History and Hostel, Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland
This year there are 12 months of celebrations around the 1,900. Celebrating the anniversary of Emperor Hadrian’s building of his famous Wall. So what better time to visit this ancient monument?
The AD122 bus runs five times a day from Hexham station to Haltwhistle (both on the Newcastle-Carlisle railway) via points of interest along the Wall. Stop at the Fort on the Tyne in Chesters, the Mithraic Temple in Brocolitia (free) or Housesteads with its communal latrines and Roman shoenails (£10/£6). Or marvel at the golden November birch trees and blue lake at an old Whinstone quarry in Walltown. If it’s too wintry to trek the moors and slippery rocky steps, use the bus to commute between these atmospheric locations and stay (weekends except Christmas week only) at the Sill youth hostel (private rooms with bath from £49, ).
In wet weather, the mostly paved sections of Hadrian’s Wall National Trail around Newcastle are a good choice, and are rife with cafes and museums such as the Roman Fort Segedunum near Wallsend Tube station (£5.95 adult). Here, a lookout tower surveys the outlines of the fortress, maps of imperial power stand next to details of everyday life: the dice that Roman soldiers use to pass the time, or the mark of a cat’s paw on an antique piece of ceramic.
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, northrailway.co.uk). A day pass for the AD122 bus costs £12.50
Gardens and Fat Rascals, Harrogate, North Yorkshire
This Victorian spa town is ideal for a car-free autumn and winter holiday. From Harrogate Train Station it’s just a few miles of a pleasant walk through Valley Gardens and semi-wild pinewoods to RHS Harlow Carr – and if you’re traveling without a car you’ll get 30% off admission (up to £8.95). The gardens are colorful throughout the winter, with red and yellow willow and dogwood stems, feathery grasses and the earliest snowdrops to bloom from November. There are fragrant shrubs, flaming maples, and an on-site Betty’s branch for tea and the rich, cherry-studded scones they call fat rascals.
A new study for London North Eastern Railway suggests that if everyone switched from car to train for just one leisure trip, the carbon emissions from leisure travel in the UK would fall by 16%. LNER has produced green guides to destinations along its routes: this year’s guide introduces Harrogate, along with Inverness and Lincoln, and offers tips for food tours, refill shops, bike hire and hotels like the White Hart near Valley Gardens (double from £79 Pensions).
Harrogate has Baltzersen’s, a Scandi-style café a four-minute walk from the station that sells legendary cinnamon rolls. Tannin Level, 800m from the hotel, is perfect for candlelit dinners made with locally sourced ingredients – this season’s menu includes beetroot and sorrel risotto and vegan chocolate mousse with orange and hazelnut.
Harrogate is half an hour from Leeds by train (from £4 Single, northrailway.co.uk) or three hours from London (from £23.60 each, lner.co.uk)
Island pounding by bus, Argyll & Bute
As the ferry sails beneath mountains and across a sea where seals and dolphins are regularly spotted, it’s hard to remember that it’s only been an hour since you left Glasgow.
Connected train and ferry services as well as connecting buses make the Isle of Bute a car-free travel destination of superlatives. From Glasgow Central Station it is a 50 minute train journey, partly along the Firth of Clyde, to Wemyss (‘Weems’) Bay with its elegant Edwardian railway station where the ferry awaits.
It takes you to the island’s main town, Rothesay (‘Roth Lake’), where you can wander past the round sandstone walls of a moated castle and climb the Serpentine Road for more views over the water. Book ahead to dine on fresh local crawfish at Bonnie Clyde, or opt for fish and chips on the wharf in the fading light. There are regular buses south to Kilchattan Bay, the start of the West Island Way, a long-distance footpath that covers most of Bute. The route begins with a rewardingly strenuous six-mile circuit around the southern end of the island, past a curving bay with a lighthouse, a rush-lined loch and the ruined chapel of Saint Blane.
The 490 bus (10 per day) to Kilchattan Bay passes the gates of Mount Stuart, a palatial red sandstone Gothic Revival mansion with landscaped grounds sloping down to the sea. The house and gardens are closed for the winter, but there is a Christmas food and craft market on December 4th in the main house and those staying in one of the two self-catering accommodations on the estate are free to wander the gardens at their leisure.
The converted kennel has a wood-burning stove, log stack and sitting room with sunset views (£795 for three nights in December, sleeps four, mountstuart.com/stay/kennels).
Trains from Glasgow Central to Wemyss Bay cost £8.40 (scotrail.co.uk). Ferry tickets £6.90 return, calmac.co.uk
Millionaire Views, Bournemouth, Dorset
That The Bournemouth area is a great place to explore without a car. Salty sea air wafts across the region’s open-top buses as they cruise through the pines and holm oaks of Bournemouth’s leafy suburbs. At Sandbanks you can peek into the millionaires’ gardens and watch cormorants diving into the waves beyond.
A PlusBus ticket for Bournemouth (£4 or £2.65 with a rail ticket) is valid on open top bus 50 to Sandbanks chain ferry. Hop off, pay £1 to walk to Studland Bay overlooking Brownsea Island and come back for free. (The bus will be rerouted in November while the ferry is upgraded every two years, but should be running as usual in early December.) The PlusBus scheme is one of the UK’s great car-free travel bargains. Buy a train ticket and unlimited bus travel other end of the day costs a few pounds more.
For rainy days, the Russell Cotes Gallery (£8.50) is an extravagant, palm-guarded cliff-top mansion packed with stained glass, sculptures, peacock friezes and Alhambra-inspired niches. The art collection includes a sulking Pre-Raphaelite Venus by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Many buses from the train station stop at the top of Bath Hill, a five-minute walk away.
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 chic new Premier Inn (doubles only from £48) near West Cliff has opened in Summer 2021, with luggage storage, public transport information and parasols for hire. It is adjacent to a 50 bus stop and five minutes from the beach via the West Cliff zigzag walkway.
Basingstoke to Bournemouth train tickets start from £5.60 (and include window views of the New Forest), southwesternrailway.com
Welsh Coast Walk, Barmouth, Gwynedd
The view of the Mawddach Estuary near Barmouth is at its loveliest with the colors of late autumn, waders in winter and the yellow tinge of gorse all year round. The Victorian seaside town is a great base for exploring parts of the 870-mile Wales Coast Path by train, which turns 10 this year.
One of Britain’s greatest scenic journeys, the Birmingham to Barmouth railway runs along the Dyfi estuary, whose sandbanks are teeming with seabirds. The line runs close to the Aberdyfi to Pwllheli Coastal Path, passing salt marshes and sand dunes, hills and waterfalls, and can then be used for station to station walks. Careful planning is required as there are gaps between trains and the final stages of restoration work on the spectacular wooden Barmouth Bridge over the Mawddach Estuary will involve temporary rail replacements.
The trains are running and the footpath is open from December 10th. The six mile panoramic walk to Barmouth from Llwyngwril railway station takes in standing stones, prehistoric cairns, moss-covered oak woods crossed by streams, the remains of an old slate quarry and crosses the viaduct to the Last Inn at Barmouth Harbour.
The Wales Coast Path has compiled a list of accommodation along the route, including several B&Bs on Barmouth’s Marine Parade – next to the coast path – and the Tal y Don Hotel (doubles from £99 B&B) on the high street is open until December January.
Birmingham New Street to Barmouth tickets from £24 one way, tickets.trc.cymru