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No doubt about it: the English countryside is one of the most beautiful and varied landscapes on Earth.
With rolling hills, ancient forests, coastal scenery and mountain backdrops, England's green and pleasant land has it all. From quaint country villages to magnificent castles that dominate their skyline, there's a wealth of historic and natural beauty to discover.
Often, you don't have to travel far to escape to the country. Many country destinations are within a short drive of town or city. So pack your bags for family walks, English countryside manors, towering castles, incredible views, and perhaps a quiet countryside cafe.
England remains a very rural country. Only around 20% of its area is built upon, while the remaining 80% is a mix of agricultural land, moorland, woods and other open spaces. Even big cities have plenty of countrified parts. London was recently designated a National Park City, in reflection that it covers an area that is almost 50% 'green and blue' (parks, gardens, woods, lakes, etc.).
The English countryside is a very safe and rewarding environment to explore. Walking has been something of a national pastime for centuries, and the country is crisscrossed with many well-marked footpaths. You won't get any strange looks for taking a hike across farmland or heath... so long as you stick to the designated footpaths.
Set amongst the rural and wild landscapes, the local villages are also a joy to visit. They often preserve many beautiful and ancient buildings whose like have long been lost in the big towns and cities. Many are well-geared up for walkers, and offer gift shops, supply stores and attractive cafes and pubs for refreshment.
All that said, it's important to respect the rural environment and always follow the 'countryside code'. In particular, take all litter away with you, leave gates as you find them (open or closed), stick to marked paths and cause no damage.
A good place to start when exploring English green destinations is to escape to a national park. There are currently 10: Broads, Dartmoor, Exmoor, Lake District, New Forest, Northumberland, North York Moors, Peak District, South Downs and Yorkshire Dales.
Visiting a national park gives you a guarantee of seeing some of England's most breathtaking landscapes, from the lofty heights of the Lake District to the largely manmade and low-lying Norfolk Broads. At the same time, you get all the conveniences that go along with a managed space, such as toilets, cafes, information centres and secure parking - all useful when you have little ones in tow.
England contains many other areas of outstanding natural beauty. A walking holiday along the coast of Cornwall or Dorset is hard to beat if you have older children. Dorset is known as the Jurassic Coast for its world famous fossil beds. Cornwall, meanwhile, is a beautiful region of coves and fishing villages culminating in the popular Land's End.
One particularly big hit with families is the New Forest in Hampshire. This unique area of woodland and pasture is one of the few places in England where you can see both wild ponies and pigs. Cycle hire is readily available, and makes an excellent way to travel through the forest with older children. For younger visitors, the forest is adjacent to Paultons Park, home of Peppa Pig World.
And then there's the Lake District. This beautiful region of hills and lakes (tarns) is well known for inspiring many of the Romantic Poets, and it remains a pristine area of countryside to this day. Kids will enjoy visiting the various sites associated with Beatrix Potter and the Peter Rabbit stories, as well as boating on the lake from Swallows and Amazons. (And don't forget the Derwent Pencil Museum!)
Equally rugged are the English moorlands. The North Yorkshire Moors, for example, have much to discover. This region of winding roads, lofty hills and drystone walls can be very rural, but also packs in plenty of attractions for visitors. Travel by steam railway, enjoy the rides at Flamingo Land, explore the local villages, and visit the coastal towns of Whitby and Scarborough.
England's natural beauties are so abundant that we could fill a book with further recommendations. Instead, check out our previous guides to the countryside and country parks of Cheshire, Essex, Herts, Beds & Bucks, Kent, Lancashire, Norfolk and Suffolk.
If you're visiting a well managed area such as a national park, then you'll probably need very little. Just take along all the obvious things you'd pack for any outdoor day out.
A ramble through open countryside needs a little more planning. Decide your route in advance - you don't want to take any chances of getting lost when out with children. Take a paper map, as many parts of the countryside have poor data signals. Ordnance Survey maps are the gold standard and show all footpaths. Carry any food and drink you'll need, as you may go many miles without finding refreshment. That said, any local village will have a shop where you can buy supplies and perhaps enjoy that particularly British pleasure of a relaxing meal in a country pub garden (kids usually welcome).
Waterproofs are another good idea. The English climate is notorious for sudden downpours and changeable weather, all the more so in recent years as the effects of global warming begin to be felt.
It's also a good idea to bring along nature guides. You're sure to see birds, plants, insects and even small mammals that you wouldn't encounter in the city, and it's both fun and educational to try and identify them.
England is blessed with thousands of miles of public footpaths, which crisscross the natural landscape. Some, such as the Icknield Way in southern England or the Hadrian's Wall Path follow centuries-old trackways or monuments and are well-signposted as National Trails. But the majority are a loosely managed network of cross-country paths.
We've put together many guides to child-friendly walks in different parts of England. Check out these trails in Berkshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Norfolk and Suffolk, Surrey and within one hour from London.
England is well known for its innumerable stately homes, castles and palaces. Many of these are out in the countryside, and are now popular visitor experiences for families. If you're planning on visiting a few, it's worth taking up membership with the National Trust or English Heritage, who oversee many of the historic buildings of England.
Chatsworth House in Derbyshire would be the archetypal example. This magnificent pile has a bit (or a lot) of everything for families, including a superb adventure playground, iconic water features, a petting farm and year-round children's activities. Similarly, Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire is another country estate with much to offer. The birthplace and ancestral home of Winston Churchill is steeped in history, and also has vast grounds to explore with the kids.
The Cotswolds, also largely in Oxfordshire, are picture postcard England, with rolling hills and pretty little villages and gardens to explore. The Cotswolds area is also packed with family destinations, including the wonderful Cotswold Wildlife Park.
Kent is often overlooked as an English countryside destination, but it does have many of its own treasures, from the North Downs and White Cliffs of Dover, to the charming oast houses that are the backdrop to any Kentish landscape. It's also packed with stuff to see. Anne Boleyn's Hever Castle is a delight for kids, with its water maze and adventure playground. The moated Leeds Castle is also lovely, and includes a surreal dog collar museum! Throw in numerous beaches and Winnie the Pooh's stomping ground of Ashdown Forest, and this county on the edge of London is a true winner.
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