Tour from north to south or east to west across Central England in a motorhome and you will discover sufficient contrast to occupy the mind of the most fidgety traveller, always eager to know what is just around the corner. Variety is apparent in multiple facets across the region, whether in the shape of mountainous peaks, ancient cider orchards, honeyed-stone villages or soaring red kites. Clear evidence, in case it were needed, that the counties of Central England still contain individuality and personality.
A county with significant transportation links during the Industrial Revolution, its heritage lies along railways and canals. But way before that, the Romans built roads to reach one of their major strongholds, the city of Chester. Whether it’s the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port, steam trains in Crewe or the Roman Amphitheatre in Chester, you’ll find an opportunity to take a glimpse into the past.
With the Peak District covering much of Derbyshire, it’s all too easy to forget what else the county can offer. The Derbyshire Dales for example, gentler in nature to the High Peak; or the Derwent Valley Mills, a UNESCO World Heritage Site celebrating the birth of the ‘modern’ factory. And that’s not forgetting the Royal Crown Derby Visitor Centre, the sumptuous Hardwick Hall or the National Tramway Museum.
Whether you wish to cycle through Sherwood Forest to find out exactly who Robin Hood is, watch cricket at Trent Bridge or discover Ice Age cave drawings at Creswell Crags, you can do all three – and explore plenty of mining heritage.
Tuck into a pork pie in Melton Mowbray, head into space at the National Space Centre or discover the life and death of a controversial monarch at the King Richard III Visitor Centre and Bosworth Battlefield.
It’s England’s smallest county, though much of the beautiful, rural landscape incorporates Rutland Water, the largest reservoir in England. Enjoy the picturesque market towns of Oakham and Uppingham, watch ospreys at the Lyndon Visitor Centre or wander the one-time BBC Gardeners’ World set at Barnsdale.
One of England’s most rural counties unlike any other and on the border with Wales. For peace and quiet this is the place to go, with magnificent upland scenery such as The Long Mynd and Wenlock Edge. Head to Ironbridge Gorge, though, for the birth of the Industrial Revolution.
Whether you wish to pick up factory bargains in one of the many ceramics outlets in Stoke-on-Trent, enjoy a pint at the National Brewery Centre, experience some exhilarating off-road cycling on Cannock Chase or turn your world upside down at either Alton Towers or Drayton Manor Theme Park, Staffordshire has it covered.
There are plenty of ways in which to explore rural Herefordshire, whether following the Black and White Villages Trail, the Cider Route or, on foot, Offa’s Dyke Path that follows the ancient dyke used to separate England and Wales.
An industrial heartland that has helped major manufacturing, whether iron foundries and forges, jewellery or chocolate making. The Black Country Living Museum is a great place to engage in this industrial heritage, although Cadbury World helps a sweet tooth!
No visit to the county is complete without hitting the heights of the Malvern Hills – the views really are outstanding – or cruising the powerful River Severn, whose river valley dominates much of the landscape. Don’t miss attractive towns such as Pershore, Upton-upon-Severn or Bewdley.
For the love of theatre, Warwickshire is on the map. Stratford-upon-Avon would not be the theatrical mecca it is today without its most famous son, William Shakespeare who was born, lived, married and died in the town. Visit his birthplace – and his grave – before moving on to nearby Warwick Castle, one of the best-preserved medieval castles in Britain.
A traditional Shire, you’ll find a sumptuous collection of historic houses and stately homes to nosey around other people’s parlours. Select, among many, between Boughton House, an imposing and grandiose statement; the more intimate Sulgrave Manor, ancestral home of the first American President, George Washington; or the Althorp Estate, home of the Spencer family and that of Diana, Princess of Wales.
Steeped in history from kings and queens to Glenn Miller and Sir Winston Churchill, Bedfordshire offers a wealth of attractions including some secret gems. Look out for the beautiful stately homes of Wrest Park and Woburn Abbey, marvel at animal kingdoms at Whipsnade Zoo and Woburn Safari Park, and discover the spy planes of the Shuttleworth Collection.
North of London, you’ll find plenty of rural landscapes to enjoy a seasonal walk and soak up scented scenes. Indulge in lavender farms, rose gardens, public parks and giant estates. One of the best, particularly in autumn, are the chalk downs and beech woods of the Ashridge Estate.
The Chiltern Hills are arguably one of the county’s best-loved landmarks, a long line of chalk hills upon which sits The Ridgeway, one of the most ancient tracks in Britain and worthy of a walk today. Look out for red kites soaring overhead en route, thriving since their reintroduction to the area.
Central to the county are the ‘dreaming spires’ of Oxford, a grand university city with impressive college architecture and courtyards. North and west of the county town are the Oxfordshire Cotswolds, offering delightful villages and magnificent rural vistas. Don’t miss Blenheim Palace, just north of Oxford.
Dominated by the River Thames, which flows through much of the county, Berkshire’s largest attractions are the connected towns of Windsor and Eton, given their royal connections. Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest continuously occupied castle in the world.
Things to do
1.Experience the Peak District from down below with an underground visit to one of the many caves in the Castleton area. Select from Peak Cavern and Speedwell Cavern, Treak Cliff Cavern or Blue John Mine. You’ll see impressive geological beauty in the form of stalactites and stalagmites in the latter.
2.Get the legs moving on a traffic-free cycle ride around Rutland Water. There are plenty of pubs and cafés to stop off for a bite on the 23-mile route, with cycle hire available at four locations around the lake.
3.See a production of a Shakespeare play performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the world-renowned Royal Shakespeare Theatre or the neighbouring Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. Then hire a rowing boat for a gentle saunter on the Avon, past the theatre.
4.Enjoy a leisurely carriage ride through the royal landscape of Windsor Great Park. Relax as the horse-drawn carriage passes by beautiful lakes, woodlands and gardens in 1000 acres of Crown Estate property.
5.If you’re planning family motorhome holidays in Buckinghamshire, a visit to the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre will get your creative mind flowing. Located in his former family home in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, the award-winning museum has galleries packed full of informative facts and many hands-on activities.
When to visit
For such a large region as this, it’s impossible to mention every last big event but here’s a selection to whet the appetite.
Ashbourne (Derbyshire) goes footy mad with the Royal Shrovetide Football match (with goals three miles apart!), while Stratford-upon-Avon (Warwickshire) celebrates William Shakespeare’s birthday every 23 April.
You’ll find numerous Well Dressing events take place throughout the summer months in the Peak District. Then head further south for major sporting events at Royal Ascot (Berkshire) and the Henley Royal Regatta (Oxfordshire) in June followed by the Formula 1 Grand Prix at Silverstone (Northamptonshire) usually in July. Major festivals include the Robin Hood Festival (Nottinghamshire) in July and Camp Bestival Shropshire (Shropshire), Reading Festival (Berkshire), and The Big Feastival (Oxfordshire), all in August.
And, of course, let’s not forget the Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show plus the Motorhome and Caravan Show, held in February and October respectively at the NEC, Birmingham, when you can pick up a brand new ‘van!
The M1 runs north-south like a spine through the middle of Central England from North London to North Yorkshire, while the M40 is a fast route from West London to the Midlands. The M5 (and M50 spur) helps to connect Herefordshire and Worcestershire, linking to the M6 to reach the West Midlands, Staffordshire and Cheshire.
The east and west extremities of this large region can also be accessed using the cross-country section of the M6 – from junction 19 of the M1, through Birmingham to the M5/M6 intersection. To avoid congestion through the city, an alternative is to take the M6 toll road. Prices vary depending on day (5.00-23.00), night (23.00-5.00) or weekend, although the fee is significantly more expensive (averaging £5-£6 more) for motorhomes, which are specified as Class 4 for the purposes of the toll road, than cars.
No major routes within the region are inadvisable for motorhomes but extra care should be taken within the counties of Herefordshire and Shropshire where rural roads can be particularly narrow and twisty.
Watch, too, for minor roads within the Peak District, particularly Winnats Pass (gradient 1:5) between Sparrow Pit to Castleton and the road from Mam Tor to Edale.
Cheap overnight stops
Save money on your overnight costs by making the most of the Practical Motorhome Nightstops Scheme. There are several places to stop overnight throughout Central England, and we’re adding new venues all the time. Belmont Hall in Cheshire, for example, offers a cheaper rate to Practical Motorhome readers while The Black Horse Pub in Great Missenden offers a free overnight stay for diners. Likewise, an overnight stop at The Tarrington Arms in Herefordshire is free of charge to motorhome users; the pub has a large car park, a restaurant and beer garden.
And, don’t forget Practical Motorhome’s Top 100 Sites for your motorhome holidays in Central England. No fewer than 15 campsites and touring parks from this region featured in the 2021 Awards, as voted for by you, with some fabulous sites that are open all year and including the overall national winner, Eye Kettleby Lakes Holiday Park.
Rail connections are good throughout the central region, with most lines radiating from London. Hence, for those who wish to visit London (take a look at the Practical Motorhome Travel Guide on visiting London and South East England) on a day trip while staying on sites within the Home Counties, you’ll find many convenient links.
That does mean, however, that travelling east to west within the region by rail is limited without making significant train changes or detours. Here, you’ll need to rely more so on local bus routes. For the Peak District, in particular, use the High Peak Buses bus service, which runs right through the heart of the National Park.
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The counties of Central England still contain individuality and personality