Cross borders and traverse boundaries as you explore some of the most beautiful and isolated parts of the UK. You’ve already seen the southernmost point of the UK in Part one of this series, so it’s time to head north to the land beyond the wall – Hadrian’s Wall, that is. Have you ever visited a Scottish island, or looked for the Loch Ness Monster? Have you crossed the Irish Sea, or been to the world’s largest arts festival? It’s time to tick more off your bucket list as you travel through this part of the country.
First stop is Hadrian’s Wall, the infamous Roman structure designed to keep the Scots out of occupied England. Cross the border at Gretna Green, infamous for eloping couples, and keep on the A75 all the way to Stranraer, where a ferry sails from Cairnryan to Larne: make sure you check the ferry timetable so you don’t get stranded on either side.
Take the A36 north out of Larne and make for Giant’s Causeway via Bregagh Road, also known as The Dark Hedges, a spooky and atmospheric drive on a dreich Irish day. Check out Causeway Castle in Portrush, too, before heading back south to Belfast and enjoy some R&R. Go back to Larne, via Carrickfergus Castle: this time though, you’re heading to Troon.
Take the A82 north through the Trossachs, along the banks of Loch Lomond and into the valley of Glen Coe. Pause for refreshments in Fort William, where you can see Ben Nevis looming overhead, the UK’s tallest mountain. If you have time for a detour, take the A87 at Invergarry and spend a night on the Isle of Skye. There’s only one road on and off, so double back and continue north to Loch Ness for some monster hunting. Find a B&B on the shore, or a hostel in Inverness, for the evening.
If you are desperate to do a top-to-bottom tour, go further north still and visit Dunnet Head Lighthouse, the most northern point of mainland Britain. The coastal road from Inverness will provide some stunning scenery of the Scottish Highlands, but be aware that it is very rural! Thurso and Wick provide places to rest along the way.
Just outside of Inverness is the Culloden battlefield, where Bonnie Prince Charlie faced his final defeat: the new centre puts a fresh spin on Scottish history. Take the A9 south to Perth and enjoy the Cairngorms National Park, Aviemore, and a tour of the Dalwhinnie Whisky Distillery. Stretch your legs at the Blair Falls, visit the fish ladder at the Pitlochry Dam and stop at the beautiful Scone Palace and Gardens for a walk.
At Perth, you have two options: follow the A9 down to Stirling and learn about the Scottish Wars of Independence at Stirling Castle, the Wallace Monument and the Bannockburn Battle Museum; or go east through Dundee and to the picturesque town of St. Andrews, the home of golf and Scotland’s top university, where you can then take the Fife coastal road down to Edinburgh via the UNESCO awarded Forth Bridges.
The Scottish capital, Edinburgh, is an excellent place to spend a few days learning about history, listening to bagpipes on the Royal Mile, and visiting boutique shops and restaurants. If you are visiting in August, catch a show at the internationally acclaimed Fringe Festival, one of the largest drama and arts festivals in the world.
Go south to Newcastle on the A1 coastal road to shop and visit the Victoria Tunnels. As you exit the city via the A1, look out for the Angel of the North just past Gateshead.
Through Middlesbrough and Thornaby, the A171 will wind you through the Yorkshire moors, and past famous towns like Whitby and Scarborough, one of the UK’s favourite home-holiday destinations of the past and present. It has a thriving tourist and fishing industry, and has become renowned for its excellent dining culture.
Next, head back west towards York: take a walk around the town, visit the Chocolate Museum and the Viking experience, and explore The Shambles and the iconic York Minster.
Head west to Harrogate, the old luxury spa town, famous for its natural sulphuric springs. Visit the Royal Pump Room Museum for a fascinating look into British leisure society of the past. And there’s an excellent Chinese restaurant currently located in the old bath house. Betty’s tea room is another local tradition that has to be visited, and The Old Swan Hotel makes for an excellent rest spot for the evening – famous guests include Agatha Christie, where she found inspiration for some of her mystery novels!
Go east to Lincoln to see Lincoln Cathedral. Stop on the way and take a walk in Sherwood Forest, the famous home of Robin Hood. Visit Norwich, a good base to explore quaint coastal towns and take a dip in the icy north sea. Norwich has graciously become a centre for arts and culture in recent years.
Next, visit Oxbridge: the oldest universities in the UK and the world, Cambridge and Oxford have made an international name for themselves. Aside from the university, you can explore the stunning architecture of these two towns. Cambridge hosts a variety of local traditions like the Beer Festival (May), the Strawberry Fair (June), and the Folk Festival (July), whilst at Oxford you can check out the Wilderness Festival (August), see the Uffington White Horse or visit the covered market.
A two-hour drive from Oxford will take you into London City Centre. Whether you have lived in London or never been, spend a few days in the capital being a tourist. Walk past 10 Downing Street, and explore Westminster Abbey; check out Big Ben, take in the spectacular views from the London Eye and discover London’s grizzly past at the Tower of London.
Take time to see a performance at the Globe or West End theatres, or enjoy one of Soho’s great comedy evenings. The National history museum makes a great rainy-day activity, and the Tate Modern is one of the best modern art museums in Europe.
Go back to The Ultimate UK Road Trip Part 1.
Note on this guide: This is circular route, and has no definitive start point – begin wherever is closest for you. Days may not accurately represent the real time you could take to explore an area, so if you have the time take more at places you want to explore further. Have fun, take proper time to rest and drive safely!