6 of the best British road trips
By Laura Gelder – June 2020 – 3 minute read
From July 4 we can officially take to the roads of Britain and roam as we please. Here are some ideas for scenic road trips through the best of the British countryside.
North Coast 500, Scotland
This 500-mile route starts and finishes in Inverness and circles the northernmost part of mainland Scotland, following roads along the coastal edges of various regions. It passes castles, whiskey distilleries, white-sand beaches, soaring mountains, lochs, golf courses ad various towns and cities and visitors can tailor stops to their own interests. Highlights include the romantic turrets of Dunrobin Castle, whose design was inspired by Versailles; searching for the legendary Loch Ness monster; exploring the mystical limestone sea cave of Smoo with its cathedral-like entrance and cascading waterfall; spotting dolphins in the Moray Firth from Chanonry Point; and driving the epic single-track Bealach na Bà road, a 2,053-foot winding ascent with stunning views of the Isle of Skye, Rum and Outer Hebrides.
The Great West Way
Although it’s based on an ancient route, this touring route between London and Bristol has just had a modern re-brand.It can be done by car or train, with lots of bike and footpaths to explore as well. The 500 miles of road take travellers along the Thames, past major heritage attractions like the Houses of Parliament, Hampton Court Palace and Kew Gardens; through the pretty countryside of Wilshire and the Cotswolds; and to the Roman attractions of Bath as well as Bristol. History lovers will be spoilt for choice with attractions like Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and Highclere Castle (where Downton Abbey was filmed). Walkers can explore Wiltshire’s hillside chalk horses or the dramatic Cheddar Gorge and its caves. Activities range from exploring the River Thames and Kennet and Avon Canal by narrowboat to cycling Malmesbury and the Fosse Way through lush farmland and honey-hued Cotswold cottages.
The Atlantic Highway
Known as the A39 to locals, this sometimes slow but rewarding route starts at the Devon border and snakes into Cornwall's northeastern corner. If you venture off it the roads can narrow to dirt track proportions but you’ll be rewarded by picturesque villages of white washed fisherman’s cottages, barren moors dotted with wild ponies, patchwork green fields and dramatic pebble-strewn beaches. Don’t miss Tintagel Castle, where amazingly preserved ancient fortifications cling to black rock above a crashing sea. It’s the supposed birth place of King Arthur and you can also visit Merlin’s Cave, depending on the state of the tide. Pretty villages include Port Isaac, where TV series Doc Martin was filmed and cottages seem to tumble down the hill to the sea; and Boscastle, a town steeped in witchcraft where pretty flower-covered stone cottages lead to a dramatic walled harbour, surrounded by craggy green cliffs. Beach lovers will admire the slice of cluiff-protected sand at Crackington Haven.
Peak District to Lake District
Combine two of the UK’s most lovely national parks - which are less than two hours apart. Both are beautiful, rugged and quintessentially English, with rolling hills, green hedge-rowed fields and little villages with country cottages visitors will covet on first sight. In between is the equally picturesque Yorkshire Dales and one of the contenders for capital of the North - Manchester. The Lake District’s postcard-worthy villages and challenging but rewarding terrain make it a great holiday for loafers and hikers alike. The former can explore the village of Grasmere with its charming shops and pubs or take a boat out on the lakes with a picnic; while the latter can climb to the highest point in England - Scafell Pike. The Peak District is the same - head to Bakewell to indulge in its famous tarts or tackle the Kinder Scout walk with its deep cloughs, dramatic edges and peaty trails.
The Cambrian Way, Wales
Journey north to south along the dragon-like spine of womderful Wales, running for 185 miles from coast to coast between its culture-rich capital Cardiff and the charming Victorian seaside town of Llandudno. This is an epic country route for hikers, bikers and horse riders, adapted for drivers, and basically following the A470. But forget that perfunctory name, it still passes some wild and epic scenery. Drivers will pass through the rugged Brecon Beacons National Park, where they can hike into the barren but beautiful brown hills or step aboard the historic narrow-gauge Brecon Mountain Railway; gaze upon the picturesque Elan Valley lakes; take a detour to Devil’s Bridge Waterfalls, snugly set in a spectacular wooded gorge; stay among the snow-capped peaks and grey stone villages of Snowdonia; and visit Gwydir Castle, a grand Tudor courtyard mansion - purportedly haunted.
Causeway Coastal Route, Northern Island
Also starting in another capital - Belfast, obviously - this lovely coast road hugs the top of Northern Ireland, passing some iconic locations and some lesser-known scenic gems before reaching the lively walled city of Derry/Londonderry. The delights of Belfast include its lovely castle, the fascinating Titanic Belfast museum and sightseeing tours delving into Belfast’s war-torn past and renowned street murals. Other cultural stops along the way include the well-preserved medieval Carrickfergus Castle; family-friendly Carnfunnock Country Park with its walled garden, maze and golf course; the atmospheric ruins of Bonamargy Friary; and the dramatic clifftop Dunluce Castle, which inspired writers such as C.S Lewis. Natural attractions abound - there’s the famous Giant’s Causeway with its odd-shaped rocked; the pale sands of Whitepark Bay; the Dark Hedges road, framed by twisted beech trees and made famous by its starring role in Game of Thrones; and the Glens of Antrim - a beautiful region of steep green hills and cute villages.