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North of England versus West Country

I'm a Canadian planning to take my mom on a week-long trip to England in May 2020.

We don't have any specific places we need to go or people we need to visit. We just want to explore.

I've been to London several times already, and I love it, but for this upcoming trip, I'd prefer to be out in the country enjoying natural beauty, villages, farms, ruins and so on. I envision us having a base somewhere and doing road trips every day within a region.

Oxford is the only other place in England that I've visited.

I've had two ideas for the trip, in terms of what part of England to explore in the short time we'll have:

(a) Yorkshire Dales / Lake District / Forest of Bowland
(b) Dorset / Devon / New Forest

I know that these are large areas, and you could spend months exploring either one, but we really are limited to one week. We'll just have to scratch the surface and be happy with that.

We'll have a rental car. As mentioned above, I'm thinking that we'll do a road trip each day, stop somewhere interesting for lunch, visit a market or a bookstore, do one or two short and easy hikes, have a pint, then head back to our base, wherever that is. (I say "short and easy hikes" because my mom is in her late 60s and doesn't have the energy, the inclination or the joints for demanding all-day treks across the moors.)

Does one of these areas seem like a better choice for us, in light of what I've said?

Are there any clear and important differences between them, in terms of the travel experience, that could help us decide?

Does the timing (May) make any difference, in terms of weather, crowds, etc?

Is there some other part of England that you think would be better for the kind of travel experience that we're after? Any area more suitable somehow for a short trip? Cornwall? Gloucestershire?

Any thoughts appreciated.

Posted by
33339 posts

Will you be there during either of the May Bank Holidays (one at the start of the month, one at the end)? If you are it will make a huge difference.

Posted by
3 posts

We’re looking at May 16-23, which I think is in between the two bank holidays.

Posted by
422 posts

I have travelled to England many times and for the last 10 years I've gone during May. During those 10 years, for 3 straight years I spent a week in Yorkshire. In recent years I've focused instead on Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Dorset, and the far east end of Devon. My experience has been that in early-mid May the southern counties of England can be a bit warmer than Yorkshire. I experienced high of low 50s fahrenheit on some May days in Yorkshire. I don't know if temperatures are a factor in your decision.

In addition to the two bank holidays in May, there is also the "half-term" holiday week, which is similar to spring break in the US. There would likely be more English drivers on the road in the southern counties then. Just now I googled UK School Holidays and found the following: May half-term holidays May 25-29.

Posted by
7906 posts

The Lake District is very scenic, but we found that it largely attracts hikers for outdoor activities. We loved York and the Yorkshire Moors. Drove from Pickering over the moors to Whitby, which was a nice drive.
Also, we enjoyed Durham and seeing Hadrian's Wall near Haltwhistle.

New Forest was interesting, but seemed to be the most overrun with tourists of anywhere we traveled in England. We could never find a place to park.

Posted by
5428 posts

I would opt for the South. In May it'll be warmer but also the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District are great for serious walkers but may not be so suitable for your mum. The New Forest is fantastic, I used to hold a stall at a monthly market near the Wiltshire border and never found it overrun with tourists at any time of the year. Traffic can be busy in the towns such as Lymington and Lyndhurst and obviously wildlife walking in the road slows things down considerably but it's such a big area that you can easily avoid any crowds. Alternatively you can take the tourist bus which negates the need to find parking.

Dorset and Devon are two gorgeous counties and whose coastlines are their crowning glory. Plenty of opportunity for easy walks and a large choice of cottages to rent (which would be my choice over a hotel or B&B).

Posted by
1470 posts

May weather is very unpredictable in England...so just be prepared for whatever. Unless your Mom has physical disabilities; most people in their 60s don't think of themselves as elderly. She can start walking more, and going to something like Yoga to get ready for the trip. Here are some sites that you both might like: www.nationaltrust.org.uk they have Overseas Visitor Touring Passes that you can order online and www.treasurehouses.co.uk which have 2 for one vouchers. You can plan your travel direction with the info gained from reading these sites. There are other passes available, but I enjoyed using these. I actually found the Midlands to have a lot going for it. I especially enjoyed Chatsworth which is near the Peak District. Bon Voyage!

Posted by
6113 posts

I would opt for Whitby/Yorkshire Dales/North York Moors rather than the Lake District or your option (b). This is a more compact area, as to see much if Devon, Dorset and the New Forest means you would spend more than half your time in the car. There can be a lot of traffic at weekends in the New Forest, but it’s big enough to escape the crowds. I know someone who lives there who says that the traffic is unbearable in August.

Other options include north Norfolk, with some great beach walks, boat trips out to the seals and some pretty villages; Northumberland with some stunning beaches and several castles plus Holy Island; or Rutland with the pretty market towns of Oakham, Uppingham and nearby Stamford and a boat trip on Rutland Water.

Posted by
1319 posts

Hi -

I am, of course, honour bound to believe that my home turf of the Yorkshire Dales is more than worthy of exploration. And I have a deep love of the Lake District born in my youth from expeditions there with the Boy Scouts, which has not lessened with the passage of time, so would heartily recommend there too. I would add the proviso that both areas are really places that reward exploration on foot. Others have mentioned that they believe the Lakes are busy and overrated and that would be true if you never ventured into the hills, off the well beaten track and away from the crowds.

The Forest and Trough of Bowland is little explored even by natives like myself, probably because there are greater attractions in the adjacent Dales and Lakes. I believe it’s tracks are rough and little explored but it would be worth a couple of days driving through the area - it is off the beaten track for most.

If you decide to come north and would like further info, please don’t hesitate to contact me if you think I may be of help.

Wherever you decide to go, have a great trip.

Ian