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West Coast of England/Wales/Cornwall Advice

I am traveling with my senior citizen mother this summer (June/July) and she really wants to see Wales and other parts of the west coast of England and Scotland. We are traveling mid-June through July 7. We both enjoy quaint villages, good food and wine (who doesn't?!), historical places, nature, etc. I anticipate most of our travel will be by train but we may rent a car for a short time and we can use bus transportation as well. Any recommendations for places, etc. that you consider "must see" or "be sure to do?" Your input is much appreciated!

Posted by
2939 posts

As your priorities include quaint villages and nature, you'd really be better off renting a car. The area you want to visit is not very well served by trains, at least not without quite a lot of backtracking. In other words, there isn't a train line running conveniently from Cornwall to the Welsh coast to the northern English coast and western Scotland, stopping in quaint villages. You can see a fairly recent (2020) rail map here https://transitmap.net/national-rail-andrew-smithers/#jp-carousel-11756

There are bus routes in many areas not served by rail, but bus schedules tend to cater to work commuters. As such, there may only be one or two buses a day going from a village to a larger town in the morning and the reverse in the evening, with few or no departures on weekends, especially Sundays.

On the plus side, though, you have about three weeks -- a reasonable amount of time for the trip you describe, especially if you can fly open jaw (arrive London, depart Glasgow or the other way around). For example, you could arrive in London and take a train to Exeter, spend your first night there and pick up a car in the morning. At the end of your trip, return your car at Glasgow airport the night before your flight and sleep in one of the airport hotels (the Holiday Inn is excellent, IMO; Holiday Inn Express also OK but not as nice).

Are there particular places your mother wants to be sure to see? I would start with those and plan around them, aiming to avoid one-night stays as much as possible.

Posted by
5533 posts

Sorry. Quaint villages and good public transport is an oxymoron.

Cornwall is going to be unpleasantly busy in June and July, particularly anywhere near the coast. What parts do you want to see?

Wales, history, nature and quaint - sounds like you need to go to St David’s, although it’s much easier by car than public transport. There are some good restaurants too. The Pembrokeshire coastal path is fantastic, easy walking with stunning scenery. Visit the cathedral. Take a bus trip to nearby picturesque Solva.

Drive up the coast to Snowdonia. Visit Chester en route to the Lake District. Drive over to York and return the car. Have a few nights here then take the train back to London.

Posted by
457 posts

As already mentioned, you do need to consider driving. if you want quaint villages. Many aren't on a railway line and bus services are sporadic.

Avoid the honey pot places and head for places like the north cost of Somerset and Devon. Think Dunster, Lynmouth/Lynton, Combe Martin...

The Welsh Borders are lovely, They tend not to feature on the usual tourist itinerary so is quieter and do have a lot of charming small towns and villages. Head up the Wye Valley (Tintern) and the Forest of Dean (Coleford, Cinderford), and then cut up through Herefordbefore heading to places like Leominster, Knighton, Ludlow, Clun, Bishops Castle and up to Shrewsbury. The names alone are wonderful.

Then head up to Scotland. Think about spending time in Northumberland on the way (Hexham or Haltwhistle for Hadrian's Wall, Alnwick, Rothbury, Warkworth, Bamnburgh, Wooler as well as a trip across the tidla causeway to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. That takes you into the Scottish Borders with places like Jedburgh, Melrose, to Edinburgh.

From there you might want to get into Fife, with placces like St Andres and the small fishing villages, Culross is described as a 'Royal Burgh' and is delightful. You can't get more quaint than that.

You will get plenty of nature and history and hopefully they should be quieter.

Posted by
5456 posts

We love SW England and Wales.

Recommend taking in Bath, then heading to Cardiff, on the way stop at Tintern Abbey and some of the many castles along the border. From Cardiff you can see a couple of great castles, then head to Tenby, on the south coast and St. David's were the SW tip of Wales juts into the sea.

Posted by
1887 posts

Avoid Coleford & Cinderford! I think you might be trying to cover too much territory.

Posted by
13 posts

Thank you, everyone! I appreciate your input. We may have to stick with train and bus travel, especially given the current situation between Russian and Ukraine. I fear it may negatively impact gas prices. Another concern is the availability/cost of car rental given the impact of Covid. Mom would like to make a base in SW England/Cornwall for about a week and a base or two somewhere in Wales. Preferably on or near the coast but not necessarily a requirement. We have both seen Bath, Salisbury, and she has been to Lynton and Lynmouth.

Posted by
21038 posts

I spent a night in Exeter because of difficulty getting lodging on short notice on the coast (this was pre-pandemic). I thought it was an attractive, real-world sort of place. I also liked Truro, where I stayed another night for the same reason.

Not a lot of coastal towns in Cornwall have rail service; you often need to take buses. Travel tends not to be rapid, so you really need to choose a base that works for the specific places you want to see. I ended up in Mevagissey on the E coast. It has only bus service, but it allowed me to get to The Eden Project and the Lost Gardens of Heligan.

Then I moved (by bus and then train) across Cornwall to the north coast and stayed for a few days in St. Ives, which does have a train station. St. Ives is attractive and especially touristy, but it has a branch of the Tate Museum, a history of ceramic production and a bunch of good-for-browsing shops with ceramics and art. Those attractions kept me busy, so I didn't need to make any daytrips while I was staying there--or more precisely, while I was staying one stop along the rail line away from St. Ives (Carbis Bay) for reasons of economy.

For Wales you'll first need to consider whether you want to explore part of the north or part of the south (or maybe even part of central Wales). I have seen a tiny bit of both but have never slept in Wales. I visited Cardiff (by train) while staying in Bristol, and I visited several small places in the north (by train and bus) while staying in Chester.

Posted by
5533 posts

Penzance isn’t a good base to explore much of Cornwall as it’s too far south.

I have stayed near Exmouth, but I had a car available so can’t comment on the practicalities of travelling by public transport. It’s a small seaside village. The local train line north follows the coast and is often in the news as it tends to get washed away during winter storms!

Exeter is a lovely city but it isn’t on the coast. It will have better train links as it’s a city. It maybe easier to find accommodation here rather than on the coast, as June/July will be very busy. Accommodation prices have rocketed in Devon and Cornwall since the start of the pandemic.

Posted by
21038 posts

Cornwall's definitely not a place to look for lodgings last-minute in the summer--though I suppose it will help some if you aren't limited to places with public transportation.

It's also a place where you really need to make a dinner reservation if you don't want to have to scrounge something from a food truck or supermarket. The tourist infrastructure has not kept up with the demand; it's not just high-end places that are full every night. I gather we can blame Poldark and Doc Martin.

Posted by
11 posts

You might consider Conwy in Northern Wales as a base for several days. We flew into Manchester from the US and took trains , with several connections, to get to Conwy. While there we used buses and taxis, as well as walking, to see the countryside and historical spots. I would consider Conwy a quaint, seaside town, with lots of history. You can ride

Posted by
11 posts

Oops, ... you can ride the Conwy Rail Line up the valley to Betws-y-Coed, an idyllic village, or continue further up the line. We stayed at the Castlebank Hotel, which was right in town and quite comfortable.

Posted by
13049 posts

You and your mom might enjoy a week (or shorter time) at one of the HF Holiday country houses in southwest England—-they have one in Cornwall (St. Ives) and one in Exmoor (Selworthy, on the coast due north of Exeter). In June and early July they offer all-inclusive programs with sightseeing and easy walking. The price includes nice accommodations, all meals (we have found the food to be excellent at their country houses), and guides and transport to sightseeing destinations.

https://www.hfholidays.co.uk/holidays-and-tours/discovery-walks-st-ives-7?format=pdf&vid=802

https://www.hfholidays.co.uk/holidays-and-tours/discovery-walks-selworthy-7?format=pdf&vid=809

We particularly enjoy the camaraderie of the other guests.

These brochures are for the full week, but they may also offer 3- and 4-night holidays at these locations. And there are country houses with sightseeing holidays in Scotland (On Ben Lomond, in the Highlands) and Wales. Here is the complete list:

https://www.hfholidays.co.uk/holidays-and-tours#/holidays?dfrom=2022-06-07&dto=2022-07-07&FL.Continent=United%2BKingdom&FC.Holiday%20Types=Walks%2Bwith%2Bsightseeing&sort=ordering%7CASC&page=1

Their Discovery tours are more focused on sightseeing than walking, and include Cornwall and Exmoor, but I did not confirm whether these are offered in June and July.

https://www.hfholidays.co.uk/holidays-and-tours#/holidays?FC.Special%20Interests=Discovery%20Tours&sort=ordering%7CASC&page=1

Posted by
13 posts

Trip is set! We will travel from London Heathrow to Maidenhead for an overnight stay. My first question is: What is the best way to get there? Train, bus, etc? And should this ticket be purchased in advance in order to get a cheaper rate? From Maidenhead we will travel by train to Penzance and this ticket will be purchased in advance. After Penzance we will be making our way back east with stays at Truro, Plymouth, Dawlish, Exeter, Oxford, and then back to the London Heathrow area. My next question is: Is it necessary to purchase train tickets in advance for these stops or are they close enough that you can walk up and purchase a ticket at a cheap rate (if such a thing exists in England!)? I've read "themaninseat61" for advice but I wasn't sure/clear about traveling between neighboring towns.
Thanks in advance!

Posted by
21038 posts

There seem to be buses from Heathrow to Maidenhead: https://www.firstbus.co.uk/berkshire-thames-valley
However, I don't know whether there's more than one Maidenhead in the UK, so be sure the bus goes to the right destination for you. There's also rail service, but that requires a transfer and it appears the bus does not.

For your other trips, I suggest you use the NationalRail website to look up each one and see what rates look like for tomorrow vs. as close to your travel date as you can get. If your travel dates aren't on sale yet, select a different date, preferably in June, that falls on the same day of the week. If tomorrow's fares seem to be about the same as what you see for June/July, that suggests you can probably wait. I doubt that will be the case, though. UK rail fares are often painfully high, and you can usually save a good amount by buying a ticket early. The bargains are the Advance fares, which are specific to a particular date and time, so you need to be sure of your schedule and sure the trip is going to happen.

Posted by
27709 posts

After Penzance we will be making our way back east with stays at Truro, Plymouth, Dawlish, Exeter, Oxford, and then back to the London Heathrow area.

The town to town working back should be fine with turn up and go tickets.

Exeter to Oxford on would definitely benefit from Advance tickets.

You can take a coach from Oxford direct to Heathrow airport, more easily than an Oxford-Paddington-Heathrow train combination and almost certainly cheaper.

Posted by
4654 posts

Avoid Coleford & Cinderford! I think you might be trying to cover too much territory.

I agree, neither Coleford or Cinderford are particularly attractive places however the nearby Wye Valley and Forest of Dean certainly deserve a visit.