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12 Day Trip-Oxford, Edinburgh, York flying from London

We are in the beginning stages of planning a 12 day trip to visit our daughter in Oxford in late April, flying in and out of London and we are wondering if we can fit this all in. We love hiking and my husband would be keen on doing at least 1 day of road cycling. We don't need to spend any time in London, unless it is 1-night at the end of our journey. We'd like to use train and bus (and not rent a car if we can avoid it because we are from Canada and the driving will be a head-scratcher.

Here's what we are contemplating so far:

Oxford-3-4 days (see Bath, Cotswolds, Blenheim Palace and Oxford with possible trip to Stonehenge)
Edinburgh-3-4 days (see Edinburgh with a possible trip to the Highlands) Do we spend 1 night on the way to Edinburgh?
York-2 days?
London-2 days

We recognize that it is a long haul to Scotland but we really want to include this. We're not so keen on seeing Liverpool.

Any suggestions on how to tweak this to make it work? Do we need to add a few days on to this (flights are booked, but we could change the return date if necesary).
We recognize that the trip up to Scotland can take the better part of the day, so needing some input to make it work.

With much gratitude!
Lindsay

Posted by
3040 posts

That should work. But if you can add a few days to your trip it would not be a bad thing.

My suggestion for the best order is:

If arriving at Heathrow or Gatwick, take the coach to Oxford and stay there a few days. If you use another airport you might need to change this part.
After a few days in Oxford, take the train to York. You will see options via London and via Birmingham, I strongly recommend the option to travel via Birmingham since that will give you a one stop option and you avoid the tube between Paddington and King's Cross.
York to Edinburgh is a short an easy direct train trip. And when you are done in Scotland, take the train from Edinburgh to London and stay there before flying home.

Posted by
2654 posts

If you want to go to Edinburgh I would add that to the end of your trip. Fly into Heathrow and out of Edinburgh, no sense in backtracking.

Posted by
2413 posts

Last post has it right. Edinburgh Airport is say to get to (30 minutes) and you should be able to find an adequate open-jaw flight back from there. If nothing else, you would connect in Heathrow and save the 5+ hour train ride and overnight in London, just to then have to get to Heathrow to fly out. And overnight (or 2) in York is absolutely worth the time.

Posted by
12926 posts

For your taste of the Highlands and some hiking, you could do as we did a few years ago: train from Edinburgh to Bridge of Orchy, right on the West Highland Way. There is a nice hotel there and the train makes a stop.

https://www.bridgeoforchy.co.uk/

We arrived in time to spend the rest of the afternoon hiking north on the WHW and it was beautiful. The next morning we hiked a bit to the south before departing, on the southbound train, but it was not as spectacular. But I would happily return to hike that northern part again. The hotel was very friendly and the food was excellent.

If you can squeeze a night out of your Edinburgh time, I highly recommend this.

Posted by
12 posts

Thank you Badger, Larry, Robin Z and Lola for your replies! Unfortunately we already booked our flights return into Gatwick and Westjet does not fly from Edinburgh or Glasgow until June. However, I am going to investigate whether we can change the flight (go and fly out of Edinburgh with Air Canada. I guess it depends on the change penalties. It makes so much sense to do an open jaw with our desired destinations.

Great recommendation on visiting York!

Also very interested in Bridge of Orchy and the hiking conditions. If I had to rate my preferences, it would be to spend more time hiking in the Highlands.

Posted by
2900 posts

Your schedule looks OK.
I might do 2 nights in Bath, instead of just a day trip to there.
Bath is lovely. Lots to do there. The Roman Baths, walks around town, walk up to the Royal Crescent and across Pultney Bridge.
Mad Max Tours offer day tours from Bath to Stonehenge.
https://www.madmaxtours.co.uk/
(well-regarded by members of the RS forum and good reviews on Trip Advisor)

Definitely worth it to stop in York for two nights.
York is very interesting. If you like to walk, you will get in plenty of it here. Be sure and walk down the street known as The Shambles, then to Clifford's Tower. York Minster is amazing. You may want to see the Yorkshire Museum--plenty of Viking and Roman artifacts here--and the National Railway Museum.

Near York:
If you want hiking, you might look at the Yorkshire Dales National Park or the North York Moors National Park.
There is great hiking on the moors or along the coast. Friends of ours spent a day hiking the coastal path from Whitby to Robin Hood’s Bay, and said it was a perfect walk with great scenery.

Moving on to Edinburgh.....
You may find one of these tours to be useful, out of Edinburgh.
Scroll on down to find their one day tours to the Highlands.
(I know you do not need a multi-day tour.)
https://www.rabbies.com/en/scotland-tours

Posted by
12 posts

Rebecca, thank you so much for your comments on York and what to see and how much wonderful hiking there is.

I am thrilled about the option of the Lumo high speed train! When I checked the difference to book an open jaw route, it was 2.5 times the price, so we're pretty much stuck with London. I am going to noodle more to tweak our route! Thanks so much!

Posted by
20797 posts

I don't see anything about a 2-hour travel time in the article on the new Lumo rail service between London and Edinburgh. There's a reference to an average speed of under 90 mpg, and the distance is over 400 miles. Some existing trains make the run in less than 4-1/2 hours, so I don't see that Lumo is going to be much faster. Lindsay's issue is that she plans to approach Edinburgh (or York) from Oxford rather than from London.

I don't think "3 or 4 days" is adequate for Oxford, given the list of sightseeing targets--probably not even if you skip Stonehenge.

To see the Cotswolds efficiently without a car your best bet is a one-day small-group (van) tour operated out of either Bath (Mad Max) or Moreton-in-March (GoCotswolds and Secret Cottage). M-i-M is an easy train ride from Oxford. I've given you the names of three companies whose tours get good reviews here; there are probably some others. If you want to hike, you could allow an extra day for some village-to-village walking. In that case, you might want to base in M-i-M for two or three nights. M-i-M seems to be the closest thing there is to a bus hub in the Cotswolds. I gather that bus service isn't very frequent, so on a busy hiking day you might need to include a taxi leg somewhere along the way. You should equip yourself with telephone numbers for a local taxi company or two and check them out. The pickings may be rather slim.

Posted by
12 posts

acraven, thanks for the comments about length of time in Oxford. It's going to be a challenge deciding what to see because there is so much there. We will have a built in tour guide to point us to the highlights in Oxford. I have already identified so many Colleges that libraries that I'd like to see at the University. :) Also really appreciate the list of tours!

Will do the research on the higher speed train from Edinburgh to London on the way back!

Posted by
10941 posts

If you are truly not interested in London, my suggestion is to fly from Edinburgh to your departure airport in London the day before your flight--late afternoon or early evening--and stay at an airport hotel.

This should give you extra time in Scotland.

Posted by
20797 posts

I'm sorry, Rebecca. I thought you meant the new train was going to be much faster than the current options. The bit about starting in Oxford was meant to point out to Lindsay that there are very fast ground-transportation possibilities between Edinburgh and London. Rail is surprisingly fast along that route even without the Lumo.

I can't find any hint that Lumo will be faster (quite the contrary), though I agree that with no stops, one would assume it could be. Here's a list of the stops made by the 9 AM LNER train from London to Edinburgh that has a total running time of 4 hr. 20 min.:

Peterborough 09:46-09:48
York 10:51-10:54
Darlington 11:22-11:23
Newcastle 11:50-11:52
Berwick-upon-Tweed 12:35-12:36

From the website of the Independent:

"How long does it [Lumo] take? Despite having so few calls, congestion on the East Coast main line means the full Lumo trip takes around four-and-a-half hours between London and Edinburgh – an average of 87mph. On LNER, fast trains take four hours and 20 minutes, averaging 91mph.

In other words, some of the existing trains are a bit faster than Lumo.

Nigel, we need you!

Posted by
889 posts

As in all things rail related I defer to Nigel but it seems to me that Lumo are using similar if not the same rolling stock on the same rails as LNER and thus in journey times there’s not going to be a heck of a lot of difference. I’d go with what is cheapest and/or most convenient. If I’ve understood correctly LNER trains will be more frequent.

I would tend to use the words ‘urban walking’ as opposed to ‘hiking’ in York, but that said I’ve clocked up a fair few miles myself over the years round York. I recommend walking the walls if only as an orienting experience! Fun fact - there are a couple of gaps in the city walls. The first was where the wall met a swamp which was a) impossible to build a wall across (shades of Monty Python) and b) was thought to be an easily defendable position. The swamp is long gone today, but the gap remains. The other gap I know of is more modern created by the Victorians so they could shove a railway close up to the Railway HQ building (now a large hotel, but still identifiable as the former railway offices) so they wouldn’t have to walk far once alighted from their train, the lazy philistines!

Ian

Posted by
27426 posts

Lumo can be confusing in a number of ways.

Really what they are pushing is ultra low fares for booking advance and low fares overall, on brand new kit, with a fancy blue exterior.

Nowhere does it say on their website who they really are under the skin. They are First Group, a northeast based bus company (the biggest in the UK along with Stagecoach) who also run the Great Western Railway (previously known as First Great Western until they renamed) from London Paddington to the southwest.

They are achieving the lower prices by removing staff and renaming other grades. Everything beyond the seat is, as Americans say, a la carte. There is next to no space for luggage to add seats, so they sell luggage forwarding. Food is ordered up to 12 hours ahead from an online menu.

The onboard experience is decent looking based on The Man in Seat 61 reviews and video.

They are not the only "open access" train on the line - there is also Hull Trains and another one I don't remember at the mo, but only the Azumas of LNER are really designed high speed. The Lumo kit is basically the same but finished differently and without all the whistles and bells. LNER trains will have priority when 2 trains want the route at the same time.

Lumo only has a very few actual trains so far so there are only 2 services northbound and 2 southbound most days. They currently keep a third set in reserve.

The train speed isn't governed in this case by the number of stops (Lumo stops at some pretty exotic places instead of major intermediary stations like York, kind of like Ryanair, so they don't take up platforms at busy stations.

I think there is a reason they have chosen blue for the trains - look at the OUIgo cheapo trains in France for what Lumo is trying to do.

Note too that Lumo has no first class.

If you want traditional and frequent choose LNER. If you want cheap and they go when you want to go, it couldn't hurt to try Lumo.

Posted by
12 posts

Hi Ian and Nigel,

Appreciate your comments about the various train options and differences. Sounds like it will be quite the planning exercise to plot out the routes!

Ian, I was not sure what to call the type of walking that we are looking forward to doing. I'm up for urban walking and also "striding through the moors".

Lindsay

Posted by
889 posts

Hi Lindsay -

To experience the moors you’ll need to head north east from York to the North Yorkshire Moors. Not much loved I think by Mr. Steves, they are big and empty, but if you can, a visit to the Lion pub on Blakey Ridge is good. That’s a pub literally surrounded by moors! There will be loads of guide books available plus, if you feel extra confident an OS map will show you all the paths in the area and you can set off guided by the map. The Cleveland Way, the Coast to Coast path and the Lyke Wake Walk to name but three are long distance trails that cross the moors, sometimes sharing the same path.

Going south west will take you to the South Pennine moors, with those around Haworth the ones frequented by the Brontes. In fact that area is referred to nowadays as ‘Bronte Country’. Again, many paths cross those moors.

One traditionally walks across the moors as opposed to through them as the latter implies an ‘as the crow flies’ beeline via the knee deep heather and even deeper bogs which is both exhausting and packed with ankle breaking potential!

Ian

Posted by
12926 posts

And then there is Rannoch Moor on the West Highland Way in Scotland.

If it is North York Moors they want to explore, they can book a weekend or mid-week holiday at the HF Holidays country house at Whitby, with options for walking in the moors, through forest, or on coastal paths.

https://www.hfholidays.co.uk/holidays-and-tours/guided-walking-whitby-3?format=pdf&vid=968

For Lindsay—-(with hopes ianandjulie will edit or expand: what we in North America call “hiking”, meaning walks through the countryside or mountains on trails rather than pavement, is often termed “hill walking”, “fell walking” (more rugged, and usually used in NW England) or simply “walking” by the British people we have met. Or in some areas “rambling”, especially for the more leisurely walks. Sometimes also referred to as “trekking” by English-speaking people in other countries. I believe “walking” also covers long city walks, what we might deem “urban hiking” (but for me, only if it includes significant hills). Otherwise, a walk in the city, any city, is simply a “walk” even if it covers 10 miles.

Posted by
3040 posts

Arriving at Gatwick is not a problem, there are direct coaches from Gatwick to Oxford. Operated by the same company that operate the Heathrow coaches.

Regarding trains between Edinburgh and London, the options are LNER and Lumo. It's debatable whether they can be called high speed trains, and while not compareable to ICEs and TGVs they provide a reasonable fast connection between Scotland and London. LNER is a bit faster than Lumo but the main difference is that Lumo is a low cost brand, more similar to Ryanair or Wizzair, while LNER offers more services. As always, the Man in Seat 61 has more information: https://www.seat61.com/london-to-edinburgh-by-train.htm

Posted by
889 posts

Hi Lola -

Actually, I couldn’t have put it better myself! I think ‘fell walking’ is just the still-in-use Norse showing in the dialect and I think that the word ‘rambling’ sometimes attracts a slightly disparaging, old fashioned connotation of hiking/walking (which is probably why I’m totally fine with it).

I have often wondered what exactly defines a ‘hike’ as its clear it means different things to different folk. I have come to the conclusion that there is no definitive answer, as I’m pretty sure you’d get a slightly different answer to the question from every individual you asked. Which is maybe why it could be helpful to define what one seeks in a walk when discussing say, hiking in the Lake District, the Highlands of Scotland or Zion or Arches National Parks as a for instance!

Posted by
4631 posts

Pre-covid there used to be direct trains from Oxford to York. Now this requires a change at Birmingham New Street and will still do so in April.

There are also one-change services from Oxford to Edinburgh, most conveniently doing the change at Wolverhampton.

Both are still a bit quicker than doing cross-London journeys although not by much. They may look more expensive at face value but may not be so much after using appropriate railcards or split ticketing.

Posted by
12 posts

Hi Ian and Lola,

I had no idea that my comment about the Moors would spark so much comment. I find it interesting that there are so many words for walking in the country. I guess in Canada we would call a hike anything outside of the city, even if it is short and not too challenging. We have a term called scrambling which is climbing up and down boulders or smaller rocks in the mountains.

I take it that we don't need to spend a great deal of time in the Moors other than the fact that I am curious to see this geography.

Would you say that there is more to see in the Scottish Highlands than the Moors? Also aside from the fact that my family goes back to the MacKay clan and I have a big interest in seeing Scotland? I am going to have to dig about to find where.

Marco, appreciate the insight into trains from Oxford to Edinburgh. I did not realize until lately that it might be awkward to get to Edinburgh from there. Badger, also had not looked at what options there are to get to Oxford yet, so thanks for the reassurance that it's not a big deal to get there from Gatwick.

Lindsay

Posted by
27426 posts

Arriving at Gatwick is not a problem, there are direct coaches from Gatwick to Oxford. Operated by the same company that operate the Heathrow coaches.

In fact it is usually the the same coach which makes a stop at Heathrow on its way to Gatwick. That's the coaches which are from Oxford. The National Express coaches may involve a change at Heathrow.

Posted by
3040 posts

Badger, also had not looked at what options there are to get to Oxford
yet, so thanks for the reassurance that it's not a big deal to get
there from Gatwick.

It's not even a medium sized deal.

Posted by
192 posts

You can also get to Oxford by train from Gatwick with one change at Reading

Posted by
33 posts

Regarding the cycling, I'm a keen cyclist myself but try to avoid the roads if possible, they are just too busy and continuous cycle paths are few and far between. Although some places are better than most. There are however many off road/trail type routes. A lot follow old railway lines, canals or rivers. Just about anywhere you plan to visit should have a cycle hire facility. A hybrid would be more suitable for our trails.

Posted by
889 posts

Hi Lindsay -

I shouldn’t worry about terminology - it’s whatever you feel happiest with provided that everybody else knows exactly what you expect/mean by it!

To answer your question I’d say that in general the Scottish Highlands are more interesting than the English moors. That said, if you are not a confirmed and serious hiker, the paths in the Highlands are going to be intimidating and possibly off limits. This is why, while I personally love Glencoe, I have said in the past there’s not much to detain the casual visitor in search of a half hour stroll. However, if you are prepared and happy to climb high into the hills with the fitness, effort and equipment that requires then Glencoe and the Highlands are one enormous adventure park!

There’s a You Tube channel called ‘Scotland’s Mountains’ by a guy named Murray who is a serious Walker/hiker and climber and a brilliant photographer to boot that would give you a taste of what the Highland hills are all about. Being a northerner I have no trouble with Murray’s accent, but visitors from further afield might need the use of close captioning!

The moors in England can be beautiful but they are also exposed and when it’s bleak, they can be as intimidating as the Highlands, so while not requiring as much effort as the Highland peaks to access, they should never be underestimated or treated in a cavalier manner.

Ian

Posted by
12 posts

Hi Ian,

Thanks for your comments about Highlands vs the Moors. I'll check out the Youtube videos with close captioning on. :)

Lindsay

Posted by
12 posts

Hello S J! Thank you for your tips about hikes close to Edinburgh. There are plenty of scenic options in the link you included.

Unfortunately the cost to book an open jaw flight ended up being almost 2 or 3 times the cost of the round trip to Gatwick, so we are committed to flying in and out of London.

We are going to stop in York on the way from Edinburgh to London for a few days and then on to London for a couple of nights.

The comments on this thread have been extremely helpful to shape our plans.

Lindsay

Posted by
5324 posts

1) To visit the Cotswolds, we stayed in Chipping Campden and used it as a base to visit Oxford (by train, parking is a huge issue there), Blenheim Palace, Stratford Upon Avon (a must see) and the Cotswolds. We had a car and despite driving on the left (we were careful) and did well. Using rail and busses is not the best way to see the Cotswolds, you might consider renting a car just for this portion of your trip. Also, Bath is a bit far from Oxford for a day trip, why not stay in Bath a couple of nights. We stayed at the Brooks Guesthouse and it was great. Also, don't miss dining at the Scallop Shell, the best fish and chips in England.

2) You need three nights to fully explore York. Walk the walls, go to the museums (especially the National Rail Museum).

3) While in Edinburgh, try to find a tour to visit north of the city including St. Andrews.

Posted by
12 posts

Hi geovagriffith,

Thank you for your comments. I think we will either hire a car to go to the Cotswolds or get a tour. Unfortunately we are committed to Oxford rather than Bath, so we'll have to carefully consider what we see and the travel time to do so from Oxford. If my husband drives, I will be watching carefully and clucking around corners and round-abouts. :)

We are definitely going to book a 1-day tour from Edinburgh; I'm really looking forward to that. Sounds like Rabbies is a good bet.

We're booked for 3 nights in York and I am scoping out the must-do's for there.

So much to see and do in so little time!

Lindsay

Posted by
295 posts

In regards to cycling, any of the places you list you should easily be able to hire/rent a bicycle. The UK has a decent network of trails (both on and trail). Routes I've ridden usually combine road and trail (which may be paved or packed dirt/gravel/limestone). I would recommend a little bit of research as to where you'd like to ride. A good place to start is here:

https://www.sustrans.org.uk/national-cycle-network

You can get the maps/guides in bookshops or online. A road bike with tires suitable for gravel has sufficed for me - though as has been mentioned, a hybrid is a good option.

You can also stick purely to roads. Once you figure out when/where you'd like to ride, a little planning with Google/Apple/Waze/your favorite online mapping tool should do the trick. You can also try https://www.cyclestreets.net/ for route planning as its good in the UK.

Enjoy your trip!

Posted by
12 posts

Hi Tom,

Thanks for your guidance! I think we will definitely give it a try at some point!

We will take a look at these websites and see where it would be best.

Have a great day,
Lindsay