the best of the english countryside - detailed itinerary

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Day 1 - Bath
Take the train from London's Paddington Station to Bath. Trains leave approximately every half hour and the journey takes one hour and fifteen minutes.

Called Aquae Sulis by the Romans who took full advantage of the mineral springs here, Bath is the best preserved Georgian city in Great Britain. Eighteenth-century aristocrats flocked here to "take the waters" and a lovely, well-planned city remains as their legacy.

After checking into your hotel, get oriented with a stroll. Free walking tours leave from in front of the Roman Baths at 10:30AM daily, and 2PM Sunday through Friday. But if you miss the tour, you should have no trouble navigating on your own.

Start at Bath Abbey. Begun in the 1490s, the church was built on the site of a much earlier church. An excellent example of the Perpendicular style, the Abbey has exquisite fan vaulting and beautiful stained glass windows.

If you haven't had lunch yet, you'll find lots of cafes in tiny alleyways leading away from the Abbey. Two excellent choices are Sally Lunn's House, which has been hosting diners since the 1680s, and the Pump Room & Roman Baths, which serves a lovely afternoon tea.

After lunch, explore the Roman Baths. Founded in 75 AD, they are one of the best-preserved Roman ruins in Britain. The truly daring can sample the water from the hot springs, which tastes awful but is thought to have curative properties.

Walk back past the Abbey toward the Grand Parade until you reach the Pulteney Bridge. The only Bath example of Robert Adam's work, the bridge was modeled after the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. Like it's inspiration, it is lined with shops.

Stroll along the Upper Borough Walls to Theatre Royal. Following an extensive restoration in 1982, the theater – opened in 1805 – is arguably the most beautiful in Britain. Check at the box office to see if there's a performance while you're in town.

Continue along Barton Street to Queen Square, which is lined with beautiful Georgian homes. Jane Austen lived on Gay Street and those interested in her life and work should visit the Jane Austen Centre there.

Gay Street leads to The Circus. The round garden in the center is surrounded by three Georgian terraces. And the nearby Assembly Rooms played a role in Jane Austen's "Persuasion." Today, the classical building houses the Museum of Costume which has clothes dating as far back as 1660.

Bath's architectural highlight is the Royal Crescent, an elegant arc of 30 graceful townhouses designed by John Wood the Younger. No. 1 Royal Crescent has been turned into a museum by the Bath Preservation Trust. Inside, you'll get a good look at late 18th-century Bath life, including a fascinating kitchen.

Head back to your hotel and relax a bit before dinner. If you're beat, chances are the restaurant at your hotel is outstanding. If you still have some energy and can wait for a late supper, take the Bizarre Bath Walking Tour. Part tour, part improvisational comedy show, it leaves from the Huntsman Inn at North Parade nightly during the season at 8PM.

For dinner, try Popjoy's Restaurant on Sawclose next to the Theatre Royal. In a townhouse once shared by local dandy Beau Nash and his mistress, Julianna Popjoy, the restaurant offers imaginative preparations. Fowl is a specialty here. Or for French bistro-style cooking, try Beaujolais. A nice wine selection, tasty food, and good value for money make this a popular spot in Bath.

Day 2 - Bath
This morning, have breakfast at your hotel, then pick up your rental car. Get directions to the A4 and then follow the signs 14 miles to Lacock.

Owned by the National Trust since 1944, Lacock, as a result, is one of the best-preserved villages in Great Britain. The unspoiled 16th-century structures and gardens here have served as the backdrop for a number of period movies including Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Moll Flanders.

Enjoy strolling the winding lanes, which have remained essentially unchanged for centuries. Then visit St. Cyriac Church, built between the 14th and 17th centuries in the Perpendicular style. Financed by wealthy wool merchants, the church has a beautiful stained glass window.

Lacock Abbey is also worth a visit. Seized by Henry VIII when he founded the Church of England, the abbey became a private home in the 16th century. But the Abbey's 13th-century cloisters, chapter house and sacristy remain.

In the medieval barns on the abbey grounds, the Fox Talbot Museum is included in the church admission and displays the early photographer's work.

After you've explored Lacock, take the A350 south and follow the signs 15 miles to Avebury. The village is encircled by more than 100 stones, some weighing more than 50 tons.

You're free to explore the 28-acre Bronze age site – the largest prehistoric complex in Europe – on your own. For a greater understanding of the circle, visit the Alexander Keiller Museum. It includes archaeological artifacts from excavations throughout the area.

Because of the lack of crowds and unrestricted access to the stones, many travelers prefer Avebury to Stonehenge. But if you've never been to Stonehenge, you should go despite the hoards.

If you're hungry, have lunch at the pub before the 45-minute drive.

In order to protect the site, Stonehenge has been fenced off. Once you pay your admission, you'll be able to enter the fenced area and get to within about fifty feet of the stones – a rope will prevent you from getting any closer. Since some of the stones are nearly 20 feet tall, it won't be a problem.

A walkway will lead you all the way around the circle of stones, the heaviest of which weigh 26 tons. Ignore the crowds and try to grasp how they were brought here – some theorize they came all the way from Wales – and why. The audio tour will illuminate some of the mysteries surrounding the site.

Return to Bath for dinner, perhaps at the Hole in the Wall on George Street.

Day 3 - Bath
Spend the day according to your interests.

The smallest cathedral city in Britain, Wells has many 17th-century buildings. There's a lively market there on Wednesdays and Saturdays and there's also an interesting cheese dairy.

But the real reason to visit Wells is to tour its magnificent Gothic cathedral. The western façade was completed in the 13th century and recently restored. Adorned with 300 statues, it is breathtaking.

Inside, the elaborate fan vaulting, 14th-century stained glass windows, and medieval astronomical clock are equally impressive.

After you tour the Cathedral, walk along the Cloisters to the Bishop's Palace. Here you'll see what remains of the 13th-century Great Hall and a number of residences from the 12th and 13th centuries.

Not far from there, Vicar's Close is one of the oldest streets in Europe. Lined with 14th-century houses, it is beautifully preserved.

At lunch time, try Rugantino's if you're in the mood for Italian, or the restaurant at the Swan Hotel, a 15th-century coaching inn.

Wells's other principal attraction is the caves in the nearby Mendip Hills. Spelunkers should plan to visit Wookey Hole Caves or the Cheddar Showcaves. Both offer a variety of activities. And at Cheddar you can walk along the cliff tops or climb the Lookout Tower for wonderful views of the surrounding countryside.

Those interested in ancient history, Arthurian legends, or New Age philosophy should continue six miles southwest of Wells to Glastonbury.

The Abbey here – now in ruins – is as atmospheric as any place you'll find. Set on acres of peaceful parkland, it is the oldest Christian church in Britain. Legend has it that Joseph of Arimathea brought the Holy Grail here. And that King Arthur and his queen were buried here before being disinterred by Edward I in 1278.

If you're interested in English country life, the Somerset Rural Museum on the Abbey grounds would be worth a visit.

Those who'd like to stretch their legs can visit the Chalice Well – the reputed burial site of the Holy Grail – before climbing 520-ft. Galstonbury Tor. Climbers who complete the steep hike are rewarded with spectacular views of the Vale of Avalon.

The ruins of St. Michael's Church, which collapsed in a 1271 mudslide, are at the top of the hill.

If country houses and gardens are more your cup of tea, spend the afternoon touring Longleat House and Stourhead Gardens.

Nineteen miles south of Bath, Longleat is one of Britain's finest private estates. The home of the Marquess of Bath, the Italian Renaissance palace was completed in 1580.

The paintings, tapestries, and furnishings are absolutely superb. Capability Brown laid out the formal gardens here, and the Maze of Love is the longest hedge maze in the world. There's also a butterfly garden and an orangery.

Adjoining Longleat House is the Longleat Safari Park, where you can walk among giraffes and zebras and view more dangerous game, such as lions and rhinos, from your car.

Stourhead would make anyone's list of the top three British gardens, and many would argue it's the nation's best. The 100 acres adjoining the 18th-century manor house are the best example of the "natural" school of landscaping created to rebel against the formal French style.

Wandering among the grottoes, pools, and classical temples here is a joy, any time of year. And you can buy plants from the garden in the adjoining farm.

You can have lunch at the Spread Eagle Inn or order a box lunch and picnic on the beautiful grounds.

However you spend your day, leave a little time for shopping when you return to Bath. There's no main boulevard here – there are stylish shops on every street.

But antique lovers shouldn't miss Bartlett Street where nearly 100 dealers share the Bartlett Street Antiques Centre and the Great Western Antiques Centre.


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Day 4 - Cotswolds
This morning, have breakfast, check out of your hotel and then drive ten miles east of Bath to Castle Combe. This tiny village, once voted England's prettiest, is certainly one of the most photogenic.

There's not much here – a brook, a bridge, and a street, imaginatively called "The Street." But you'll enjoy stepping back in time for a while. The principal attraction is the 15th-century Upper Manor House which served as the residence of Dr. Doolittle in the movie of the same name.

Once you've explored Castle Combe, head for the Cotswolds, many travelers favorite part of England. The honey-hued stone cottages, rolling hills, and stately manor homes make this area especially appealing.

Where you choose to base yourself will depend on your interests, whether you prefer to stay in the town or the country, and how much you want to spend on your accommodations.

Those who want the convenience of staying in the town – the ability to walk to restaurants, shops, and places of interest – will find comfortable, reasonable lodging in Burford, Broadway, Stow-on-the-Wold, or Painswick.

If you're more interested in peace and quiet – and willing to pay for it – consider staying in one of the area's grand manor house hotels.

Each village has its own particular charm. And the region is so compact that you can see all the sights no matter where you hang your hat. So don't worry too much about choosing a base.

It makes sense to make your way around the villages in a circle. You can start anywhere along the loop and the total driving time should be less than an hour – though traffic in towns such as Broadway and Chipping Campden can slow things down considerably.

Bibury, called England's most beautiful village by William Morris, remains largely unspoiled by modern development. For great photographs, visit Arlington Row, a string of 17th-century gabled cottages. St. Mary's Parish Church is another worthwhile stop here. It's one of the few churches in the area that the prosperous wool merchants did not rebuild, so parts of the church date from the 8th to the 13th centuries.

Outside town, the old corn mill has been converted into the Cotswold Heritage Museum. Here you'll learn more about the history and culture of the area.

Ten miles up the road, Burford serves as the southern gateway to the Cotswolds. Consequently, it's a little more developed than some of the other towns. But it still retains its medieval charm.

The River Windrush flows through the town and Queen Elizabeth I once admired the view from the bridge. Be sure to stroll along its banks while you're here.

The Norman church dates from 1116 and there are some antique shops on the busy high street. There's also a market on Fridays.

Antique lovers should plan on spending lots of time in Stow-on-the-Wold. There are more than 60 dealers in the town. With eight crossroads converging here, it's easy to reach. And there are lots of pubs and outdoor cafes when you need sustenance.

Serious antique shoppers should visit Anthony Preston, Baggott Church Street and Huntington's.

The market town of Moreton-in-Marsh still has a bustling market on Tuesday mornings. On the ancient Roman Fosse Way, the High Street here is one of the widest in the Cotswolds. It's Curfew Tower dates back to 1633.

Birders will enjoy a visit to the Cotswold Falconry Centre. And animal lovers can see rare farm animals at Sleepy Hollow Farm Park.

Most visitors agree that Chipping Campden is the quintessential Cotswold village. The approach, through the Vale of Evesham is ridiculously perfect. As is the village High Street. If you fall in love with the Cotswolds, it's likely to be Chipping Campden you remember.

The 15th-century Perpendicular-style Church of St. James is the finest in the Cotswolds. The 14th-century Woodstaplers Hall and Jacobean Market Hall are also worth checking out.

Arts and Crafts movement founder William Morris made the Costwolds his home for most of his life. And today, many superb craftsmen have studios and shops in Chipping Campden. Of particular interest are Harts Silversmith and the Campden Needlecraft Centre.

Garden lovers should visit Hidcote Manor Garden, four miles northeast of town. Created in 1907 by American horticulturalist Major Lawrence Johnstone, it offers dozens of garden "rooms" on ten acres. On summer evenings, Shakespeare is performed on the Theatre Lawn. If you have the opportunity to go, don't miss it.

Broadway is one of the most popular of the Cotswold villages as the tour busses will attest. But you shouldn't miss it. Its High Street is certainly one of the most beautiful in the country.

Cromwell slept at the Lygon Arms, the High Street coaching inn that has been welcoming guests since 1532. And St. Eadurgha's Church is more than 1,000 years old.

There are lots of nice shops, tea rooms, and restaurants in Broadway. So come early or late to avoid the crowds.

At the edge of town, the Broadway Tower Country Park rewards climbers with a sweeping panorama of 12 counties.

Sudeley Castle is the burial place of Catherine Parr, Henry VIII's sixth and final wife. The house contains magnificent furnishings and paintings by Constable, Turner, Van Dyck, and Rubens. And the formal gardens contain roses from the 16th-century.

A little farther off the tourist trail, Upper and Lower Slaughter offer a quieter, more peaceful Cotswold experience. There's not much to see, but you're sure to find a stroll along the River Eye to the 19th-century corn mill rewarding.

Relatively speaking, there's lots to see and do in Bourton-on-the-Water – and lots of people doing and seeing it. Unless you're specifically interested in one of the attractions here – a museum with vintage cars, a perfumery, and a museum depicting rural life – visit very early, very late, or not at all.

About a mile from Bourton-on-the-Water is a worthwhile destination for birdwatchers. Birdland has more than 350 species of birds, including many that are rare or endangered. It also has one of the largest penguin colonies in the world.

Painswick is one of the most charming villages around. And garden lovers shouldn't miss the opportunity to visit the gardens of Painswick House. The private home, built in 1830, was the residence of the Dickinson family for eight generations. And the present owners have opened their gardens for your enjoyment.

Just south of Painswick, Owlpen Manor is enchanting. This tiny hamlet of 35 consists of a church, a few cottages and a manor house, the interior and gardens of which you can tour. Effusively praised by everyone from Vita Sackville West to Prince Charles, Owlpen Manor is the ideal English village.

After a full day of sightseeing, return to your hotel for a little R and R before dinner. If you're staying in one of the country house hotels, have dinner there. Most have outstanding – some even Michelin-starred – restaurants.

If you're staying in town, you'll be pleasantly surprised at how the crowds have thinned out. Of the hoards who visit the Cotswolds every day, a relatively small number spend the night.

In Painswick, have dinner at the Country Elephant. In Moreton-in-the-Marsh, try the Marsh Goose. And in Broadway, try the Tapestry.

There's not much to do in the Costwolds after dark. Enjoy a crowd-free stroll. Or pop into the village pub for a pint.

Day 5 - Cotswolds
Have an early breakfast at your hotel this morning, then hit the road for Stratford. The drive will take 45 minutes or less, depending on where you're staying.

Prepare for crowds. An estimated 660,000 visit Shakespeare's birthplace each year. But if you hit the ground running, you'll beat many of the day-trippers coming over from London.

If you're interested in seeing a performance – and by all means, you should – make arrangements before you get to town. Although there are usually some tickets available each day at the box office, it's easy enough to make arrangements in advance, and then you won't be disappointed.

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre is actually three theaters: the Royal Shakespeare Theatre; the Swan Theatre; and The Other Place. The Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the Swan Theatre are currently undergoing renovations and are scheduled to re-open in 2010. The Other Place has been temporarily transformed into the Courtyard Theatre to continue to accommodate performances. Performance information is available on the web and you can purchase tickets in advance. There are usually several matinees a week in addition to nightly performances.

Once your theater plans are firmed up, you can coordinate your sightseeing around them. Start at the Shakespeare Centre on Henley Street next to Shakespeare's birthplace. Here, you can purchase a combination ticket that gives you admission to all the Shakespeare properties in Stratford for a reduced rate.

Shakespeare's Birthplace is a half-timbered early 16th-century house. It's filled with memorabilia and furnishings from the period. The displays are illuminating and the gardens alone are worth the price of admission.

Go ahead and feel the awe at being in the presence of genius.

Walk down the High Street past Harvard House, next to Garrick Inn. This Elizabethan townhouse was the home of Catherine Rogers, the mother of the founder of Harvard University.

A block down across Chapel Street, Nash's House was built on the grounds of New Place, where Shakespeare died on his birthday in 1616. The present house – which was owned by Shakespeare's granddaughter's husband – is furnished with 17th-century pieces. The mulberry in the garden is said to have grown from a cutting of Shakespeare's tree.

Further down Chapel Street on the second floor of the Guild Hall is the Grammar School that Shakespeare likely attended. Turn left at the end of Chapel Street and you'll come to Halls's Croft, one of the finest Tudor homes and gardens in town. Shakespeare's daughter Susanna and her husband, Dr. John Hall, probably lived here.

Continue along Old Town and make a left on Trinity until you reach Holy Trinity Church. Shakespeare's tomb is in the chancel of this beautiful parish church and many of his family members are buried here too. The original parish records recording his birth and death are on display.

Walk along the gardens lining the Avon River to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. The Summer House of the theater has a brass rubbing center where you can make impressions of many different medieval and Tudor reliefs.

If it's lunchtime, or you just fancy a pint, drop into the Black Swan. Known as the "dirty duck" to the actors who've frequented it since the 18th century, its veranda overlooks the Avon. The food's not always the best, but it is long on history and atmosphere.

For something more civilized, try the Box Tree Restaurant inside the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. You can watch the swans on the Avon while you enjoy the continental cuisine.

You're not through until you've done Anne Hathaway's Cottage. In many ways, this thatched-roof farmhouse with its large garden is the highlight of a visit to Stratford. Shakespeare's wife Anne lived here before their marriage in 1582 and many of the original furnishings remain.

There's a boathouse on Swan's Nest Lane where you can rent punts or rowboats – a great way to enjoy a quieter view of Stratford. When you've been and done it all, head back to the Cotswolds for some relative peace and quiet.

If you're staying at a country house, walk the grounds. If not, take a hike anyway. It will restore your sense of well-being.

There are pleasant strolls from almost every town. The one-mile walk between Upper and Lower Slaughter is mostly level, well-marked and especially enjoyable. Following the River Eye, the path – known as the Warden's Way – will take you past ancient mills, rolling meadows, and lots of waterfowl.

Those not staying in a country house, should at least dine in one. Buckland Manor near Broadway, Lords of the Manor House in Upper Slaughter, and Charingworth Manor outside Chipping Campden all have great restaurants. Dress up, forget your budget, and live like a Lord for a night.

Day 6 - Cotswold
Today is yours to do whatever you enjoy. There's lots to see and do in the area, though many find doing basically nothing in such glorious surroundings most appealing of all.

If you'd like to do more walking, head to nearby Cirencester. The "capital" of the Cotswolds, it has great walks radiating from the Market Place in almost every direction. There's also a Perpendicular style church, a small archaeological museum, and an arts and crafts center.

Serious walkers can walk part of the the famed Cotswold Way, one of Britain's most popular National Trails. There are several easy access spots between Chipping Campden and Bath. Any tourist office can point you in the right direction.

Those interested in a round of golf will find several courses in the area: Cotswold Hills outside Cheltenham, Tewkesbury Park in Tewkesbury, Painswick, and Broadway. All accept visitors who phone ahead for reservations although tee times may be restricted on weekends.

One of the most impressive palaces in England, Blenheim is a few miles away in Woodstock. Best known as the birthplace of Winston Churchill, it was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh and given to John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough, by Queen Anne in gratitude for defeating Louis XIV.

Today, Blenheim rivals Versailles and outshines any other estate in Britain. Inside, look for magnificent Belgian tapestries, portraits by John Singer Sargent and Sir Joshua Reynolds, and fabulous ornamentation.

Outside, the grounds are unbelievable. Set on 2,700 acres of parkland, the gardens were created by Henry Wise, Capability Brown, and Achille Duchene, a follower of La Notre.

The Malborough Maze near the palace is the largest hedge maze in the world. There's also a formal herb garden, a butterfly house, and a pleasant restaurant.

The small town of Woodstock has two fine pubs: the Star Inn, which specializes in leg of lamb, and the King's Head. Both are reasonable, friendly, and have great selections of local ale.

Oxford is less than 20 miles from Burford and it's certainly worth a visit. Today, the romantic university town does double duty as a modern, bustling city.

The best way to get oriented and explore the college is by taking a walking tour. Two-hour tours leave the Tourist Information Centre daily at 11AM and 2PM. If you prefer not to walk, you can get information about coach tours there also.

The university is comprised of 40 separate colleges located throughout the town. So if you want to explore independently, you'll need to pick and choose. Just remember that Oxford is a working University and you will not be permitted to impede anyone's education.

For a great view of the town – and great photographs of Oxford's slender spires, climb Carfax Tower. It's right in the center of town.

Christ Church, the best known of Oxford's colleges, was founded by Henry VIII in 1546. Dominated by Tom Tower which houses Great Tom, the huge bell, the quadrangle in front of the college is Oxford's largest and the Chapel here serves as the University Cathedral. Begun in the 12th century, the Chapel with its Norman vaulting and ornate choir is a highlight, as is the medieval dining hall.

Magdalen (pronounced Maudlin) College was founded in 1458 and two of its best known graduates are Cardinal Wolsey and Oscar Wilde. A stroll through the Deer Park or along Addison's Walk will present the Oxford you hoped to see.

When it's time for lunch, Oxford has some of the most atmospheric pubs around. Try the Bear Inn or the Turf Tavern, former hang-out of Rhodes Scholar Bill Clinton and preferred pub of Colin Dexters' Chief Inspector Morse.

For something a little less casual, visit Brown's. A ten-minute stroll from the center of town, this popular restaurant occupies five Victorian shops that were gutted to create this space.

For the quintessential Oxford experience, rent a punt at the foot of Magdalen Bridge and float for a while.

University Church – the Church of St. Mary the Virgin – offers a panoply of architectural styles beginning in the 11th century. If you didn't climb Carfax Tower, climb the tower here.

Behind the church, Radcliffe Camera was designed by James Gibb, the architect of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. The elegant domed structure houses the reading room of the Bodleian Library. With over 5 million volumes, the library is one of the largest in the world and certainly one of the most revered. You may visit part of the library on a tour if you'd like.

Art lovers shouldn't miss the Ashmolean Museum, the oldest public museum in Britain. It has a wonderful collection of paintings and drawings by Michelangelo and Raphael, 16th- and 17th-century jewelry and miniatures, and Greek, Roman, and Egyptian antiquities. You'll even see Guy Fawkes's lantern and the Jewel of Alfred the Great.

The Botanic Gardens, along the Cherwell River adjacent to the Magdalen Bridge, are the oldest in Britain. And the Museum of the History of Science contains more than 10,000 objects including some amazing early astronomical and mathematical instruments. The collection of astrolabs is particularly interesting.

Although there's the expected preponderance of tee shirts and tacky souvenirs, Oxford does offer good shopping. The Golden Cross between Cornmarket Street and Covered Market has dozens of first class shops and boutiques. The arcade itself dates from the 12th century and much from the 15th and 17th centuries survives.

The covered market nearby is great for food and flowers. In Gloucester Green, there's a vegetable market on Wednesday mornings. Thursdays, the market sells antiques and second-hand items.

There's great theater in Oxford, so if you're up for a night out, check at the Tourist Information Centre for performance schedules. The drive back to the Cotswolds should take less than 40 minutes.


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Day 7 - The Peak District
After breakfast, check out of your hotel and drive to Warwick, eight miles northeast of Stratford. The Castle here is the finest medieval castle in Britain.

The ancestral home of the Earls of Warwick, the castle's essential structure is largely 14th-century. Its turrets, ramparts, and gloomy dungeon are an interesting contrast to the lavish interiors created to make the home a showplace in the 17th century.

On 60 acres of grounds landscaped by Capability Brown, the castle contains one of the best collections of medieval arms and armor in the world. Don't miss the Peacock Gardens or the view of the Castle from the bridge over the Avon.

Five miles north of Warwick, the ruins of Kenilworth Castle are also worth visiting. Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I and he entertained her here several times around 1575 at the astronomical cost of 1,000 GBP a day.

The history of the castle, which dates from 1120, is a fascinating one and includes the longest siege in English history. It is the setting for Sir Walter Scott's romance, Kenilworth.

For lunch, head for Restaurant Bosquet. Serving classical French fare and terrific desserts, it's the best restaurant around.

When you're ready to hit the road, it's about a two-hour drive to Derbyshire, your gateway for exploring Peak District National Park, the country's oldest. Depending on your interests, you can base yourself in Bakewell, a charming market town on the River Wye or, Buxton, the once fashionable spa that rivaled Bath in the 18th century.

If you're interested in visiting two of England's most beautiful country homes – Chatsworth House and Haddon Hall – stay outside Bakewell. If you prefer to spend your time hiking in the Peak District, Buxton would be a good choice.

Settle into your hotel, then take a walk. The scenery in this part of the country is glorious – green valleys, swift rivers, beautiful dales, and rolling hills. And in Buxton, a stroll around the Georgian Crescent and adjacent buildings is very enjoyable.

For dinner, it's hard to beat the restaurants at Fischer's Baslow Hall in Bakewell. In 2001, the restaurant was voted Most Excellent U.K. Restaurant. You can dine in the main dining room, or at the less formal – and less expensive – Café Max, named for the owner/chef. Fish, lamb, and duckling are the specialities and everything is impeccably fresh.

Day 8 - The Peak District
Have breakfast at your hotel, then tailor the day to suit your fancy. There's great hiking available in Peak District National Park. The name is something of a misnomer. The highest point in the park is just 2,100 feet. But the scenery is splendid and there are 4,000 walking trails in and around the park. Information is available at the Buxton Tourist Office at The Crescent.

The Park is also a great spot for bicycling. Mountain bikers can test their limits hauling up the steep limestone crags. And casual cyclists can enjoy a leisurely pedal from Bakewell to Longstone. There are bike rental shops throughout the area – the National Park Authority maintains six.

There are four golf courses in the area: Bakewell, Buxton & High Peak, Cavendish, and Matlock. Those who wish to play should contact the club of their choice in advance.

The other great outdoor pursuit here – actually, not so much outdoor as underground – is caving. Poole's Cavern, beneath Buxton Country Park, is the source of the River Wye. It was inhabited during prehistoric times, though no evidence remains, and there's a Roman archaeology exhibit. Peak Cavern and Speedwell Cavern outside Castleton are also good stops for spelunkers.

Despite the abundance of recreational opportunities in the Peak District, many people come to this area just to visit Chatsworth House. The home of the Dukes of Devonshire since 1686, it is one of England's great country houses. The 175 rooms are filled with priceless objects, including paintings by Rembrandt, Van Dyck, and Gainsborough.

The gardens here provide a survey course in British landscaping with 17th-century formal, 18th-century "natural," and mid-Victorian styles all represented. Originally laid out by George London with canals, fountains, and an orangery, they were redone by Capability Brown who turned the property into a woodland park on the Derwent River. Subsequent changes were made by Joseph Paxton who built elaborate conservatories that are now gone.

A couple of miles outside Bakewell in the opposite direction, Haddon Hall has been called "the most romantic house in Britain." Dating from the 13th century, it is best known for the elopement of Dorothy Vernon and Sir John Manners, which brought the house to the Dukes of Rutland. The house was abandoned until early in the 20th century when the 9th duke restored it to its present glory.

Haddon Hall stands in marked contrast to the opulence of Chatsworth. Virtually unfurnished except for some excellent tapestries, the house is a showcase for Tudor craftsmanship, particularly wood carving.

The gardens – filled with roses, clematis, and delphiniums, – are a wonderful examples of the English country garden style. Many visitors prefer the magical, medieval atmosphere of Haddon Hall to the grandeur of Chatsworth.

If time permits, visit nearby Edensor (pronounced "Ensor"). Unique in Britain – and perhaps the world – the village was moved to its present location by the sixth Duke of Devonshire, who felt the town obstructed one of his favorite views from Chatsworth.

In addition to the structures that were relocated, new buildings were designed by architect John Robertson and today the village presents a wide array of architectural styles. J.F.K.'s sister, Kathleen Kennedy, who married a brother of the Duke of Devonshire, is buried here.

For dinner, try The Columbine in Buxton. Preparations here are simple – created using the freshest ingredients – and delicious.


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Days 9/10/11 - Lake District
Have a leisurely breakfast, and possibly an early morning stroll, before the two-hour drive to England's lovely Lake District.

The beauty and serenity of the area have inspired countless creative souls, including Coleridge, Wordsworth, Keats, Ruskin, Shelley, Tennyson and Beatrix Potter.

Today, most of the area, which is roughly 35 miles square, is a National Park. And the scenery here – a magnificent combination of lakes, lush valleys, and soaring mountains – is unsurpassed.

Where you stay will depend on your tolerance for crowds and when you visit. Come in the summer and you'll share the Lakes with hundreds of thousands of others. Come any other time of year, and you'll likely run into rain. Even in summer, some moisture is common so be sure to bring raingear.

Lake Windermere, the town named for the lake, and neighboring Ambleside are the most popular – and consequently most crowded – destinations in the Lake District. But if you stay outside the towns, you'll be able to avoid much of the fray.

For an even mellower visit, consider spending a little time seeing the sights around Windermere but staying in the north around Lake Ullswater, Bassenthwaite Lake, or Derwentwater. You'll still be within striking distance of everything, but you'll have a much easier time getting away from it all.

Chances are, you'll have kept busy the last couple of weeks, so consider the Lakes the vacation within your vacation. Give yourself the luxury of doing nothing more than relaxing and enjoying the breathtaking scenery that surrounds you.

There aren't a lot of "must dos" in the Lakes. Fans of Wordsworth will want to visit his birthplace and boyhood home, Wordsworth House in Cockermouth, Rydal Mount outside Ambleside, and Dove Cottage in Grasmere for an intimate look at the poet's life.

Those who appreciate Beatrix Potter will enjoy The World of Beatrix Potter in Bowness-on-Windermere, the Beatrix Potter Gallery in Hawskhead, and her home, Hill Top, outside Hawkshead.

For art lovers, there's a gallery in Kendal's Abbott Hall with paintings by Ruskin and Romney. A more interesting stop is Brantwood, John Ruskin's home on Coniston Water. Set on 250 acres, the 18th-century house contains many of Ruskin's drawings and personal belonging, as well as a fine collection of drawings by Turner. Besides, getting there by ferry is half the fun.

No trip to the region can be considered complete without getting out on the water. There are two ferry operators on Lake Windermere and a number of vintage cruisers in Ambleside, Bowness, and Lakeside. Steamers ply Lake Ullswater from Pooley Bridge. The Victorian yacht Gondola connects Coniston with Park-a-Moor at the southern end of Coniston Water. And motor launches cruise Derwentwater from Keswick.

Those who prefer to go under their own steam can rent everything from a power boat to a canoe at Windermere Lake Holidays Afloat. Waterskiing, sailing, and fishing are also popular here – licenses for fishing in Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite are available at Field & Stream in Keswick.

A variety of rentals are also available at Coniston Boating Centre and the Derwentwater Marina in Keswick.

There are golf courses in Windermere, Keswick, and Cockermouth. Those wishing to play should contact the club at least seven days in advance.

For a list of golf courses use our search engine with the parameters "Golf/Tennis" and "Best of the English Countryside".

Cyclists can rent bikes at Keswick Mountain Bikes, Lakeland Leisure in Bowness-on-Windermere, or Windermere Cycles in Windermere. There are rides suitable for everyone from the casual peddler to the avid mountain biker. The ride around Derwentwater and the trip from Keswick to Penrith along the abandoned railway are especially nice.

Almost any outdoor activity you can imagine is available here. But to truly experience the splendor of the area, you have to walk. With literally hundreds of paths of varying degrees of difficulty, you'll have no trouble finding many that are rewarding and enjoyable for you. Any of the tourist centers in the region can point you in the right direction. Or you can pick up Lakeland Leisure Walks in most gift shops.

The weather here is changeable, so make sure you wear sturdy, waterproof shoes and take enough layers to keep you warm and dry if conditions changes. If you're tackling one of the more challenging paths, you'll need a good contour map too.

Gardeners should visit Aira Force, a Victorian park on Ullswater. A 20-minute walk through the park will take you past a series of dramatic waterfalls. The rock garden and arboretum here are worth exploring. And Gowbarrow Park, whose daffodils inspired Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," is just above Aira Force.

Acorn Bank Garden, east of Penrith, has beautiful blooms and the best herb garden in Northern England.

Many of the areas best restaurants are in its splendid country house hotels. For fine food in lovely surroundings, try Miller Howe Café in Windermere, the Porthole Eating House in Bowness, Rothay Manor Restaurant in Ambleside, the Glass House in Rydal, Michael's Nook in Grasmere, Grizdale Lodge in Hawkshead, or Passepartout in Penrith.

For something more casual, you'll find good pub grub and great ale at The Meson Arms south of Windermere in Cartmel Fell, the Hole in t' Wall in Bowness, the Golden Rule in Ambleside, the Drunken Duck in Barnsgate, and The Sun in Bassenthwaite.


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Day 12 - York
After breakfast at your hotel, drive two-and-a-half hours to the medieval walled city of York. With well-preserved sites from the Roman, Saxon, Norman, and Viking occupations, York is a must for history lovers. And it's one of the most atmospheric cities in Britain.

If you want to visit Castle Howard, the 18th-century palace designed by Sir John Vanbrugh, it's an easy detour 15 miles northeast of York. One of the grandest private homes in the country, it's best known to Americans because of its starring role in Brideshead Revisited.

With its 80-ft. dome, stained glass windows designed by Burne-Jones, and nearly 200-ft. gallery, the building alone is magnificent; it took 60 years to build. And the contents, which include paintings by Holbein, Reynolds, and Gainsborough, are equally impressive.

The neoclassical grounds seem to go on forever. Don't miss the Temple of the Four Winds and the Mausoleum.

Visiting Castle Howard en route will enable you to turn in your rental car when you arrive in York.

Despite its size – the 14th-century walls that ring York are only two-and-a-half miles long – there are more than 60 churches, museums, and historic buildings here. For a good orientation, head for Exhibition Square, where you can join a free two-hour guided walking tour. The tours leave the Tourist Information Center at 10:15AM and 2:15PM. During the summer, there's an additional tour at 6:45PM.

Another great way to get your bearings, particularly if you're the independent type, is to walk the city walls. You'll have great views from the foot path and you'll pass over the four fortified city gates.

Once you've gotten acclimated, visit the city's heart, York Minster. This huge cathedral – the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe – dates from the 13th-century and attracts two million visitors a year. The dazzling stained-glass windows, especially the Great East Window and the Three Sisters Window, are among the most beautiful in the world.

The octagonal 13th-century Chapter House, the Choir, and the Treasury are also noteworthy. If the weather's fine and you're in good shape, climb the 275 winding steps of the Central Tower for spectacular views (and photos).

One of England's best preserved medieval streets, The Shambles dates from Norman times. Today, the half-timbered houses are filled with stylish shops and cafes.

Not far from The Shambles, the Merchant Adventurers' Hall belonged to one of the city's richest medieval guilds. You can tour the half-timbered house and pretty garden in the back.

For dinner, try any of the three restaurants in the Grange Hotel. The Seafood Bar is all the name suggests; the Ivy is more formal – and expensive; and the Brasserie has French bistro classics. Other good choices are Melton's and 19 Grape Lane.

There's more nightlife in York than in rural England, so you have several evening options. Psychics believe that York is more than usually haunted. So if you'd like to give your goose bumps a workout, go for a "Ghost Hunt." Several tours are available. One leaves from the Shambles every night at 7:30PM. Another leaves from the King's Arm pub at 8PM.

As you'd expect, the city has no shortage of good pubs, and a "crawl" from one to the next is a popular pursuit for locals and visitors alike. Standouts include the Olde Starr licensed in 1644, the King's Arms with tables along the River Ouse, and the Spread Eagle.

The beautiful Theatre Royal presents plays, concerts, and other performances throughout the year. Stop by their box office at St. Leonard's Place to find out what's on.

Day 13 - York
The Jorvik Viking Centre is one of York's most popular attractions, so get there early in the day to beat the crowds. It opens at 10AM.

In the 9th century, the Danes conquered York, renamed it "Jorvik," and made it their English capital. Built atop the Coppergate excavation site, the Jorvik Viking Centre has recreated York as it was under Viking rule. "Time cars" transport visitors underground and back to the year 1067. The journey provides a remarkably detailed look at 11th-century life and ends with a display of artifacts from the archaeological dig.

History buffs will also want to visit the Castle Museum, which features recreated Victorian and Edwardian streets, a Georgian dining room, a debtor's prison, and a fine display of arms and armor.

Spend the afternoon seeing whatever interests you. The National Railway Museum features more than 100 locomotives and many royal coaches, including Queen Victoria's saloon car.

The Yorkshire Museum has the most romantic gardens in the area. Housed in St. Mary's Abbey, the museum has many Roman, Viking, and Anglo-Saxon artifacts, including the Middleham Jewel, a 15th-century pendant with a huge sapphire.

When you're ready for a break, forget any thoughts of weight loss and have tea at Betty's Café and Tea Rooms on St. Helen's Square. Be sure to sit upstairs, even if you have to wait for a table.

Shoppers will find many temptations, particularly if they favor books or china. Many shops line The Shambles, St. Mary's Square, and Coppergate.

Antique lovers should visit the Red House Antiques Centre at Duncombe Place, and the shops along Gillygate.

For your last night, why not splurge and have dinner at Middlethorpe Hall. Reservations are essential at the 18th-century country house, but dining in the beautifully paneled room overlooking the gardens will be a lovely way to end your trip.

Day 14
Fly home directly from York, take the train to London, or if time permits, continue on to Edinburgh.