This was a tea towel that Jai and Roger gave me for my birthday three years ago, following their holiday near Kielder Water in Northumberland. It is a beautiful tea towel with the National Parks of England, named, with a picture representing each. The pictures are striking, with such vibrant colours. The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act of 1949 lay the foundations for the setting up of the National Park idea. National Parks were set up for two purposes: firstly, to conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area and secondly, to promote understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the National Parks by the public. You will always hear on the news the dilemmas facing National Parks. Recreation and tourism, in reality, fund the upkeep of the National Parks but tourism will bring traffic congestion and erosion. For me, National Parks are special places, precious places, beautiful, glorious, wild, isolated and many other adjectives which can describe them but they also have to be living landscapes for the people who live there.
The strange thing about this tea towel is that there are sixteen National Parks in the United Kingdom, designated at different times, from the earliest in 1951 to the latest in 2010 (South Downs) and one is still being discussed for Northern Ireland, yet on this tea towel there are only eleven; the eleven for England. This tea towel isn’t called Love Your English National Parks. So the ones that are not included are the Brecon Beacons, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, Pembrokeshire Coast, Snowdonia and the Cairngorms. I wonder why that is. It includes the Broads, one of the sixteen but not strictly a National Park because it is managed in a different manner from all the rest. Somehow this doesn’t feel right but hey ho!
The idea of a tea towel about the National Parks brings back so many memories for me, memories of at least 45 years ago. I did a degree in Geography at Swansea University. Geography is a huge and vast field, even for an undergraduate. There are so many options; it’s certainly not about a big map of the world and knowing what the capital cities of each country are. One of my options was Rural Social Geography; it included Nomads of Sudan and the National Parks of Great Britain. It is hard to imagine two more diverse topics. Both were fascinating. I was the only one of my friends that understood the politics of the Sudan Civil War but I also had a fascination for National Parks. Of course, when I was at university there were only ten National Parks. Brecon Beacons was on our doorstep and we spent a lot of time walking in that area.
But my earliest memories of the National Parks are of the Lake District, where we spent a number of holidays because my mother had family in Millom, on the edge of the Lake District. The Lake District for me will always be associated with Beatrix Potter, not Beatrix Potter the author but Beatrix Potter the farmer, the breeder of Herdwick sheep, the woman who wanted to save the Lake District from development, rather preserving it for working farmers. As I got older, the Lake District continued to have a draw for me; we used to camp at Patterdale near Lake Ullswater, usually in the pouring rain. Alfred Wainwright sums up the Lake District for me; I have all his books and I have spent many a happy hour following the paths he trekked, knowing I was never going to be able to physically follow in his footsteps but I can read about his journeys.
The Peak District is, for me, the start of the Pennine Way, the walk I always wished I had been able to complete. It held a mystery for me; I probably know the route as well as anyone, having read about it, looked at pictures of it, knowing I wouldn’t manage it. I have always said that you should never keep looking back, regretting things you haven’t done; in the main, I don’t have such regrets except I would truly have loved to have walked the Pennine Way.
The Pembrokeshire Coast was an area that I explored while I was living in Swansea, an area that is certainly underrated, such beauty. If you look at my tea towel collection, you will know that I have holidayed in the North York Moors, the Yorkshire Dales, Snowdonia, the Broads, Dartmoor and Exmoor and Northumberland; but I have never been to the New Forest and probably have only skirted through the South Downs. There are plenty more places for me to go (and some will have tea towels, of that I am sure).