My most recent multi-day tour was a 10-day UK Driving Tour from London up to Scotland. Covering more than 1800 kilometres (1100 miles!), the route passed through some of the UK's most spectacular scenery: including the Cotswolds, Cheddar Gorge, the Welsh Marches, the Lancashire coast, the Pennines (including Hadrian's Wall), the Scottish lowlands and the Trossachs National Park.
Departing London and driving westward, we passed Windsor Castle before exiting the motorway and winding through the Cotswolds villages towards the ancient stone circle of Avebury. The largest stone circle of it's kind in Europe, it stretches nearly 1000 metres in diameter. While the neighbouring Stonehenge has the fame (and ticket prices to match), Avebury's tranquil setting allows visitors to walk right among the standing stones for free. The stone circle actually slices right through the centre of the village of Avebury, where we stopped for lunch in a local pub, rumoured to be haunted by the spirit of a young girl. No ghosts were sighted during our visit, but the circle itself is mystery enough for most visitors. Despite scholar's best guesses, nobody really know why the stone circles were constructed, or what purpose they served.
Continuing from Avebury, we took the scenic route to Cheddar Gorge -- a deep scar cut into the Mendip Hills in north Somerset. It's here that Cheddar Cheese has it's home, matured in the limestone caves beneath the cliff walls. Vendors sell cheese of all varieties to visitors from the shops lining the River Yeo. Local double cream ice cream and fudge are also favourite treats for visitors exploring the antique shops and artisan craft shops lining the base of the gorge, adjacent the rushing river.
Backtracking up to Bath, we visited this fine example of Georgian architecture and history. Settled by the Romans around the thermal waters near the River Avon, it was popularised during the 1600s when the spa waters were purported to have healing properties. Visitors can visit the ancient Roman baths. For a truly classy experience, stop by for High Tea in the adjacent Pump Rooms, where you can nibble finger sandwiches and cakes to the sound of trickling fountain waters and a chamber orchestra.
The drive north followed the Severn River valley, along the Welsh borders through and through the Shropshire Hills. Stopping by Ludlow, we visited the historic market town and castle, which once served as the administrative centre for Wales, before the border was drawn further to the west. Today, Ludlow draws visitors from around the country for it's local food culture and biannual festivals.
Just a short hop away, we jumped forward several hundred years in history to the Cosford Royal Air Force museum. Three large hangars are home to displays on aviation history and the role of aircraft in world conflict. We particularly enjoyed the briefing room exhibit on the Cuban Missile Crisis, whose interactive displays and video presentation left us feeling like we'd been at the heart of the conflict ourselves.
The Lancashire coast was our next stop, which included views across the Irish Sea from atop the Blackpool Tower. A faded gem of yesteryear, Blackpool was the holiday resort for the working class man before the advent of cheap airfare. On sunny days, the boardwalk comes alive with gambling amusements, fairground rides and burger stands catering to visitors, though the feel of the place is certainly past its prime.
Our road journey has us now approaching the geographic centre of Britain, near Haltwhistle, in Northumberland. Here, the land rises along the spine of the Pennines, the high, exposed ridges worn away by the cold winds -- even on sunny days. It is here that the Roman Empire planted its furthest outpost in the British Isles, and Emperor Hadrian constructed his famous wall in 122 AD to keep the tribes to the north at bay. At nearby Vindolanda Roman Fort, we saw the ongoing excavations as volunteers carted wheelbarrows of topsoil out from the dig. The adjacent museum houses the largest collection of Roman leather goods found anywhere. But perhaps most impressive are the handwritten letters discovered by the dozen, detailing the daily lives of soldiers garrisoned at the fort. The information is so complete, that archaeologists have been able to pair up letters with uncovered artefacts to identify the owners of specific items, including a pair of shoes once owned by the Roman governor's wife.
A walk along nearby Hadrian's Wall took us up along the ridge, with sweeping vistas across the barren northumberland landscape, hanging clouds in gunmetal grey sweeping low across the sky. Sycamore Gap, a short but strenuous 20-minute walk from Steel Rigg car park, is made famous for it's use in the popular film, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. A towering lone sycamore tree stands at the base of a gap in the ridge, Hadrian's wall marking the boundary to the wild lands of the north.
It is north that our route took us, with a pleasant drive through the Scottish Lowlands to Edinburgh. The historic old city is built atop an eroded volcano plug, towering 80 metres above the new town below. The Royal Mile, extending from Edinburgh Castle all the way down to Holyrood Palace at the far end, is where the majority of tourist action takes place. Visiting the castle, St Giles Cathedral and John Knox's house is feasible in a single afternoon, with plenty of time for shopping. The Royal Mile is almost a caricature of itself, with bagpipers busking in the streets and shops selling tartan kilts and postcards of highland cows in repetition the whole length of the street. Despite the blatant tourist market, the city is a picture postcard in and of itself, with hardly a disappointing view anywhere you turn.
We enjoyed two days in and around the city -- including dinner in the historic White Hart pub with a taste for a traditional Scottish haggis (spiced lamb offal mixed with oats and boiled in the sheep's stomach -- better than it sounds!). For a break from the city, we drove north across the Firth of Forth -- with spectacular views of the famous Forth Rail bridge -- towards Loch Leven in Perthshire. It is here, in the ruins of a castle isolated on an island in the middle of the loch, that Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned for a year before being sent to the Tower of London and her eventual execution. Heading further inland, we enjoyed a posh lunch at the Famous Grouse distillery, where we toured and enjoyed a dram of whisky following the meal.
The joy of visiting Scotland really lies in the scenic drives, and so we detoured the long way back to Edinburgh via the Trossachs national park (home of Loch Lomond) and Stirling (home of the William Wallace monument). From Edinburgh, we began the drive back south to London, making a short detour stop at Lindisfarne Holy Island: a tidal island accessible by causeway, and home to one of the oldest Christian pilgrimage sites in the British Isles.
Our final stretch of driving returned us back to central London, where we finished, 10 days after we had started. If you would like this tour (or one similar), please enquire here or download a booking form here.
Avebury Stone Circle, Bath Roman Baths & Pump Rooms, Cheddar Gorge, Ludlow market town, Cosford Royal Air Force Museum, Blackpool Tower, Hadrian's Wall, Vindolanda Roman Museum, Edinburgh Castle, St Giles' Cathedral, John Knox House, Greyfriar's Bobby, Loch Leven & Castle, Famous Grouse Distillery, Trossachs National Park, Lindisfarne Holy Island.
Joel Bond Travels is pleased to offer extensive guided tours through the British Isles and beyond. Contact me today to discuss your own, custom-made itinerary!
- Well-researched, character accommodation
- Flexible touring schedule: see what you want, when you want
- No crowded tour buses or large groups
- Save time, see more with a guide who already knows the area
- Connect: options exist to dine with a local family in-home
- Go deeper: break from the standard tourist circuit and discover more local places
This precise tour was:
Rates included guiding services, private transport and driver, accommodation and entrance to select sites. Contact me to enquire about booking flights as well.
This trip duration was 10 days
This tour group size was 3 people