Active couple in our sixties looking for recommendations for a good home base town for a couple of weeks of self guided walking through countryside and villages, without a car. The less touristy the better. Thanks!
The first thing that comes to my mind are the Cotswolds. You can take a direct 1h 30m train to Moreton-in-Marsh from London and use that has your home base. One day you can walk to Stow-on-the-Wold (1h 45m), another day Chipping Campden to (2h 15) and other places nearby. To learn more, order RSs Best of England guidebook.
You may want to check out the Lakes District too.
You might take a look at the walking holidays in the UK offered by HF Holidays. They offer guided or self-guided walking holidays based in the country houses they own )or lease) across the UK. Not that you would want to base with them (I believe you are looking for self-catering), but you can read about the various areas and the hiking opportunities offered at each (go to the detailed brochure on each house).
Cotswolds and Lake District would probably be the most “touristy”. Maybe take a look at the options in the North York Moors, Northumberland, Peak District, Yorkshire Dales, Exmoor, Brecon Beacons, Scotland, and others. Many of the walks link villages. We have been on walking holidays with them in the Lake District, Shropshire Hills, and Devon coast, and all were good.
I would want to visit a different area each week rather than staying in one place for several weeks, but that’s just me.
We used to holiday in Settle in the Yorkshire Dales. We used the car to get there, but once there, never needed the car. We either walked directly from the s/c property or used teh bus to go to Clapham, Ingleton, Skipton or Malham and then walked from there.
The Cotswolds have more tourists than residents, so wouldn’t fit the bill. If you don’t want tourists, also avoid the Lake District.
There are many areas to consider. What kind of walking do you want? For hills, you could consider the Pennines around Saddleworth and Holmfirth (where Last of the Summer Wine was filmed). Easily accessible by train from Manchester and its airport with a direct train line to York in the opposite direction, ideal for day trips.
For chocolate box pretty villages but flatter countryside, Rutland Water and the towns of Stamford, Oakham and Uppingham.
For something nearer the coast, Warkworth in Northumberland. A stunning coastline and a pretty village with its own castle. There are many more castles along the coastline here.
For the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Gargrave or Settle. Walking is good in the Peak District around Edale.
In Kent, the villages around Wye and Chilham, with potential day trips including Canterbury and Dover.
In Wales, the coastal path around St David’s is as stunning as anything in the U.K.
I agree with Jennifer's advice. We stayed in Barnstable on Rutland Water by renting a timeshare for 6 days min. above an old Mews of an old Manor; it had been renovated into a modern flat complete with washer/dryer. This was in a private location but was on the grounds of a resort hotel with a spa and indoor swimming pool. It was near Oakham. If you like birding, this is the place. Check out Burghley House and Park. Just looked at map of area and they show many cross county footpaths. Buses can bring you back, and trains for longer trips are available near larger towns. I checked availability and Covid Rules still apply and no bookings were open now. Check www.nationaltrust.org.uk for nearby places nearby to visit. They also have accommodations by the week, but you really have to book these in advance. When the pandemic allows there will be plenty of B & Bs available. The Midlands has more of the Ye Olde England feeling with a plentitude of villages and historic sites. We did enjoy staying in different places just so you didn't have to backtrack all the time. You can always do short term car rental for a scenic drive.
Thanks so much to all for such great ideas! We are taking lots of notes and studying the map!
I can definitely put in another vote for Northumberland - few tourists and miles of breathtaking scenery! We had a car-free vacation there in late May a few years ago. We stayed part of the time in Haltwhistle doing walks along Hadrian's Wall and the Roman sites (thanks to the very handy AD122 bus service) and then moved closer to the coast to enjoy the magnificent scenery around Bamburgh/Seahouses/Warkworth/Dunstanburgh/Alnwick - all non-walking transport done by bus. There were good "rover" passes available that allowed unlimited bus travel and although we had to plan carefully according to the timetables, we never had any problems getting around. Spectacular coastline and lots of castles to visit, as well as Holy Island/Lindisfarne Abbey.
For something closer to London airports, the South Downs Way (Winchester to Eastbourne) is also worth a look. There are some nice towns like Lewes, Arundel, Amberley, or Pulborough that have good transport connections, even direct trains from Gatwick. Smaller villages can be trickier by bus, but if you do some research, you can figure out what would be doable for you. The UK National Trails website has a lot of info about lodging etc for each trail section. Although the South Downs way, especially between Brighton and Eastbourne, is well-visited, there are plenty of quieter parts and to me it doesn't feel as touristy as the Cotswolds (although undeniably pretty!) can.
Many thanks for such great detailed info, very helpful and I'm going to look into all those ideas!