The UK's National Parks are best known for their incredible landscapes and wildlife, but did you know that they also contain some of the UK's most beautiful churches and chapels?
Now, the National Churches Trust is making it easy for anyone visiting a National Park to also discover these amazing heritage buildings.
Over two hundred churches and chapels found in the UK's 15 National Parks are featured in a new online visitor's guide on the Trust's ExploreChurches website.
The guide includes top tips on the best churches to visit in each park and some stunning photographs to wet the appetite of heritage lovers.
Our online guide will take you to some stunning sacred spaces where you will connect with beauty and landscapes and be wowed by art and architecture.
Bill Bryson's favourites
When you visit churches in the UK's National Parks, you'll be in good company as three of them are writer Bill Bryson's favourites.
- St Michael the Archangel, Kirkby in Malhamdale in the Yorkshire Dales National Park - believed to date from the 7th century.
- St Pancras, Widecombe in the Moor, Dartmoor National Park – with its tall tower it is locally known as the Cathedral of the Moor.
- St Andrew, Alfriston, standing beside the Tye in the spectacular South Downs National Park, known as the Cathedral of the South Downs and close to the delightful Cuckmere river.
Bill Bryson, a Vice-President of the National Churches Trust said:
"It is impossible to overstate the importance of churches to this country."
"Nothing else in the built environment has the emotional and spiritual resonance, the architectural distinction, the ancient, reassuring solidity of a parish church."
"To me, they are the physical embodiment of all that is best and most enduring in Britain."
"So, when you visit a National Park, why not discover some beautiful churches in our most breath taking and treasured landscapes."
Top churches to visit include:
- Brecon Beacons National Park - The medieval pilgrim church of St Issui, Patricio, Powys in the Brecon Beacons National Park, where you can come face to face with a fire breathing dragon.
- Broads National Park - St Helen, Ranworth attracts visitors from all over the world. The Cathedral of the Broads (as it is otherwise known), is famous for its remarkable screen, a masterpiece made in about 1450. It stretches the entire width of the church, and the figures on it include the Twelve Apostles, St George, St Mary, John the Baptist and other saints.
- Cairngorms National Park - From 1848, Crathie Kirk, Aberdeenshire, has been a place of worship for Queen Victoria and every British monarch since, it's now at the heart of the Cairngorms National Park.
- Dartmoor National Park - An iconic landmark, St Michael de Rupe, Brentor, in Devon's Dartmoor National Park, was founded in 1130 by the local landowner Robert Giffard and is the highest working church in England. Even when thick moorland fogs descend, this is an eerily beautiful place.
- Exmoor National Park - Considered to be the smallest in England, the atmospheric St Beuno, Culbone in Exmoor is lit simply by candlelight, creating a really magical experience.
- Lake District National Park - St Oswald, Grasmere, Cumbria in the Lake District National Park, linked forever with the UK's greater romantic poet William Wordsworth, and who is buried in the churchyard.
- Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park - The tin tabernacle at St Fillan, Killin in Loch Lomond & The Trossachs was built in 1876 by the Earl of Breadalbane for private use by shooting parties. The church earned the name 'Grouse Church' among locals.
- New Forest National Park - St Michael & All Angels, Lyndhurst, Hampshire, in the New Forest National Park, famous for stained glass by 19th century artists including Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and William Morris.
- North Yorkshire Moors National Park - No matter from which angle you approach it you will not be prepared for what awaits you at St Mary, Whitby. Enter into a small low ceiling area, and then open the double doors to a building that takes your breath away. It's much older than the nearby abbey ruins. And that's without even mentioning a certain toothy count Dracula.
- Northumberland National Park - Rooted in its Northumberand landscape St Cuthbert, Corsenside is a remarkable little church, isolated but intimate. Open to the elements, offering shelter on the hill, Corsenside has a strong claim to be an authentic resting place for the coffin of St Cuthbert (c634-687AD) when the monks of Lindisfarne carried it from Holy Island following Viking raids on the east coast.
- Peak District National Park - St Lawrence, Eyam in the Peak District is noted for the historical reality of the plague in 1665-66. The plague ended in October 1666 and claimed 260 lives in a 14-month period. One window in the church includes a 'ring of roses', a reminder that the nursery rhyme had a deadly origin.
- Pembrokshire Coast National Park - St Govan Chapel, Bosherston on coastline of Pembrokeshire National Park is a truly unique experience. This medieval pilgrimage chapel has a dramatic setting, perched on a cliff face above the Atlantic sea, approached down a flight of worn stone steps.
- Snowdonia National Park - Snowdonia's Old Church, Llangelynnin is set in an incredible setting with an atmosphere to match. This 12th century church is perched high above the Conwy Valley, its rugged simplicity and sweeping views make it a favourite stop on the Pilgrim's Way to Bardsey Island and part of many other local walks.
- South Downs National Park - The Good Shepherd, Lullington: Standing on the side of the South Downs National Park above the Cuckmere Valley, almost hidden amongst a clump of trees. Its white weather boarded belfry peeps above the foliage, and there are magnificent views.
- Yorkshire Dales National Park - Cautley Chapel, Sedburgh in the Yorkshire Dales National Park forms part of a trail of small chapels linked to the history of the railways and religion in the Western Dales.
Sarah Fowler, CEO of the Peak District National Park Authority and who leads sustainable tourism work for National Parks said:
"National Parks in the UK are unique because they are living, working environments: they are home to communities who are part of the landscape, who shape it and are shaped by it. This story can be seen clearly in the places of worship found in National Parks and this guide from the National Churches Trust is a fabulous source of inspiration for anyone visiting a National Park."
"It's also a great illustration of the valuable role the National Churches Trust plays in looking after these wonderful buildings, one of the huge collection of organisations, charities and volunteer groups that help keep National Parks special."
Sarah Crossland, Engagement Manager for the National Churches Trust said:
"2021 marks the 70th anniversary of the designation of the Peak District as the UKs first National Park."
"Including the rugged wilds of the Cairngorms in Scotland, the ancient woodlands of the New Forest in southern England and the golden shores of the Pembrokeshire Coast in Wales, all of the UK's 15 National Parks are truly special places. And so are the hundreds of churches and chapels in the National Parks."
"Our new ExploreChurches online visitor guide makes it easy for visitors to National Parks to also discover some of the UK's most beautiful churches. "
"These stunning buildings, many of which date back to medieval times, are the jewels in the UK's heritage crown. No visit to a National Park is complete without discovering these beautiful churches, each with an amazing story to tell.