Central England covers a vast swathe of country with massive variation from high peaks and moorland to industrial heartlands, quaint stone cottages and half-timbered houses to mirrored-glass office blocks and Gherkin-shaped skyscrapers. It includes England’s smallest county, oldest continuously inhabited castle, home to the world’s most famous playwright and England’s longest river, all of which provides a wealth of choice when planning a caravan holiday.
The county is renowned for its textile industry with many mills, factories and weaver’s cottages from a bygone age. The county is also home to the Jodrell Bank Observatory and the Lovell Telescope, the third largest steerable radio telescope in the world and a major piece of engineering. It’s also designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Much of Derbyshire is covered by the Peak District National Park, Britain’s oldest national park, filled with rugged moorland in the High Peak area to the north and more gentle rolling hills and river valleys in the White Peak area to the south. The pretty town of Bakewell, synonymous with Bakewell Pudding, and the impressive Chatsworth Estate lie towards the eastern edge of the park.
Home of Robin Hood, Sherwood Forest and traditional mining communities, this is also where D.H. Lawrence wrote his gritty novels that once shocked a nation. In fact, Nottingham is designated as a UNESCO City of Literature for its contribution to culture while the county as a whole is considered a County of Sport due its many sporting venues, such as the National Water Sports Centre.
The county city, Leicester sits in the centre of the county while Melton Mowbray, home of the traditional pork pie, covers the northeast of the county; Market Bosworth and Bosworth Battlefield, where King Richard III was slain in 1485, are close to the southwest border.
England’s smallest county is awash with beauty. In the centre is Rutland Water, the largest reservoir in England. But there are some exceptional market towns, too, such as Oakham. Expect to be surprised by Rutland’s tranquil countryside.
A borderpost alongside Wales, Shropshire is one of England’s most rural counties and best-kept secrets. Its scenery, such as Wenlock Edge and The Long Mynd, is absolutely stunning, supplemented by attractive towns like Shrewsbury, Ludlow and Church Stretton.
Renowned historically for its pottery, Stoke-on-Trent has become the world capital for ceramics, with many associated places to visit including heritage centres, factory shopping outlets and museums. Look out for big names like Wedgwood, Spode, Denby, Gladstone, Moorcroft and Emma Bridgwater.
Like Shropshire, Herefordshire depicts ‘old England’ with quiet country lanes and beautiful undulating countryside, not to mention numerous fruit orchards and its fame for cider. There’s a territorial history, summed up by the Offa’s Dyke Path that runs through Herefordshire on the ancient dyke used to separate the two countries (England and Wales) when Offa was King of Mercia.
Bringing together the large conurbation around Birmingham and the Black Country, the West Midlands is very much an industrial heartland where thousands of iron foundries and forges filled the area, helped by the prolific seams of coal abundant in the mid-nineteenth century. Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre (NEC) is also home to two of the UK’s largest caravan shows.
With the mighty River Severn flowing through the heart of the county, the river valley dominates much of Worcestershire’s landscape. Also dominating the skyline are the Malvern Hills, a long ridge to the west of the Severn Valley. Much of the countryside is depicted in music, composed by the county’s most famous son, Sir Edward Elgar.
Neighbouring Warwickshire also has a famous son – that of William Shakespeare, who was born, raised, married and died in Stratford-upon-Avon. His birthplace, the houses associated with his family and the church with his grave are open to the public. Nearby Warwick Castle and Kenilworth Castle are notable visitor attractions too.
A rural county with a plethora of charming stone villages like Moreton Pinkney, Canons Ashby and Sulgrave. The Grand Union Canal runs through the county, with the National Waterways Museum at Stoke Bruerne.
One of England’s smaller counties, Bedford’s best-loved attractions include the magnificent English Heritage property Houghton House and the Shuttleworth Collection, an important addition to aviation history. To the south of the county are the Dunstable Downs where Whipsnade Zoo, the UK’s largest zoo, is situated.
To the north is the modern town of Milton Keynes, renowned for shopping and modern entertainment complexes, although Buckinghamshire’s best known area are The Chilterns, a long line of chalk-based hills on which beech trees grow prolifically, creating wondrous colourful autumn walks. Look out for red kites soaring overhead, thriving since their reintroduction to the area.
Much of north and west Oxfordshire lies within the Cotswolds, yet has a very different character to that of the Cotswolds’ western area (see our page on the Southwest). Central to the county are the ‘dreaming spires’ of Oxford, a traditional university town with sumptuous architecture in the grand college buildings and courtyards, and rambling walks along the River Thames, actually known as the Isis while it flows through the city.
Hertfordshire is perhaps better known for its ‘new’ towns like Stevenage and Welwyn Garden City that sprung up in the second half of the 20th century, but St Albans has Roman routes (once known as Verulamium) built alongside Watling Street, the Roman road from London to the north of England. Look out, too, for not so Roman historic houses like Knebworth and Hatfield House.
Dominated by the River Thames, which flows through much of the county, the county’s largest attractions are the connected towns of Windsor and Eton, given their royal connections. To the west of the county, it’s the River Kennet that shines, while in the north the Lambourn Downs, where many of the country’s racehorses are trained.
Not particularly associated with caravan holidays, trips to London are perfectly possible with several campsites inside the M25 and plenty on the fringes of the area offering public transport links. While the visitor attractions of central London may be widely known, look out for lesser-known places of interest in the Greater London area such as Kenwood House, Ham House and Osterley Park. Not forgetting, of course, sporting greats like Wembley, Twickenham and Wimbledon.
Things to do
1.Go cycling in the Peak District to enjoy fabulous views during your caravan holidays. Go off-road on the many off-road cycle tracks, especially around the Upper Derwent Valley reservoirs. Bicycle hire is available in the Upper Derwent Valley, too.
2.Visit Hereford to see the Norman Hereford Cathedral, where the famous Mappa Mundi – the largest surviving known medieval map of the world – is housed. The cathedral’s Chained Library also houses the oldest book (the Anglo Saxon Gospels) dating from the 8th Century.
3.Visit Stratford-upon-Avon and see a Shakespeare play put on by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the world-renowned Royal Shakespeare Theatre or the neighbouring Swan Theatre.
4.Visit Windsor Castle and look up to see if the Royal Standard is flying. If it is, then Her Majesty is ‘at home’; if the Union Jack flag is flying then the Queen is not there. Watch the Changing of the Guard at Windsor, the world’s largest and oldest, continuously inhabited castle in the world.
5.Go canoeing while taking in the beauty of Herefordshire’s Wye Valley, a densely tree-covered gorge. There’s a choice of gentle paddles or hair-raising white water.
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 V Festival (Shropshire) and Reading Festival (Berkshire), the Robin Hood Festival (Nottinghamshire) 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!
Where to stay
Pick your spot to pitch in Central England from our annual Top 100 Sites Guide, as voted for by you.
The M1 runs north-south like a spine through the middle of this Central England area 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 to 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 whether you are travelling in the day (7.00-23.00), the night (23.00-7.00) or at the weekend, although the fee is significantly more expensive (averaging £4-5 more) when towing a caravan than the price paid by standalone cars.
Care should be taken on unclassified roads throughout the region as what appears perfectly wide for two-way traffic can suddenly become uncomfortably narrow when towing a caravan if travelling too fast. Even main routes through Herefordshire and Shropshire can be twisty, so extra time should be allowed for journeys through these counties.
Few routes within the region are inadvisable when towing caravans except a handful in Derbyshire’s Peak District, most notably Winnats Pass between Sparrowpit and Castleton, and Mam Tor to Edale (approach the Edale Valley carefully via Hope). Snake Pass (the A57) and Woodhead Pass (A628), also in the Peak District, are usable when towing during the summer, although care should be taken – during the winter months they are often closed in bad weather and would be worth avoiding.
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This area includes England's smallest county, longest river and oldest continuously inhabited castle