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England Outside of London

Next September we plan to be in England for a week before going to London. We will be coming from Edinburgh most likely, though it could be Glasgow, depending on how our agenda in Scotland works out. We are two couples. Hubby and I have been to the Cotswolds, so I was wondering if there is another area that would give our friends a similar experience, but would be a new place to us. Liverpool has also been discussed because we are all big Beatles fans. I’m open to other suggestions as well. In a perfect world it would be nice to not have to drive, but I will if it will enhance the trip. We like nice scenery and old towns/villages. Thanks for any suggestions.

Posted by
4908 posts

Not sure what "a similar experience" means -- hills and charming villages? -- but how about the Hadrian's Wall area in Cumbria and Nurthumbria? There should be good train service to Carlisle or Newcastle, and there's a seasonal bus that runs more or less parallel to the wall so you can explore without a car. This may give you an idea of the possibilities. Also good rail service to London.

Yorkshire and the Lake District also come to mind. Lots of good walking and interesting towns to explore, but you might find that a car helps.

Posted by
2791 posts

To comment on the Hadrian's Wall idea, here's the Hadrian's Wall Bus:
https://hadrianswallcountry.co.uk/travel/bus
The train line on the West Coast will come down from Scotland into England, and pass through Carlisle, which you will see on the map (on the bus page) is at the westernmost point of the Hadrian's Wall bus route.

Agree with Frank about the Lake District.
We stayed in Keswick and loved it.
Lovely small town, with B&B's and small hotels.
Hikes by the lake, and for the sure-footed, up into the hills for fabulous views all around over the lakes.
Can be reached from Scotland by West Coast train line, which stops at Penrith (England) station, then take the bus from the train station to Keswick.
The Lake District has a good network of buses for getting around.

Here's a recent thread with good information on the Lake District:
https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/england/the-lake-country

Posted by
8434 posts

Thanks for the suggestions. The Lake District sounds promising. It looks like a car would be helpful there. I’ve driven in London and England before, but it’s been awhile. We will be start this trip in Ireland for 2 weeks and I will be driving there, then 2 weeks in Scotland that will involve a car for part of it. By the time we get to England I’ll be more used to driving I suppose. I will definitely want an automatic since I’m not used to shifting with my left hand and want to concentrate on staying on the correct side of the road. Does anyone know where I could rent that I would have the best chance of assuring I would be able to get an automatic? Is there a financial penalty for renting a car in Scotland and returning it in England? I’m happy to hear other suggestions of places to go as well.

Posted by
10308 posts

There are small tour companies that will take you around the Lake District in 16 passenger vans.

How about this three day tour of the Lake District with Rabbies? ( An excellent company)

https://www.rabbies.com/en/england-tours/from-edinburgh/3-5-day-tours/the-lake-district-3-day-tour

It begins and ends in Edinburgh. However, the return drive passes near Penrith. See if they will drop you at the train station there where you can get a train to London.

Posted by
777 posts

Hi Andrea -

Frank is dead right. The Lake District will tick all your boxes. It’s not ‘like’ the Cotswolds, being much hillier and rugged, but also has plenty of the ‘pastoral charm’ that you found in the Cotswolds. Whisper it, but in my view it far surpasses the Cotswolds, but I would admit to a northern bias. You’ll probably need a car to see it best.

While you are in the area there are the less busy Howgill Fells and a little further southeast you’ll enter the huge Yorkshire Dales which will also give you plenty of what you seek. I’d concentrate on the area of the ‘Yorkshire Three Peaks’.

If you are planning on visiting Liverpool, the Lakes will be the most convenient. If coming from Edinburgh, a visit to Hadrian’s Wall is a good idea. Drop down towards Newcastle on Tyne and follow the roads west to Carlisle alongside the wall (take the A69 to Heddon-on-the-Wall and then the B6318, also known as the Military Road which runs almost parallel to the wall- those Roman engineers knew what they were about!). It’s at its most complete and breathtaking (in all senses of the word) between Housesteads fort and Greenhead. There’s a car park at Steel Rigg up from the Twice Brewed pub which allows you to walk either east or west and see the best of it. From the wall head west to either Carlisle or Penrith to either join or cross the M6 and thus onwards to Keswick into the heart of the Lakes.

Hope you have a great trip!

Ian

Posted by
5022 posts

We love the British countryside outside of London.

We did the Cotswolds as well as nearby Stratford Upon Avon, Blenheim Palace and Oxford.
Also, Yorkshire, Durham, Hadrian's Wall, the Lake District, Warwick, Winchester, Cambridge, Windsor Castle, South Wales (Tenby, Pembroke and Cardiff).

We visited Liverpool and weren't that impressed.

Posted by
3477 posts

I’ll second the Lake District. If you decide on it, consider visiting the Castlerigg Stone Circle. If you like gingerbread, then there’s the Grasmere gingerbread shop and for sticky toffee pudding there’s the Cartmel Village Shop. When we were in that area we enjoyed Keswick and Lake Derwentwater.

If you visit Uppingham as Jennifer mentioned, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Falcon Hotel right on the main square.

The best place to get an automatic would be at a large facility, like an airport, AND reserving ahead of time.

Posted by
5048 posts

The area that is closest in character to the Cotswolds is Rutland - pretty chocolate box stone cottages surrounded by three fantastic towns - Stamford (where Middlemarch was filmed), Oakham and Uppingham. The main difference with the Cotswolds is that the villages are proper places, inhabited by full time residents, not second homes and Airbnb rentals. You can take boat trips on Rutland Water.

The closest major rail station is Peterborough and it’s then 10 minutes back to Stamford on a local train. It’s about 4 hours from Edinburgh. The stately home Burghley lies to the south of Stamford.

The Lake District is rugged and can get overrun with tourists and the roads get clogged with traffic. The last time I went to Grasmere in September, there were so many people that you had to walk in the road as the pavements were full and you couldn’t get into the full cafes and restaurants. I prefer places less busy. It’s a good location if you want long hill walks. It also rains there. A lot! The Ratty Railway is good fun. I prefer Eskdale and the western side, but you need a car for this area. The only rail station is in Kendal. I was there in June and it has suffered badly from business closures since Covid and felt a bit run down.

Posted by
26448 posts

Jennifer and I are on the same page with Rutland. I'd expand that to lots of adjacent and nearly adjacent Northamptonshire and adjacent Lincolnshire. It is seriously beautiful around here in Northamptonshire and Rutland, as well as rural Cambridgeshire. Whereas the Cotswold villages are built of honey coloured stone, in this other part the predominant building stone is Ironstone (what it says on the tin, contains iron); east of here in the Fens it changes to flint-stone.

Of course given my background I'd suggest sticking with the Cotswolds, but you've been there.

The Lake District and the Dales are incredible, very busy but incredible. It is also possible to get off the beaten path and see many fewer.

One caution about the Lake District and the Dales, the lanes are often very narrow and I have experienced very very steep. Perfectly manageable with 2 wheel drive like my Civic with its little 1600cc diesel engine with me behind the wheel so most can manage, but well worth knowing what you would be getting into.

National Trust membership is very valuable in the Lake District because almost all the car parks are National Trust with a charge but free to members.

Posted by
11275 posts

"Does anyone know where I could rent that I would have the best chance of assuring I would be able to get an automatic?"

Anywhere North Americans rent lots of cars - they're the ones who want and need automatics (people from continental Europe, as well as those from the UK and Ireland, drive manuals). That means major airports and train stations (Glasgow, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Manchester, etc).

If you want more information about my fantastic visit in 2016 to Glasgow and Liverpool, here's my trip report. I also saw Manchester and Chester on that trip, if you will be seeing those as well.

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/uk-trip-report-glasgow-manchester-liverpool-in-september-2016

Posted by
8434 posts

Many thanks to everyone for their advice and information. We met with our friends last night who we will be traveling with for 6 weeks. They left our itinerary (and planning) up to me. When they expressed the desire to go to the Cotswolds, how can I say no? I don’t mind, because we had a wonderful time there when we went in 2014. We will take the train from Edinburgh to Liverpool and after 2 nights there we’ll pick up a car for the Cotswolds. When we leave there we will drive to Bath, drop the car and spend 2 nights before taking the train to London.

Harold, thank you for sharing your trip report. It is a wealth of information.

Posted by
16 posts

I think of the Chilterns for countryside which is served by public transport. https://www.chilternsaonb.org/

Rail and buses serve many parts as some are towns for London commuters.

There are villages. Many town/villages have good museums, like River and Rowing Museum in Henley-on-Thames, Roald Dahl Museum

You don't have to drive to visit these places.

Posted by
2037 posts

Please remember how rental cars work. You can't reserve a specific vehicle, you rent something in a class of vehicles. And even if you make everyone you talk to pinky-swear up and down that you will get an automatic, guess what - when you get to your rental lot, you will have to choose from whatever cars are sitting there in your rental class. And if there are none, you get to negotiate either up or down in size, but again there is never, ever a guarantee that you will get an automatic. Just so you know.

Posted by
2642 posts

We have never ever had trouble getting an automatic, we always get what we reserve.

Posted by
8434 posts

I’ve rented automatics twice, in Dublin and London at the airport upon arrival. I had no problem getting one. At Heathrow the car agent generously offered to upgrade us. Thankfully I asked if there would be an additional cost. Of course there was, so we kept what we originally had. If we do extend our time and want a car we will get it at Heathrow so we don’t have to worry about an automatic being available.

Posted by
4454 posts

I've never experienced a problem with renting an automatic, I do it pretty much every time I drive abroad and I've never not received one. Whilst there's no guarantee about the specific vehicle (Hertz, Avis and others allow reservation of particular models but they tend to be expensive) if you've selected an automatic then, in my experience, you will receive an automatic even if that means a complimentary upgrade because there are no cars available in the category you booked.