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England/Scotland Honeymoon Itinerary Help

My fiance and I are in the process of planning our May 2018 honeymoon to England and Scotland (I'll post this over in that forum too) and I was hoping to get some feedback on our tentative itinerary. We already have our plane tickets, so we can't add or subtract any days from the total time in the UK (20 nights), but most of the itinerary is flexible! Our goal was to see a lot (since the fiance has never been to Europe and I haven't been to the UK since I was 12), but also not feel like we're rushing too much. We're not huge city people, so we definitely want some relaxing/countryside time, too. So our current plan is:

  • Fly to London - stay by airport (I have health problems and don't feel well the night after flying)
  • Bus/Drive to Oxford - 2 nights
  • Drive to Cotswolds (Chipping Campden or Stow-on-the-Wold) - 2 nights
  • Drive to Lake District (Keswick) - 2 nights
  • Drive to Oban/somewhere else in the Scottish Highlands (haven't researched this as much) - 2 nights
  • Drive to Edinburgh (return car) - 3 nights
  • Train to York - 1 or 2 nights
  • Train to London - 6 nights

I'm a bit worried we have too many places, but I just don't know what to cut! The one thing we already have booked is the 6 nights in London (we have tickets to the Harry Potter play, and plan to spend another day at the Studio Tour). If we only stay 1 night in York (which I'm leaning against right now), then we'd have another night to move elsewhere. Finally, the one place I've been besides London is Bath, so I think we'd like to leave that off the itinerary this time.

Thanks so much in advance :)

Posted by
4734 posts

Sorry, but this is a very rushed itinerary, with far too much time spent in a car and too little time actually seeing places IMO.

I think you need to decide what your priorities are and cut destinations accordingly. I would suggest that you opt for either time in Oxford/the Cotswolds or time in the Lake District/Scotland. With such long driving spells, (eg the Cotswolds to Keswick is most likely a 5.5/6 hour drive without stopping) which means you will only get one day in most locations. Personally, I think the Cotswolds are overrated and would prefer time in Scotland - May should be a good time to visit, but note that the first and last weekends are Bank Holidays.

If you can't manage two nights in York, then drop this and head straight for London.

Posted by
2743 posts

I see someone has just posted that this is too rushed, but I disagree. It looks like a great itinerary, I'd say. My DH and I did something similar and enjoyed it very much.

Whether to spend 2 nights in York? Your first day getting there will be a long train ride not leaving you much time to see York, so 2 nights would make sense.

The only place I might shorten is Oban -- I'll see you over at the Scotland forum.

Posted by
710 posts

It looks like a 'do-able' itinerary to me. Although I would swap Oban for 'somewhere in the highlands'. As a personal preference I'd head for the Glencoe/Fort William/Ben Nevis areas - lots to see and do. Somewhere not often mentioned in these pages is Arran, 'Scotland in miniature' accessible only by ferry, mainly from Ardrossan, but within a comparatively short drive from the Glasgow area. Might not be a viable proposition for just the two nights though.

You do need a couple of days to York justice, as others have said, whatever your interests are. Personally I recommended the Minster and walking the walls round the old town as well as a (short) stroll down the Shambles as starters!

Hope you have a great honeymoon and whatever itinerary you go with is spectacularly successful. My own honeymoon was in Scotland, oh, so many years ago now! We went in April and had absolutely baking weather for two weeks - never have experienced the like of it again at that time of year! Hope you enjoy your honeymoon as much as we enjoyed ours!

Ian

Posted by
49 posts

My two pence...

Driving in England takes some getting used with roundabouts, signs, narrow roads, driving in the passenger seat(!)...you have a lot of driving and staying in places where you'll be driving to see things. Sounds stressful for a honeymoon. You might plug in these cities to see how many hours you'll be driving. Motorways are not scenic and jam up. I listen to BBC radio 2 and get to hear the traffic reports.

I also try to not do a lot of driving 2 days in a row. For example, we did a prehistoric day (Uffington Horse, West Kennet Long Barrow, Avebury and Stonehenge) and the next day we stayed in the village, visited the brewery and explored on foot.

I prefer small villages and staying for a week or so in a self-catering cottage, not eat out every meal and have fun shopping for food. So based on your itinerary, I would not stay in Oxford AND Cotswolds, but instead stay somewhere in the Oxford area and do day trips to Oxford, Blenheim Palace, Avebury, Cotswolds for 4 (or more) days.

This summer we stayed in Hook Norton (small village north of Oxford) did day trips and local walks for about a week, then went (by car) to York for a few days, then (by train)Edinburgh for a few days before flying home. In retrospect, we should have reversed our itinerary. We went small village and relaxing to busy tourist city to urban. The Royal Mile felt like a Royal Pain, not relaxing.

Posted by
1724 posts

"Drive to ---"
I suggest you use Google Maps and map out each of your "Drive to's" to get an idea how much time this will take.

For instance, Google Maps shows the Keswick to Oban trip as a little over 4 hours with no stops and not the most scenic highways. If I was to drive it, I'd take an alternate route through Kilmartin. That drive would be at least 8 hours or a full day, or take the original route and not stop at Oban but take the ferry from Oban to the isle of Mull.

You'll drive from the west coast to the east coast going from Oban to Edinburgh. We drove from Skye to St. Andrews and allowing for a little sightseeing, it was 10-11 hours.

Your itinerary is very ambitious. I don't see enough down time or time to just explore.

Posted by
9766 posts

I am tired just thinking about all of those two-night stays! Two nights = one full day to experience a place, and your choices are (mostly) far apart and require a lot of driving time. It is, after all, your honeymoon. Think of long walks, stopping in pretty villages, lingering in a pub, romantic dinners; not driving the whole of the U.K. You may even want to sleep late now-and-then which when you have 6 hour days in the car ahead of you is not likely to happen.

Why don't you try cutting Scotland and sticking with England? You could take those proposed 5 nights (Edinburgh and Oban) and add them to Keswick, York, and the Cotswolds. Go to Scotland on a future trip and spend two or three weeks there alone.

6 nights in London is a good start. You've thought about what you want to do there and that is perhaps what you need to do with the other locations. Why, specifically, are you selecting each destination and what will you do there? Are you into hiking or hill walking? Distillery tours? Castles? Museums?

You could add a night-or-two in London as well if you drop Scotland. There's never enough time in London.

Posted by
29 posts

Thanks so much, everyone! These are all really helpful notes and advice. Glad to see that some of you have done something like this and could see it as a possibly workable trip. @ianandjulie I hope we have just as wonderful a trip as you, but maybe less warm temperatures!

I do definitely see how it could be doable for a busy trip or very likely feel overwhelming, where you're not seeing enough of anything. I also see how dropping Scotland could definitely help, but I think the #1 place I've want to see is Edinburgh, so I do think if possible, I definitely want to include something of Scotland. Right now I'm more and more leaning towards maybe skipping York (and probably something else) and using that time elsewhere, which will hopefully help. Perhaps we could stop in York on the train ride down for lunch or something just to see it briefly. I think like some of you said, thinking about what we want to do is important. We're really big Harry Potter fans, so definitely seeing some of the movie sites (ie. Oxford or the train in Scotland) would be pretty exciting for us :)

I'm a big train proponent in Europe (I studied abroad in Italy in college and utilized it frequently), but my fiance seems very interested in trying to drive at least part of the time. Both of us grew up in fairly rural areas, so we have some familiarity with country roads, but I definitely think this will be a whole different ballgame. I mostly had heard that trying to do the Cotswolds, Lake District, or Scottish Highlands without a car was pretty difficult and limiting. I do like the freedom it gives us away from train schedules, too. I've heard Google Maps can be inaccurate on drive times in the UK, too... I definitely don't want to be in the car half of our trip, but we could hopefully make some of the drives more about the journey than the destination? But having and 8 hour drive every other day would be pretty miserable!

And @epltd I'll reply further in the Scotland forum :)

Posted by
9766 posts

I do hope you will come back and tell us what you decide and, more importantly, after the trip come back and tell us what worked and maybe what could have been better in the Trip Reports section.

Posted by
18854 posts

The original itinerary looks to me like too much driving and too-frequent changes of lodging, as others have said. I'd support combining the Oxford/Cotswolds stops to eliminate one hotel change. Although having a car to ramble around the Cotswolds is an advantage, your time is extremely limited and the weather may not be what you'd want for significant walking. I'd consider one of the day tours offered from Moreton-in-Marsh (a very short train ride from Oxford), just to give you a day when you don't have to do the driving yourself. GoCotswolds uses vans (probably other companies do, too), so you're not being shepherded around in a huge tour bus.

A pace that is OK for a 7- to 12-day trip may be very tiring when continued for 3 weeks. You'd have more flexibility to deal with less-than-ideal weather if your trip were structured to allow three nights or more at each stop so you had some sightseeing options. It will get sort of stressful if you end up driving through a lot of rain as you push on to distant destinations.

Posted by
1724 posts

I do support your decision to drive instead of taking the train.

Driving in Great Britain does take a little getting used to, but after a day you'll feel comfortable. There's so much you'd miss traveling from point A to point B on the train. We recently took the Eurostar from London to Paris. It was great, but I longed for the ability to explore all the charming French countryside that went whizzing by at 200km/hr!

On our Scotland trip, we did avoid driving in Glasgow and Edinburgh. In retrospect I think Glasgow would have been OK, but I'm still ambivalent about driving in Edinburgh. We opted to stay in a charming B&B in Linlithgow, on a farm that raised Clydesdales. We drove into town and parked in a car park, then took the commuter train into Edinburgh. The trip was fun and only took 25 minutes. There's plenty of public transportation to get around the city. You might consider that as an option.

Posted by
29 posts

@Laurel - I will definitely report back! I think it'll be a process of finalizing different sections of the trip. In more thinking about things that would be really exciting to us, as we're both such big Harry Potter fans, we may even try to rework parts of the trip to see sites from the movie (ie. stopping in Durham instead of York on the way to London).

I'll definitely look into mixing Oxford and the Cotswolds into one longer stay with day trip(s). I actually work in a study abroad office, so it'd be neat for me to see at least one of our partner universities in the UK, so that was part of the reason for keeping Oxford and not just going straight to the Cotswolds from London. (Plus the Harry Potter dining hall :)) But maybe staying there with the Costwolds guided trip like you mentioned might be a good in between. Oxford to Keswick does look like it would be a long day, though.

For now, just to post the (very very slightly) revised version, we're looking at:

  • Fly to London - stay by airport (I have health problems and don't feel well the night after flying)
  • Bus/Drive to Oxford - 2 nights
  • Drive to Cotswolds (Chipping Campden or Stow-on-the-Wold) - 2 nights
  • Drive to Lake District (Keswick) - 3 nights
  • Drive to Oban/Fort William/Skye/somewhere else in the Scottish Highlands (haven't researched this as much) - 3 nights
  • Drive to Edinburgh (return car) - 3 nights
  • Train to London (stop in Durham or York on the way for lunch/brief sight seeing) - 6 nights

This at least gives us a starting point of 3 nights in each location as many have recommended. I still don't love the multiple long drives (even though we will make stops along the way, as others have said, it's nice to be able to do that). One thought I had was seeing if perhaps cutting the Lake District and taking the train (or even flying) from say, Birmingham to Glasgow and then getting a car for the Highlands portion would make sense. This would give us 3 days to add around. But so far my fiance has really wanted to keep the Lake District, so we'll see!

Posted by
18854 posts

Since the Harry Potter sites are so important to you, check ahead on access to the dining hall in Oxford. Although I don't even know what college it is part of, I noticed that some of the colleges are open only in the afternoon, and some may be closed on any given day. It would be a shame for you to miss that site due to a closure.

Posted by
5627 posts

I whole heartedly agree that a stop in Durham to see the World Heritage Cathedral (and home to Hogwarts) should be included. The cathedral and adjacent "castle" will scream Dumbledore to you.

Durham is a charming college town. I will PM an airbnb accommodation that I enjoyed at when I visited Durham'
You will thoroughly enjoy walking along the river with the castle perched atop the hill.

When in London don't miss visiting the glass covered Leaden Hall market and take time to search for the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron.

As far as the Cotswolds I loved staying in Winchcombe as it wasn't over run with tourists and tourist buses like Bourton on the Water (which is gorgeous). Again if interested happy to PM where I stayed. Lovely walks/hikes from Winchcombe . The Broadway Tower is a good one if so inclined.

Posted by
29 posts

So sorry for the delayed response! I must have missed the email alerts. Thanks so much @acraven for the tip. It looks like it's part of Christ Church College and generally is open daily, but they seem to post adjusted hours a few weeks out. I'll make a note to check again when it gets closer!

And @Claudia, thank you! Love all the Harry Potter advice :) I feel good about our day-visit-Durham decision over York - which we can save for another time when we can give it the proper attention. Just looking at the photos made us so excited to walk "in Hogwarts." We just have to figure out what to do with our bags for the time we're there. It seems the Cathedral may have a bag check, but that's the one tricky part so far. I like that it breaks up the trip to London, too, and makes a day of it. And I would definitely would love any recommendations you'd like to pass along - there or the Cotswolds! We've still only booked our London accommodations, so we'll be doing others soon. We had been looking at Chipping Campden and Stow-on-the-Wold mostly per RS recommendations, but open to anywhere for now.

Posted by
1838 posts

If you do go to highland Scotland, I would skip Oban and head for Fort William. (This is the starting point for the steam train to Mallaig that is featured in the Harry Potter films - see Glenfinnan on the map for where it crosses a viaduct):> https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@56.9474858,-4.9944007,165905m/data=!3m1!1e3!5m1!1e1

I would also try and drive to the Isle of Skye - which has stunning scenery and is linked to the mainland by a bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh. (A ferry also goes across from Mallaig).

I would zoom in on the map and look any the different areas that you wish to visit to get some idea of the roads etc. (Grab the yellow man for street view). OR use Google earth.
http://www.westcoastrailways.co.uk/jacobite/jacobite-steam-train-details.cfm

Check your road distances/timings here:>http://www.theaa.com/route-planner/index.jsp

If you wish to see Oxford / The Cotswolds and wish to reduce the amount of travelling by ditching the north, consider Wales:> http://www.visitwales.com

Posted by
2023 posts

We visited the dining hall at Christchurch College when tables were set up for lunch. What a fabulous dining hall! They said we could have a quick look before students arrived.....we hated to leave. Would not want a car in Oxford. I would stay in Chipping Camden rather than Stow. Hate to say this but I would drop a night from London.

Posted by
4697 posts

I have to agree that you're trying to cover a lot of ground in a short time -- and adding Skye in your revised itinerary just makes that problem worse. You risk seeing most of Britain through a windshield.

I don't know what time our flight lands, but if you can manage a little more travel that day you can get to Oxford easily on this bus and pick up an extra day, either there or further down the line. Wake up your first morning in Oxford instead of somewhere around Heathrow.

We loved both Durham and York, and would hate to have been limited to a "lunch stop" in either place. But if you have to choose for such a limited visit I'd recommend Durham. Taxi from the station to the cathedral, explore it and surroundings, and taxi back to the station for your train. But you may find that a train that stops in Durham stops in enough other places to lengthen the whole journey beyond what you can manage on your schedule. This website will help you plan the rail parts of your trip.

Posted by
29 posts

Thanks so much @James, @Susan, and @Dick for all of the tips!! Those websites are really helpful. I've heard there isn't one central train website for the UK but this one seems fairly comprehensive. One of my friends also mentioned thetrainline.com - not sure if any of you know it or have opinions of it vs. nationalrail.co.uk (or even directly on the Virgin Train website, which I found earlier)?

Yeah we've started thinking about skipping Oban for Fort William (or possibly Glencoe, but Fort William seems to have a bit more). Now we're trying to figure out if maybe we skip the Lake District, or make it more of stop over as a part of a road trip to Skye over the span of two days (from the Cotswolds). That way we would possibly have two nights on Skye and two nights in Fort William or something like that...this part is definitely still a work in progress. I haven't looked much, but also trying to figure out if there are other places more central to the roadways that would be good stop over places - or perhaps just taking a train or flight from Birmingham to Glasgow and driving from there. We did want to make this part a road trip style trip, knowing that we could drive for an hour or two, and then stop off even for a quick bit to eat, along the way, not having to rely on trains or planes, but maybe we should reconsider.

We figure the day from Edinburgh to London will be a train travel day, with a couple of hours in Durham. We'd love to spend more time, but I think our #1 would be the cathedral, which may have to suffice for this trip. Has anyone had any experience leaving bags there (I had read somewhere that they would hold things at the front, but I'm going to email them to be sure.)

Since we have a fair amount of time in London (our hotel is already booked/paid for so unfortunately we can't change that), I feel better about not arriving until just before dinner that day. Plus, it should be light until 9pm in May!

Posted by
1838 posts

The National Rail website covers all stations and all train services in Britain. The Trainline is a reseller of train tickets and adds a small fee. When you select a journey on the National Rail website, it normally sends you through to book with the train company on which the majority of a journey will be. (For journeys between England & Scotland - that is likely to be www.virgintrains.co.uk - where you can also choose your seats).

To go from The Cotswolds to Scotland by train, Cheltenham is a good location to turn in your car & switch to a train. www.crosscountrytrains.co.uk go from Cheltenham to Edinburgh via York - this route is about 1 hour longer than going from Cheltenham to Birmingham (New Street) and then changing to Virgin trains for Glasgow (best for driving up to Fort William) or Edinburgh.

If you purchase Advance tickets for your southbound journey and intend to see Durham/ York, you must pre-purchase a ticket for each leg. (The London arrival station will be Kings Cross = KGX). Of course, you could just show up at the station and buy a ticket - but this will cost more).https://www.visityork.org/?AskRedirect=true
https://www.visitscotland.com

Posted by
710 posts

I love the Lake District and Skye equally, but on this trip I'd be tempted to skip Skye in favour of the Lakes, or at least not cut the Lakes. My reasoning is that Skye is a long, long drive from almost wherever you start and it is big, much bigger than I'd realised on my first visit. You'd run the risk of driving for two days on Skye and have difficulty fitting it all in - if you do end up there I recommend the boat trip to Loch Coriusk from Elgol on a calm clear day for stupendous views.

But my reason for arguing for the Lakes is, that while a large area, it is much more accessible and friendly for the newcomer than Skye if you want to spend more time out of the car. If you were based in Keswick Rick Steves suggestion of the trip to Hawse End across Derwentwater by boat and the ascent of Catbells is a good one, but there's Latrigg behind Keswick which is a great little walk, and Castle Crag at the far end of Derwentwater is an interesting place to visit, plus Castlerigg stone circle, another of 'Ricks Tips' is easily accessible from Keswick centre. If you are into more serious hikes, with all the gear and some idea, then Skiddaw is a long but easy (in terms of route finding) ascent from Keswick, although the jewel in the crown here for me would be the wonderful Blencathra. Plus I think there are more 'wet weather options' than there might be on Skye around the Lake District.

Of course all this is massively subjective and its your honeymoon, and is of course your call, but the more opinions and information you can get her the more informed your decisions might be! I'm sure there will be others who call me out who will say that Keswick is very busy and touristy and yes, parking is an absolute nightmare, but again while it might be subjective, it is more information in your decision making armoury!

Hope all goes well and that planning your honeymoon goes smoothly.

Ian

PS. If staying in the Fort William area, but driving, you might consider Ballachulish and Inchree which are on the road from Glencoe to Fort William. There's not much of anything else but scenery round there, but it is quieter. I personally have a soft spot for Fort William but it is hard to deny it is a bit 'utilitarian'!

Posted by
12185 posts

I would suggest dropping either Oxford or the Cotswolds, and adding the time to Scotland so you can stop in both Oban and somewhere in the Highlands.

Oban was our favorite stop on our week visit to Scotland in May a couple of years ago. This was in part due to the lovely bed and breakfast we chose for our two nights there. I saw Greystones listed as one of the “top ten seaside bed and breakfasts” in the UK, and it lived up to the designation. We had the large sea-view room and our traveling companions had the turret. Both rooms are definitely honeymoon-worthy! I could not take my eyes off the view from the bay window. And the shower is amazing.

https://www.greystonesoban.co.uk

Other things we liked about Oban—

Posted by
29 posts

Thanks so much for the further train explanation @James! @ianandjulie thank you for the advice and kind thoughts! I had looked at Fort William on Google street view and was surprised to see how it looked in relation to how many people recommend staying there. I'll definitely check out those other two towns (or possibly even just staying in Glencoe?) since quiet and pretty scenery sounds better than a large supermarket :P I actually am not a big boat person (sadly has to do with a dizziness disorder), so it has made us re-think what we'd really do in each location. The boat trips sound great for those that can do them though! @Lola I hope we can make a visit to Oban happen, but not sure if we'll be able to with our current itinerary. That hotel is gorgeous though! If we change it around, I'll definitely be booking a room there, thank you!

So that takes me to what I think may be a final revision of our itinerary that I thought I'd share :) We sort of changed around some of our thinking in how we approach the trip and our stays in different places. We also spent a lot of time writing out realistic times for each travel leg and the time it leaves to visit each location, so I'll leave that in. So this is where we are now and I think I feel good about it. I'll post right below since it's a bit long... (apologies)

Rationale - Many people said to think of the things we want to do most and choose 3-4 main places we definitely want to hit. We love Harry Potter and are trying to fit in as many "exciting" Harry Potter places/sites as possible. And after many hours of thinking, our must-sees are Edinburgh, Isle of Skye, London, and the English Countryside (fulfilled by the Cotswolds).

So, in trying to connect them, rather than try to rush from one location to the next (since many are far away) we're trying to make the trips as much about the journey as the destination. We did a similar road trip day where we drove up the CA coast from Los Angeles to Santa Cruz (about 350 miles) and stopped numerous places along the way. Yes, we could have done it without stopping in 5-6 hours, but we took the whole day, had some great stops, and it felt like a day of sightseeing more than driving. This is the thought with the Keswick to Fort William/nearby drive, and the Fort William to Portree drive.

My other thought was that as a teen, my family moved from the east coast of the USA to California and we drove the whole country (3000 miles) in about a week - basically driving all day, late morning to dinner, stopping for lunch, and seeing a bit of the town at night. I thought it was really cool to get to see so much of the country, even if just from the car window. Plus, the fiance is excited to drive and allow us to stop when we want. For instance, we'd love to see the Lake District, and we'd need to stop somewhere, so we figure, why not at least have an evening and morning there and we can see more on a future UK trip?

Driving background (since I know it comes up a lot) - We haven't driven on the left side before, but the fiance is very excited to try (personally, I wouldn't, but I'm glad he's game!). We both grew up in rural areas of the northeastern USA, so we have some familiarity with smaller roads, but we've also lived in LA for several years, so we're also very accustomed to heavy traffic (and do know how un-enjoyable it can be - hence trying to make this more of a journey, than trudging through the drive to get to the destination).

We're fairly set on this plan, but would love to know any tips, tweaks, or feedback since you all have been so helpful so far!

Posted by
29 posts

Itinerary:
- Day 1 - Fly to London
- Day 2 - Arrive in London and stay by airport (I have health problems and don't feel well the night after flying)
- Day 3 - Morning bus to Oxford, arrive by 12pm at the latest (should be up early with the time change from west coast USA), 3/4 of the day in Oxford - stay in Oxford
- Day 4 - Full day in Oxford (2 nights total) - stay in Oxford
- Day 5 - Rent car + drive to Cotswolds (Chipping Campden or Stow-on-the-Wold?) - leave after lunch around 1pm, arrive ~2pm (total 1 hour drive time), 2/3 day in Cotswolds - stay in Cotswolds
- Day 6 - Full day in Cotswolds (2 nights total) - stay in Cotswolds
- Day 7 - Road trip day (to Lake District (Keswick)) - leave after breakfast ~10:30am, stopping 1/2 way for lunch ~12:30pm (Liverpool?), arrive ~3:30pm (total 4 hours drive time), spend late afternoon/evening in Keswick - 1 night - note: open to stoping other places along the way and arriving a little later, just haven't researched yet - stay in Keswick
- Day 8 - Road trip day (to Fort William/nearby) - sleep in, leave after breakfast or lunch ~12:30 or 1pm, stop 1/2 way near/in Glasgow for food? at 2 or 3pm, stops in Loch Lommand/The Trosachhs and Glencoe arrive ~7pm (total 4.5 hours drive time) - 1 night (evening to explore/relax in Fort William or nearby) note: open to leaving earlier if we want more exploring time throughout the day - stay in Fort William/nearby
- Day 9 - Drive around the Highlands that are on the route to Portree - see the Harry Potter train, tour Eilean Donan Castle, etc, drive via bridge to Skye (aim to arrive by 7:30pm) (total drive time 2.5 hours) - stay in Portree
- Day 10 - Full day to relax in Portree - stay in Portree
- Day 11 - Skye full day guided tour (most are 9:30am - 6:30pm) - stay in Portree
- Day 12 - Road trip day (to Edinburgh) (to return car) - leave after breakfast ~10:30am, spend the day seeing spots along the way, stopping at least twice (see what we haven't see in other Highlands driving days), aim to arrive around dinner time, in time to return car (4 nights total) - stay in Edinburgh
- Day 13/14/15 - Full days in Edinburgh - stay in Edinburgh
- Day 16 - Train to London around 10am - stop in Durham on the way for lunch/brief sight seeing of the "Hogwarts" Cathedral/Castle, leave around 3pm to arrive in London at about 7pm - 6 nights total - stay in London
- Day 17/18 - Full days in London - stay in London
- Day 19 - Harry Potter play in afternoon + evening. Afternoon tea nearby and late night dinner afterwards - stay in London
- Day 20 - Harry Potter Studio Tour beginning around 11am - stay in London
- Day 21 - Full day in London - stay in London
- Day 22 - Fly back to USA - check out of hotel late morning, take the tube to Heathrow after breakfast

Posted by
1838 posts

Yes, Fort William is not exactly an attractive town - but it is a central location for the western highlands. Note that the ‘Harry Potter’ steam train goes from FW to Mallaig - a road follows the same route. From Mallaig, a ferry goes over to Skye. The road bridge to Skye goes across at Kyle of Lockalsh and no road directly connects Mallaig with Kyle - you have to go all the way back to Fort William and then up to Invergarry before heading west through the highlands to Kyle of Lochalsh and the bridge.

I would knock one day off The Cotswolds. I would use the train to get from London to Oxford - buses can get stuck in jams. Pre-purchase train tickets for London to Oxford as pay on the day is £25.60 one way off peak for what is a roughly 1 hour journey. 2 routes go to Oxford = PAD>OXF or MYB>OXF. Even paying the day before can get you a pre-booked Marylebone to Oxford for £15 one way - just walk into any British Rail station and ask for it - though you might like to do all this from home before leaving.

Northumberland is the English County that is nearest to Edinburgh. It contains Hadrian’s Wall - built by the Romans. It also contains Alnwick Castle = a Harry Potter filming location:>https://www.alnwickcastle.com/explore/on-screen

The following map show Edinburgh (top left) and Alnwick - towards the bottom near the A1 road. It also shows nearby Bamburgh on the coast - which has another big castle. You might like to consider fitting these places into your trip?https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@55.6368645,-2.0970416,10z/data=!5m1!1e1

I don’t think you’re giving the Lake District enough time in return for the pain of getting there. That drive from the Cotswolds to Keswick will only take four hours if you stick to the busy and unattractive M6 motorway and if (big if) there are no delays or accidents. That drive will emphatically not be a pleasurable road trip; it will be at least four hours of staring at the back end of a lorry...

This has nothing to do with your experience as drivers or other road trips you’ve done elsewhere - just my experience as a British person who drives a lot. If you’re doing this drive on a Sunday it might just go to plan, but on a weekday it is really unpredictable and you’d be lucky to stop at a roadside motorway services for a sandwich.

You need either to give yourself more time to enjoy the journey by coming off the motorway and visiting small towns - in which case, give yourself a couple of days, OR give yourself enough time in the Lakes to make the drive worthwhile OR look at a quicker way to get from the Cotswolds to Scotland, such as train or flying (and picking up a new car when you get there.)

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Thank you James and Jane! My friend had mentioned hiking near the Glenfinnan Viaduct specifically to see the train go by, but I hadn't looked quite yet where it was and it does seem to be a bit off the path to the bridge. I'm a little wary of the ferry due to my dizziness syndrome, but I'll have to look into it for sure. If not, it's not the end of the world to miss it. The Alnwick Castle does look very cool to see - I definitely need to see if we can fit that in.

As to the drive on Day 7 (Cotswolds to Lake District) - thanks for the tips and honest advice, @Jane! In LA I can't count the number of times it's taken oh, 1 hour, to go 2 miles on an ugly crowded freeway, and I know how miserable that is, so I definitely don't want to pretend like that's not what we're jumping into. This stretch seems more like the drive down California on the 5 freeway that goes inland (not on the coast) where you're pretty much driving for 5-6 hours passing farmland and prisons. We did that in a day and yes, it was boring and not fun. We more just saw Keswick/The Lake District as a "well we have to stop somewhere in the middle and this look pretty" than really trying to spend time there this time.

I'm looking at time comparisons for train vs. car from the Cotswolds to Glasgow area (since it was more the fiance wanting to drive it all - I'm definitely not opposed to the train) and if it were you - would you stick with the above driving plan, but maybe stay somewhere more convenient to the motorway than Keswick (really just a stop over in the middle), or would you take the train route (drive to Birmingham, return car, train to Glasgow and spend the night there before continuing into the Highlands)? Looking at theaa.com, it's saying 5.5 hours full driving vs. 5 hours involving the train, but not sure how accurate you'd think that is and also the stresses involved in each (which I know can be a bit of a personal preference). I think I'd prefer not to fly if possible, but not totally ruling it out.

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The worst part of driving from The Cotswolds to the Lake District is probably where the motorways go through the Birmingham conurbation. Click the link for a map of that area and drag the yellow man onto the M5 / M6 to take a look at street view. (I have enabled traffic flows to show up on the map - so if you look at this during the British night, it will look like everything is going well - apart from closures for nighttime repairs. Try and check it out early in the American day to get a better idea of traffic flows). Also note the position of Birmingham Airport - where you may wish to turn in a hire car and then go to nearby Birmingham International rail station - from which direct trains (Virgin) go to Glasgow in 4 hours 22 minutes and can cost as little as £16 each if you pre-book about 11 weeks ahead a specific train. However, you may wish to go from Cheltenham by train - with 1 change at Birmingham New Street. Booking ahead and splitting the ticket will get you from Cheltenham to Birmingham for as little as £7 and then to Glasgow for as little as £16 = £23.20 total (5 hours). If you just wish to take the train to the Lake District, try going to Oxenholm (on the main line) or Windermere = down a branch line in the Lakes. (This would all depend on whether you could pick up a new hire car at such a location - though Lancaster would be another possibility).

https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@52.4788807,-1.9189077,11z/data=!5m1!1e1

You must ask for an automatic car of that is what you want.
Check out car hire:>https://www.travelsupermarket.com/en-gb/car-hire/

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James - thanks so much again!! I did check out traffic via that link around 8am and 9am GMT and I see where you mean. It seems like (at least the day I checked) it was a lot going into the city and around the sides. I'm used to the LA traffic map being pretty much all red or dark red most of the day, well into the evening, so it won't be too much of a shocker at least :) On the route (if we drove) it seemed to recommend the M6 toll road - would you recommend that over the non-toll version, or would you make that decision based on traffic as you're going? (I hadn't yet looked up how much the toll is.)

And if I can convince the fiance that the train might be better we'll definitely check out just starting at Cheltenham! That seems like it could be easier than driving to the other side of Birmingham to get to the car return. And if we do that route,
plus we'd at least get an evening/morning in Glasgow (not to see the whole city at all, but I work in a study abroad office with a lot of students that go to Glasgow, so it would be interesting to at least walk through the campus really quickly).

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I can't imagine that any stretch of UK motorway resembles in any way the stretch of I-5 through central California. You'll have lots of traffic, some nice scenery and some not-so-nice but you won't notice it anyway because of that lorry in front of you. Just sayin'.

The M6 toll costs about £6 per car so the cost is negligible. It’s usually less congested than the M6 itself.

Note: Birmingham is very complex to drive around by motorway. You need to have your wits about you and know not only which motorway you want at which point, but which direction - directions are often given as cities rather than compass points, so make sure you know which cities you’re heading towards.

I’d “walk through” the journey using the satellite setting on google maps or on google earth so you can get a good view of it. It’ll take a lot of concentration.

Once past that, on to the M6 heading north, it’s much simpler but your main concern will be exhaust fumes and delays...

I’m not sure if you’re aware of one of the biggest differences between US interstates/freeways and UK motorways. Here in the UK there are not food places & petrol stations at every junction. There are a limited number of motorway services - you’ll see signs telling you when the next one is. They’ll be maybe 10 or 20 miles apart. Each one will have one big building with a number of food franchises (like a food court) and usually a couple of shops for takeaway food, plus lots of toilets and a wildly overpriced petrol station. If you don’t want to leave the motorway for lunch, watch out for these. They’re a very British experience but not necessarily in a good way.

Way up north as you go past the Lake District, if you don’t have time to leave the motorway, DO stop at Tebay Services as it’s by far the best food you’ll get on the motorway - it’s like an organic farm shop.

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To use the M6 toll road will cost you around £6. Most Brits refuse to use it as all other roads are free apart from 1 or 2 estuary crossings. Much depends about where you plan to stay in The Cotswolds regarding which way around Birmingham you would drive and where you would join the motorway system. Presumably, if you hit the Birmingham area outside of commuting times, you will have an easier journey.

I have not been to Glasgow.https://peoplemakeglasgow.com/visiting/top-reasons-to-visit-glasgow

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Thank you so much, again, everyone! I really sat down with the fiance and talked over all of the driving portions of our trip and now he's leaning towards the train for the first leg, haha. So, thank you all for your suggestions - I think it helped give him a good understanding. When we've done long drives in the past we've been able to split the driving, but as I don't know that I feel comfortable taking on "left hand driving" it would all be on him. We'd still be driving around the Cotswolds and Scotland so I think he'll get a sense of it if we stick to that. We get enough time on freeways/motorways stuck in traffic here in LA. If we change our minds, at least we have a good idea what we're getting into, though.

We'll look into skipping the Lake District this time around and just going straight via train from the Cotswolds (well Cheltenham/Birmingham) to Glasgow most likely. If we do that, is there anywhere in between those areas that you would think would make a better stop than Glasgow (to set us up for a drive over to Fort William/Glenoe and exploring that area the next day)? It seemed most logical, but just wanted to make sure we weren't missing something exciting.

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If we do that, is there anywhere in between those areas that you would think would make a better stop than Glasgow (to set us up for a drive over to Fort William/Glencoe and exploring that area the next day)? It seemed most logical, but just wanted to make sure we weren't missing something exciting.

Glasgow might be your best bet regarding transportation, although Oban would be closer to Fort William. I'm sure it would be cheaper.

There are two routes you can take from Glasgow to Fort William. Both are picturesque. One runs up the heart of the Highlands along the banks of Loch Lomand. The other runs up the west coast. You'd turn west at Tarbet, then take the A83 to Inveraray, Lochilphead, through the ancient runes at Kilmartin and on into Oban. The second route is longer but less traveled and full of wonderful countryside.

Fort William sits in the crook of Loch Eil. Storms come across the Loch from the west and crash into Ben Nevis, just to the east of the town. I'm reminded of a Londoner who went to Fort William on business. After being there two weeks, he stopped a boy on the street and asked: "Sonny, is the weather here always this horrendous?". The boy shrugged and replied: "How would I know mister, I'm only 8!"