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Getting around in the country without a car

I'm in the very early planning stage of a trip for myself and my husband to the UK, possibly sometime in the next year. Neither of us is interested in spending any more time in London than absolutely necessary for flying in and out. We're primarily interested in countryside and historical sites. I'd love to spend time exploring the Cotswolds and the national parks in Yorkshire and I'm wondering if that's possible to do without a car? I know that trains are recommended for travel between major cities, but I'm talking about the smaller, somewhat out-of-the-way areas, like travel between villages in the Cotswolds, and getting to the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors from York. Are there trains that serve the out-of-the-way places like that? (I'm afraid we're both very ignorant about trains, being California born and raised.) Neither of us wants to drive in the UK. I thought about taking a tour so we wouldn't have to worry about arranging transportation, but every tour I can find, including the Rick Steves tours, sound a lot faster paced than I would like, and don't spend enough time in places I want to see. We also don't want to go during the peak summer months. So what kind of options would we have for transportation? Would we need to rely primarily on taxis? And would that get too expensive to be practical? I know there's still a lot I don't know and haven't taken into consideration, so any helpful tips would be appreciated!

Posted by
2 posts

I am searching for the same recommendation however I'll be traveling by myself. I want to be in the Cotswolds but able to travel from town to town without a car. Also, I have done the small tour buses before. Although they are convenient, you are right: They go much too quickly through the towns to be able to see anything.

Posted by
226 posts

I believe you can train to Moreton-in-Marsh from Oxford. There are buses between many of the Cotswolds villages, though I do not know the schedules or how COVID has affected things.

Consider hiking and cycling tours and rentals. There are many lovely walks and hikes between points of interest and many of the villages are only 4 or 5 miles distance.

Posted by
8525 posts

I have found that buses usually go where trains do not. Have you included looking at bus transportation as you searched?

Posted by
27352 posts

There are one-day tours of the Cotswolds departing from both Bath (Mad Max and Secret Cottage, I think) and the Moreton-in-Marsh train station (Go Cotswolds). Moreton-in-Marsh is a short train trip from Oxford. Moreton is also a sort of bus hub for the Cotswolds. I think it would work to take one of the bus tours to knock off several of the little towns in one go, then position yourself in Moreton for some slower explorations. If you're thinking of doing some town-to-town walking, if may not be such a big issue that buses are infrequent and a lot of the villages/towns are so small that not much time is needed to see them. It can be frustrating to look at a bus schedule and see that you'll be stuck in a minute town for something like 4 hours.

Distances between some of the Cotswold towns are so short that it might not be horribly expensive to use an occasional taxi.

As a general rule you can get to most towns and even villages by bus if not by train; what you often cannot do is string together multiple little places on the same day. Two small towns, maybe. Bagging three on a single day is like winning the trifecta at the racetrack.

I'm always nervous about recommending the Rome2Rio website, because I've seen so much inaccurate information there, even pre-COVID. You really cannot trust the fares, travel times or frequencies you see on Rome2Rio. However, it is a useful first stop when you're trying to figure out what sort of public transportation might be available between two points. I've found it usually provides correct information about how close you can by train and where transfers might be needed. To make Rome2Rio work your you, you need to keep clicking through the website until you find the name of the bus company serving the route you're interested in, then go straight to that company's website for accurate schedule information. Rome2Rio usually provides a clickable link.

Posted by
3 posts

Thank you all for your replies. I'd like to do some sort of walking tour of the Cotswolds, but I'm not able to walk long distances at a time. 4 or 5 miles is probably too far for me, or would take me most of a day, so I'm pretty sure town-to-town traveling would require some kind of wheels. Like I said, I'm only at the beginning of my planning. I don't do much (any) traveling, so my searching so far has been haphazard and mostly figuring out WHAT I need to search for first. And trying to decide if I should plan an itinerary first, and then figure out transportation, or if I should figure out where I can get to, and build an itinerary around that (I've been going back and forth on that so I haven't done much of either.) I had a vague idea there must be buses, but I'm not used to thinking in terms of public transportation. So puzzling out all those schedules and routes is something I still have to do. I'm hoping that by next spring or fall things will be a little more back to normal.

Those websites for the Dales and NYM are helpful, looks like that will be easy enough, thank you!

Those are some really helpful suggestions, acraven, thank you! I want to see Bath too, so maybe a one day tour from Bath, then a more leisurely stay in a B&B somewhere in the Cotswolds would be the thing to do.

Posted by
1428 posts

You might want to look into HF Holidays. They provide guided and self-guided walking tours throughout England, Scotland and beyond. They have country houses in Bourton-on-the-Water and Whitby (among others). Whether guided or self-guided they give you a range of walks from easy to difficult. If guided they provide transportation to the start and end points. If self-guided they give you a map and instruction on how to travel by public transit. The country house arrangement has the advantage of not packing and unpacking every couple of days while having the opportunity to see different areas. The only drawback is that you take all of your meals at the house. The food is quite good nonetheless. They also arrange a central pick up and drop off for the arrival and departure dates.

Posted by
33128 posts

there are, granted, a few buses in the Cotwolds. But buses are privatized and have to make a profit, so are productive when lots of people are going to work or school, and in cities and towns. Generally they are much less productive carrying a few villagers to another village. Some of the town to town buses, like the bus between Cheltenham and Stow-on-the-Wold, will go through or near a few villages, but mostly village buses are fewer than daily, many are only one morning trip from the villages to the market town on market day, and one trip taking them home in the afternoon, only once a week.

The Cotswolds unfortunately, or fortunately, is best in a car, on foot, or if you like hills, on a bike.

Posted by
15559 posts

I have explored all over the UK and never rented a car. To get to places it's mostly train but sometimes buses. At most locations that get tourists, you will find tour companies offering day tours.

Two companies I can recommend are Rabbies and Mad Max. I've also taken a tour in the Lake District with Mountain Goat tours but the guide wasn't as good as the ones with the other two companies.

Quite often the buses you take are local buses with a mixture of local and tourists. But for longer distance rides look into National Express.

Posted by
1302 posts

While the Settle-Carlisle line (accessed from Leeds, itself having good rail, road and even air links) will give you a good oversight of the Dales, beware if visiting the village of Dent (and it is worth a visit, although tiny, as is the surrounding area), as it is four and a bit miles away from the station. There is only a twice weekly bus at the best of times, so access to the village is via a taxi (nearest services nine miles away in Sedbergh - itself worth a visit) or on foot.

Reputedly, when a frustrated visitor asked a local why the station was so far from the village he received the laconic reply “‘Appen they wanted it near t’railway”.

It’s not the only village distant from its station - Clapham is similarly removed, perhaps even further distant.

In similar vein, attack the North Yorks Moors Railway from the northern end at Whitby as Pickering at the southern end is not as well served, if at all, as the Whitby end by public transport.

If in pursuit of the Brontes, the Keighley and Worth Valley railway runs (infrequently, as its run by volunteers) from within Keighley station - links from Leeds and Bradford. The station at Haworth is at the bottom of the village and all things Bronte are at the top, reached only by a stiff climb up the cobbled Main Street. Of course retracing one’s steps is necessary to return - “what goes up…”

Feel free to PM me if you need further information regarding the Yorkshire/Northern end of your trip, or if you think I might be able to help. I’m sure you’ll be able to arrange a great trip.


Posted by
3811 posts

You wrote:
"I'm only at the beginning of my planning. I don't do much (any) traveling, so my searching so far has been haphazard and mostly figuring out WHAT I need to search for first. And trying to decide if I should plan an itinerary first, and then figure out transportation, or if I should figure out where I can get to, and build an itinerary around that (I've been going back and forth on that so I haven't done much of either.) I had a vague idea there must be buses, but I'm not used to thinking in terms of public transportation. So puzzling out all those schedules and routes is something I still have to do."

Based on what you've said, and the places you'd like to see, plus your concerns about transportation, I suggest as an option Rick Steves' Best of England tour. Your transportation is included, therefore you will do fine without a car.
This tour goes to Bath, the Cotswolds, Wales, The Lake District, Hadrian's Wall across the north of England, and through the Yorkshire countryside arriving at York.
We went on this tour two years ago, and enjoyed every minute of it. It is a fabulous tour.
You can take a look at the complete itinerary at that link.

You said "I want to see Bath, too."
This tour begins with several days in Bath.
Bath was one of our favorite places on the tour. We took the bus from Heathrow airport directly to Bath. Easy. And then walked to our tour hotel and checked in.

We saw lots of countryside on this tour, and had a great stay in the Cotswolds for a couple of days.
Wales was wonderful, with castles and the lovely medieval towns of Conwy and Caernarfon. The Lake District was fabulous, with breathtaking scenery.
Near the end of the tour, you will take the train from York to London. Your guide will be with you every step of the way, making sure everyone gets on the train, and a bus picks you up at the train station in London. The tour stays 2 days in London, then your guide will help you with advice about your transportation to the airport.

You can add days on your own before or after the tour.
We arrived in Bath two days before the tour started and took a walking tour and went to see the Abbey. We enjoyed the restaurants and shops there. We stayed two nights after the tour in Windsor and toured Windsor Castle.
I really think this may be a good option for you, since you said you don't do much traveling.
This will save you from all the research and planning, worrying over transportation, and give you a very good itinerary that I think you'll enjoy.

Posted by
33128 posts

Given your needs, I think that Rebecca has hit the nail on the head. If you think it might work for you it sounds like a perfect answer....

Posted by
7822 posts

We have been to the places you indicated you wanted to visit.
I strongly recommend renting a car. British drivers are polite and not aggressive. Driving on the left is not so bad when you have someone in the car to help with navigation and remind you to STAY ON THE LEFT>

I can't imagine doing the Cotswolds and Yorkshire moors or dales without a car. Tours are available, but not sure how good they are.

We stayed in Chipping Campden for six nights and used it as a base to visit Oxford, Blenheim Palace, Stratford Upon Avon and the Cotswolds.

Here is my review of our four week drive tour of S. Wales and England.
28 days in Britain and Celebrity Eclipse home

Posted by
3 posts

Regarding the tours: To clarify what I said in my original post, I've already looked into and considered guided tours, and discarded the idea, for the reason I stated: they're too fast-paced for what we want, and also personal reasons that I don't want to go into here. A multi-day guided tour is just not a fit for us. Yes, there are positives to them, but they don't outweigh the negatives for us. I don't mind doing the planning myself; I just need information which is why I'm here, and why I'm starting the planning early.

We may end up renting a car after all, at least for the Cotswolds portion and maybe in the north. Since we've talked about this off and on for years, I had mis-remembered what my husband had said, and he's actually willing to try driving in the country; he just doesn't want to drive in any big cities, which wouldn't be needed anyway. We'll probably still use public transportation for most of the trip, but get a car for the harder to reach places so we have more independence. So thank you all for your replies, but I think I've got the info I need for now.

Posted by
2733 posts

My husband and I visited northern England in 2017. We visited Edinburgh, Durham, Whitby, Helmsley, Grassington, Haltwhistle (Hadrian's Wall), and Keswick in the Lake District. We did the entire trip with trains and buses. The buses were great -- on time, frequent and clean with friendly bus drivers. You can pay cash when you get on -- no need to buy a ticket ahead of time. We had to make a few connections to get places, but that was not a problem since they were all on time. It does require some planning. I made a list of places I was interested in, then looked on Rome to Rio just to get an idea if public transportation was feasible. Then I went to the individual bus companies to get their actual schedules.

We enjoyed the buses very much -- it gave us a chance to see how the locals live. One of our buses transported kids home from school, which was fun.

My only caution is that I don't know if schedules have changed since the pandemic. But that's easy enough to figure out online.

We've also rented a car in England. My husband did not find it difficult to drive on the other side of the road. But he is easily stressed out when driving -- in cities, of course, but also in small towns. The roads can be narrow and winding. The major highways are no problem, but if you want to travel in the countryside, you might find that nerve wracking. For instance, my husband hated driving in the Cotswolds due to the very narrow, hilly and winding lanes. It all depends on what kind of driving you enjoy and what stresses you out.

Whatever you decide, I hope you have a great trip!

Posted by
3811 posts

"We may end up renting a car after all, at least for the Cotswolds portion and maybe in the north. Since we've talked about this off and on for years, I had mis-remembered what my husband had said, and he's actually willing to try driving in the country; he just doesn't want to drive in any big cities."

That's great news! You will enjoy the Cotswolds (and other places) a lot more, being able to stop and stay awhile in places that look interesting to you.

About the tours.....I hear what you are saying! It's nice to travel at your own pace.
Enjoy your trip.

Posted by
163 posts

Yes, I think a car would help in the Cotswolds. We've done several trips to England, 3 in the past 10 years, and we have NOT rented a car, but it's hard to get to small villages without one. We based in Bath for a few days on one trip and took at Mad Max tour that went to Stonehenge and Laycock. It was pretty good. We did some places by bus in the Cotswolds and Cornwall and Yorkshire, and Dorset, but it was quite time consuming. But it can be done. Have a great trip!

Posted by
1194 posts

Hi from Wisconsin,
Don't be a rube like me. I was hoping to rent a car outside of London. Somehow I got the idea that there was one train a day from London to Bristol. Makes sense if you are from the USA. My goodness, what is it a train every 40 minutes?

Don't fall into my thinking of one a day.

Many people hesitate to rent a car over seas. If you rent in a rural area driving is pretty simple especially with a helpful copilot. It gives you so much freedom to hop from one spot to another. You can time your arrival and departure. And you get to enjoy the countryside. It doesn't take too many train and bus tickets to sum to more than a normally priced car rental. I say 'normally priced'. Car rentals are currently bizarrely expensive.

wayne iNWI

Posted by
27352 posts

With regard to the pricing of rail tickets: Train travel in the UK can be very, very expensive per mile if you simply wander into a train station on the day of travel and buy a ticket. If you're in a position to buy an "Advance" ticket very early, thereby committing yourself to taking a specific train on a specific day, there can be huge savings. I realize that in COVID times, it's not so comfortable to tie yourself down in terms of timing.

Posted by
169 posts

Anyone considering train travel in the UK, a costly choice, uses sites like The Trainline, to preplan and prepay tickets. The tickets are printed out of a regular ticket machine at the station you are leaving from (under the prepaid tickets button) for you to pull out and use the day of travel. Take all the little ticket cards, one is a receipt they may ask for. You must enter the code to get that ticket out. You can write it in your diary or on a post it note. I usually keep my pre-booking email confirmations on my laptop and assume others use their phones. By prepaying for your tickets you can save hundreds of pounds and plan your trip. Reading the Trainline website is an education in itself. No one shows up on the day of travel and buys a long distance or even local train ticket. It costs a fortune.
I have criss crossed the UK on many train routes from Devon to Scotland and enjoy it, but early bird gets the worm and saves a lot.
If you are staying in an AirBnB in any of these places, a wise choice, you may want to ask Mine Host if they know of a 'minicab' who will drive you around for a day or two, as opposed to an actual taxi. Reliable locals will need to make some money post Covid. Minicabs are legal and not so mini, but are cheaper than per mile taxis.
And if you find one, take any local historic train run by volunteers. They are passionate people, and their trains are classics.
By the way, if you are changing train stations in London, after Heathrow Express for instance, consider a black taxi for a short trip and ask the driver some open ended questions. Some of my best 'chats' have been in London cabs, and they deserve a big tip. During the recession and Covid many went bankrupt. It takes years and costs another fortune to learn The Knowledge to licence and drive a cab in London. They are honest, blunt and kind. And the London taxi is a world of its own. I overtip them on principle.

Posted by
5360 posts

I overtip them on principle.

Which in turn results in many of them being quite shirty when I don't tip on what is already a very expensive ride and the driver has done nothing to warrant a tip. This isn't the US, please don't introduce customs that don't exist here and serve only to create a sense of expectation and resultant bad attitude when locals don't follow.

Posted by
247 posts

I have been using the website and it has been very helpful in finding bus routes around Europe. They don’t always display all the options but it’s a good aggregator that links you to the native site to book. I have also found to be far more accurate than rome2rio but again, omio does miss routes. I would say to plan your trip, first pick all the places you do want to see and then look up a route to get there and have an open mind about dropping a destination or two due to inconvenient travel. Often when planning my trips I will just type “how to get from A to B” into google and someone, somewhere wrote a blog post about it and has the info I need. Also, if you have specific addresses (such as your hotel or tourist information) you can type it into google maps and see if there are public transportation options.

Posted by
8811 posts

Another CA native here. Born in Redlands, raised in NorCal and presently live in the Land of La aka City of Angels. If you can negotiate, Market Street, Hyde or Fibert in SF….no worries in the Cotswolds which have rolling hills not steep ones.

As others have noted unless you do your homework and research train travel can be expensive.

I’ve rented a car and driven around the UK solo in my 20’s and recently in my 60’s. Have never understood why US drivers are so freaked out about driving on the opposite of the road. It’s merely an adaptable mindset.

By choice I’ve driven in the UK a number of times and will do the same next trip as I hope to visit Scotland.

On my 2016 trip, landed at Heathrow mid day, picked up rental and drove to Lyme Regis. Uneventful journey which I’d mapped out by looking at Google Maps street view. Did not pay extra to have GPS in the rental. Had a good ole paper map if I needed it. Didn’t use it.

After my Lyme Regis stay visited the Cotswolds by car. Had an AirBnB in Winchcombe.

Train travel is nice but can be very time consuming.

Loved my train trip from London to Durham but personally I prefer the freedom having an automobile provides.

Research. Use Google Street maps Birdseye view to plot routes if you do decide to get a rental car.

Enjoy your visit.