History and Inns, Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland
This year marks the 1900th anniversary of Emperor Hadrian’s famous wall, so what better time to visit this ancient monument.
Bus AD122 runs five times a day from Hexham station to Haltwhistle (both on the Newcastle-Carlisle rail line) via points of interest along the wall. Stop at the fort on the Tyne at Chesters, the Mithraic Temple at Brocolitia (free), or Housesteads with its communal latrines and Roman spiked shoes (£10/£6). Or enjoy the golden November birches and blue lake in an old whinstone quarry in Walltown. If it’s too winter to hike the moors and slippery rock steps, use the bus to commute between these atmospheric places and stay (weekends only except Christmas week) at the Sill Youth Hostel (private en-suite rooms from £49 , ).
In wet weather, the mostly tarmacked stretches of the Hadrian’s Wall National Trail around Newcastle are a good choice, and abound with cafes and museums such as Segedunum Roman Fort near Wallsend tube station (£5.95 for adults). Here, a watchtower overlooks the contours of the fortress, and maps of imperial power sit alongside details of everyday life: the dice Roman soldiers used to pass the time or the mark of a cat’s paw on an ancient piece of pottery.
Trains to Newcastle take about an hour from York (from around £8) or 1½ hours from Edinburgh (from £11, lner.co.uk). Trains from Newcastle to Hexham take around half an hour (£7.80 return, Northernrailway.co.uk). A day ticket for the AD122 bus costs £12.50
Gardens and fat villains, Harrogate, North Yorkshire
This Victorian spa town is ideal for a car-free break in autumn and winter. It’s a pleasant few miles’ walk from Harrogate station, through Valley Gardens and the semi-wild Pinewoods, to RHS Harlow Carr – and if you arrive car-free you’ll get 30% off entry (making it £8.95 ). The gardens are colorful all winter long, with red and yellow willow and dogwood stems, feathery grasses, and the earliest snowdrops blooming from November. There are fragrant bushes, flaming acres and its own branch of Bettys for tea and the rich, cherry-studded scones they call fat villains.
New research for London North Eastern Railway suggests that if everyone switched from car to train for just one holiday trip, CO2 emissions from holiday travel in the UK would fall by 16%. LNER has produced green guides to destinations along its routes: this year’s guide shows Harrogate, along with Inverness and Lincoln, and has tips for food tours, refill shops, cycle hire and hotels such as the White Hart near Valley Gardens (doubles from £ 79 guest rooms).
In Harrogate you’ll find Baltzersen’s, a Scandinavian-style coffee shop a four-minute walk from the station, selling legendary cinnamon buns. Tannin Level, half a mile from the hotel, is perfect for locally sourced candlelit dinners – this season’s menu includes beetroot and sorrel risotto and a vegan chocolate mousse with orange and hazelnut.
Harrogate is half an hour from Leeds by train (from £4 single, Northernrailway.co.uk) or three hours from London (from £23.60 single, lner.co.uk)
Island stomps with the bus, Argyll & Bute
As the ferry passes under the mountains and across a sea where seals and dolphins are a regular sighting, it’s hard to remember that you only left Glasgow an hour ago.
Interconnected rail and ferry services, plus onward buses, make the Isle of Bute a car-free destination par excellence. From Glasgow Central Station it is a 50 minute train ride, partly along the Firth of Clyde, to Wemyss (“Weems”) Bay with its elegant Edwardian station, where the ferry will be waiting.
It takes you to the island’s main town, Rothesay (“Roth-see”), where you can wander past the rounded sandstone walls of a moated castle and climb the Serpentine Road for more views across the water. Book ahead to eat fresh local langoustines at the Bonnie Clyde, or opt for fish and chips on the quayside in the fading light. Regular buses run south to Kilchattan Bay, the start of the West Island Way, a long-distance walk that covers most of Bute. The route begins with a rewardingly strenuous six-mile circuit around the southern end of the island, past an undulating bay with a lighthouse, bullrush-lined lake and the ruined chapel of Saint Blane.
Bus 490 (10 per day) to Kilchattan Bay passes the gates of Mount Stuart, a palatial red sandstone Neo-Gothic mansion with landscaped gardens sloping down to the sea. The house and gardens are closed for the winter, but on December 4 there is a Christmas market with food and crafts in the main house, and those staying in one of the two self-catering units on the estate are free to wander the gardens at will.
The converted kennels have a woodburning stove, a stack of logs and a sitting room with sunset views (£795 for three nights in December, for four people, mountstuart.com/stay/kennels).
Trains from Glasgow Central to Wemyss Bay cost £8.40 one way (scotrail.co.uk). Ferry tickets £6.90 return, calmac.co.uk
Millionaire view, Bournemouth, Dorset
The The Bournemouth area is a great place to explore without a car. Salty sea air wafts over the open-top buses as they pass through pines and holm oaks in Bournemouth’s leafy suburbs. You can look into millionaires’ gardens in Sandbanks and see cormorants diving into the waves beyond.
A PlusBus ticket for Bournemouth (£4 or £2.65 with a rail ticket) is valid on the 50 open top bus as far as the Sandbanks ferry. Disembark, pay £1 to cross as a foot passenger to Studland Bay, overlooking Brownsea Island, and the return journey is free. (The bus will be diverted in November while the ferry has its bi-annual refit, but should run normally in early December.) The PlusBus plan is one of the UK’s great car-free travel deals. Buy a train ticket and a day of unlimited bus travel on the other side will cost a few pounds extra.
For rainy days, the Russell-Cotes Gallery (£8.50), a flamboyant palm-lined villa perched on the cliffs, replete with stained glass, sculpture, peacock friezes and Alhambra-inspired alcoves. The art collection includes a pouting Pre-Raphaelite Venus by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Many buses from the train station stop a five minute walk away at the top of Bath Hill.
Buses run to Christchurch Priory or Upton Country Park next to Poole harbour, but are also handy for exploring Bournemouth’s wooded “chines” (valleys) and sub-tropical Victorian gardens. A smart new Premier Inn (doubles from £48 room-only) has opened in summer 2021 near West Cliff, offering luggage storage, public transport information and parasol hire. It is next to a route 50 bus stop and five minutes from the beach via the West Cliff zigzag path.
Train tickets from Basingstoke to Bournemouth start at £5.60 (including New Forest views through the window), southwesternrailway.com
Walk along the Welsh coast, Barmouth, Gwynedd
The view of the Mawddach Estuary at Barmouth is at its best with late autumn colours, wintry wading birds and the yellow sheen of gorse that blooms all year round. The Victorian seaside town is a great base from which to explore parts of the 1,400-mile Wales Coast Path by train, which turns 10 this year.
The railway from Birmingham to Barmouth is one of Britain’s finest scenic routes and runs along the Dyfi Estuary, whose sandbanks teem with seabirds. The line runs close to the Coast Path, from Aberdyfi to Pwllheli, passing salt marshes and sand dunes, hills and waterfalls, so can be used for station-to-station walks. It takes careful planning as there are gaps between trains, and the final stages of restoration work on the spectacular wooden Barmouth Bridge over the Mawddach Estuary will mean periodic rail replacements.
Trains are running and the footpath will be open from December 10. The scenic six mile walk to Barmouth from Llwyngwril station passes standing stones, prehistoric cairns, mossy streams criss-crossed oak woodland, the remains of an old slate quarry and crosses the viaduct to the Last Inn on Barmouth harbour.
The Wales Coast Path has put together a list of accommodation along the route, including several B&Bs on Barmouth’s Marine Parade – next to the coastal path – and the Tal y Don hotel (doubles from £99 B&B) on the high street is open through December and January .
Tickets from Birmingham New Street to Barmouth from £24 single, tickets.trc.cymru