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Advice on 15 Day England/Scotland Itinerary---Celebrating 50 Year Anniversary and Ancestral Roots

Dear Rick Steves and Fellow Forum Members: Twenty-One years ago, we strapped on our newly purchased Rick Steves gear with zip locked pages from his guide books and Eurailed our way through Europe to our final destination---our first grandchild's baptism at St. Peter's in Rome. In September, we plan to celebrate our 50th year together retracing our family roots for 15 days in Scotland and England. We are two seventy-plus, spry Seniors hoping, with the help of our our worn but trusty RS soft bags, day bags and guidebooks, to ride the rails again (with a rent car possibly at some juncture). After studying all our DVRed PBS Rick Steves videos on England/Edinburgh and immersing ourselves in this very informative forum, we have questions and need guidance. The following is a rough outline of our proposed trip. So far, all we've booked is our airfare.
1. Arrive at Heathrow on Sept. 6 at 8:45 am
2. After customs, take train to York
3. Leave York on train for Edinburgh
4. Possible visit or night at family friend's B&B in Loch Lomand
5. Train possibly to Manchester (another friend of family lives outside Manchester)
6. Train to Chipping Camden
7.. Train to Bath (rent car)
8. Drive to St. Ives
9. Drive to Penzance
10. Drive to Erth Baton (The Erth Barton Manor is my 1300s Bond ancestral home) near Saltash
11. Drop off car (TBD)
12. Train to Brighton
13. Train to Dover
14. Train to Greenwich
15. Train, Bus or Riverboat to London
16. Leave from Heathrow on Sept. 21 at 3:25 pm
Obviously, this is early days planning, but we are fast approaching our departure date. We need as much advice and knowledge as you good people are willing to provide us including: (1) a realistic itinerary (consisting of days or hours per stop as well as destinations to choose or eliminate), (2) rail booking (3) lodging (4) car rental and (5) bus tours and/or bus vs rail where doable. The only nonnegotiable in the above outline is the ancestral home in Erth Barton Cornwall. We thank you in advance for reading this rather long posting and look forward to some excellent advice.

Tom and Judy J.

Posted by
3185 posts

Congratulations on your anniversary. This will be a great way to celebrate it-but-I get tired just looking at your plans to go to a different city every day! If you've never been to London, you should spend more time there and consider dropping Chipping Camden and/or Bath and/or Dover and/or Brighton. You could also base in London and do Dover and/or Brighto as individual day trips from London, as well as going to Greenwich from London. The downside to that plan is the cost of London hotels. I've never been to York or Edinburgh(planning to go in 2018) but know I need to spend more than one day in each of those cities. Dover is one of my favorite castles. You would probably enjoy having a car in the Cotswolds, so should do this after you pick up the car in Bath.

Posted by
2125 posts

Doesn’t sound much fun to me.

Everyday you’re travelling somewhere. Wake up, check out of accommodation, get on train/drive car, check-in. And the next day and the next.

If Cornwall’s your priority stay 4 or 5 days there, plus 4 or 5 days in London, 4 or 5 days in Scotland and that’s about it. You have to decide what your priorities are but at the moment the plan would test a 20-year-old, never mind a couple of wrinklies.

Look at http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/ for your train tickets.

This is at least a month to six weeks' trip crammed into 15 days.

For trains, use www.nationalrail.co.uk to map out your schedule (note that to go to York from Heathrow you first need an hour at least for immigration, then an hour to get to Kings Cross before you even get on the train to York.) Some of the journeys you suggest would involve many changes of train.

Use Google Maps to work out driving times adding AT LEAST 25% to all journeys to allow for traffic jams plus getting in & out of all cities/parking etc.

York is worth at least a full day; Edinburgh at least two days... and already you're behind schedule.

I would spend up to a week exploring Cornwall (it really repays time spent); a few days in another area that "calls" to you then maybe three or four days in London with a day trip or two (such as Greenwich, which really is in London).

Posted by
9 posts

Thank you, Cala, Ramblin' On and Jane. Just call us The Wrinklies (we love it). Listen, I got worn out just TYPING that darn itinerary! As you may have surmised, it was a "throw on the wall and see what sticks" agenda. And, you all have been monumentally helpful. SO---how does this sound?

1. Arrive and travel by train to Edinburgh
2. Travel by train to Cornwall (rent car)
3. Drop off car (TBD) and travel by train to Dover
4. Travel by train to Greenwich
5. Travel into London by riverboat
6. Stay in London until departure from Heathrow
Here are some specific questions.
1. Since lodging in London is more expensive than most other places in England, would someplace like Windsor be cheaper?
2. Do you know any reasonably priced places to stay in London? We visited London for a few days (actually rode the Chunnel from France and back) twenty years ago, but there is always more to see in London.
3. What day bus tours out of London are good ones?
4. Based on our revised itinerary, is an 8 Day Flex Pass on Britrail a good option?
5. Should we get First Class or Second Class Tickets?
6. What town in Cornwall would be best for the pickup and drop off of a rental car which also provides rail service to Dover?
Once again, thank you for all your knowledge and help.

Tom and Judy

Posted by
2125 posts

Some thoughts:

If you think of England and Scotland like a triangle, Edinburgh, Cornwall and Dover (why Dover?) are near enough the outermost points, so you're doing a lot of travelling.

Anyway, if you want to go to Edinburgh on arrival then fly. Otherwise you’re wasting another 6+ hours travelling overland.

Edinburgh to Cornwall is another long jaunt - consider flying to Newquay.

Train travel from Cornwall to Dover will route you via London. Trains from Dover will return to you to London, not via Greenwich.

If you want to visit London you have to pay London prices. Staying outside wastes time and any accommodation savings will likely be eaten up by train/tube fares. Define reasonably priced in £s.

Britrail passes offer convenience but you pay for that convenience compared to buying pre-booked Advance tickets.

Posted by
10053 posts
  1. Arrive and travel by train to Edinburgh
  2. Travel by train to Cornwall (rent car)
  3. Drop off car (TBD) and travel by train to Dover
  4. Travel by train to Greenwich
  5. Travel into London by riverboat
  6. Stay in London until departure from Heathrow

I do not understand going all the way to Edinburgh, jetlagged, for one night. Skip Scotland if all you can give it is one night.

With 15 nights, I'd stay no more than 4 places

Edinburgh OR York - 3 nights

Bath - 0 or 2 nights

Cornwall - 3 or 5 nights (5 if you skip Bath)

London - 7 nights

See Greenwich from your London base. You can even do a day trip to Dover from London, although there is so much to London your time is best spent there. Get an apartment to save some GBP.

Posted by
712 posts

Tom and Judy,

I am from England and visit often - both itineraries you have suggested are WAY too much even for an old seasoned traveler like myself (in my 50's). I am all about getting out and about the first day after an overnight flight from the US, but getting on a train to Edinburgh soon after I landed would not be my idea of a fun trip. As someone else suggested, if you really must go to Edinburgh the first day from Heathrow, then fly. However, have you thought about flying into Manchester instead of Heathrow. You could meet up with your friends and get acclimated. Stay a day or two and then go to York for a day and head up to Edinburgh. I would spend at least two or more days there. From Edinburgh I would fly to Torquay (as someone else suggested) or into Exeter. You could rent a car from here and tour Devon/Cornwall for 4-5 days. You could probably fit in the Cotswolds on your way back towards London. This is about as much as I would want to do over 15 days. I would skip Brighton and Dover. You are trying to make an itinerary that involves places that are about the furthest away from each other. You will be wasting days on traveling rather than enjoying the countryside.

Posted by
712 posts

I meant to say Newquay not Torquay. (it doesn't have an airport). Exeter and Bristol would be alternative airports to consider to tour the West Country.

Posted by
9 posts

To Ramblin' On, Laurel and MPaulyn. Thank you for taking the time to give us this much appreciated info. Unfortunately, our airfare has been booked, so we are locked in to Heathrow. As to train travel, Tom loves trains so 6 hours doesn't seem so bad. We're intrigued by the idea of getting an apartment in London. This would give us the opportunity to see sights we didn't see 20 years ago and possibly day trip to places that interest us ( like the apparently not very popular Dover). Thanks to all of you for giving us some ideas to sleep on. Tom and Judy

Posted by
1 posts

Tom and Judy-I totally get your love of trains. Have you looked at the Caledonian Sleeper? It is an overnight train out of London, one of the great train journeys. You will wake in the Highlands, and can go on by train to Edinburgh from there.
I am in London travelling solo at the moment, and agree with the suggestion to get an apartment. Look at finding something through Airbnb-if you read the reviews carefully, you will find what you need. Also, bus lines National Express and Megabus offer daily travel to other places-I did a day trip to Portsmouth during the week, the 2 hour trip was great for resting my aching legs, and very cheap. The Oxford Tube is a bus company that runs half hourly services to Oxford.
I think your original wish list might have been a bit ambitious, but public transport is so good here, it is easy to be based in three or four places and travel out from there. Also, I am Australian and usually travel long distances to get anywhere, so the distances here are really quite small, just enough for a well needed rest. And I love the thought that I can just jump on a bus or train and go to Paris for lunch! That's another suggestion-you can be back in London for a late dinner

Posted by
7596 posts

the last thing they need is to add another city!!!

Posted by
9 posts

Thank you, Juliemc, Kim and Jane. How nice to wake up to new info that helps plan our trip. Juliemc, you are so kind to take time off from your London visit to give us tips. We really appreciate it. I think Australians and Texans may have similar views about distance. Both places are so big that traveling somewhere, as we do often, is just part of living "large". As a result, we've been trying to superimpose GB on a Texas map to give us a better understanding visually of distances (for instance, what GB towns/cities are comparable in distance from Houston to Dallas, Austin, El Paso, etc.). Great tips about public transportation, the Caledonian Sleeper and Airbnb. Though we love the idea about Paris (and love Paris), we think Kim's point is well taken---and hilarious. And, Jane, your comment about the Dover Castle (reinforced by Rick Steves' video) piqued our interest. AND, the White Cliffs, of course. But, ancestorally speaking, Cornwall is still our focal point with Edinburgh (Tom's choice) number two. The Cotswolds, Bath and York are Wish List items we added because of guide book reading/videos, and because they appeared to be near our planned train route. We're still trying to figure out the most sensible itinerary based on all your suggestions. Still a work in progress. Thanks again for everyone's input.
Tom and Judy

for instance, what GB towns/cities are comparable in distance from
Houston to Dallas, Austin, El Paso, etc.

I've driven in Texas. I've happily sat behind a wheel on the open road for hours on end. In two weeks I drove from Houston to Austin to San Antonio to Laredo to Corpus Christi to Galveston to Houston. And several more places that I've forgotten. Another time I drove coast to coast across the US in two weeks. So I know what I'm talking about...

Travelling in the UK is nothing like that. I wouldn't even consider driving a similar distance on UK roads. Look at the comparative population density. Think about the number or cars per square mile. Think about our old cities, built in mediaeval street plans and not designed for cars. That's why it's way slower to get anywhere.

Our trains are pretty good but tend to be centred on London - it's a kind of hub. Plus there are delays - I got delayed by two & half hours yesterday on what should have been a 40-minute journey home from work due to a broken-down train. If you stuck to something like your original schedule, imagine the impact!

So take your time. There is such richness of things to see in each part of the country. You could spend all 15 days in Cornwall and see something amazing every day...

Another word re Dover. It rhymes nicely with "over" in the song so the White Cliffs of Dover are very famous - but the ones you've seen in films might well be the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head near Eastbourne...

Posted by
9 posts

Jane, you make great sense (I hope the seaweed in Galveston wasn't piling up when you were there). With all your help (and others), we've "calmed down" our itinerary. And, we're sort of over Dover. To be honest, we're more interested in the flavor and experiences of GB than we are a check list of castles and museums (though we're certainly not apposed and do want to visit some of them). Right now, Tom is still hoping to include the train to Edinburgh after arrival (me, too, but not wedded to it), and we're both set on several days in Cornwall with whatever destinations by car, bus or train are feasible from there. Ditto, London. This would amount to two bases with a 2 day/3 night visit to Edinburgh. What do you think? Also, do you have a suggestion for a home base in Cornwall and a reasonable home base in London? Actually, I just found our old 1996 itinerary, and we stayed at the Corona Hotel (Best Western, now) on Belgrade Rd. Worked pretty well for us then. More tips, please, if you have the time. Tom and Judy

Cornwall - I note you want to visit a site near Saltash, which is at the east of Cornwall, nearly Devon. Cornwall is a very long thin county and it takes AGES to get from one end to the other. So it would be useful to know if your heart is set on seeing some of the far western sights.

A traditional Cornish fishing/coastal place like Fowey (pronounced Foy) or Polperro would give you a good taste of the county while keeping you within easy driving distance of Saltash.

Alternatively if your heart calls you west, then St Ives is a stunning arty busy town, Penzance is a lot more workaday, Falmouth is a biggish town with the world's third (?) largest natural harbour, Porthleven is a nice base too.

I suggest you get the train down as far as Plymouth, pick up a car and then use that in Cornwall. Visit Saltash on the way west/south.

In London, you mean Belgrave Road not Belgrade Road. That's in the Victoria area, which is fine. But you might want to look at somewhere like the group of hotels near Waterloo on the South Bank, just across the river from the Houses of Parliament. I think it's a great area to stay for that real "London" feel. Short walk across the river and you're in the heart of Westminster; short walk on the South Bank and you see the Globe & Tate Modern, and then St Paul's looming across the river.

I don't know your budget but look at the Park Plaza(s) Westminster Bridge & County Hall (next to each other) or for a good quality comfortable budget choice, the Premier Inn Waterloo or Premier Inn County Hall.

Posted by
3185 posts

Looking at Laurel's itinerary, if you skip Bath or cut London to 5 or 6 nights, you could do one or two nights in York on your way to or from Edinburgh(as you planned originally)-York has easy train connections to both Edinburgh and London. With 6 days in London, you could day trip to Bath if you wanted, but I'm not as big a fan of Bath as Rick-I went last year and do not recommend it to my husband and child as somewhere they need to go. Even though London is expensive, traveling is much easier and you will waste less energy when you can just hope on a train without luggage. There are books that list day trips from London. I have been to London 6 times and have not completed my list of day trips. On two occasions back in the 1990's, we did Evans Evans bus tours-one was to Leeds Castle and Blenheim Palace and I think Cotswolds, one was to Canterbury and Dover. Of those, only Dover is really essential, in my opinion. Salisbury Cathedral and King's College Chapel Cambridge(both doable as day trips from London) were both more enjoyable than Canterbury . I prefer traveling by train on my own, but the bus tours do cover more places more quickly-I wonder if this is why I don't consider the places I went on bus tours as essential? In my opinion(and Rick's) 2nd class train tickets are fine and cheaper after 9:30 AM. The big advantage to 1st is a reserved seat. The only time I would have liked this is on way to Bath, where I had to stand part of the trip. I prefer to walk up and buy my ticket to avoid being tied to a schedule, but it is more expensive than buying the tickets way in advance. This is less of a problem if you travel after 9:30 AM.

Posted by
724 posts

I like your latest itinerary the best. You'll actually have more time to see things if you aren't spending so much time on transportation.

The problem with going straight up to Edinburgh when you are ticketed to Heathrow is that to get a cheap fare, by train or by plane, you are at risk of losing your ticket, if your overseas plane is significantly late. Our plane was 5 hours late on our last trip, so you never know. You might be better off spending your first night in London. Then you could take a morning train to Edinburgh.

I think you have a lovely trip planned. I have never been to Cornwall -- I think you would be smart to spend a good chunk of time there.

You could easily do a day trip to Dover from London. The castle is great. Get there early so you can be first in line for tickets. You can get an idea of the cliffs there, although Beachy Head and Seven Sisters are spectacular!

Greenwich is also a nice day from London. Very easy. Multiple ways to get there.

For where to stay, you need to figure out a neighborhood. My latest favorite is to stay near the British Museum. I love the British Museum! There is a nice mix of restaurants in the area and it is close to railway stations if you are headed north.

Posted by
6341 posts

Just PM'd you regarding a London accommodation.

Congrats on your return to wandering again!

Posted by
5463 posts

As others have commented, your schedule is very aggressive.

We are planning a 28 day drive tour of England and Wales this October and visiting several places where our ancestors originated.

We are spending three nights in York and one in the Yorkshire Moors.

We are in Chipping Campden for six nights to use as a base to visit, Oxford, Blenheim Palace, Stratford on Avon and the Cotswolds.

I planned our trip so that only two days will we have to drive more than two hours. Consider planning a trip where you can enjoy your locations rather than traveling most of your trip.

Posted by
7124 posts

I would drop York and Edinburgh - too far for too little time. Starting at Manchester would allow you to slow things down a little, and ramp up the enjoyment factor.

1..Arrive at Heathrow. Train to Manchester (2 nights)
3..Pick up car. Drive to Chipping Camden (2 nights)
5..Drive to Bath (2 nights)
7..Drive to Erth Baton, near Saltash (2 nights)
9..Drive to St. Ives (2 nights)
11..Drive to Penzance. Return car. Sleeper train to London
12..London (4 nights)
13..Day to Brighton
14..Day to Greenwich
15..Day to Dover
16..Leave from Heathrow

Posted by
7596 posts

Jane makes an excellent point -- the distances may be one thing, but the reality of driving shorter distances in much more densely populated areas means that you can't really equate 120 miles in Texas or Australia (or Oklahoma, where I'm from) to a similar distance in the UK. It's much more tiring in the latter place.

I like your triangle traveling if you do want to hit Edinburgh, definitely Cornwall, and London, but i would concentrate on those three areas rather than all the Brighton/Dover/Greenwich on the way. I think it would be absolutely lovely to have almost a week exploring around Cornwall, maybe staying for a while in the east and a while in the west, and then spending 3 days each in Edinburgh and London.

Sorry if I sounded a little flip earlier - it's clear you're already facing the challenge of cutting destinations out (and we all do want to see and do more once we get across), and I just couldn't help myself!!

I absolutely love your perspective and your attitude, and you'll have a wonderful trip whatever you get figured out. Happy 50th!

Posted by
9 posts

To Jane, Cala, Eel, Claudia, Geovagriffith, Djpsyd, Kim. We're baaack! Had to unglue ourselves from the Forum temporarily to get ready for a trip to Austin for a granddaughter's birthday and Fourth of July. Let us just say once again how grateful we are for everyone's help and suggestions. You're right, Jane, I did mean Belgrave. Really like your suggestions about Fowey, Polperro, St. Ives, Penzance, Falmouth or Porthleven as a base. We have also been checking London lodging tips you and Claudia gave us. Cala, thank you for your suggestions and info about day trips and transportation. Eel, thanks for your encouragement. And, point well taken about unforeseen delays. Still undecided about the first leg. Will check out lodging near the British museum. Geovagriffith, you're absolutely right about less driving being better. We're trying to figure out bases with some two hour drives or bus transport. Djpsyd, since we've pretty much abandoned the two friend-of-family connections in Loch Lomand and outside Manchester (we don't actually know them---members of our family have the connection), we'll probably stay with traveling the triangle (London, Scotland, Cornwall, London). But, part of your suggested itinerary is similar to what we're tentatively planning. Thank you for taking the time to map it out for us. Kim, thanks so much for your good wishes. Flip? Not at all. Actually, it looks like we're on the same page about our plan (the latest, anyway). And, here it is: Three bases (Edinburgh, Cornwall-TBD, London). We are considering getting an 8 Day Britrail Flex Pass (1st class) and breaking the the 15 days into 4 nights (Scotland), and either 5 nights (Cornwall) and 6 nights London or vice versa. We would take the train from Heathrow to Edinburgh (around 6 hrs), from Edinburgh to Plymouth (around 8 hrs), rent car in Plymouth and stay overnight in Plymouth or Saltash, visit ancestral home, church and gravesight at Erth Barton (about 3-7 miles), travel to selected base and drive or take bus to TBD destinations, drive back to Plymouth and drop off car, take train to London, visit sights in London and take TBD day trips. Look forward to any and all thoughts and/or suggestions. Tom and Judy

Posted by
7124 posts

My point was that you are trying to cram in too much. We took 6 weeks for a trip from Scotland to Cornwall.

How about flying Edinburgh to Bristol??

1..Arrive at Heathrow. Train to York (1 night)
2..Train to Edinburgh (2 nights)
4..Fly to Bristol. Pick up car. Drive to Chipping Camden (2 nights)
6..Drive to Bath (1 nights)
7..Drive to Erth Baton, near Saltash (2 nights)
9..Drive to St. Ives (2 nights)
11..Drive to Penzance. Return car. Sleeper train to London
12..London (4 nights)
13..Day to Brighton
14..Day to Greenwich
15..Day to Dover
16..Leave from Heathro