This year has so far been characterised by disruption for most of us. Nights out that never were, a litany of cancelled events and holidays frantically rearranged. All of which has resulted in a widespread, but not altogether unwelcome, problem – a surplus of annual leave.
For some, the situation represents a license to loaf around at home, for others a chance to explore far flung resorts in Europe and beyond. But instead of panic booking a mini-break to a destination on the quarantine list, why not tread a little closer to home and seek out some of this country’s finest journeys? England might not be the first place that springs to mind when you hear the words “road trip” (Lowestoft being admittedly less glamorous than Las Vegas), but you might be surprised by the driving delights it has to offer.
The East Anglian Coast
Poet John Betjeman once eulogised over the “soaring majesty” of the Norfolk coast after returning from a trip to the county in 1974. The famous coastline has long been beloved of artists and writers including Sir John Arnesby-Brownand Philip Pullman – and it’s easy to see why. A three day trip from the port of Felixstowe in Suffolk to the market town of King’s Lynn in north Norfolk provides a wealth of beach walks and spectacular scenery.
The towns of Great Yarmouth and Cromer are natural overnight stopover points and the route can be extended inland with visits to Norwich or the Broads if you have time. Stay at the Gunton Arms, just a 10 minute drive from Cromer, a chic pub-with-rooms set within a 1,000 acre deer park. Also be sure to visit the secluded and unspoilt beach at Holkham Bay which featured in Oscar-winning movie Shakespeare in Love.
Plymouth to Padstow (via Penzance)
Although Plymouth might seem like an arbitrary start point since it sits on the border between Devon and Cornwall, there is more to see in the city than you might imagine. The brand new Box museum and gallery is a £46 million project which tells the story of the city’s naval history and boasts a statue by Anthony Gormley and a vast collection of ships’ figureheads.
Heading south west from Plymouth the southern Cornish coast features a smorgasbord of pretty seaside towns and villages, each offering a healthy smattering of seafood and drinking establishments. A particular highlight is the yachting town of Fowey which counts Dawn French and previously Daphne du Maurier among its residents. The Old Quay House Hotel on the water’s edge makes a brilliant place either to stop for lunch or the night where you can watch the boats drifting in and out of the estuary.
Falmouth, Porthleven and St Ives are good places to stay on this Cornish coastal circuit, with Porthcurnick, Porthcurno and Harlyn Bay beaches all worth a visit. And swing by the former tin mines of Botallack for a walk if you want to pretend you’re in Poldark for the afternoon.
The drive along the north coast can be extended to take in part of the Atlantic Highway, a long and winding 70-mile section of the A39 which runs from just outside Newquay in Cornwall to Barnstaple in north Devon. It combines far-reaching views of the countryside with an immense driving road.
Coast to coast (Yorkshire Moors and Dales)
Combining stretches through two different national parks, this trip is one of the more scenic drives on the list. Starting in Scarborough head north along the coast to Whitby for world-beating seafood before taking the long way to the overnight halt of Northallerton via the Moors. The roads here twist through miles of undulating golden brown wilderness with truly remarkable vistas.
There are bracing walks to be had all along the next stage of the drive after crossing the A1 into the Yorkshire Dales. The six mile round trip to Crackpot Hall takes in a storied ruin and ends at an attractive waterfall at one of the highest points in the region. The Angel at Hetton serves up Michelin-starred food and shouldn’t be missed if you’re passing. Skipton and Settle are good overnight stops on the edge of the Dales and the striking Forest of Bowland area of outstanding natural beauty lies in between the towns and the trip’s final destination on the Lancashire coast.
Cumbria and the Lakes
Perhaps the obvious destination for a road trip in England, the Lake District offers all the natural splendour of Scotland without the need to drive all day to get there. A good way to see all the Lakes has to offer is with a circuit starting in the town of Kendal in the to the south east of the national park.
One must-drive road runs between Windermere and Ullswater via the Kirkstone Pass – the district’s highest highway open to motor traffic. With an altitude of 1,489 feet it will represent a challenge for most vehicles but the Kirkstone Pass Inn, a picturesque pub with rooms, lies at the top and serves up hearty food.
There are plenty of well-trodden rambles on the way to Cockermouth, on the north side of the Lakes, and back. The Old Man of Coniston, while a little touristy, is undeniably breathtaking. Those in search of a more secluded walk should consider the Fairfield Horseshoe which runs in a 10-mile loop from the town of Ambleside.
The Peak District
Sandwiched between the two buzzing cities of Manchester and Sheffield, the Peak District often feels a little overlooked as far as great English countryside getaways go. Despite being somewhat overshadowed, the region offers some of the most astonishing driving roads in the UK.
Starting from Sheffield take the A57 over the remarkable Snake Pass. Located in the Derbyshire section of the Peak District, the road crosses the Pennines between Glossop and the Ladybower Reservoir at Ashopton. There are green hills on each side and the pass runs along the river Ashop most of the way. Nearby Winnats Pass and the roads surrounding the Derwent Reservoir should also be shoehorned into your route for the views alone.
The town of Bakewell, home of the tart, is a good overnight stop. And Buxton, made famous by its natural thermal springs, is also worth popping into. Consider staying at the town’s five star spa-hotel The Crescent, a magnificent Georgian building with a full range of treatments.
Northumberland and the Pennines
From Berwick-upon-Tweed take the A1 south, hugging the coast all the way to Bamburgh which features an imposing castle and two mile beach for walking. From there it’s possible to cut through Northumberland National Park to the market town of Hexham just outside Newcastle via a hair-raising drive at the foot of the Cheviot hills.
The North Pennines offer scope for ample walking and eating, with a number of towns like Alston and Stanhope home to plenty of hotels and restaurants. The AONB is also home to High Force, England’s biggest waterfall, which you should definitely go out of your way to visit. The town of Barnard Castle also lies just to the south of the district for those in search of a longer detour.
When you arrive in Penrith stop at the Toffee Shop, a favourite of Prince Charles’s, to pick up a pack of their world famous fudge.