Where in the x-shires?
March 24, 2011 8:48 AM   Subscribe

Where to go driving in the countryside in England?

I live in London and do not own a car. My excursions into the countryside have been by train up until now but there are always fantastic places out of the reach of public transportation I end up missing.

The plan would be: take a train (no more than 1 hr 30m ride) somewhere out of London; rent a car there; drive around a scenic region for a weekend; return car; take train back to London.

I'm looking for suggestions!

The requirements are:
*first time driving a car in Britain so I'd rather start off somewhere quiet and avoid biggish towns/tourist attractions.
*it's spring! Where are some fantastic gardens or wild nature parks to go bloom-watching?
*something cultural thrown in such as a castle or two; or a cemetery where somebody interesting is buried; or a quirky town with historical importance; or an architectural significant landmark.
*looking for something you definitely need to drive to, a no train stations in sight sort of place.
*I'd rather go North of London as Cornwall, Devon and such are reserved for a later trip and the latest weekends out have been mostly to the South/South East. Wales is also reserved for a later trip.

Additional/optional tips appreciated:
*a national park/nature reserve
*a b&b recommendation for saturday night
*a church with a great service on Sunday morning, musically speaking.

posted by lucia__is__dada to Travel & Transportation around Manchester, England (15 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
My experience, narrow as it is, is that if you're going north, you've pretty much got to get past Manchester, Leeds etc (ie: out of the Midlands) before you're into really picturesque countryside. But my memory tells me that's more than 90 minute train ride.
posted by philip-random at 8:55 AM on March 24, 2011

Best answer: Everywhere south of the M25 is amazing. You could get the train to Gatwick Airport and pick up your hire car there (it's not as frightening or confusing as you might think to get out of the airport).

I love Ardingly Resevoir and the environs of Balcombe (Wakehurst Place is nearby, while Nymans Gardens are a few miles west).

Also nearby is the breathtaking Box Hill (with a possible detour to the Denbie's vineyard if you fancy it).

A little further south are the beautiful South Downs. Just pick any road heading to the coast and you can't fail to miss them.

Then there is the fantastic Sussex coast itself, if that counts as countryside. You could easily drive from Gatwick, or start at Brighton and head in either direction for some scenic clifftops, idyllic villages and views of the sea.

The good thing about the south east is that everywhere inbetween the towns is wonderful, so you can't really go wrong. Have fun!
posted by londonmark at 9:07 AM on March 24, 2011

Best answer: How about basing it around Blenheim Palace as a starting point? It's sort of a historically relevant castley place, it's in the middle of a huge Capability Brown-style garden, so lots of plants and stuff. It's historically interesting... so one could take the train to Oxford (abut an hour), rent the car (I don't know how you'd do such a thing, but I guess such facilities exist?), drive out to one of the villages north of Oxford, stay in a B&B in, say, Kidlington, and then there's Blenheim, Rousham and, if you feel like a tourist attraction, a park'n'ride into Oxford.

This isn't very wild places, admittedly, but there aren't many wild places that I can think of North of London and within 90 minutes (which, for reference, will get you about as far as Leicester). Charnwood Forest and Robin Hood country, if you stretch it? The New Forest or the Essex salt marshes, maybe, if you don't insist on north?
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:09 AM on March 24, 2011

Best answer: Vale of Belvoir?
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:15 AM on March 24, 2011

Best answer: Also Rutland has Rutland Water nature reserve and Barnsdale Gardens
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:18 AM on March 24, 2011

Best answer: Driving is the best way to see the Cotswolds, but that's a bit outside your 90m radius.

Oxford and environs makes sense, as that opens up the Vale of White Horse, the little towns and villages on the outskirts and sites like the Rollwright Stones. The drive around Wytham Woods is especially lovely. Lots of dead people: you can see George Orwell in Sutton Courtney and Winston Churchill in Blaby.
posted by holgate at 9:26 AM on March 24, 2011

I haven't been there since I was a kid, but Google Street View tells me it is still beautiful, so seconding holgate's Cotswolds suggestion. Specifically, the Slad Valley and the village of Slad, where poet Laurie Lee grew up. I was there in the summer; the spring must be spectacular. But if it's too far, put it on your list for next time, perhaps on the way to Wales.
posted by rtha at 9:39 AM on March 24, 2011

I disagree about the Midlands - Nottingham/Derby are about an hour and a half from London (on the fast trains) and there are hundreds of beautiful villages just outside the city. Derby is the edge of the Peak District and you basically can't turn around for falling over quaint villages. Buxton, Belper and the like are good starts.

Alternatively, get the train to Cambridge (~40 mins) and base yourself there and drive out to surrounding villages like Gomanchester.
posted by citands at 9:43 AM on March 24, 2011

Oh, and feel free to memail with questions.
posted by londonmark at 9:51 AM on March 24, 2011

Well it's a 3 hour train ride but well worth it: take the Glasgow train to Windermere and drive the A591 to Keswick, past lakes Windermere, Rydal, Grasmere, Thirlmere, Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite and some impressive mountain scenery including Dunmail Raise, the glacial valley of St John's In the Vale, and the lower slopes of Helvellyn.
posted by nicwolff at 10:24 AM on March 24, 2011

Best answer: I find the landscape of East Anglia sometimes a bit bleak, but it is absolutely somewhere that it is really, really hard to visit by train. Based in Cambridge, as someone suggests above, you can do easy day trips through the weird little villages (get a good GPS, prepare to be misdirected!) to the absolutely glorious coast, including posh little places like Wells next the sea with its famous beachhuts, typical cheesy seaside (with mock Vegas frontage!) at Great Yarmouth, and the tiniest little places which may soon disappear beaneath the waves like Sea Palling.
And if that's not enough, the stunning Bickling Hall and other stately homes (Ickworth) are nearby.
posted by AFII at 11:34 AM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Take a train to Birmingham (just about 90mins). Hire a car and explore Ludlow, Shropshire and the Welsh border region. Bridgnorth is beautiful and not accessible without a car (there are houses that are partly caves!)

Or the Malvern Hills.

Kenilworth Castle is nice.

Go to Leicester and explore Rutland Water as mentioned.

The Chilterns are really beautiful and it's about 30 mins by train to High Wycombe.
posted by plonkee at 1:13 PM on March 24, 2011

I find the landscape of East Anglia sometimes a bit bleak, but it is absolutely somewhere that it is really, really hard to visit by train.

Especially the very middle, just off the main road between Stowmarket and Norwich -- or the gloriously-named Bungay, current abode of J. Assange.
posted by holgate at 1:29 PM on March 24, 2011

A lot of Kent is nice, particularly the North Downs - I used to live there as a kid, and should be lovely to drive around - there's lots of small farms, so lots of little narrow lanes to amble endlessly around. As a bonus, it should be quick to get to by train from London!
posted by BigCalm at 2:31 PM on March 24, 2011

Yorkshire. Seriously. Trust me on this. Train to anywhere from Leicester to Nottingham to Rotherham to Sheffield to Leeds (Leeds is about a couple of hours from London but a great place to start for your drive) and then do the Yorkshire Dales. Do the North Yorkshire moors. Visit pubs. Sample the fine, dry northern bitters.

Memail me if you want recommendations for specific routes and locations.
posted by Decani at 5:23 PM on March 24, 2011

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