Making landfall on the green and sceptred island
July 23, 2007 11:56 AM   Subscribe

Where should I go for a week in England next May for scenery, walking and ale?

As part reward/part incentive for finishing my Ph.D., I'm planning a solo trip to England next May (or perhaps June). Given financial and other considerations, I'll probably only have a week or so. Most of my requirements seem relatively easy to meet, given my previous experiences in England: attractive countryside, abundant walking opportunities and copious and decently kept real ale.

Confounding me is my last requirement: easy access from a major airport (Gatwick, Heathrow, perhaps Manchester) via public transportation. I'd like to maximize the time spent enjoying myself at my destination, so the shorter and/or more direct the transportation routes the better.

Arundel in West Sussex seems to fit the bill, but I would greatly appreciate any suggestions that the hivemind can provide for other destinations that meet my criteria. Suggestions on where to stay, eat, walk, drink and visit are also welcome. You'll have my unending gratitude and an acknowledgment in my dissertation. How's that for lasting fame!
posted by mollweide to Travel & Transportation around Manchester, England (23 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If you fly into Manchester, the Lake District isn't too far away and would fit the bill perfectly. I'm sure others who know the area better can provide more detailed recommendations.
posted by essexjan at 12:02 PM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

The Lake District is indeed lovely and is home to some good pubs. Saw one of the most beautiful sunrises of my life over Ullswater.
The Pennine Way might be worth a look too. I seem to recall sections where you could go from pub to pub. You could have a pint in the Tan Hill Inn, which is claimed to be the highest hostelry on the island.
posted by Abiezer at 12:13 PM on July 23, 2007

I would have to second The Lake District, stay away from Windermere as it is horrendous. Touristy, trashy and tasteless.

Head to Ambleside instead, this is a great place to base and explore the amazing area - plenty of walks start from the village and you have great villages nearby too, i.e. Grassmere.

Train would take about 3 hours and should be about £20 - train goes to windermere then a bus journey of about 5 miles.
posted by trashcan at 12:13 PM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

I second the Lake District. Ambleside is my favourite - loads of walking, cycling, and scenery. The best pub is the Unicorn which serves good local brews.
posted by kenchie at 12:15 PM on July 23, 2007

I have, in the past, hiked along Hadrian's Wall, and done a short stretch on the West Highland Way in Scotland both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. Of course, you'd probably want to fly into Glasgow.

Also, I am quite fond of Snowdonia/NW Wales, but there would have to be a train involved. It does have the the added bonus of lots of cool castles though. Arundel is certainly charming and I can think of worse places where I could base myself.

There is always the Cotswolds, which is not far outside of Oxford. Quaint little villages and some nice countryside to boot. Oxford is about a 1hr train trip from London.
posted by MasonDixon at 12:24 PM on July 23, 2007

Lake district, or Yorkshire, or Snowdonia (OK the last one isn't in England, but it's easy to get to from Manchester) would be higher on my list than anywhere near London, because the general cost of living etc. will be cheaper, the hills bigger, and the beer better.

If you consider Yorkshire, Manchester Airport - Leeds is ~1.5 hours and less than twenty quid, and from there you can get to Ilkley or Skipton by local train. Both of these have great hill walking territory and are large enough towns for there to be a selection of pubs.
posted by handee at 12:28 PM on July 23, 2007

Definite vote here for the Lake District but my second vote would be for the Yorkshire Dales which may be less crowded than the Lake District (think of James Herriotts "All Creatures" series of books for an idea of the scenery you can expect).

Want to go even further afield? Fly into Scotland instead and head for the highlands.
posted by worker_bee at 12:36 PM on July 23, 2007

I saw the askme and came to suggest the Lake District, but it looks like everyone else beat me to it. Nthed!
posted by Joh at 1:32 PM on July 23, 2007

To flesh out the Ilkley suggestion, how about staying here: edge of the moors, 4 poster beds, self catering. Manchester Airport to Ilkley station is between 1h55 (daytime) and 2h30 (after about 5pm) by train according to Ilkley is well connected for transport further into the dales and up into the moors, as well as back into Leeds. My preferred Ilkley boozer is Bar T'at reviews, but if you follow that link and look at pubs nearby you should get a flavour for what it has to offer.

Actually, the nationalrail and beerintheevening sites are probably worth checking before you book anywhere!
posted by handee at 1:55 PM on July 23, 2007

I'm torn on what to say, given that I lived quite near to Arundel for a few years, and have also visited the Lake District. Arundel will fill your requirements - there's plenty of what you want (pubs, walking) in the area, plus the castle in the town and being generally not a bad-looking place. You could easily walk along the downs, pop into a village pub for a pint and a meal, and then walk back to wherever you were staying.

But I feel that there's plenty more walking, and more varied scenery, to be had in the Lake District. Whopping great big lakes, for one thing. And from memory, quite a few more wooded areas (I could be wrong though - it's been a while since I was in the Lake District). It's also a lot bigger, and it's a lot more geared for walking. There's plenty of paths and trails along the downs, but there's tons more in the Lake District. If you can find a non-touristy, nice town in the Lake District, I'd say that might be a better bet.

Wherever you go, you'll want a copy of The Good Pub Guide or something similar.
posted by djgh at 2:22 PM on July 23, 2007

Devon and Cornwall. Dartmoor is great and there are many fine coastal walks and superb pubs.
posted by zemblamatic at 2:38 PM on July 23, 2007

nthing the lake district. Check out the wainright guides from your local library for the walking, and make sure you get hand pulled ales (Jennings Cumberland Ale is a good one) wherever you go. If I'm around next may I'd be happy to meet up for a pint and a stroll up sharp edge.

Easy train ride from Manchester and loads of local buses to get around. In May you're just before the highest season so accommodation should be no problem.
posted by itsjustanalias at 3:01 PM on July 23, 2007

If you do go to the Lakes... you get to sample Jennings. Why go anywhere else?
posted by Helga-woo at 3:05 PM on July 23, 2007

Best answer: The High Weald area on the East Sussex / Kent border is easily accesible from either Heathrow or Gatwick. Very pretty and undemanding walking with a plethora of well waymarked footpaths and pubs.
Multimap is a very useful site. Also The Good Beer Guide.
The middle section of the Offa's Dyke Path on the Welsh / English border is more obviously scenic but further away from airports and and with less pubs.
Althought the Lake District is beautiful it is completely over run with tourists.
posted by Dr.Pill at 3:11 PM on July 23, 2007

Ok, slightly more sensible comment. There won't be so many tourists in the Lakes in May - but the weather can be a bit iffy (well it can at any time of the year - but moreso in May than the summer months). I was there in May this year, staying in a lovely farm B&B in Wasdale and there were days when we only saw 4 or 5 other people on the fells (and 2 of them were National Park guys who were assessing the footpaths). We had ok weather, a bit misty and drizzly most days. Good walking but no views.

The difficulty with the Lakes is getting to the good bits by public transport - i.e. away from Windermere and Keswick and Ambleside. Blame Beatrix Potter for not wanting railways. But if you want to go a little bit hardcore, and be peripatetic, in a week you could do a nice little round trip of Youth Hostels and in a day or two be in Wasdale or Ennerdale or Buttermere.
posted by Helga-woo at 3:38 PM on July 23, 2007

Generally, when you are abroad you want to see different things from what you see frequently at home. So, although the Lake District is beautiful, you may not be so wowed by it if you are used to walking in hilly country with lakes. Wales' castles are almost certainly different for you, but be aware that the weather there can also be rainy. Yorkshire and Durham have interesting places to walk, and should be a bit drier.

Arundel sounds a good idea, but it is a relatively expensive part of the country -- a holiday region close to London. If I were making that long a flight, I would try to spin my money out for a couple of weeks. Do take a look at the YHA website and consider if that is a good solution for you. Their hostels tend to be cheap, friendly and well-placed for walking, although you will find instructions for how to get to them by public transport.
posted by Idcoytco at 4:21 PM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Although I can't speak for the accessibility from airports, I really liked the Cotswolds area. I really liked Avebury as well - especially the the guy who pulled his car over and yelled "they're just a bunch of big bloody rocks!"
posted by plinth at 5:24 PM on July 23, 2007

Best answer: You could probably walk the canals, too. I'd head to the Llangollen canal myself. You'd be able to walk along the canal between towns and work your way through the countryside. There are inns and B&Bs to stay at and you could prolly even hitch a ride on a canal boat or two!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:57 PM on July 23, 2007

Nthing the Lake District--which wasn't too overrun when I visited two Mays ago....and I did like the Victorian era place in Windemere where I stayed; I was able to go everywhere else in the area by bus.
posted by brujita at 12:23 AM on July 24, 2007

Best answer: Seconding the Peak District and especially Hope Valley and Derwent Valley: easily accessible by trains and buses from Sheffield or Manchester, lousy with scenery (like here, here, and here) and fantastic pubs (such as this insanely good one), slightly less overwhelmed with tourists than Windemere et al., and cheaper than the South.
posted by methylsalicylate at 4:44 AM on July 24, 2007

Just as an alternative, have you considered Aylesbury?
posted by triv at 5:42 AM on July 24, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks, all, for the suggestions. I have been to the Lakes, the Welsh Marches and Dorset previously, and have enjoyed them all. I've actually stayed in Ambleside. I'm certainly not adverse to visiting any of them again, but all of them felt a bit far from airports for my current purposes. I'm going to seriously investigate the Peaks district as well as Yorkshire, and Llangollen canal sounds quite interesting too. Cheers!
posted by mollweide at 6:31 AM on July 24, 2007

Be sure to read Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson before going. he does a lot of walking and drinking in that book. It's my favorite book ever.
posted by pyjammy at 1:29 PM on July 25, 2007

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