With great cities of international standing and equally great rural landscapes, North West England attracts a significant proportion of visitors and remains a popular region for caravan holidays.
Cumbria – the Lake District, call it what you will (Cumbria is specifically a county while the Lake District is a National Park but the two fit synonymously together) is, arguably, one of Britain’s most well known ‘landmarks’ with its collection of fells, valleys and home to the largest lakes in England.
Windermere, Ullswater and Derwentwater are virtually household names, though each has its own character, much like Coniston Water, Haweswater and Wastwater, a lakeland landscape that became designated as ‘Britain’s Favourite View’ by public vote.
With Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain at 3,209 feet, and other great peaks known to fell walkers such as Great Gable, Helvellyn, Cat Bells and The Old Man of Coniston, the Lake District has a landscape like no other. Caravan holidays in the Lake District are very much for those who enjoy getting outdoors and making the most of the spectacular scenery, especially as the area brands itself as the UK’s Adventure Capital.
Though the Lake District is not just for active lifestyles. Following in the footsteps of poet Wordsworth, children’s author Beatrix Potter, social commentator John Ruskin and novelist Arthur Ransome are all possible for visitors looking for artistic inspiration or simply a relaxing time messing about in boats or wandering, ‘lonely as a cloud’.
Neighbouring Lancashire is well endowed with scenic countryside, too. With stunning views of the nearby Lake District, the Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has a unique combination of rolling hills and ecologically important coastal salt marshes, where rare butterflies can be found in spring.
On the opposite side of the M6 motorway is the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. A vast landscape of 312 square miles, this wild area displays rugged moorland, gritstone fells with little habitation except the fringes of the Area. The picturesque Ribble Valley borders the Forest of Bowland, centred round the pretty market town of Clitheroe. East of the town is the mysterious Pendle Hill, a significant flat-topped outcrop of land notoriously associated with witchcraft. One of the best access points to climb the hill is from the attractive stone village of Barley.
All this ruggedness is far removed from the university (and county) town of Lancaster, historic since the Plantagenet Wars of the Roses, and the coastal razzmatazz of Blackpool where vibrant lights, theme park rides and ballroom dancing go hand-in-hand with classic seaside holidays and sticks of rock.
Both Cumbria and Lancashire are bolstered due south by the giant sprawls of Greater Manchester and Merseyside. While not necessarily an instant thought for a caravan holiday, staying on campsites on the fringes of Bolton, Stockport or Oldham and making the most of public transport allows caravanners to take on the bright lights of city life.
As a cultural centre, Manchester continues to grow with The Lowry Centre (two major theatres and the Lowry Galleries), Manchester Art Gallery, the impressive Gothic John Rylands Library, the advancing Salford Quays and HOME, a large cultural venue. Not forgetting the vast Trafford Centre for shoppers, or the fact that football dominates the city, or the most famous cobbled street of all, Coronation Street.
Manchester football fans (whether red or blue) will tell you that Merseyside is the opposition. Over on the west coast, Liverpool has its own red and blue football legends, but the city also boasts cultural icons in both architectural and human form.
Liverpool’s Waterfront is one of the most iconic in the world. The Three Graces (the Liver Building, Cunard Building and Port of Liverpool Building) are symbolic landmarks fitting into the waterfront skyline in Pier Head and alongside Albert Dock, where the Tate Liverpool, the Museum of Liverpool and the Merseyside Maritime Museum all reside. Albert Dock is a good place to be introduced to Liverpool’s human icons, The Beatles, with the Beatles Story. But head just a few streets inland to the Cavern Club where it began and you can go on a Magical Mystery Tour to see all the relevant sights associated with the Fab Four.
There’s more to Merseyside than Liverpool, though. Across the Mersey, and separated from Wales by the River Dee, is the Wirral Peninsula. The banks of the Mersey are heavily populated, not least by the historic Port Sunlight village created by philanthropic industrialist Lord Lever who created the Victorian village for his Sunlight Soap workers.
But the west coast of the Wirral, facing the Dee, is a landscape of open coastal heathland. Much of this area, including the River Dee, Thurstaston Common and the Wirral Country Park is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. You can step offshore to the red-rocked Hilbre Islands, noted for their bird and Atlantic grey seal colonies.
Head west a little further (by a couple of hours or so on a boat) and you’ll come to another island – the Isle of Man. Located centrally in the Irish Sea, this scenic isle is filled with mysterious folklore and legend, a large part of its character and charm – three-legged symbols, the Manx Cat, and evidence of Celtic and Norse habitation.
Independent and self-governing, with the oldest continual parliament in the world, the island is best known for its high-speed motorcycle racing. It’s perhaps less well-known for its dramatically dark skies – so dark that the Northern Lights can be seen from the island’s northeastern coast, or that the island produced the first commercial campsite in Britain, set up in 1894.
The island’s capital is Douglas on the east coast, with other notable towns of Ramsey and Castletown, filled with ancient cobbled streets. The north west coast is lined with sweeping sandy beaches while much of the coastline elsewhere offers rugged cliffs and quiet, sheltered bays. Head to the ruined Peel Castle on St Patrick’s Isle, just off the west coast, and you can witness magnificent sunsets – the reason why the town of Peel is credited as being ‘Sunset City’.
Things to do
1.Follow in the footsteps of Peter Rabbit – visit Beatrix Potter’s tiny home, Hill Top, near Sawrey in Cumbria, where you’ll see recognisable landmarks depicted in her illustrated children’s books. It’s owned by the National Trust, fittingly, since it was Beatrix Potter that helped to found the organisation.
2.Take a leisurely trip on the Lancaster Canal that flows for 41 miles from Preston to Tewitfield, and through Lancaster. With no locks and great views of the Silverdale coast and the Forest of Bowland, it’s a scenic journey.
3.With the epic Mancunian TV soap now filmed at MediaCityUK in Salford Quays, take a guided Coronation Street Tour behind the scenes of the former site, where you can have your picture taken at the bar when you visit the Rover’s Return and pick up on gossip of the Street.
4,Visit Liverpool and take the ferry across the Mersey. Mersey Ferries operate River Explorer Cruises up and down the river.
5.At a leisurely speed, take a chauffeur-driven Isle of Man Trike Tour around the 37¾-mile TT Races motorcycle course. Starting at the Grandstand in Douglas, you’ll see iconic landmarks of the course.
When to visit
When’s a good time to visit Cumbria? How about Kendal Calling in July, a major event in the festival calendar with more than 250 acts over 13 stages? In September, it’s the Westmorland County Show bringing tradition alive with agriculture and food.
If you plan to go to Lancashire, you could visit Blackpool for Blackpool Air Show, a free event in August, 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 Rossendale, 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.
The M6 (A74M from Scotland) running up and down the west of England makes access to the north west 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 flat tyre. Check restrictions if you are hoping to tow your caravan along these routes. The Queensway Tunnel (from Birkenhead) has a maximum gross vehicle weight of 3.5 tonnes, plus 3.9-metre height, 2.7-metre width and 12-metre length restrictions. Larger/heavier vehicles/outfits can cross using the Kingsway Tunnel (from Wallasey) where the maximum height is 5 metres, width is 2.9 metres and length 12.2 is metres.
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 – they are not suitable for towing caravans. The A592 running along the edge of Windermere from Newby Bridge to Bowness-on-Windermere can become heavily congested at weekends, bank holidays and peak season, so anticipate delays on this route.
Travel to the Isle of Man via two ferries (Ben-my-Chree and Manannan) operated by the Steam Packet Company with crossings to Douglas from Heysham, Liverpool, Dublin and Belfast. Vehicles towing caravans must provide accurate details of height and length at the time of booking as vehicles in excess of the declared length/weight may be refused shipment. If accepted, the vehicle will be subject to a surcharge.
Where to stay
You can find out about the other top parks that were included by reading our guide to the best caravan sites.
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It is a region with great cities of international standing and equally great rural landscapes