There seems to be some argument over who takes the title of the 'UK's Adventure Capital', for several areas claim it – and the Lake District is one such. Unsurprising, really, with its spectacular landscape of fells and lakes, forests and valleys for open water swimming, boating, hiking and mountain biking. And that's before you've even considered such tasks as climbing the Honister Via Ferrata or crossing the Infiniti Bridge, twice as high as London's The Shard!
Of course, Cumbria's Lake District National Park can be equally enjoyed over a picnic and a great view of Wastwater, or coffee and cake in Hawkshead, but if you're after somewhere equally spectacular but without the crowds, head across the M6 to the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a remote part of Lancashire that's tucked up against the beautiful Ribble Valley. Both are often overlooked in favour of their near neighbour, and you'll be sorry you missed them.
Let's not forget, though, the giants of North West England, Liverpool and Manchester, friendly neighbours along the M62, even if sworn enemies on the football pitch. Both cities can offer you fabulous cultural centres, with 'not to miss' destinations including Liverpool's Waterfront, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Manchester's cultural collection of The Lowry, Salford Quays, Manchester Art Gallery and the new arts house, HOME.
Top five things to do in North West England
Head to the tiny town of Grasmere in the Lake District to purchase some world-famous gingerbread. The delicious delicacy is made in a tiny (we mean really tiny) old bakehouse to a very old, traditional recipe. Expect to queue – but it’s worth the wait. Afterwards you could nip up to Dove Cottage, poet William Wordsworth's first family home, and the neighbouring Wordsworth Museum.
Climb the flat-topped Pendle Hill in Lancashire for some fine views across the Forest of Bowland and towards the Yorkshire Dales. If you don’t ‘see the light’ (George Fox established Quakerism while sat on the hilltop), follow the Walking with Witches Trail or head to the Pendle Heritage Centre to find out more about the Pendle Witches.
Find out about the Fab Four with a visit to The Beatles Story in Liverpool’s Albert Dock. Then head to The Cavern Club, where it all began, to start a Magical Mystery Tour (yellow bus obligatory) and see all the relevant sights associated with the band. You can even see inside the childhood homes of Lennon and McCartney courtesy of the National Trust.
Step offshore to the red-rocked Hilbre Islands Nature Reserve, noted for their bird and Atlantic grey seal colonies. The three islands, off the Wirral Peninsula, can be accessed by causeway at low tide, though care and caution must be taken in order to prevent being cut off by the incoming tide.
When to visit North West England
If you plan to go to Lancashire, you could visit Blackpool for Showzam, a 10-day festival of circus, magic and variety entertainment every February and, of course, the Blackpool Illuminations, held since 1879, between August and November each year. If that sounds far too ordinary, there's always World Gravy Wrestling in Bacup, held every August!
Visit Greater Manchester and see Chinatown burst into a riot of colour during February's Chinese New Year celebrations, while July sees the spectacular RHS Flower Show at Tatton Park. Or head to Merseyside for the Grand National in April, while the International Beatleweek Festival is in August.
Cheap overnight stops
You’ll be able to spend your ‘holiday’ money on good food and places to visit rather than campsite fees when you use sites that are part of the Practical Motorhome Nightstops scheme. Take The Hawthorns for example. It’s surrounded by woods and fields with footpaths and cycle routes and is only a mile from Oldham, allowing you to get into Manchester by public transport. Or there’s the Junction Inn at Denshaw, Lancashire, where you can stay for free if you eat and drink in the pub.
While parking might be an issue in some towns in this region, Lytham St Anne's has had the good sense to provide overnight parking for motorhomes in the St Anne's Swimming Pool car park. You can stay for up to three nights, within yards of the seafront, for a nominal charge per night.
Motorhome access and information
If you’re considering the Lake District by motorhome, minor roads in Cumbria can be very narrow with few passing places and lined with stone walls, so do check prior to travelling to a campsite about access. In particular, avoid using the Kirkstone, Honister, Wrynose and Hardknott Passes. They are particularly narrow and some of the highest, steepest roads in the country. With anything but smaller van conversions, it really is worth thinking about leaving the ‘van on site and taking to bikes or public transport, or going on foot.
Town parking in North West England, much like other areas of the UK, is hit and miss for motorhomes; like Marmite, they are either loved or loathed! Some town council websites actually say that their car parks and streets are not suitable for motorhomes. Other towns provide good information. Blackpool, for example, accepts motorhomes in four car parks (Seasiders Way in particular), although on-street parking for 'vans is banned.
Carlisle allows motorhomes in its Devonshire Walk car park, providing all bays used are paid for. Towns within the Fylde area allow 'vans in their long stay car parks only, but also provides an overnight facility (see our separate section).
Towns in the Pendle and Ribble Valley area generally provide free parking with a parking disc (available from the town council) and the towns of Fleetwood, Poulton and Garstang include notes about height barriers at certain car parks, although these barriers are generally only closed at night.
Blackburn and Darwen are definitely out of the question if you're planning on parking a coachbuilt. To access Liverpool and Manchester, park and ride options are the easiest solution.
How to get to North West England
The M6 (A74M from Scotland) running up and down the west of England makes access to North West England quick and easy. From the east of England, the M62 crosses the Pennines north of Manchester direct to the centre of Liverpool. An alternative route to Greater Manchester and Merseyside is via the M56 and the M53 into The Wirral.
Tolls are applicable on the Mersey Tunnels between Birkenhead, Wallasey and Liverpool, with hefty breakdown charges including an additional surcharge if you've broken down due to a fuel shortage or a flat tyre. The Queensway Tunnel (from Birkenhead) has a maximum gross vehicle weight of 3.5 tonnes, 3.9m height, 2.7m width and 12m length. Larger/heavier vehicles/outfits can cross using the Kingsway Tunnel (from Wallasey) where the maximum height is 5m, width is 2.9m and length 12.2m.