There’s nothing better than a road trip, preferably to a new country waiting to be explored slowly and bit by bit. There are some countries that lend themselves more to car travel than others, and the UK is one of them. The rolling English countryside is full of picturesque villages, the rugged Scottish wilderness is dotted with lochs and castles, and the ancient coastline offers everything from sheer white chalk cliffs to white sandy beaches and rugged coves. All of these hidden gems tend to be difficult to discover by train or on tours, but await those willing to drive and take interesting turns off the main roads.
The UK has long been my home, occasionally with interludes abroad, due to an English husband. I may not have explored every corner, but I certainly keep a list of places I haven’t visited yet. What I’ve done is spend hours in cars on various holidays or long weekends, randomly turn left or right, find interesting stopping points, and enjoy the varied nature of this nation islander.
Here are some of my favorite readers.
1. The Cotswolds, from Bath to Cheltenham
I used to live in Bath, where this journey begins, as well as Cheltenham, where it ends – both with the Cotswolds on my doorstep. The Cotswolds are not ugly or even average. Each village is prettier than the next, linked by beautiful countryside, scenic views, great pubs, history and little cottages you just want to pick up and put in your garden. So for this ride, I can only suggest a few favorite places to stop along the way, and the best advice I can offer is to take as much time as possible. On paper it’s a very short round trip, easily done in a day or two, but to really enjoy it look for the smaller hotels in the small villages and take it slow.
Start the trip in Bath, which will get you in the mood, then head north to one of England’s most picturesque villages: Castle Combe. Then continue to Tetbury, Cirencester, Bibury, Burton-on-the-Water, Burford, Stow-on-the-Wold, Chipping Campden, Broadway, then finish in Cheltenham, where you’ll return to reality. From Cheltenham it’s a short drive to Bath to return your car.
Each of the towns and villages mentioned are charming and all have wonderful cottages, pretty greens and gardens, and small antique shops. And of course there is always a small pub and a hotel near a gurgling stream. You could easily spend the night at each stop.
Pro tip: This is a perfect route for spring when the hills are blooming. All I can say is again, take your time and stop at every village you see; you won’t regret the extra time spent there.
2. The Great West Way, from London to Bristol
The Great West Way is such a historic route that I wrote an entire story on it not too long ago. One of the great historic routes linking the main hubs of London and Bristol, the journey will take you through the counties of Berkshire, stopping at Windsor Castle. Consider heading north to Oxfordshire to see Oxford with its dreamy spiers, then head south into Wiltshire through Newbury to Salisbury. This is a definite stop and possible base for a few nights while you admire the ancient wonders of Stonehenge and Avebury. Travel to Marlborough and Devizes, catch a few chalk horses along the way, then through Chippenham on your way to Bath. From Bath, if you wish and have the time, you can head straight for the Cotswolds road trip mentioned above. Alternatively, continue to Bristol, from where you can catch the train to London if you’re short on time. Or you can head south for the next big road trip, the Atlantic Highway.
Pro tip: As with all road trips, the more time the better, but 3 or 4 days will cover this part of England quite well.
3. Atlantic Highway, Bristol to Land’s End
This is one for the summer. As summer is usually synonymous with crowds and traffic jams, try to get there in early September. The weather is still great, but the kids are back at school, which makes the visit less crowded. The official Atlantic Highway begins just 38 miles south of Bristol in the town of Eastover, but for a much easier and more scenic start, head to the west coast of Bristol and head towards the south from there, hugging the rugged coastline as you go. You will pass the wooden lighthouse of Burnham-on-Sea, Dunster Castle, the village of Clovelly, beautiful Bude with its saltwater pool, the mythical Tintagel Castle and on to Newquay, famous for its surfing beaches. Further afield you’ll find arty St. Ives, and at the far end of Cornwall is England’s most westerly point, Land’s End.
Instead of taking the same route, turn east, following the southern coastal roads, passing Penzance, St. Michel’s Mount, Falmouth, St. Austell, Looe, then across the River Tamar to my old town Plymouth University. Head north through the rugged Dartmoor National Park to the city of Exeter. Another 77 miles will bring you back to Bristol for an unforgettable round trip.
Pro tip: It’s quite a long drive, with plenty of beaches, coves, villages and towns to discover along the way. Take your time, preferably make it a summer vacation with breaks along the beaches for 2 weeks, and stop at hotspots such as Barnstable, Newquay or St. Ives in the north, and Penzance and Falmouth in the south, all of which are good bases for individual day trips in the surrounding area.
4. Newcastle to Northumberland (and back)
One of my favorite road trips was during the UK’s pandemic travel ban, when instead of going overseas I headed to the northernmost county of England: Northumberland. Starting in the fabulous city of Newcastle upon Tyne with its stunning architecture, many bridges and stunning Baltic center of contemporary art, the route leads north to the endless Northumberland coast with its many castles. The best stops are Warkworth, with its castle and picturesque village, the pretty little town of Alnmouth and the larger town of Alnwick, home to what can only be described as England’s best second-hand bookshop. Barter Books, located in an old railway line. station. Alnwick Castle has been used in many Harry Potter films. Continue to Craster, famous for its kippers, and Dunstanburgh Castle. Next, head north to Bamburgh and its award-winning beach, towering sand dunes and even grander castle. A little further north is the tidal pilgrimage island of Lindisfarne, or Holy Island.
Once there, the journey heads south again, crossing the country via Otterburn (yes, there’s a castle) to Hadrian’s Wall, then east again to Newcastle.
Pro tip: All in all, this is perfectly doable in a long weekend, depending on how many castles you want to see up close and how many walks you want to take along the many beaches and along the ancient Roman wall. Personally, I spent a week there and could have easily spent more time there.
5. North Coast 500, Scotland
While you’re up north, you might as well add another week and cross the border into Scotland for the epic North Coast 500 drive. Some 250km north of the capital Edinburgh lies Inverness, the start and finish point of one of the most epic road trips in the UK, if not the world. Including the most northerly tip of the UK on a coastal round trip, this journey should take you around 7 days. You can visit castles, cross secluded fjords and search for the Loch Ness Monster. Along the way, stay at truly memorable accommodations such as the superbly luxurious castle hotel Torridon, or the picturesque Lighthouse. This 800km round trip shows you the best of Scotland’s beautiful rugged countryside and rugged coastline. It will also take you to Britain’s most northerly point, John O’Groats, a point that is often connected to Land’s End (see the Atlantic Highway Road Trip) in Cornwall for another epic road trip through the whole length of Great Britain. .
Pro tip: This trip, strange as it sounds, is perfect for the winter when the snow beautifies the countryside but rarely gets too bad for the ride. You should also allow time to add a few island excursions to your itinerary. Most notably, there’s the Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland and Orkney which you can reach by ferry from John O’Groats.
Driving in the UK is on the left side and will take some getting used to if you have never done this before. I suggest you rent a car a day or two before leaving for the actual trip and practice a bit so you feel like you’re sitting on the “wrong” side of the car, turning off, going around the rounds -points the right way and win. general confidence.