunkery Gate car park on the small road between Wheddon Cross and Porlock and walk the half-mile to the beacon itself.

Godrevy - getty

Godrevy Sands, St. Ives, Cornwall 

Located a few miles east of St. Ives on the north Cornish coast, Godrevy (also known as ‘three miles of golden sands’) is a dramatic sweep of wide open sands and adjacent dunes, famous for the lighthouse which inspired Virginia Woolf’s classic novel To The Lighthouse. Basking sharks, bottlenose and common dolphins are regular visitors while its birdlife includes razorbills, guillemots, kittiwakes, skuas, shearwaters and petrels. There a number of local car parks (both short- and long-stay) at both ends of the beach. The National Trust car park currently has reduced capacity.

How to do it 

As the situation is prone to change, you are advised to ring in advance where possible or go online before setting out to get the most up-to-date information on opening times, car parking facilities, public toilets, and any other relevant information.

National Trust

Most of the National Trust’s houses and gardens are still closed to visitors, but 200 of its coast and countryside car parks have reopened. Booking is required at some car parks. As of this morning, these are: Aira Force and Ullswater (Cumbria); Blickling Estate and Felbrigg Hall Gardens and Estate (Norfolk);  Dunwich Heath and Beach (Suffolk); Houghton Mill and Waterclose Meadows (Cambridgeshire); Lanhydrock (Cornwall); Nostell (West Yorkshire); Trelissick (Cornwall); and Wicken Fen Nature Reserve (Cambridgeshire).  

Aira Force - istock

Government advice

The government website stresses that the relaxation of the rules only currently applies to England, so visitors to and from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland must follow local rules. 

COVID-19 Advice: gov.uk/government

Countryside Code: gov.uk/government/publications/the-countryside-code

Time Outdoors: gov.uk/government/news/new-guidance-on-spending-time-outdoors

Richard Madden is the author of The Great British Bucket List: Utterly Unmissable Britain (National Trust Books; shop.nationaltrust.org.uk).