Great Britain is a sizeable island, but in absolute terms, not that large an area. England is even smaller, covering a mere 50,301 square miles, just a bit more than half the size of California. But what England lacks in size it more than makes up for in the variety and quality of landscapes. One of the best ways to experience all the English countryside has to offer is by car. Below find ten of the most picturesque locations and best drives in England.
Devon is hard to beat for traveling over the road. There are trails for cars, vans, motorcycles and even cyclists. The combination of countryside and coastline, land and sea, is second to none.
The best coastal drive is along the south coast of Devon. One of the most popular drives is the A379 following the Devon coast. Start in Torquay, and then leisurely make your way to Brixham, Coleton Fishacre, Dartmouth, Start Bay, Kingsbridge, Salcombe, Bantham and Bigbury-on-Sea, ending in Plymouth.
The best drive for seeing wildlife and wild landscapes is in north Devon. This trip begins in Dunster and wanders inland through the Dunkery & Homer Wood National Nature Reserve, stopping in Dulverton, Tarr Steps, Exford, Porlock View Point, Porlock Weir, Lynmouth and Valley of the Rocks, exiting the reserve at Ilfracombe. From there follow the coast to Croyde and Hartland Abbey, ending the road trip in Clovelly.
Cheddar Gorge & Caves
The Cheddar Gorge & Caves is one of Britain greatest natural wonders, a gorge plunging more than 100 meters deep into the Mendip Hills, with caves in the southern cliff side. Cheddar is just outside Sommerset and a short 20-mile drive down the B3151 gets you to the gorge. B3135 is the road through the gorge.
A longer trip through this area of southwest England starts in Winchester, then meanders through Salisbury, Wilton House, Old Sarum, Stonehenge, Longleat, Stourhead, Shaftesbury, Sherborne New Castle, Sherborne, Glastonbury, Wells, Wookey Hole, Cheddar Gorge and Prior Park, then ends in beautiful Bath.
The Jurassic Coast is a 95-mile stretch from Exmouth to Studland Bay. Along the way visitors can find landslides, cliffs and beaches that reveal nearly 200 million years of Earth’s history. The area was designated England’s first World Heritage Site in 2001.
Driving along the A35 between the two endpoints passes through both the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Taking side roads like A351 and the B3157 captures locations like Poole, Wareham, Corfe Castle, Lulworth Castle, Lulworth Cove, Durdle Door, Clouds Hill, Weymouth, Tout Quarry, Chesil Beach, Abbotsbury Swannery and Lyme Regis.
Cornwall is hard to beat for winding roads with wild winds, wild waves and breathtaking views of the Atlantic.
A shorter drive starts in Barnstaple and follows the coast for 76 miles to Newquay. En route are such majestic views as Constantine Bay and Bedruthan Steps.
For a longer, epic Corwall trip, start in Bude and work down the coast through Tintagel, Padstow, Newquay, St. Agnes, St. Ives, Sennen, Land’s End, Porthcurno, Penzance, St. Michael’s Mount, The Lizard, Falmouth and Eden Project, ending in Fowey.
The Cotswolds are a collection of picturesque villages set among green hills, meadows of wildflowers and bucolic sheep pastures. For a taste of classic English countryside, the Cotswolds cannot be beat.
There are a number of short drives in the Cotswolds. The most frequently recommended short drive is a 30-mile trip down the B4632 from Cheltanham through a number of small towns, including Chipping Camden, to Stratford-upon-Avon.
One example of a longer drive starts in Bath and ends in Stratford-upon-Avon. Along the route are Bath, Tetbury, Painswick, Cirencester, Bibury, Northleach, Burford, The Slaughters, Stow-on-the-Wind, Chipping Camden, Broadway Tower, Broadway, Winchcombe and Stratford-upon-Avon.
The Peak District is the place for history buffs to get their fix. Drives through this part of England expose motorists to Victorian engineering, stately manors and genteel living at its finest.
A short trip of about 60 miles or so begins in Holmfirth and rambles southward through the Peak District National Park, capturing Snake Pass, Bamford, Chatsworth House and Ashford-in-the-Water, ending in Buxton.
A longer trip starts in the south of the Peak District in Derby. It then moves northward through Kedleston Hall, Ashbourne, Bakewell, Haddon Hall, Cromford Mill, Matlock Bath, Chatsworth House, Chesterfield, Eyam, Derwent Reservoirs, Edale, Castleton, Tideswell and Poole’s Cavern, also ending in Buxton.
The Shropshire Hills border the Welsh countryside and includes some of the most beautiful pastoral scenery anywhere. Fields, hills and rivers abound, as do sheep pastures and forested dells.
A lovely short drive is the 15-mile stretch along the A458 from Shrewsbury to Harley then on to Much Wenlock. A bit longer of a drive is the 65-mile loop from Shrewsbury to Ludlow. Take the A458 south to Ludlow, then the A49 back north – both drives provide beautiful views of the Severn Valley.
Lake District & Northern England
The Lake District is frequently declared the most beautiful place in Britain. It is easy to see why – dramatic hills, verdant fields and more lakes than you could possibly imagine.
Hardknott Pass is a well-known overlook in the Lake District, but the drive up is not for the faint of heart. For those interested enough – and brave enough – to try it, warm up for the drive by starting in Little Langdale, then hit Wrynose Pass before tackling the gradients up and down Hardknott Pass. Another beautiful short drive starts in Kendal, passes by both Lake Windermere and Lake Thirlmere before ending in Keswick not quite 40 miles away.
A longer trip capturing more of the famed lakes starts in Bowness-on-Windermere, then makes it way through Ambleside, Great Langdale, Grasmere, Keswik, Borrowdale & Buttermere, Cockermouth, Wasdale, Eskdale, Hardknott Pass & Wrynose Pass, Coniston and Hawkshead before terminating in Ullswater.
Immediately east of the Lake District National Park is the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The park encompasses 840 square miles of upland hills and dales (valleys) and some of the most dramatic countryside in England. One of the most iconic locations in the park is Buttertubs Pass.
The drive over Buttertubs Pass is only 7 miles long, from Cloggerby Rigg to Penn Lane along Cliff Gate Road. It is a steep ascent followed by a rapid descent and tight corners. Most motorists can complete the drive in a mere 15 minutes and fans of Top Gear will recognize the pass immediately.
A longer trip through the Yorkshire Dales starts in Harrogate, then turns west on the B6265 toward Grassington, Arncliffe, Malham and Skipton, then onto the A65 to Ingleton, the B6255 to Hawes, across the Buttertubs Pass, then on to the Tan Hill Inn and Richmond.
Northumberland is full of expansive vistas, dramatic coastlines and ancient castles.
One beautiful short drive in Northumberland starts at Lindisfarne Castle, passes by the gorgeous Lindisfarne Nature Reserve, then on to Bamburgh and ends in Alnwick. Driving the B1340 for about 18 miles will get you from Bamburgh Castle to Alnwick Castle.
There are longer drives up and down the coast. One such itinerary begins in Newcastle, then moves north through Angel of the North, Tynemouth, Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Amble, Warkworth, Alnwick, Craster, Low Newton-by-the-Sea, Bamburgh and Holy Island, ending in Berwick-upon-Tweed.
These road trips are but the briefest introduction to the beauty of England. And should you manage to drive every road in England, there are equally dramatic drives in Scotland and Wales. Enjoy one of these scenic drives by booking one of our England vacations!