As well as the many thousands of miles of public footpaths throughout the United Kingdom, there are fourteen national parks in England and Wales which were originally established in order to protect the finest landscapes and countryside in the region from being purchased and built on by developers. They have grown into enormous tourist attractions and now provide a great opportunity for natives and foreign visitors to experience the striking and picturesque countryside of Great Britain with safety and ease.
It is important to remember that the land within most national parks is still privately owned. Visitors should be sure to pay attention to the park signs in order to ensure they walk only where permitted, and to respect those who live and work inside the parks at all times.
There are no national parks in Scotland – mainly because more or less the entire country counts as one – but it does possess forty National Scenic Areas which occupy around an eighth of the land while offering some of the most beautiful and unspoilt landscapes in the world for rambling, walking, hiking or just visiting for a careful and litter-free picnic. Keep an eye out for lectern signs and other interpretation displays which are often placed at points of interest to provide additional information and regional history.
Formally designated hiking paths within national parks (and their Scottish equivalents) are well signposted using both modern waymarking signs and more traditional fingerposts, showing the destination of the path or trail and sometimes the distance to the goal. English and Welsh national trails are marked with an acorn symbol while Scottish waymarking discs feature a thistle. Be wary of moving through privately owned areas, even within a national park, as some vindictive landowners will deliberately tear down signposts, especially in less well-travelled areas.
When following a path or otherwise exploring a national park, keep an eye out for public noticeboards and signs for additional information, and make good use of your map to prevent getting lost. Most paths continue to be signposted even if they join roads, but some tracks are only indicated by coloured arrows (yellow for footpaths, blue for bridleways – which are fine for horse riders but not for vehicles – and red for byways. A few recreational routes also make use of special markers or symbols so again a map or specially printed visitor guide can be the most valuable tool in your possession.
Take a look at our guides to long distance walking excursions and waymarked routes in the UK for additional information on walking safely and legally in Great Britain's national parks and byways, or for more information and some beautiful examples of the types of outdoor signs commonly used to mark these routes visit expert signage design and manufacturing company Fitzpatrick Woolmer at www.fwdp.co.uk.