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National Parks... or National Car Parks?

Open-topped bus in the Lake District

This spring, wouldn't it be nice if we could enjoy our favourite beauty spots without filling them with traffic? Nat Taplin, Director of Good Journey, has written us this guest blog on the case for better car-free access to the places we love.

Nat Taplin"Spring is here and soon picture-postcard villages, stately homes and national parks will be clogged with cars again. We've become so used to it, we don our virtual blinkers to block out the noise and clutter of traffic and forget how much better it could be. In Frome, where I live, once a month the main street is taken over by an arty market and the town is filled with the sounds of people and music instead of traffic – it's a transformation. 

The irony is that as we escape to the country in our cars we collectively erode the beauty and tranquillity we've come to enjoy.

Leisure traffic is increasing by 1% every year and, with it, CO2 emissions, air pollution, noise, visual clutter and road kill. In surveys, traffic noise repeatedly comes out as the number one thing impacting on enjoyment of the countryside, for both locals and visitors.

There is another compelling reason for change. By focusing only on cars, visitor attractions and destinations are shutting their doors to the 25% of people who don't own a car. This includes a growing market of bus-pass-holding retirees, as well as many millennials more interested in a new iPhone than a new car. There's also an upturn in overseas visitors – who prefer to travel by train than drive on the 'wrong side' of the road. Added to this, Visit England research reveals that car-free holidaymakers visit more attractions and spend 20% more money.

And it's not just a question of 'doing the right thing'. A car-free day out can be much more memorable, with the journey all part of the experience. You can sip a coffee, take in the view, have a cwtch, read a book, surf the web, enjoy a pint, have a snooze – all things which are likely to get you into trouble if you're driving!

Lulworth CoveThis photo of Lulworth Cove shows what runaway car access can mean. A visit to Lulworth on a sunny summer day is dominated by traffic – with cars fly-parked along the verges as you approach, narrow lanes clogged with stressed drivers and a sea of cars to wade through before your reach the beach. It's got to the point where the traffic is driving some visitors away altogether.

It doesn't have to be this way. The Lake District – although also busy with cars in summer – is an example of what can be done to encourage visitors by train, bus, bike and foot. Windermere station is a hub for buses and cycle hire – bus 'angels' offer advice and multi-lingual greetings to arriving tourists. Cycle paths have been laid in fields alongside busy roads. Boats carry walkers to and from lakeside trails. And the ticket machines at the National Park Visitor Centre issue combined parking and bus tickets.

In countries like Germany and Switzerland they have taken things to the next level with the Gästekarte (guest card) offering free public transport in return for a 'visitor tax', as in Interlaken. Back in the UK, The Campaign for National Parks has just published a report National Parks for all: Making car-free travel easier, which calls for a 'smarter travel National Park' pilot. A guest card scheme could be part of the mix. One study suggested that a visitor payback donation of just £1 per night could fund free bus travel for all in the Lake District.

We hope that Good Journey is another step in the right direction – promoting car-free travel to visitor attractions and venues across the UK. The new Good Journey Mark recognises attractions which welcome and reward car-free visitors. Our website goodjourney.org.uk provides step-by-step travel directions to attractions, as well as money-saving tips and inspiration for car-free days out. Here are some seasonal suggestions to whet your appetite...

Five great gardens to visit car-free and enjoy a discount

Good Journey

Good Journey launched in January 2018, supported by a coalition of organisations including Campaign for Better Transport. Find out more at goodjourney.org.uk – where you can sign-up for a free newsletter and eBook of Scenic Rail and Bus Journeys of Britain."

Lake District photo: © GoLakes Travel
Lulworth photo: © Alamy