Ditch the motor and explore the best of Britain by train or bus – minus the carbon footprint.

There are so many reasons to leave the motor at home when venturing for a day out. The big one is, of course, to reduce your emissions, but there are many other compelling arguments for going car-free too. Swerving sitting in traffic is one. Being able to fully switch off is another (resting your head against the glass and gazing at the view, or having a little nap, doesn’t fly when behind the wheel.) You can read. You can chat with friends (or even, gasp, fellow passengers) and fully engage. And when you reach your destination, you’re far more likely to explore on foot or by bike than if you have your car on standby at all times.

Here are just a few of our favourite trips out of the city that you won’t need to hit the motorway for.

Stonehenge


If you, like us, believed that Stonehenge was one of those places you absolutely had to have wheels to get to, then think again. All throughout the year, those eschewing public transport can arrive at Salisbury Railway station (roughly 90-minutess from London Waterloo) and then simply hop on the Stonehenge Tour Bus, which delivers you at the prehistoric stones in half an hour. For timetables and ticket, do check the website. The best-known prehistoric stone circle – and indeed monument – in Europe, plus a low carbon footprint? Yes please. For more English Heritage sites you can reach without a car – including Dover Castle, Deal Castle and Whitby Abbey among many, many more – have a peruse through the section dedicated to car-free days on its website here.

North Norfolk Coast


It’s hard to beat North Norfolk’s winning combination of vast expanses of sea, sky and marshland; the views seemingly go on forever and the pervading salty aroma is intoxicating, as is the abundance of fresh crab and lobster. And dotted along the miles and miles of shingle beaches are the most picture-perfect villages, with their attendant picture-perfect pubs, windmills, flint cottages and beach huts. And then, of course, there’s Holkham Beach, frequently voted the best in the country, thanks to its immense stretch of sand, complete with dunes to picnic on and jump off, as the fancy takes you. Wells-next-the-Sea, Blakney, Cley, Stiffkey, Salthouse: all are outrageously beautiful and all are, surely, accessibly only by car? Think again. Catch the train to Sheringham, and from there, these coastal slices of heaven are easily and inexpensively accessible via the brilliant Coasthopper bus, which runs every half hour in the summer and every hour in the winter. The perfect reason to leave the car at home. Do check out @visitnorthnorfolk for more inspiration.

Wildwood, Kent


There are some 40 acres of ancient woodland to explore at this extraordinary haven for British wildlife in Kent, which not only creates a safe home for current indigenous species but former ones from our past too. For once upon a time, wolves, bear and wild boar roamed these lands freely, and you can see them here as they once would have lived. Usually, such magical places are frustratingly accessible only for those with their own transport. Not so Wildwood. Just arrive by train at Canterbury, Whitstable or Herne Bay, and jump on the Triangle Bus, which runs every 15 minutes and stops right outside. Even better, you get 50 per cent off entry for not using your car.

Charleston, East Sussex


East Sussex has many, many charms. The undulating views over the Downs, that look like Ravilious paintings made flesh; the vernacular architecture that spans the medieval to the Georgian; the glimpses down twittens (the Sussex term for lanes) across to the undulating hills; and the stunning light are just a few. Another winning attribute is that, as a county, it’s exceptionally easy to reach from London. Brighton, its major city, is of course a perennial draw, but it’s well worth making for the market town of Lewes, which you can reach within an hour, direct from Clapham Junction, London Bridge or Victoria. There’s tons to explore in the town itself – the 11th-century castle, its many pubs, the beautiful Southover Grange, the preponderance of stylish independent shops – but it’s also the place from which you can hop on a bus to Charleston, the former bucolic retreat of the Bloomsbury set and one-time home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. And if Bloomsbury folk are your thing, do take the five-minute train ride from Lewes to Southease, from where you can walk to Rodmell, the pretty village in which Virginia Woolf’s sigh-inducingly beautiful Monk’s House is situated. Heaven.

The Cornish coast


Credit: Adam Gibbard
Cornwall seems, somehow, like one of those counties where a car is pretty much compulsory. Surely, in the pursuit of the most tranquil of its famous beaches, wheels are a requirement? Not necessarily. If you’d prefer your Cornish break not to involve adding another vehicle on to its rural roads, you’d do well to base yourself in Newquay, from where you can catch buses and take advantage of its many world-class walks.

To explore Poldark country, for example, just take Bus 85 to Holywell Bay to explore its familiar and deeply atmospheric wild tufty dunes and caverns. If, meanwhile, you’re in the market to discover the Luxulyan Valley nature reserve, just hop onto the Atlantic Coast Line, which will take you straight to the UNESCO-listed valley’s waterways and granite viaduct. On which note, if you are basing yourself in Newquay, don’t neglect to go to the stunning National Trust-managed Bedruthan Steps, the huge stacks of granite that legend says the Cornish giant Bedruthan once used as stepping stones. All you need to do is catch the A5 Atlantic Coaster Bus, which stops there every couple of hours.

Jupiter Artland


Staying in Edinburgh? Do free up a day to explore Jupiter Artland, a jaw-droppingly beautiful sculpture garden in West Lothian. Set over 100 acres of meadow and woodland in the grounds of Bonnington House, nestled into the landscape are sculptures by the likes of Andy Goldsworthy, Anthony Gormley, Anish Kapoor and Charles Jencks. No need to hire a motor to get there either. Simply pick up the X23 bus from Edinburgh Waverley and get off at Coxydene. Plus, if you present your bus ticket, or indeed your bike, you get twenty per cent off entry. World-class art and no need to drive – count us in.

Herm, Channel Islands


If you really, really want to be free of cars and the attendant pollution, why not spend a couple of days – or longer – on Herm, the smallest of the Channel Islands, where cars are not just discouraged; they are banned. Take the short boat trip from Peter Port across to the mile-and-a-half long island, and enjoy the clean air, the walks and the glimpses of puffins through the summer.

The New Forest Tour


Want to explore the romance of the New Forest and encounter the magical wild ponies who roam there but don’t have a car? No problem. There are few nicer ways to explore than on The New Forest Tour’s open top bus. For just £9 for the day (kids go half price), you can hop on and hop off, allowing plenty of opportunities for walks from each stop (helpfully, the tour provides maps with five walk and five cycle options). Cycle carriage is free. Pick it up from Brockenhurst, Exbury, Beaulieu or Lymington.

By Nancy Alsop
February 2020

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