Before 2020, the term ‘socially distanced’ was unknown to many, but thanks to COVID-19, it’s since become a commonly used phrase. Coronavirus has caused countless disruptions to day-to-day life, but the strangest change for many is keeping two meters apart from anyone outside of your household. Still, where is better to maintain a distance while exploring the British countryside than with your dog, in one of our national parks?
We’ve taken the top five national parks most suitable for taking your dog on a socially distanced walk, by comparing key factors including the length of walking routes, ease of parking, and the odds that you’ll stay dry.
The Top National Parks for Socially Distanced Dog Walks
Exmoor ranks number one
The only national park with low visitor numbers from the south, Exmoor, takes the top spot. With just 5,479 daily visitors, Exmoor is the third quietest park in England, with the second-lowest amount of walkers overall per kilometre of walking route. In comparison, the New Forest has 175 daily visitors per kilometre of footpath – you could bump into over 30 times more visitors than Exmoor.
Exmoor also has the best temperature of these socially distanced national parks, reaching an average (not so) toasty 6.75 °C through the winter months. While this may not be a worthy substitute for a winter getaway to escape the UK’s weather, dog walkers can be safe knowing that there won’t be too much ice and frost across Exmoor from December to March. Still, make sure you check the forecast before exercising in this national park – to avoid cold showers or slippery footpaths without the right gear.
The Yorkshire Dales offer the most secluded walk
If you’re planning long walking routes and days out in the countryside, the Yorkshire Dales are a perfect fit. Explore the incredible 3,200km of walking trails that this area has to offer, while safe in the knowledge that the Dales receive the least yearly visitors of any national park – just 520,000, or 1,425 daily visitors. Per kilometre, that’s over 14 times fewer visitors than top spot Exmoor.
This quiet location is particularly beneficial for owners with nervous and reactive dogs as it ensures pooches can run around freely with minimal risk of unexpected encounters with strangers and fellow dogs.
North York Moors takes third place
While this park has a slightly shorter walking route of 2,200km, it has the lowest chance of rainfall – great for a weekend escape to the countryside. While Yorkshire isn’t known for its weather, on average 56% of winter days are completely dry in the North York Moors – almost 10% higher than Exmoor.
Some of the best dog walks in this national park include the forest walk Newton Dale, and Clay Bank and Greenhow Plantation which entails a combination of tracks, trees, and stunning views.
Northumberland places fourth
Another option for socially distanced dog walks even further North East is Northumberland. It’s the second least visited national park behind the Dales and has plenty of history to take in as you walk around. Retrace the steps of the guards of Hadrian’s Wall and view Roman remains, all while unwinding in the fresh air.
As the nights get darker earlier, before you drive back from this national park, take in the best view of the night sky on the continent – with meteorites, stars, comets and moons often visible. Northumberland is the largest protected ‘Dark Sky Park’ in Europe, a designation that results in the lowest levels of light pollution across the continent, so visitors can sit in the car at the end of a long hike, and enjoy the best view of the night sky in Europe.
The Peak District rounds up the top five
This area, which was designated the first national park in the UK, is easily accessible to 16 million people living within an hour’s drive, making it extremely popular. It sees 13,250,000 yearly visitors, with 2,900 km of walking routes, ensuring that you can enjoy a backdrop of gorgeous scenery without passing many people.
The Peak District contains an incredible mix of hills and valleys, resulting in some of the most beautiful and varied walks in the country. There are plenty of areas to explore, and 45 separate car parks provide the opportunity to park up wherever you choose to exercise. Mam Tor is a hill popular with walkers, where you can walk atop a ridge to Lose Hill and take in some of the best panoramic views the UK has to offer. Ladybower Reservoir is another stunning walk, where you can walk by the tranquil water through the woodlands.
The most crowded walks
The New Forest has the shortest walking route of any national park (235km) and 15,000,000 visitors a year – the third most annual visitors. The limited space proposes a risk of an overcrowded walk, making it difficult to socially distance. For a quieter experience, try visiting this area during off-peak hours.
The Broads are also clearly popular among dog walkers, with short routes and scenic waterways attracting 7,000,000 visitors a year. However, you could bump into 63 visitors per kilometre here – over ten times more than in Exmoor or Northumberland, which may make it more difficult for both you and your dogs to stick to the social distancing rules.
To ensure social distancing is possible on your dog walk, opt for a location with lots of space and fewer visitors, such as the Peak District and Yorkshire Dales. The New Forest and The Broads appear to be the most crowded, so when visiting these national parks, try getting up and out earlier than usual.
If your dog still craves the outdoors even after a long walk, an outside dog kennel provides a safe and comfortable environment for them to get shelter when in the garden. Benchmark Kennels manufacture bespoke dog kennels to suit all breeds, shapes, and sizes. To find more information and advice on the best kennel for your dog’s needs, go to our website or contact us directly.
If you’re planning a quick after-work walk with your pooch, or even just a Sunday mooch, view the full results here to find the best national park for you.