Think car parks are a miserable affair? Think again – these five little numbers offer epic 360° panoramas from the comfort of the driving seat.
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Bwlch y Groes, Gwynedd, Wales
From the southern shore of Lake Bala, a steep and narrow road winds through gorse and heather-covered mountainside towards a small gravel car park beneath a commemorative iron cross at Bwlch y Groes (Gospel Pass). At 545m (1,788ft), this is Wales’ highest public road, built along the route of a medieval pilgrimage trail that once headed through the Aran Mountains towards St David’s. In the 1930s, the summit marked the finish line of a hotly contested hill climb competition, where Britain’s foremost motor manufacturers raced their sportiest models up these punishing inclines. Thankfully, these days, things are much more sedate, with only the occasional bleating sheep (or panting cyclist) to disturb your car park picnic and views over Snowdonia.
Polzeath Beach, Cornwall, England
The perfect mix of golden sands, great surfing and Blue Flag water quality has seen the popularity of Polzeath Beach in North Cornwall boom in recent years. Local amenities, shallow waters and good lifeguard cover have made it a firm favourite with visiting families, who also welcome the rare opportunity and convenience of being able to park – directly – on the beach. At low tide, Polzeath Beach is huge, stretching 500m (1,160ft) in each direction, with room for 260 cars. At high tide, however, it shrinks to a smaller patch of sand in front of the village – check out YouTube for numerous videos of those unfortunate ‘grockles’ who didn’t read the tide table.
Duncansby Head Car Park, Caithness, Highland, Scotland
At the end of a long single-track road, two miles east of the John O’Groats visitor centre, is the lonely lighthouse of Duncansby Head. For almost 100 years, this concrete tower has stood guard over these treacherous tidal races at the most northeasterly extreme of the British mainland. From the nearby car park, visiting motorists can enjoy vast panoramas over the wild Atlantic towards the Orkneys; but it’s also worth packing your walking boots and taking the short hike along the coastal path to visit the Stacks of Duncansby and the magnificent rock arch of Thirle Door. Wheeling above, you’ll see kittiwakes and great skuas, while puffins scamper on the rocks below.
Great Orme Summit Complex, Llandudno, Conwy, Wales
The Great Orme is a colossal limestone headland that rises 207m (679ft) out of the sea – an impressive natural wonder that got its name from the old Norse word for ‘sea monster’. Carved into its cliffs is Marine Drive, a one-way scenic toll road that takes motorists on a four-mile tour around its coastal fringes. At its halfway point, there is a short detour up a series of hairpin bends to the summit car park, where, on a clear day, there is a wonderful vista across the Irish Sea towards Anglesey. If the fickle Welsh weather isn’t on your side, the nearby Summit Complex – a former Victorian golf resort – offers the same seascapes, but from the comfort of a warm and welcoming restaurant.
Photo: Visit Conwy / Hollie Harmsworth
Surprise View Car Park, Derbyshire, England
Now managed by the National Park Authority, this popular vantage point was unwittingly named by Queen Victoria when she commented on the wonderful view from her carriage window as she passed by here during a visit to Sheffield in 1897. This spectacular viewpoint above the pretty village ofHathersage is one of the Peak District’s finest, and a great spot to sit and watch the sunset. After dusk, Surprise View is also popular with stargazers and is recognised as one of the UK’s official ‘Dark Skies’ sites. In the daytime, the car park teems with walkers, as it serves as a convenient setting-off point for numerous hiking trails that explore the nearby moors and gritstone escarpments.