Described as a country of countries by its current prime minister, Great Britain offers a wide range of beautiful scenery, varied culture and unexpected stretches of road for you to discover. Venture through Wales, England and Scotland and experience the ancient, modern, world-famous and most secret treasures that await you on the road. And don’t forget to drive on the left!
Begin your Great British road trip in Cardiff, the capital of Wales. Rather than brave the notorious Welsh rain, take a drive around Cardiff Castle and along the River Taff past The Principality Stadium up to Cardiff Bay in the south of the city where you can take in some of the most beautiful scenery, architecture and landmarks the country Wales has to offer.
The Wales Millennium Centre and the Senedd (Welsh National Assembly building), both overlook the confluence of the rivers Taff and Ely and are spectacles you cannot miss. Have lunch on the harbour before bringing the Welsh chapter of your road trip to an end and make haste eastward to the next stop: Oxford.
Bid “hwyl fawr” [Cheerio] to Wales at around dusk and take the Grade I listed Severn bridge across the Rivers Severn and Wye into Bristol, England. From there, watch the sun set magnificently over the Severn estuary.
Some three hours later, you will arrive in the home county of the oldest university in the English-speaking world. Oxfordshire will surely live up to the clichéd idyllic landscapes and picturesque farmland many imagine England to be. As you enter the city, be prepared for a place that seems caught in time. Oxford is a city with a charming air about it that could accurately be described as ‘quaint’.
Have a hearty Full English breakfast and before getting back on the road, you should try your hand at punting, Oxford’s answer to Gondola boating. Then, fasten your seatbelts, pack a picnic, hope against hope that the British weather holds out for you and head to the eastern stretch of the Cotswolds.
Words cannot fully convey the beauty of the landscapes here and on a mild day, nothing is more relaxing than gliding through the English countryside with your windows down (or roof if you’re in a convertible). Park up near Woodstock and have a picnic in front of the astounding Blenheim Palace.
Take any of the roads – you’d find it hard to take one that isn’t scenic is this part of England – back into the city and have a drink at the popular, but well-hidden Turf Tavern. Its occupants are for the most part of student-age, but here was where Bill Clinton famously got up to no good and where former Australian prime minister Bob Hawke consumed a yard of ale in 11 seconds, setting a Guinness World Record. Maybe pass on the yards of ale as you’ll have to get up early to get a head start to your next stop: The Lake District.
The Lake District: Cumbria, England
North to Cumbria is perhaps not the most exciting of drives: the motorway stretches continuously and unchangeably onward for swathes of England, weaving by the larger cities that mark the way toward the North. But you won’t regret it.
The Lake District will break this monotony by launching the horizon skyward, throwing hills and greenery into your view. The 885 square miles of the Lake District constitute England’s largest (among other superlatives) national park. England’s highest mountain (Scafell Pike), deepest lake (Wastwater), and longest lake (Windermere) all find their homes here and culminate into one spectacular array of scenery. It’s also a UNESCO world heritage site. If this collection of accolades wasn’t temptation enough, there are a number of wonderful restaurants, pubs and hotels, all with their own Cumbrian vistas, to stop at, stretch your legs and take a selfie or two.
If you have time, make your way past Cartmel Peninsula and Lake Windmere for some unique and breathtaking drives and make pitt stops at the towns of Kendal and Bowness which are worth seeing for their historical houses. Drive to Eden Valley and Penrith and be rewarded with views of sandstone villages and prehistoric monuments. If you can pry yourself away from the splendour of Cumbria, head north across the border to Scotland.
The West Coast of Scotland
Head north through Glasgow and follow the A82 road all the way up to Glencoe. The road cuts through most of the Trossachs National Park and winds parallel to Loch Lomond for almost half of the journey. Needless to say, most of the crossing will be spent in awe of the natural beauty inherent in the Scottish landscape. Marvel at the cottages that dot “the bonnie, bonnie banks” of the great lake and at the vivid shades of the surrounding foliage.
Speed through the passage of Glencoe, James Bond style. Featured in the film Skyfall, this scenery — awe-inspiring regardless of season or weather — will be more than enough to keep you oohing and ahhing throughout this leg of your road trip and toward Glenfinnan, whose famous viaduct plays an iconic role in the Harry Potter franchise.
Park up at the visitor centre before you enter the town and head to the viewpoint by foot for a great photo opportunity. If you’re feeling peckish or need a coffee to keep you going, the Glenfinnan dining car – a refurbished train carriage that is now a restaurant – is only steps away and boasts some of the tastiest scones with Scottish clotted cream and strawberry jam in the region. When you’re back in the car, pivot at Fort William and drive the winding route westward and, a few beautiful hours later, you will arrive in Arisaig, one of the westernmost points of mainland Britain.
Undulating round the coast is a thrilling experience and in the summer time, you can drive late into the night. Stop at one of the number of white beaches that line the coast and watch the sun set over the islands of Eigg, Muck, Rum and Canna. You are so far north that in midsummer, the sun does not fully set and gone midnight, the sky will still tender its pale blue.
Before heading east, venture a further ten miles to Mallaig where we you will find homely pubs and cosy B&Bs. Make sure you sample the fresh seafood before you leave the vicinity of Western Isles of Scotland. Treat yourself to some shellfish, prawns and scallops which will go perfectly with a plate of chips and won’t cost an arm and a leg in this pretty sea-side town!
The East Coast of Scotland
The drive from West to East, although less picturesque, was not without its merits. Drive through Stirling — the old home of the Scottish Crown — and down to Edinburgh on your way to St Andrews. Although the weather here is unreliable, the dreary rain will only add to the romance of the brooding, gothic architecture of the city.
Span Prince’s Street and take in Edinburgh’s defining features such as the Walter Scott Monument and Edinburgh Castle before heading to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, one of the residences of Her Royal Majesty The Queen in Scotland. Drive up Arthur’s seat, the main peak of a group of hills in Scotland which form most of Holyrood park. The views upon Edinburgh from the city’s “seventh hill” will certainly be spectacular.
From here, you can make out George Heriot’s school which, aside from being a magnificent example of renaissance architecture, was the inspiration behind Hogwarts, the school of witchcraft and wizardry and principal setting in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels.
From Edinburgh, travel across to Fife via the Forth Rail Bridge, one of the world’s most impressive engineering achievements and another of UNESCO’s world heritage sites. Exit the dual carriageway and take the more scenic coastal roads in the direction of Cupar. You must stop at Anstruther for some fish and chips which are advocated world-over and 9 miles later, you will arrive in St Andrews.
Appreciate the feats of architecture that had stood the test of time in this timeworn town including The University of St. Andrews, the third oldest university in the English-speaking world and oldest in Scotland.
And finally bring your road trip to an end at the ruins of St Andrews castle whose colourful and erratic history as home of kings and prisoners alike is as distinctive as the British weather, every facet of which you are likely to discover on your tour of Great Britain