Why do we love picnics? Is it because we relish the opportunity to get outdoors, in shorts or summer dresses, straw hats and shades? Is it because the British summertime can often be an irascible season, so when the sun does finally emerge against a backdrop of blue like the gleaming bald head of a newborn baby, we must at once flee the house, foodstuffs hurriedly packed into a cool bag, and make the most of it?
Let’s take a look at the UK’s best picnic spotsPhoto: Johan Larsson
Who knows? Personally I enjoy a picnic in large part owing to the ease of the thing. Think about it: there’s virtually no organisation required. “Wanna have a picnic?” No forethought is needed. Fetch an old tablecloth, raid the fridge and load the plunderage into a bag. Naturally, if you want to experience the mother of all picnics you head to your local supermarket and stock up: foldable chairs, a battery-powered hand-fan and the best produce you can afford. I’m talking olives, ginger cake, watermelon, potato salad, bread, cheese and an exhaustive selection of cold cuts. And to drink? Cloudy lemonade is a personal favourite, but nothing quenches the thirst quite like a mojito with crushed ice.
Hey, no-one said this picnic had to be teetotal…
Thankfully, there’s no shortage of prime picnic spots in the UK. I’ve compiled a list – by no means exhaustive – of some of the finest. From lush green fields to capacious golden beaches, these sites are ripe for some memorable picnic action.
Kelvingrove Park, Glasgow
Photo: Ed Webster
Situated on the banks of the River Kelvin, this sprawling, 85-acre Victorian park is the ideal location for a summer picnic. Something of a lodestone for the students and bohemians of Glasgow’s well-heeled West End, it truly comes alive in the sunshine, when its azaleas and rhododendrons are blazing; picnickers often stop for lunch en route to the bars in and around nearby Byers Road. The park itself contains the wonderful Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum – handy if the rain shatters your sense of seasonal optimism – and there’s a bandstand, fountain, bowling greens and even a skate park.
Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, North YorkshirePhoto: Spencer Means
Why not enjoy your sandwiches and mini sausage rolls in the shade of a ruined Cistercian monastery that happens to be one of England’s most renowned World Heritage Sites? Soak up the history (Fountains Abbey was founded in 1132) before exploring Studley Royal Park, with its 18th-century landscaped gardens and ancient woodland. The wildlife in the deer park includes wild red, fallow and Sika deer, not to mention an abundance of flora and fauna. Your picnic probably won’t be as epic as your surroundings, but do try your best! And if you wish to explore all that North Yorkshire has to offer – including a day at Lightwater Valley – a stay in one of our North Yorkshire cottages might be just the ticket.
Barafundle Beach, PembrokeshirePhoto: rhedeg.co.uk
Barafundle is regularly proclaimed to be the country’s finest beach; no surprise then that it makes my list of super picnic spots. Hemmed in by squat limestone cliffs, backed by undulating dunes and pine trees, this gorgeous little horseshoe beach is also lapped by some of the most crystalline waters on the British coast. Owing to its remoteness – the beach is accessible only by a half-mile walk from the car park – you won’t benefit from much (i.e. any) facilities, so be sure to bring everything you need. You won’t regret it.
Fell Foot Park, CumbriaPhoto: David Merrett
Imparting views of the scenic Lakeland fells, Fell Foot Park on the southern tip of Lake Windermere is a great spot for a day out with the family. Of course, this is no ordinary park: rowing boats are available for hire throughout the summer months, there’s an adventure playground for kids and a terrific boathouse café. Hell, you can even pitch a tent here one night: on July 5, 11, 26 and August 10, 16 and 30, anyway, with ranger-led activities sure to keep the brood entertained. With sweeping lawns and excellent views of the mountains, your picnic is sure to be a hit.
Gibside, Newcastle-upon-TynePhoto: Glen Bowman
Home to a Palladian chapel, an open-air theatre and crisscrossed by plunging woodland trails, Gibside is beyond compare among the North East’s premium picnic sites. Usefully located on the fringes of the city, it boasts the kind of open spaces that any top-notch picnic requires. Best of all, you don’t have to pack a picnic in advance: there’s an on-site café, a local farm shop and – get this – a twice monthly farmers’ market! Me? I’d spread my blanket close to the Lily Pond or in the shade of the Orangery. Bliss.
Horniman Museum & Gardens, LondonPhoto: Loz Pycock
London has a great many parks, so it takes a special one to earn a berth on a compendious list such as this. The well-tended 16-acre gardens offer unrivalled views of the city, the century-old bandstand hosts free shows for kids, in addition to concerts and movie screenings during the summer, and there’s plenty going on at the museum, too. Check out the botanical displays – there’s an outdoor and indoor collection – and don’t miss the new Animal Gardens, home to alpacas, sheep and pigs. Or you could do nothing at all but chomp on your picnic and bask in the sunshine. A great chance to escape the busy streets in London this summer. Not a Londoner? No sweat – make a weekend of it, taking advantage of our selection of affordable holiday apartments in London.
Wellington Country Park, BerkshirePhoto: James Griffin
Wellington Country Park, set in the verdant Hampshire countryside, is another of those wide-open natural habitats that makes you think, even if only for a moment, that you’ve just about had your fill of the city – any city, anywhere. Whether you’re reclined against the trunk of a coppiced birch or Douglas fir – yep, this space is home to no end of trees – or running your fingers through a trail of sprouting spring bluebells, you’ll be glad you decided on a picnic here. The food doesn’t have to be cold either; the barbecue and marquee area lets you get some kebabs or burgers on the go. To list all facilities would require several paragraphs, but suffice to say there are nature trails, wildlife including red deer, a 35-acre lake, a 12-hole mini golf course and multiple adventure playgrounds on-site.
Seven Sisters, Eastbourne
The beauty of Beachy Head and Seven Sisters is difficult to express in words; suffice to say these towering white chalk cliffs at the very tip of England are one of the country’s most jaw-dropping natural wonders. And whether you take your picnic on the pebbled beach, or from atop the 500ft cliffs, you won’t forget a day in the South Downs. There’s a café, toilets and a visitors’ centre nearby, just incase you’re running low on snack supplies, and the South Downs National Park is worth a visit too – just a mile from Beachy Head, its farmyard includes pigs, lambs and goats. The undoubted highlight, though, is the bigness of the blue sky overhead, matched by the stunning view out to sea.
Brownsea Island, DorsetWhat more do you need for the perfect picnic than an abundance of woodland, heathland and a lagoon? That’s what is waiting for you at Brownsea Island, located in Poole Harbour and gifting visitors panoramic views of the steeply dipping Purbeck Hills. Tuck into your picnic while mallard ducklings pick their way around the rim of the reed beds and drink in the coastal views at one of the view points along the island’s edge. When the grub has been consumed, you can always work off the excess calories by tackling the tree climbing trail – or taking a dip in the water off the beaches in the south of the island.
Victoria Park, LondonPhoto: Ewan Munro
The second London park to make it onto my list also happens to be its oldest – it first opened its gates in 1845. Spanning 86 acres, and set entirely within the borough of Tower Hamlets, its terrain is entirely suited to al fresco dining; just grab a spot in the shade of one of over 400 trees. Vicky Park boasts canals, a boating pond and a pavilion, but also several tennis courts, ideal as the nation collectively takes up the sport in the wake of Wimbledon. Squirrels, geese and deer occupy the wildlife enclosure, while the Pavilion Café dishes up all sorts of tasty treats; if you get there early enough, you can grab breakfast before spending the day in the sun. Don’t take my word for it, though: the park scooped the People’s Choice Park Award in 2012 and was awarded Green Heritage status in 2013.
So there you have it. We’ve supplied the UK’s best picnic spots; it’s up to you to supply what goes in the hamper itself.
Make the most of the summer in 2014!
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