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UK essentials

How much should I budget for this trip?

One thing I love about traveling around England and Scotland is that there's no choosing between city-breaks filled with historic sites or a luxurious hiking holiday. You can have it all in this 16-day road trip from London, with a flexible itinerary that will suit most budgets. What are you waiting for?! Throw those bags in the boot and let's go!

This itinerary features: Yorkshire Dales, Scottish Highlands (Glencoe & Auchterarder), Manchester, Bristol and the hidden gems in-between. 

16-day itinerary

Northern UK Road Trip

Days 1-2: Head North & Dally in the Dales

Two hours north of London, you'll find yourself in Northampton. It's not a pretty town, but men can find traditionally English-made dress shoes and boots for about half the price of retail. The factory shops are not walking distance from each other and open at odd hours, so make sure to pick wisely. My husband, James picked Church's, Crockett & Jones and Barkers and was devastated  the shoes he found at C&J were slightly too small. Hopefully, you'll have better luck!

If you're not in need of a new pair of brogues, then proceed directly to Newark-on-Trent, a quaint town with pedestrianised streets. After a short wander through the Saturday market selling books and bric-a-brack in the main square, we headed to the Old Bakery Tea Rooms (4 Queens Head Court) for a full afternoon tea. I'm happy to report it was absolutely delicious and I left sugared up and dangerous in search for a nearby cash machine as they don't accept cards. Remember to stop in after 2pm as the restaurant only serves lunch before then. Also, afternoon tea is served for a minimum of two people, so either bring a friend or come ravenous. 

Jump back in the car for another 1.5 hour stint until you reach the Bingley Five Rise Locks. Park on a residential street and stretch your legs walking to the bottom of the locks and then along the canal filled with house boats.

45 minutes further is The Traddock, a bed and breakfast on the periphery of the Yorkshire Dales National Park

 

The Traddock has a lovely exterior, lounge areas and garden. The standard room we stayed in was nicely decorated, but a little tired and the bed was a bit springy and squeaky. I guess this was all part of the country charm?

 

Initially, there wasn't room to park our car because we checked in during dinner time and diners not staying in the hotel took up all the spaces. I recommend checking in before or after this time to avoid the stress. Also, no one helped us with our bags and there were a lot of stairs, so you may want to stay elsewhere if this doesn't suit. The breakfast was solid, but our most memorable meal was at The Craven Arms (Brackenber Lane, Giggleswick, Settle).

I am obsessed with Sunday roast and its heaps of roast meat (beef of course!), potatoes and vegetables coated in gravy and topped with a Yorkshire pudding (think an enormous puffed up savory pancake) and The Craven Arms goes down as one of the best roasts I've ever had. In addition to the food being outstanding,  the servings were generous and they gave as many vegetables as you could eat. While unlimited cabbage seems like a great idea in the moment, just remember that a few hours later, it will be punishing your stomach and most of the people in a 2-foot radius. 

Aside from sleeping and eating, there's walking. That's what everyone comes to the Yorkshire Dales for—leisurely country walks in spectacular scenery and hiking the famous three peaks. If you don't want to do all three peaks, check out this post on hiking Ingleborough that also includes directions. 

Days 3-5: Glimpse Glasgow & Hike the Highlands

It's dawn and time to hit the road! Just kidding, but we did need to get an early start to pack in all the sightseeing on the way to the Scottish Highlands. Aim to be at Lowther Castle & Gardens in Penrith, Cumbria by around 10am (about an hour's drive from The Traddock) and take in its beauty without getting throngs of tourists in your photos.

Lowther was built at the turn of the 19th century and this stunning castle cost William Lowther £150,000. That's £11 million in today's money! Must be nice to be able to splash out like that, right?! The castle took 12 years to build and its architect, Robert Smirke went on to design the British Museum. Okay, if that didn't get your attention, you'll probably at least like the rope swings in the trees lining the garden. Advance tickets are cheaper online and the staff are happy to accept an electronic proof of purchase. 

If you can't wait until Glasgow for a bite to eat, stop at the Scribe Tree about 1.5 hours into the drive. This charming farmer's shop and cafe in Douglas serves up a light but filling lunch for under £6 a person. Just an FYI that the rest of the town was nothing to write home about.

After another 45 minutes, you'll be entering Glasgow. Do not panic, there's cheap parking options and they are well-marked. We parked at the Buchanan Galleries, but you can also park on Cathedral Street—both have 2 hour parking for £3. 

 

Here's the highlights we hit during our 2 hours:

 

Glasgow Cathedral, a magnificient medieval structure and one of few to survive the 1560 reformation intact on the mainland (free entry);

George Square, a lovely space surrounded by ornate Victorian buildings including the City Chambers;

 

 

Buchanan Street, a long pedestrianised boulevard filled with chain restaurants and shops with a small carnival at one end. In-between running around the sights, there's some beautiful street art to behold.

Even though James and I only spent two hours in Glasgow, we didn't feel we missed very much and are not planning to return. If you want to spend more time, there's many accommodation options or look for an Airbnb. 

Whether you stay in Glasgow for two hours or two days, make sure to stop off at scenic Loch Voil in Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park.

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There's many places in the Highlands to explore; however, since it was our first time, we figured it made sense to visit the popular Glencoe. Well, it was a bit more popular than we anticipated and most places to stay were booked even a few months out. Through TripAdvisor, we ended up renting a studio apartment for a couple nights in Ballachulish at the foot of Glencoe.  

On our way from Loch Voil to the studio, we were horrified by how the large trucks drove the narrow, winding mountain roads as if they were sports cars. Not unsurprisingly, the road we needed to take to get to Ballachulish was closed due to a truck accident. We ended up taking a 60 mile detour to go the other way around. We were sad we missed our dinner reservation at the Lochside Restaurant, but the silver lining was that we got to drive through a large chunk of this stunningly beautiful area!

At first, we were a bit worried that we weren't going to be able to check-in, as the owners of the studio who live in the adjoining house were not keen on our late arrival (if you stay here, make sure to check-in by 5pm). However, after explaining the situation with the road, they were very understanding and even left us a lovely bottle of wine in the fridge to help us wind down.

The studio has its own entrance and garden furniture. And how about that view?! Mairi and her husband provided wonderful coffee and for £15/day, they'll stock your mini-fridge with breakfast ingredients. However, we kept it simple and just  picked up a couple boxes of muesli in Glasgow.  

The studio has a drawer full of hiking books to inspire you, but I recommend hiking Buachaille Etive Beag for a stunning view on a clear day. Check out this blog post for a video of the view from the summit and hiking directions.  

For an easier hike, try Inchree Falls, which is about a 10 minute drive from the studio rental. We did took this 3 mile hike as our first stop on the way  to the Gleneagles Hotel in Auchterarder.  This circular walk was scenic and easy all the way through with beautiful views of waterfalls within the first few minutes. While we got lucky with the weather being clear, dry and breezy, it could easily have been still which would have brought the midges out. To avoid a very uncomfortable experience being covered with hundreds of tiny flying insects, we brought head nets and midge spray just in case. We got lucky that we didn't have to use them!

After a two hour drive toward Gleneagles, we were becoming ravenous and stopped off at The Artisan Cafe, which is housed in an old church and features locally-produced crafts, bath products and artwork. The homemade fare was tasty, but small, so we just topped ourselves up with some tea and cake before getting back on the road. 

Days 6-11: Luxuriate at Gleneagles 

While its exciting to explore a new destination every other day, we wanted to take a week to relax in one place, so we chose to rest our soles at Gleneagles, a 5-star resort with a famous golfing history on the southern border of the Scottish highlands. Read detailed information about the resort's facilities and the fantastic historic sights to see nearby in this blog post

 

If you're not up for such a splurge or would rather spend more time exploring the other places in the itinerary, then reduce your time here or nix it altogether and reallocate the days to the other locations or shorten the trip.   

Days 12-13: London of the North? 

After stuffing ourselves one last time at the gluttonous breakfast at Gleneagles, we drove about an hour to Bothwell Castle on the outskirts of Glasgow in Uddingston. These castle ruins are seeing quieter days after suffering six sieges from when it was built in 1242 until its possession by the crown in 1455. We viewed this as a quick stop for a scenic leg stretch, but it's only a few pounds to go inside if you wish to.

Driving 2 hours further south, you'll start getting into the quaint market towns of English Cumbria. We stopped in Penrith for lunch and a constitutional, but if you've never been to this part of the world before, stop in Keswick instead. It's much quainter with it's pedestrianised shopping streets. We opted for Penrith because we stopped in Keswick recently on the way home from a hiking holiday near Lake Windermere. 

The true highlight of the day was Bolton Abbey in Skipton, North Yorkshire, about an hour and a half from Penrith. The stunning 12th century ruins of the priory against the backdrop of woodlands with roaming cows was both surreal and serene. 

There is a lot to see at Bolton Abbey (more than the website let's on) so make sure to get there as early as you can. We slipped in right before 6pm which is the last admission (£10 per care), but the grounds are open to be wandered until 9pm (in the summer). If you're going another time of year, make sure to check the opening times.  

We rushed over to see the priory church as we arrived and caught it before it closed. We then wandering around the priory ruins where we saw a theatre company was setting up for a Shakespearean play—nice dining room, right?!

Although we wandered around the stepping stones and riverside, we didn't have time to go to Garden Tower, the aqueduct or the waterfall in the Valley of Desolation. If we had an extra day, I would have wanted to stay at the hotel and spa on the property, The Devonshire Arms so we would have more time to explore and take a proper country walk—there's 80 miles of footpaths. 

While we were heartbroken to leave Bolton Abbey prematurely, we consoled ourselves with pints of raspberry wheat beer (yes, just as good as it sounds!) at The Craven Arms & Cruck Barn, a 16th century thatched roof country pub with a view of rolling green hills. The menu is seasonal, but I recommend the steak and ale pie followed by a sticky toffee pudding, which was one of the best I've ever had. 

At about 11pm, we finally made it to Manchester and nestled in to our surprisingly comfortable Holiday Inn in the city centre. While I'm sure there's much nicer places to stay, it was a great location and we were opting for value after a week-long splurge at  the luxrious Gleneagles.

 

Overall, I found Manchester underwhelming and recommend anyone using this itinerary to stay in Stratford-Upon-Avon instead. However, if you have your heart set on seeing the alleged "London of the North," there are a few beautiful buildings to see, including:

Manchester Town Hall

The building is beautiful inside and out, but there is very little of the building that can be accessed by the public. The building is free to enter and has an atmosphereic cafe with a nicely priced afternoon tea; however, I was still too full from breakfast to indulge. 

The John Rylands Library

This library containing over 1.4 million items was opened to the public in 1900 by Enriqueta Rylands in memory of her husband John Rylands. The library became part of The University of Manchester in 1972 and is free to visit. Make sure to see the Victorian neo-gothic reading room which feels like a cathedral. 

After a full day of walking around, we treated ourselves to a delicious Indian feast at Raijodoot Tandoori, which is in the same square as the town hall. There's also a number of live music venues and had we not been so tired, we would have checked out Band on the Wall to hear some live funk.

It's best not to move the car during your stay because the hotel has a deal with the nearby parking structure that guests only pay £17.50. Just pay the parking at the front desk upon check-out.

Days 14-16: Brilliant Bristol 

Hopefully, you still have some room in the boot for a few more souvenirs, because you will lose your mind in the 20 pottery factory shops in Stoke-on-Trent en route to Bristol. Although many manufacturers now produce their products overseas, if you look hard enough, fine bone china teacups and saucers made in England, can still be found. I came home with a lovely pair of teacups from Wedgewood for over 60% off retail. 

After melting your credit card, distract yourself by roaming the quaint streets of the medieval towns of Startford-upon-Avon and lesser known Tewkesbury

We only stayed in Shakespeare's birthplace long enough for a cream tea and a stroll so could also see Tewkesbury, 45 minutes away,  but we plan to return to Stratford-upon-Avon to explore it properly. Tewkesbury made its mark as an industrial powerhouse in cotton hosiery. Out of jealousy, the town of Nottingham, lobbied the crown to outlaw Tewkesbury's cheap mass manufacturing techniques leading to them being outlawed and the products branded as frauds. While this little town has an interesting history, the real gem is its dramatic abbey.

In less than an hour, you'll have exhausted Tewkesbury's charms and then its on to Bristol which buzzes with the energy one would expect of a university town. 

After checking into the Bristol Hotel, we wandered less than five minutes down the road to Riverstation for their £19 three-course set-menu. Despite the high ranking on TripAdvisor, this was one of the worst meals we ate during this trip--my meat was too chewy to even swallow. This experience demonstrated that highly ranked restaurants aren't always the gems. However, the following night we had a great dinner at The Stable, a restaurant specializing in pizza (try the blazing saddle!) and cider with live music. 

The Stable isn't the only place to find great cider, by the riverside, we found this little cider shop next door to a pie shop—hello heaven! 

While we ended up eating our way through this beautiful city, we really came here for Upfest, the largest street art festival in Europe. 

Even without Upfest, there's lots of things to see including Bristol Cathedral, a stunning architectural treasure that received a gothic make-over in the 1860s. It's free entry, but make sure to check the opening times so you don't miss out. 

On your way back to London, stretch your legs in the medieval town of Castle Combe on the southern-edge of the the Cotswolds. In addition to being voted the prettiest village in England, it was a filming location for Harry Potter and Pride & Prejudice. With thatched roofs and cream teas in barns, what's not to love?  

From here, you can head back to London or follow our tracks to The Plough Inn in Kent, to reminisce the adventure over country pub fare and a couple of pints.