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3 weeks in England/Scotland

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We're travelling Sept/Oct,1-2 days to Cambridge area, maybe beyond; then northerly for a few days with family betw L'pool & Manchester. Hubby wants to visit Scotland for a bit. In between there are so many options, tho off-season may affect some. We try to find budget-friendly locations. Can't decide on transportation: rental car itself is cheaper than train passes, but petrol is not; for convenience & spur-of-the-moment diversions (aka "Is this the right way???"), and with no set-in-stone itinerary, driving can be more of an 'adventure'. = )

Ideas or websites for off-the-beaten-path/lesser known places to see would be great - historical sites, national parks, walking, shopping, eating, sleeping; we love the Lakes area but how busy would it be in the early fall? Would it be too early for Christmas fairs/fetes?

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