As soon as touring by car became fashionable in the inter-war years, the Lake District exerted a huge pull on Britain's wealthy motorists. Lakeside, on the road between Penrith and the coast, was built as a coaching inn during the seventeenth century, but it quickly adapted to motor-touring, providing garages where cars could be parked overnight. When the hotel was sold at auction in 1954, the particulars quoted a dining room with dance floor that could accommodate 80 visitors. Travel south down the lake today and you can stay overnight in this beautiful spot before heading on to Ulverston and Barrow in Furness the following day for a fine view of the sea.
One of the most beautiful drives in Britain is across the North York Moors from Whitby or Guisborough and down into the Vale of Pickering. This used to be known as “Herriot Country” after the author of All Creatures Great And Small. Once in the Vale itself, head to Helmsley, a charming market town whose history goes back to Anglo Saxon times and which was, after 1066, part of a royal hunting park given by William the Conqueror to his half-brother.
The Black Swan Hotel dates back to Elizabethan times behind its Georgian facade but the presence of a 1930s-style cocktail bar is evidence of its popularity during the days when it was glamorous to motor round the north of England. Suitably refreshed with a full Yorkshire breakfast, head on to Thirsk the next day to visit 23 Kirkgate, which was the home of the veterinary surgeon and author James Herriot and is now a museum dedicated to his life and works.
Hambleton Hall rises up in a splendid position above Rutland Water. This is very much the kind of Edwardian country house where young men in motors would arrive after a muddy day on the road for a good meal and drinks in front of a roaring fire. Driving down from the historic cathedral city of Lincoln to the university city of Cambridge, turn right off the Great North Road and head inland through Empingham as far as Oakham and then on to the lakeland peninsula on which Hambleton Hall sits. The hotel has the feel of a family home at which you're made very welcome. The following day, after a splendid supper from the kitchen of Michelin-starred chef Aaron Patterson - and a restful night - resume your journey south.
Driving across Dartmoor is a spectacular sight in all seasons but particularly in the autumn. Take the B3212 north through Postbridge and Princetown and then, just after crossing the Rover Bovey pull up at Bovey Castle for the night. This mock Elizabethan mansion was built in the last years of the nineteenth century for the son of William Henry Smith, who made his fortune from the newsagents, WH Smith. As Viscount Hambleden, son Frederick wanted a country seat and that is what Bovey Castle became. It's a glorious place to spend the night with a Jacobean-style staircase, oak-panelled dining room and an Adams-style drawing room. In the 1920s the Smith family would arrive here in a fleet of cars that would meet them from Moretonhampstead train station.
After a good night's rest continue north the next day to Castle Drogo, another stately home built by yet another a successful Victorian retailer. Julius Drewe founded the Home and Colonial Stores in 1883, made his fortune and retired when he was only 32. He employed the architect Edwin Lutyens to design this 1920s castle for him and his family. Though incomplete, Castle Drogo is a lovely place to stop for morning coffee.
The north Cornish coast is often bathed in brilliant light from the Atlantic. Keep to the coast road as much as you can all the way from Land's End through St Just, Zennor and St Ives. At St Agnes turn inland to find the Rose-in-Vale, a lovely Georgian manor house hidden away in its own wooded valley just outside the picturesque village of Mithian.
Spend an evening at the candlelit Valley Restaurant with its bay windows overlooking the hotel lawns and a night in a four-poster bed. Then in the morning drive on to Perranporth, Mawgan Porth and Padstow with yet more glorious places to stay and eat.
Sign up to our email to receive our most splendid special offers each month!