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12 Day Self-Drive Tour of England

Hello!

I would love your suggestions and advice on a self driving tour, 10-12 days long, departing from London in May for 2 adults. The goal would be to stay in regions (a single hotel) for 3-4 nights at a time. I don't want to have to pack up every day.

Things that interest us:

punk rock

haunted stuff

offbeat attractions

staying in castles

seeing old towns

++One place we do want to see is the Alnwick Poison Garden. So any suggestions on where to stay and what else to do in that region would be great!++

Posted by
31271 posts

A couple of suggestions that come to mind.....

  • I would highly recommend getting a good level of insurance. Your profile doesn't indicate where you're from, but keep in mind that you may be driving on the opposite side of the road to what you're used to.
  • you'll also need to familiarize yourself with local traffic signs, parking regulations, etc.
  • I would highly recommend packing along a good GPS unit with current maps. A smartphone will work, provided your home cell plan allows international roaming.
  • I've found that it's a good idea to always allow more time than expected to get between cities.

That's all I can think of at the moment. I'm sure the others will be along shortly with lots of good suggestions.

Posted by
25550 posts

Have you been to England or Europe before?

Posted by
218 posts

Have you done any initial research? To be honest, the brief is much to big to begin to offer suggestions.

Is Alnwick is a must see, then there is loads to do in the area. It is an attractive town and the castle is also worth seeing. There is also the ruined castle at Warkworth. Check if the Hermitage is open when you visit. If so, make a point of doing that. It is a small chapel carved into the cliff of the River Coquet and reached by a boat.

There is a lovely walk along the shore line from Craster village to the ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle.

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is worth visiting. It is reached by tidal causeway and crossing times need to be strictly observed if you don't want to get caught by the tide. https://holyislandcrossingtimes.northumberland.gov.uk/

Take a boat trip from Seahouses to visit the Farne Islands - make sure you choose a calm day.

Castle stays - there is Chillingham Castle, which is further north than Alnwick.
chillingham-castle.com/stay-with-us/
The castle is reputedly haunted and they do ghost tours...
https://chillingham-castle.com/ghosts/

Alternatively, there is Langley Castle, which near Durham
www.langleycastle.co.uk

Posted by
1237 posts

Is this a circular tour? That is, do you need to end back in London? I'll assume below that you do, but if not you have even more options.

By your criteria, you can have up to four "regional" bases. I'd plan one of these being north of Newcastle for Alnwick and around - as the previous poster said there is a lot to see. 

That leaves up to three other bases. Going anticlockwise, I'd consider the first near or in York (as a base to see York, the Dales, Harewood Ho., Ripon, etc.). Then onto your Alnwick base, ideally via the coast (a one night stop if allowed?). After Northumberland, cross over along Hadrian's Wall for a third base in the Lakes or north Lancashire. Then a final base around Worcester/Hereford as you go south back to London. You could also go clockwise for the same places.

All these bases offer castles and old towns. Plus they include countryside (e.g. Shropshire Hills), and gardens (e.g. Harlow Carr) - which you didn't mention but I'm inferring interest you.

There are offbeat attractions everywhere, so once you've picked your bases you can research those - admitedly if you have a particular desire to see the Baked Bean Museum of Excellence, then you'll need to go into Wales. But, generally, if you just want offbeat with nothing specific in mind, there will be something nearby wherever you pick.

I suspect haunted stuff won't be hard to find either. York has a ghost tour and, I'd imagine other places will too.

I'm afraid I know nothing about punk, but I associate it with south London like Lewisham - perhaps that's something for before or after the driving holiday. However, the above route takes you past Manchester, perhaps that has something musically of interest.

I'm not claiming my suggestion is perfect by any means and you can certainly come up with all manner of options. It's just my starter for ten.

Posted by
4 posts

Ken - Thank you for all of the suggestions. I will definitely have thw proper tools.

Nigel - I have traveled to EU a dozen times over the last 20 years, most recently a 2 week driving tour of Southern Italy. I have been to London, but just explored the surrounding area by train. This will be my first trip driving in England, but I do have "other side" driving experience in the Caribbean, so I feel confident I'll be okay.

Posted by
4 posts

Wasleys + Nick - Thank you both for the suggestions. I'll start some research on these areas. Sounds great!

Yes, it'll be circular- Gatwick is the airport. We'll spend a couple days in London, but would love to see much more. (I've been to London and done the "touristy" things and my husband, although it's his first time there, is less interested in the standard tourist sites in London.)

I would like to have Bath be a stop on the tour. I think it would be a great base to do Stonehenge from, as well as the Abbey, Pulteney Bridge, and the Roman Baths. Anything else in driving distance from here worth checking out?

Posted by
18733 posts

Bath is near the southern part of the Cotswolds (which are best with a car--you could see a lot of the little villages in one day) and Bristol (maybe something punk-related there?). I don't know anything about driving in Europe so can't say whether it would be smart to drive to Bristol.

Posted by
1237 posts

If Bath and around are of interest then you could delete my Worcester/Hereford suggestion and replace with somewhere in or around Bath or Salisbury. Obviously that would be a longer drive down from the North, but it would then be an easier journey back to London/Gatwick.

From Bath, obvious options might be Stonehenge or Oxford. Not necessarily as day-trips from Bath, but as options to stop on the drive back to London.

Posted by
107 posts

A bit more on navigation. Last year I used google maps on my phone driving from Southampton to York and on to Hadrian's Wall area and then to Edinburgh. Prior to traveling I downloaded the maps of the areas I needed and then turned off the data on my phone. Used no roaming fees. GPS works fine without a data connection. The only thing you don't get is current traffic alerts. Since I downloaded maps only a week before traveling I had current road construction detours shown. A few years ago I drove in England with a Garmin GPS. On a couple of occasions the maps were not current. Google updates their maps very frequently.

On lodging - you mentioned hotels. Strongly suggest you consider B&B's. There are lots in Britain and they offer good value and a source of local knowledge. You might even get a haunted castle experience in a B&B. Enjoy!

Posted by
4825 posts

We did a wonderful 28 day drive tour of England and South Wales in October 2017.
Here is my detailed review of our trip.
28 days in Britain and Celebrity Eclipse home
https://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=599139

Responding to your specific interests, I recommend you consider visiting Warwick Castle. Warwick is east of Stratford Upon Avon and north Oxford.

As for castles, consider including visiting Wales. Wales has an incredible number of castles. It goes back to the history of Wales when Wales was independent of England and England was trying to incorporate Wales into its control. Many castles were built in Wales, especially near the English-Welsh border.

Check my review and you will find some of the castles that we visited in South Wales.
http://www.castlewales.com/maps.html
https://www.touropia.com/castles-in-wales/

There is so much to see in Britain that 10-12 day will only capture a small part of the wonderful countryside.

I highly recommend visiting York for old cities, it is wonderful. It still has its ancient walls that date back to the Romans.
The cathedral there is special (Minster). There is a fantastic National Railway Museum there. There is a lot more.

Bath has the Roman Bath Museum and more. Stonehenge is a special part of English history.

Regarding driving in the UK, I have some tips
If you aren't used to driving on the left, then rent a car with an automatic transmission. You want as few distractions as possible.
Also, suggest the vehicle include a navigation system, since it is very easy to get lost only using a map.

Try to find Bed and Breakfasts for lodging that are near the city or town center that have parking. Some places you will have much difficultly finding street parking.

Also, do not plan to drive too much in one day. Try to keep your daily drive to 2-3 hours, so you don't waste time on the road.
The British equivalent of our interstate highways are easy to handle (they are Dual Carriageways). The road is multilane and divided.

You will find many Roundabouts or traffic circles in Britain. You drive into them, yielding to those vehicles already in the circle. The circles go counter clockwise. Sometimes you have double roundabouts with traffic lights. They get more complicated, but just take it easy and you will be fine.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roundabout

British drivers are very polite and not aggressive.

When driving on roads in the countryside you may run into narrow roads with hedges or stone walls that may not give you a lot of space if another car approaches. Just slow down and take it easy.

Carry coins for parking and the toilet.

Don't miss the Fish and Chips, the British Fish and Chips are amazing.

The Garden you mentioned is in the very north of England. If you go to York, past that city and past Hadrian's Wall.

Posted by
25550 posts

The circles go counter clockwise.

Just to clarify, European ones are counter-clockwise, you are driving on the right.

British roundabouts are clockwise. We drive on the left.

Posted by
4 posts

Thank you all for such great info! I will definitely look into B+Bs, when not staying in castles.

I think our trip will look something like this:

Arrive London >> Drive to Nottingham (overnight 3 nights) We have friends here. I have no idea what we will do/see in this area yet.

Nottingham to Alnwick area (via a day in York). (overnight Alnwick area 3 nights) Holy Island, Poison Garden, and ??

Alnwick to Liverpool (via Sycamore Gap & Hadrian's Wall). (overnight Liverpool 2 nights) No itinerary here yet.

Liverpool to Bath (Bath 3 nights). Roman Baths, Stonehenge, Abbey, Pulteney Bridge, Prior Park Landscape Garden.

Bath to London Departure.

I do not think we will do any site-seeing in London, after all.

Posted by
7395 posts

Arrive London >> Drive to Nottingham

After a 10 hr flight ( if a non-stop; at least 14 hr if not) you plan to drive 3hrs?

I suspect that is not the best possible plan, given the intrusion of jet-lag on the human mind & body.

Posted by
218 posts

Have you decided against the two days sight seeing in London first?

Will you be arriving at Gatwick jet lagged off a trans Atlantic flight? If so it is crackers to consider driving straight to Nottingham. You are talking of driving along some of the most congested roads in england (M25 and M1) Google says the journey takes 3 hours - but that is without traffic holdupos. It could be a lot longer and depending on traffic levels, very stressful.

Don't underestimate driving times in England. Distances may not look for on a map but will take a lot longer to cover than you might expect. General advice is to take google times and add 25% to them AND then add on time for stops.

Nottingham to Alnwick is going to take a minimum of 4 hours to drive PLUS any stops you may make. Detouring to York will add up to another hour. At best this will only give you half a day in York. Ask yourself if this is worth it.

Alnwick to Liverpool vis Hadrian's Wall is again going to be about a five hour drive. If you want to see Sycamore gap, you have to walk to it...You can't see it properly from the road as you drive past. Steel Rigg Car Park is the closest place to park. It is just under two miles round trip. Allowing time to get parked up and walk, you need to add up to an hour on for this.

2 nights in Liverpool only effectively gives you a full day there.

Liverpool to Bath is going to be another 4+ hour drive plus stops. Again this is motorway and you have to negotiate Birmingham which is always busy.

There is a lot of driving involved as you are wanting to visit palces at opposite ends of the country!

Posted by
4825 posts

I will echo some of the comments about driving from Gatwick (on the opposite side of London) to Nottingham.

I have driven after a TA flight, but the drive was short, to Bath and didn't include driving on the M25 Orbital, aka as Orbital parking lot.

Consider taking the train the Nottingham and renting the car from there. You may save, since you will be with friends and might not need your car.

Posted by
2586 posts

I have one comment on your latest schedule. You wrote,
"Liverpool to Bath (Bath 3 nights). Roman Baths, Stonehenge, Abbey, Pulteney Bridge, Prior Park Landscape Garden.
Bath to London Departure.
I do not think we will do any site-seeing in London, after all."

You keep wanting to do Stonehenge as a day trip from Bath.
This is do-able, but wastes a lot of time driving to and from the sight. A better way would be to finish everything you want to do in Bath (Roman Baths, Abbey, Pulteney Bridge, Prior Park Landscape Garden.)
Then check out of your hotel in Bath, drive to Stonehenge, which is some distance away, then continue on to London (or your airport of departure) and turn in the car.
If you want an additional night in a scenic small town, Salisbury would be your stop, just a stones' throw from Stonehenge.

Posted by
58 posts

We drove in Southern England for a week and it wasn’t stress free but it’s very doable. Navigation was a huge help. We drove by Stonehenge on our way to Bath. Not stopping was just fine, as we saw it and kept moving. We thought two nights in Bath was enough.

Posted by
13 posts

Stonehenge is a bit of a let-down. Avebury is much more interesting as you can get right up to it, and walk in and out of the circles. Plus there is Silbury Hill nearby.

Posted by
903 posts

I met my husband when we were students at Alnwick and went back 2 years later to see the gardens, and ended up engaged! See the castle and gardens. Hulne Park is also nice and has the ruins used in Robin Hood with Kevin Costner. Warkworth Castle, another nearby Percy castle now ruined, is great to explore. Keep an eye out for some old graffiti. Lindisfarne Priory is also cool to see. Make sure you check the tides, transportation options etc...really well. Prudhoe Castle is cool, and don't forget the coast with Bamburgh, Dunstanburgh and the beaches. Further out but still nearby are the border abbeys in Scotland - Jedburgh, Dryburgh, Melrose and Kelso - Hadrian's Wall. Have a great time!