UK parks and free public gardens: readers’ travel tips | Parks and green spaces

Winning tip: Menai marvel, Bangor

Treborth Botanic Garden in Bangor, north Wales, is owned by Bangor University and sits beside the beautiful Menai Strait at the gateway to Anglesey. The Wales coastal path passes through, and it is very popular with locals and visitors alike. It has not only stunning outside areas, including a Chinese garden, but also glasshouses (though these are still currently closed to the public). An army of volunteers, the “Friends of Treborth Botanic Garden” help keep it looking its best and run plant sales and other events. It’s a lovely place to volunteer, or just a tranquil garden to spend some time in.
Theresa Shaw


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Guardian Travel readers’ tips

Every week we ask our readers for recommendations from their travels. A selection of tips will be featured online and may appear in print. To enter the latest competition visit the readers’ tips homepage

Behind the green door, Swansea

Singleton Park Botanical Gardens
Photograph: Joan Gravell/Alamy

Every time I visit my sister-in-law in Swansea, the first place I head for is Singleton Park’s Botanical Gardens. It’s always a thrill slipping in through the anonymous-looking green door in the red-brick wall to discover the secret it’s keeping – towering herbaceous borders that are simply breathtaking. If this was all there was to see, you’d potter home more than happy. But it’s only the entrance and the long path leads to a haven of tranquillity blooming with many more delights and surprises including … but I’ll leave them for you to discover.

Ferry over the Tamar, Devon/Cornwall

Mount Edgcumbe Country Park
Photograph: Elinor Scott

Mount Edgcumbe Country Park in Torpoint, Cornwall, is the estate of a Tudor house overlooking Plymouth Sound and the River Tamar, now owned by Cornwall and Plymouth councils. The trip to get there on the little Cremyll foot ferry – bicycles accepted – from Plymouth is part of the fun (there’s also the Torpoint car ferry). The Grade I-listed gardens include rose, American, French, Italian and New Zealand gardens, a dell with tree ferns and the national camellia collection. There are spectacular views from the folly, a walk along the South West Coast Path to Kingsand village, two cafes (now open, with Covid-safe practices), and craft shops in the old stables.
Elinor Scott

Regency promenading, Shrewsbury

Aerial view of the Dingle, Quarry Park, Shrewsbury
Photograph: kev303/Getty Images

The Quarry park in Shrewsbury has been the perfect place to picnic and promenade since the 17th century, when the ladies of the town would enjoy a stroll along the banks of the River Severn, which loops elegantly around it. Today the public park has lost none of its charm and is easily reachable from the city centre. The jewel in its crown is the Dingle, a sunken flower garden with thousands of blooms sending lovely fragrances into the air, a credit to the town’s longtime parks superintendent, Percy Thrower. Follow the one-way system as you stroll and enjoy a homemade ice-cream at the Quarry cafe as you pass.

Ready to rock, North Yorkshire

Aysgarth Rock Garden, Wensleydale, North Yorkshire
Photograph: Bridget Mellor

Aysgarth Edwardian Rock Garden in Wensleydale is a Grade II-listed enchanting grotto of huge blocks of weathered limestone, with a spring-fed waterfall and 300 varieties of plants including ferns and alpines. It was commissioned in the Edwardian era by Frank Sayer Graham, a game dealer who made his money in silver rabbit furs and rare gulls’ eggs, to show off his wealth and plant knowledge. Lovingly restored, it’s a little oasis of charm and peace, open daily.
Bridget Mellor

Secret garden, Leeds

Temple Newsam Park, Leeds
Photograph: Debbie Rolls

Leeds council’s Temple Newsam park has rhododendron walks, ornamental lakes, laburnum arches, bluebell woods and formal gardens. Tucked away, and missed by many, is a superb 18th-century walled garden. Red bricks shelter stunning borders and central rose beds. I like to walk through the bougainvillea-filled glasshouse, pause to marvel at the varieties of coleus in the national collection, then sit on one of the many benches surrounded by a medley of scents and the buzz of the apiary’s bees. There are fees to enter the historic house and rare-breed farm, but the gardens and parkland are free.
Debbie Rolls

Diarist’s delight, East Sussex

Southover Grange gardens, Lewes
Photograph: Paul Mansfield/Getty Images

My favourite public garden is Southover Grange in Lewes. This garden played an important part in my life for many years and I feel nostalgic just thinking about it! It’s the garden of Southover Grange house, built in 1542, where the diarist John Evelyn once lived. The garden is divided into several “rooms” around the old house. There’s a lawn with an ancient mulberry tree, the Winterbourne stream running through, and colourful flowerbeds. The garden teas are another major attraction – sit on a bench with a cup of tea and delicious cake. [See footnote]
Jane Golding

Dun wandering, Montrose, Angus

The east walled garden at the House of Dun
Photograph: Brian Chapple/National Trust for Scotland

Enter the House of Dun walled garden and it’s easy to imagine you are a fine Edwardian lady taking a promenade around the formal yet cottage-style garden. Rose-covered arbours dotted around the sun-warmed stone walls are the perfect spot to sit and relax. Breathing in jasmine, sweet peas and roses, the years slip away and you could be of any time. Gazing at the windows, you can ponder the lives lived within, from the grand rooms to the servants’ attics. All had at least a most beautiful view. Buildings, cafe, shop and toilets are closed, but the gardens are free to enter.
Katrina Bruce

May the Forth be with you, Edinburgh

Starbank Park, with Firth of Forth views.
Photograph: Janet McArthur

Starbank Park on the beautiful coast in Edinburgh is a wee hidden gem! With views clear across the Firth of Forth, on a sunny day there is nothing like it. A team of passionate and green-fingered volunteers maintain stunning floral beds in the front park, and climbing the steep bank to the top rewards you with a different type of garden: of carefully curated trees and all variety of blooms. The park even hosts two mini free libraries – one for adults and one for smaller readers. Everyone is welcome to spend time in the peaceful rose garden or lost in thought gazing out to sea. It’s simply gorgeous!
Victoria Buchanan

Promise you a rose garden, Norfolk

rose arch at peter beales

The Peter Beales rose gardens in Attleborough, Norfolk, are brilliant for all the family and free to enter all year round. Beautiful rose arches are magnificent if you visit in the summer: the smell itself is enough to keep everyone entranced. It’s also accessible: our youngest son has severe learning difficulties and the gardens were very accommodating to his needs when we visited. There is a restaurant, but it was a bit crowded the day we went so we did not use it, though prices were competitive and the menu looked inviting. There is also a shop selling plants and flowers.
Fiona D

This article was amended on 25 August 2020 to correct the credit on the lead photograph and on 28 August to note that the kiosk at Southover Grange, Lewes is not open at the moment.

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Eight of the UK’s best wildlife reserves: readers’ travel tips | Parks and green spaces

Winning tip: Soup of biodiversity, Gwent

Occupying the last remaining piece of fenland on the Gwent Levels is Magor Marsh nature reserve. This is low-lying land, bordering the urban spread of Chepstow and Newport, and is a special place for wildlife, with big skies overhead and miles of waterways that are not only a soup of biodiversity but protect the area from Severn estuary floods. At Magor Marsh you can walk along boardwalks near where monks once worked to reclaim the land from the sea, through reed beds with Cetti’s warblers singing wildly, water voles dashing off, the sound of distant cuckoos floating on the air and plenty of waterfowl. If you are really lucky you may catch the splash of an otter or, by peering into the ancient reeds, spot a magnificent diving beetle glistening in the water.
Free to enter, no dogs permitted,
Gemma Bode

Croydon butterflies

A newly emerged Glanville Fritillary butterfly at Hutchinson’s Bank, Surrey.
A newly emerged Glanville fritillary butterfly at Hutchinson’s Bank, Surrey. Photograph: Stephan Morris Photography/Alamy

Croydon may be the last place you’d expect to find a wildlife paradise but if you head south-east of the town into the North Downs and Hutchinson’s Bank, you won’t be disappointed. Off Featherbed Lane in New Addington, the reserve is home to 40 of the UK’s 59 butterfly species, several varieties of orchid and a host of other invertebrates and wildflowers. It is a true green-space gem. Paths (some quite steep) crisscross the dry valley over the chalk grassland meadows and along woodland edges, and there are plenty of benches where you can pause for thought and do some nature spotting. Just five minutes’ walk from New Addington tram stop, the London Wildlife Trust site is open all year round and completely free.
Free to enter, access from Featherbed Lane, dogs on lead,
Anna Guerin

Edinburgh waterfowl

View of Duddingston Loch and Edinburgh.
Photograph: Getty Images

A trip to Arthur’s Seat and Bawsinch and Duddingston nature reserve on Duddingston Loch in Edinburgh is never a wasted day. A great view of the heronry can be had from Hangman’s Rock overlooking the loch. The plethora of birdlife around the loch is a joy to behold. Dr Neil’s Garden is close by. The whole place has an air of being in the wilds and yet is only a short distance from the city centre. Use the Innocent Railway foot and cycle path which also passes the new Holyrood whisky distillery to gain a new perspective.
Access from car park just west of Duddingston village,
Calum MacLeod


Readers’ tips: send a tip for a chance to win a £200 voucher for a Canopy & Stars stay


Guardian Travel readers’ tips

Every week we ask our readers for recommendations from their travels. A selection of tips will be featured online and may appear in print. To enter the latest competition visit the readers’ tips homepage

Lovely Lancashire trails

Bird hide, Leighton Moss RSPB
Photograph: Khrizmo/Getty Images

The cafe and visitors’ centre at Leighton Moss RSPB nature reserve are currently closed because of the coronavirus outbreak but visitors are free to wander its lovely trails. There are superb views throughout of the extensive reed beds, and there is an interesting mixture of undergrowth, natural farmland and woodland. Bitterns, avocets, marsh harriers, bearded tits and water rails are the stars of the show, and in autumn, winter and early spring there’s always the chance of wondrous starling murmurations. Morecambe Bay is on the doorstep and (for times when taking public transport is advisable) Silverdale railway station is just metres from the entrance.
£8/£4, half price if arrive on public transport,
Chris Taylot

Swanning around in the Highlands

Whooper swans at Loch Leven.
Whooper swans at Loch Leven. Photograph: Ken Jack/Getty Images

Our trip to the RSPB reserve at Loch Leven in Perth and Kinross, began with a walk in the woodlands, the highlight of which was watching a red squirrel eat a beech nut on a bough less than two metres away. Hordes of bright goldfinches, chaffinches, green finches and siskins flurried around the feeders while a treecreeper crept up a nearby oak. In autumn there are thousands of pink-footed geese here and in winter, whooper swans. Ospreys are present in summer. There’s also a bumblebee sanctuary. We climbed to the top of the hill under soaring buzzards to enjoy a great loch-dominated panorama. We watched the sunset with views of the Ochil Hills fading into the west and snow-capped highlands peeking from behind them, beautifully lit in the twilight glow.
Brent Walker

Embrace the former base, Berkshire

Spring on Greenham Common, near Newbury
Photograph: Alamy

Greenham Common is a name that brings to mind the US air force, cruise missiles and the famous women’s peace camp of the early 1980s, especially the “embrace the base” protest, when thousands of women surrounded the airfield and held hands. There are many reminders of the cold war here still, but the site is now a superb 444-hectare nature reserve managed by Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust. Anyone can walk for free around the extensive heathland, with its sites of special scientific interest; there are a great number of interesting bird, reptile and invertebrate species flitting around the gorse, heather, gravel and grassland. When conditions are right, Greenham Common hosts a late-summer wildlife spectacle as hundreds of autumn lady’s-tresses orchids flower.
Holly Mills

Once bittern, Kent

Lagoons at Dungeness RSPB reserve. Photograph: Adam McCulloch

Over the years few places in the UK have recorded more rare bird, insect and plant species than Dungeness, but even if you aren’t a twitcher or botanist the RSPB reserve here is something of a marvel. A mile-or-so-long trail leads to various hides overlooking lagoons, passing reeds, scrub, gorse, shingle and lots of exotic-looking plants that I haven’t seen anywhere else. We went on a hot day in early June last year without binoculars so spent a frustrating time trying to work out what bird was singing what song. Luckily for us a bittern salvaged the day, flapping ponderously overhead before disappearing into a reedbed. Later, we saw a couple of great egrets. Even more memorable were the viper’s-bugloss flowers growing in great vivid blue profusion everywhere. With the weird combo of lighthouse, tiny steam train and nuclear power station, it was like a day spent on another planet.

Marine world, Pembrokeshire

Puffin on Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire
Photograph: Philip Jones/Alamy

Seals and a plethora of seabirds including puffins swirling around the cliffs of this ruggedly beautiful island are the highlights but don’t rule out basking shark and dolphin sightings. And there’s always the elusive Skomer vole to look out for. At present there are no trips that land on the island but this is under review. There are, however, crusies, sea safaris and private charters around the island.
Cruise ticket adult £16, child £12, See for up-to-date information on when landing on the island may resume
Luke O’Connor

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