Our UK road trip started with a week at my parents’ new house in Herne Bay aka The Bay, where the sun always shines at some point during the day. We spent most the time with my wonderful crazy family that we miss terribly!
Instead of giving a diary account of everything we did in chronological order I have separated out England, Wales and Scotland and will provide our highlights for each country. There were a lot of small villages, churches, castles, cathedrals, local shops – you get the drift – in each place so I don’t want to repeat myself. Needless to say, the majority were absolutely beautiful, quaint and typically British – exactly why we wanted to do this road trip in the first place.
I have to be honest, after being in the US and Canada everything did seem very small. But I had to keep reminding myself, isn’t that the point? We are visiting all these different countries because they all have something different to offer.
Cities, Towns & Villages
All the places we visited had a lively, warm and charming feel to them but my favourite towns by far were Bath, York and Stratford Upon Avon.
Bath was just as lovely as everyone tells you it is! Although the Roman Baths are actually a lot greener than I expected – you definitely wanted want to take a dip in there!
So, we booked in to the Thermae Bath Spa. This was one of more relaxing experiences we had; there is an open air bath on the rooftop with nice view across the rooftops of Bath and Bath Cathedral. As you make your way down the building, each floor has different experiences. The Wellness Suite floor has six different spa experiences; two steam rooms, a sauna, an ice chamber, a celestial relaxation room and temperature changing showers. It was fun to change between the different rooms but I don’t recommend throwing ice at your partner after being in a steam room – it ends with an unhappy face. The bottom floor has the Minerva Bath which has jets and even a lazy river!
I would recommend to go as early as possible though because it gets super busy, they don’t take bookings and crowded hot baths aren’t as relaxing as near empty ones! Visit thermaebathspa for more information.
We also stopped by Bath Cathedral, the Fashion Museum and the Sally Lunn Bunn shop – I’d recommend skipping the Fashion Museum but the other two were good.
We had the most diverse weekend in York where we visited the Jorvik Viking Centre, saw York Minster and a show called Sh*t-faced Shakespeare as part of The Great Yorkshire Fringe Comedy Festival. It was great and we really loved our time here – I would definitely come back to York – I feel like there is definitely more to see. We spent some time wandering around the streets and walked down The Shambles with its over hanging timber framed buildings but I just know there is more to discover here!
Stratford Upon Avon is a Shakespeare lovers dream, obviously. We were lucky enough to see a new version of Titus Andronicus at the Royal Shakespeare Company and it was brilliant.
It is also possible to visit pretty much any place William Shakespeare or his family touched, stayed, ate at. Ok, I’m exaggerating but there are lots of places you can visit – we just visited his birthplace and the “New Place”. Both were really interesting and the New Place has beautiful gardens which are a perfect picnic and pimms spot in the Summer!
For something completely different, we also visited the MAD Museum which is a small but entertaining mechanical art and design museum. I think we had just as much fun as all the kids there did!
After leaving Stratford Upon Avon we started a walk that would loop past Chatsworth House. The only thing is, about half an hour in we realised we really didn’t have the right shoes since it had been raining all night and started to drizzle. So, we decided to head back and instead got a pint at the local pub!
We then drove to Bakewell. We only really went to Bakewell so I could have a bakewell tart and eat some delicious pastry. I was really disappointed. The town was nice but the original bakewell tarts are not the same as supermarket bought ones – I guess the original tart, pies, puddings are the real ones but I prefer Mr Kiplings!
Our highlights in Oxford and Cambridge were of course seeing the beautiful old buildings. In Oxford, the Bodleian Library and the Radcliffe Camera are musts and really make you feel part of the infamous history that surrounds this university town.
We drove through the Cheddar Gorge and picked up some cheddar cheese when we stopped by Cheddar (that’s a mouthful of a sentence)! The cheese was delish!
Liverpool was cool but mainly for the Beatles Museum if I’m honest. The city was ok but pretty much just like any other major city in the UK. There was so much information in the museum, called The Beatles Story, but it was presented very well including an audio tour which you could skip as and when. Neither Stephen or I are huge fans but I think it is a good museum for everyone really.
Nature & Culture
Nature and Culture is going to be a pretty broad topic which encompasses anything outdoors, related to beautiful views, old buildings that aren’t castles and anything else that doesn’t fit in the other two categories!
My favourite place that we visited is the Minack Theatre. This isn’t just any type of theatre; it is an open air theatre which has been built into a granite rock face right overlooking the sea. It is so raw and beautiful that now I can’t think of a better purpose than to perform here. I find it hard to put into words how amazing this place was but this link provides some good information on the history.
Also, Porthcurno Beach, the most stunning beach in the UK (voted for by yours truly) is right next to the theatre. We didn’t have time to spend a lazy day there but I would definitely go back to this area with a blanket, good book and a bottle of wine – it is the UK after all!
Whilst in Cornwall we also visited Lands End (a bit of a let down to be honest) although Stephen had a Cornish pasty he thought was great and St Michael’s Mount. We were super unlikely with St Michael’s Mount as the weather wasn’t great and we could only just about see it, let alone walk across when the tide went out. Maybe next time!
On a much brighter note, we spent half day at the Eden Project and I loved it. I’m not an expert gardener or anthophile but I do love flowers. Inside and out of the huge biomes are hundreds of plant species and wildlife which are just a delight to walk through. I think my photos are the best description of how beautiful this place is – plus if you have kids it is very informative in an interesting and engaging way.
I’m still not sure how I feel about Stonehenge. I actually enjoyed our visit and the stones were impressive however, to me, they are just big stones. I get the summer solstice thing, I get that they’ve been there for many thousands of years, I get that they are extremely heavy.
Perhaps it’s just not my thing but for all the palaver of queuing up for the ticket, queuing up for the bus (although we were there early and didn’t have to wait too long compared to those who arrived after 10:30am!) and shuffling behind people to move around – I’m not sure I’d go back. I’m glad I’ve seen them though – tick.
We also visited more stones at Hadrian’s Wall – it’s a pretty long wall.
We made a quick pit stop at Sherwood Forest and did a short 45 minute loop walk. It was cool to see the Great Oak Tree and pretend you are Robin Hood and his merry men. There wasn’t much more there when we went but I think during the summer they have events on.
Finally, the beautiful Hill Top Cottage – Beatrix Potter’s home. It is so beautiful and quaint inside, you can really imagine her writing her stories here. All around the town you can see buildings, and objects that appear in her stories – it’s a little delve back into your childhood and I loved it.
Oh, and we visited Castlerigg stone circle which is literally a circle of stones in a field. I’m not sure what more to say really but loads of people visit it – you can read here for more information.
Lowther Castle is actually an old country house which has started to be restored. Since 2000, the Lowther Estate and English Heritage along with other parties have been working on the restoration, especially what is known as the Lost Gardens. Throughout it’s history the gardens were carefully cultivated by generations of Lowther’s but in 1935 they were abandoned.
The restoration team team have done a fantastic job and the gardens are on their way to becoming just as beautiful as they once where. They have even built the Lost Castle – the largest wooden playground in England.
This castle is a great place to bring children as you can promise they get to play in the Lost Castle if they take in the history of the castle first!
There is also a rope swing for the bigger kids (or adults!) and a cute money tree to make a wish.
For me, Bolsover Castle wasn’t one of my favourite castles but there is a lot of history from the Cavendish and Peveril families. Some of the rooms inside had beautiful murals.
Wales is an absolutely beautiful country and apart from Cardiff we really spent most of our time outdoors.
Nature & Culture
One of highlights for me was the Snowdonia Railway. Honestly, I was petrified at some points as the mountain would suddenly drop on one side and we would be hanging on! Ok, it probably wasn’t that bad but it certainly felt like that to me. Regardless, the view at the stop was outstanding. In hindsight, we probably should have got the train up and walked down but we didn’t have enough time and didn’t plan far enough in advance (we only just managed to get tickets for a train at 5pm one week out).
I also liked visiting Devil’s Bridge – three bridges built upon each other with a cool folk tale attached to it, St David’s Cathedral and Whitesands Beach.
I really enjoyed Cardiff Castle – we got there just after it opened so there weren’t many people. We walked around the castle walls and into their air raid shelters (sirens actually go off which made us jump)! The keep itself is pretty cool in the middle of the grounds and gives nice views over Cardiff.
There is also the Apartments which are amazingly decorated rooms, full of murals, gold, stained glass and marble. Apparently they were created by art architect William Burges for the 3rd Marquess of Bute. You can also visit the Castle House but this is only by organised guided tour.
Caerphilly Castle is probably most well known for its surrounding artificial lakes and its leaning tower. It is the second largest castle in Britain and introduced concentric circle defences and large gatehouses to Britain.
Caerphilly only has a few rooms that have been restored and decorated but I really liked walking around this castle and it really does feel very large and imposing.
The best thing about Conwy Castle is being able to walk around the top of the walls. The castle is actually built from the grey sand and limestone rocks that surround it and is considered by experts to be one of the finest examples late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe.
Nature, Culture & Castles
We were so lucky to have a couple of good weather days when we were in the north of Scotland. One day we drove from Ben Nevis to Urquhart Castle and it was one of my favourite days of the whole trip. The lochs are just beautiful, I didn’t find Nessy but I did look hard! Hopefully my photos below do justice to Urquhart Castle because to me it was probably my favourite on the whole trip. The trebuchet is massive!
On this day trip we also visited Neptune’s Staircase, a traditional canal lock and stayed at a cute But and Ben. I didn’t know what this was when we first booked it but here is a good description:
A but and ben is a two-roomed house of one storey. There was usually only one door to the outside; this gave access to the kitchen, the public room in which everyday life took place and in which members of the family often slept. This led into a private inner room, where guests could be entertained and which — like many a front room or best room in poor but decent homes everywhere — was often furnished to a higher standard but less often used. If the family was large, however, the inner room could double up as a bedroom. The outer room was the but and the inner one the ben. Putting them together the but and ben was the whole house.
Stirling Castle was pretty nice – it was cool to walk around the wall of the castle which provides beautiful views of the town below. It is considered to be one of the most important castles in Scotland both historically and architecturally. Best to read here for more information on why that is but interestingly it has steep cliffs on three sides which put it in a very good defensive position.
One of my favourite views from the trip was Queen’s View. Unfortunately, the view behind the camera would have shown hoards of tourists clambering over each other to get the best shot and people tutting at each other move out of the way of their selfie. Putting this aside – the view itself is spectacular and looks like a painting brought to life.
Finally we some time in Edinburgh. We probably didn’t see it at it’s best as it rained constantly, it was cold and was in the middle of our trip and we were a little fatigued. I have to say, Edinburgh Castle was the biggest let down of the whole trip. I didn’t really find it very impressive, the amount of tourists was ridiculous despite there being timed tickets and the articles on display were average at best with queues everywhere. The view was nice.
Since it was raining, we decided to do the Mary King’s Close tour (can only be seen by a guided tour) which shows how Edinburgh just to be laid out with semi-underground streets. It was actually a class system and those closest to the top of the hill were more wealthy whilst those at the bottom of the hill were the poorest. A fun fact: it was best to avoid the street at 7am and 10pm on certain days of the week as this was when people would through their waste out the door. Remember that everyone was on a hill… so that waste would just come streaming down to the bottom!
It was an experience however I feel they could probably do it a little more justice. The guide is a character from the original Mary King’s Close and talks in character the whole time – at first it’s entertaining. After a while, it’s kind of annoying.
I think I need to go back to Edinburgh to give it another chance – perhaps during the Fringe Festival or another festivity.
I mentioned we spent a week with my parents at the beginning of our trip and we also spent a week with them at the end. It was so nice to chill out with them, go on a wine tasting trip and love their dogs! We also had a couple of trips into London to see friends (including The Arc Centre – check it out here!) and visit embassies for visas. Oh, and I also had afternoon tea at the Ritz with some girl friends, followed by cocktails and Les Mis!
Warning: we all love Bud and Bear so there are a lot of dog photos… but who doesn’t love cute dog photos, right?!
We also ate some great food on this trip – I though I’d add a little food gallery in to get your taste buds watering!