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Oct 14 - Nov 9, Fitting puzzle together for epic family trip to UK

I'm just delighted to find this forum tonight -- got some very useful tips already by reading replies to other posts. Thanks to everyone who takes a moment to read this one. Feel free to toss out any and all ideas and advice that come to mind, whether for getting to/from places or for sights not to miss. I read the Rick Steves Best of England book last week, and I like the sample travel itinerary.

Background + interests: My wife and I have 4 kids, our oldest turned 18 this summer, and going to see England was always on our list. We love British history, Monty Python, British comedy TV like Black Adder, Keeping Up Appearances, Father Ted, and The IT Crowd. Also, Dickens and Jane Austen (books & movies) and shows like Cranford and Larkrise to Candleford, Downton Abbey, and Harry Potter of course. We also love Radiohead, Slowdive (any Shoegaze music), Sting & The Police, and The Beatles. Some family ancestors were born in Cardiff Wales, Abergavenny Wales, near Manchester, Glasgow.

Current plan in a nutshell:
- Arrive at Heathrow T3 on October 14 at 7am
- Take a bus to Salisbury or Bath (not decided yet) to an Airbnb or Hotel (also not decided yet)
- Rent car there, stay 4 to 5 days exploring (possibilities: Stonehenge, Bath, Puzzlewood, Glastonbury, Bristol, Cardiff & South Wales)
- Super cute Airbnb in Fairford from Oct 19 to 22 for exploring Cotswolds and a day trip to Oxford
- See some of Stratford-upon-Avon including Holy Trinity Church where my wife's 13th great grandmother married in 1587 (while Shakespeare was going to church there!!)
- Drive up near Liverpool to an Airbnb in Chester (Little Stanney) near the John Lennon airport. One day for Liverpool & Beatles things, a Sunday drive to Snowdonia park and Betws-y-Coed and Beddgelert, Conwy.

- Oct 25 early morning flight to Belfast, rent a car, drive out to Giant's Causeway early, spend the rest of the day slowly winding back toward Belfast and fly back to Chester on an evening flight.
- From here, the plan gets a little hazy, but we thought to see a piece of Hadrian's wall on our way to Glasgow where we'd spend 2 nights in a cute Airbnb (I hate long driving days and Oct 26 would be one of them)
- Drive to Fort William and check in to the Alexandra Hotel October 28. Stay there until Oct 31.

- October 29 in the morning is the last trip of the season for the Jacobite train (the Harry Potter train to Mallaig and back)
- See some of Loch Ness in Fort Augustus, maybe make a day trip out to Isle of Skye one day.

- October 31 drive to Inverness. See some of Inverness area. Drop off rental car there and board the Caledonian Sleeper at 8pm. Hopefully we'll sleep on the train ride back to London and wake up in London November 1.
- Stay in Covent Garden area near the tube station in an Airbnb Nov 1 to 5.
- Either extend our current Airbnb booking to the 9th, or switch over to a hotel near Green Park tube station or else at The Resident Victoria just south of Buckingham palace until the 9th. Explore London without a car from Nov 1 to 8, check out on 9th in morning and get ourselves to Heathrow hopefully via the Picadilly Line from Green Park or Victoria Station.

I've already had to scale back a few daydreams of seeing Penzance, Pembrokeshire Coast, Canterbury, Newcastle-on-Tyme (Wallsend, where Sting grew up), and probably also York, and I'm open to scaling back even more -- The kids were excited to ride the Caledonian Sleeper so I booked tickets for October 31 and also the October 29 Jacobite train, but then that kind of forced me to go too fast through everything north of Liverpool, unless I cut a little more out of the early part of the trip.

I would love to squeeze in Blenheim Palace on our Oxford day, and maybe Warwick Castle when near Stratford-upon-Avon.

Q: Is Cotswolds still pretty in mid-October?

A big thanks to anyone who scaled this wall of text! All the best, Paul

Posted by
4998 posts

Paul, welcome to the Forum. If your only question is whether the Cotswolds are pretty in October, then Yes. I was there in October 2 years ago. But the trails were extremely muddy.

One suggestion for your day slowly working your way back to Belfast, after seeing the Giant’s Causeway: Stop off at The Gobbins, on the coast northeast of Belfast. It’s a unique, guided walk along the coastal rocks, using metal walkways and steps attached to the rocks in some places, a vía ferrata. The original Gobbins was created over a hundred years ago, as an adventure attraction. It later fell into disuse and was abandoned, rusting into oblivion. In just the last few years, locals replaced the metal that needed replacing, rerouted a couple sections for safer access and sustainability, and started this unique experience again. We had a seal follow is along the coast, looking at us from the water as we watched it from the rocks. A guide leads you on a safe but thrilling walk, relating some Northern Irish history and pointing out interesting bits. We reserved our tour time a few days ahead.

Posted by
18914 posts

There's a possibility of some significant savings on sightseeing while you're in London via the 2-for-1 Days Out deals. To qualify for them, all participating visitors must have a rail ticket. Fortunately, a weekly London transit pass purchased at a railroad station qualifies. You have a bit more than a week in London, so you'd need to be sure you don't go to one of the expensive covered attractions on one of the days before or after your weekly transit pass is valid. That will not be a problem because many of the major museums in London are free/donation requested. https://www.daysoutguide.co.uk/2for1-london is the main webpage. Here's where you'll find a list of the participating sights: https://www.daysoutguide.co.uk/available-attractions.

Check the details for any sights for which you might want to take advantage of the 2-for-1 offer to be sure there isn't a significant limitation (such as no weekends).

Many of us are fans of London Walks. The company has dozens of different walks offered on various days. The guides are licensed and normally very engaging in their delivery; some of them are out-of-work actors. The cost is modest (£15 for adults; your kids will probably be £10 or £5, depending on age). Prior to the pandemic no reservation was necessary; you just showed up at the designated Tube station at the appointed time. That was great, because you could check out the weather before deciding to take a walk. Unfortunately, at this point pre-booking is required. My guess is that they want to be sure there is decent demand so they don't run tours with only a very few customers. This is only a guess, but I am hopeful there's not much risk of a tour selling out, which would mean you wouldn't have to book very far in advance. It might be worth sending an email to the company to ask about that.

Posted by
9785 posts

Sounds like an epic plan! FWIW we love Salisbury but the day crowds in Bath were off-putting. We liked our first stay in Salisbury as a base so much we are going back there in late October for a few nights.

Posted by
140 posts

For the Chester-to-Glasgow hazy section, you could potentially visit Lyme Park, which was Pemberley in the 1995 BBC version of P&P. It's only roughly an hour's drive from Chester, maybe a touch more. From there it's about 4 hours to Glasgow, but of course a side trip to Windemere / the Lake District might be a nice way to break it up, and you come right through Gretna Green. The latter is worth a short stop to break up your drive, and the former is worthy of more time but can be done depending on your speed. We did both (but not Lyme) with a student tour--Manchester to Lakes to Gretna to Edinburgh--in a day. But doing both Lyme and the Lakes might be too much. I would pick one of the two, then do Hadrian's Wall / Gretna Green. That's a full day.

Make sure to pack for cold and wet, especially for the latter part.

Just going to add that for any Harry Potter fan, the studio tour is well worth it! We LOVED every minute of it.

And can I come with you? I'll even drive the long sections! This sounds like a great trip!

Posted by
25773 posts

at Lyme Park you can walk to "that lake", related to "that shirt".

You need a fair amount of imagination to transpose it to the way it is in the film. When we went it rained heavily, and it is quite a walk from the house. We all had wet shirts (and everything else due to the accompanying strong wind) but the effect was not the same.

You seem to have a lot on in a short time. And it see you have cut it already.

You have a number of London sleeping choices listed. You should remember, remember the Fifth of November, and take that into account.

Regarding the question in the OP, where in the Cotswolds? Scenery or gardens or architecture? The gardens will have pretty much gone over, but it depends if you are before or after the frost. The trees are already starting to change so may be finished, or not. It will depend on the weather before your arrival (big storm tomorrow) and when you are here. Walking in the Cotswolds in the teeming rain (it does that in October and November) can take enthusiasm down a notch.

Do I read correctly that you are considering visiting Northern Ireland in one day?

Posted by
4889 posts

You have staked out a lot to see.

I recommend saving N. Ireland for another trip. You will waste a lot of time flying back and forth, etc.

We did a wonderful 4 week drive tour of S. Wales and England (don't go to London) and loved it. We visited a lot of places that you mentioned.

Here is my detailed review with hotels and what we saw.
28 days in Britain and Celebrity Eclipse home

https://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=599139

Bath is wonderful, we stayed at the Brooks Guesthouse, great location and price. Also, the nearby restaurant, The Scallop Shell had the best fish and chips, ever.

South Wales is awesome, loved Tenby. We stayed a couple of days in Cardiff as well. Also, went to St. David's on the SW tip of Wales(very historic). My paternal ancestors came from a small village in S. Wales and we visited there as well.

I highly recommend Stratford Upon Avon, if you have any interest in Shakespeare, don't miss it.
Warwick Castle was interesting and people take their kids there.

York is a must see if you head up toward Scotland. There is not much left of Hadrian's Wall, but I am glad we saw it.

We have been to Scotland a couple of times as well and Edinburgh, St. Andrews and Inverness are great. Glasgow, not so much.

If you do the Cotswolds, consider staying at Chipping Campden. You need a full day, perhaps two to do the Cotswolds.

Posted by
2169 posts

Since you posted your plan I assume you are looking for comments. All in all I think it looks like a good plan, but I have a few comments.

  • Oct 25 early morning flight to Belfast, rent a car, drive out to Giant's Causeway early, spend the rest of the day slowly winding back toward Belfast and fly back to Chester on an evening flight.

I agree that you should skip NI. Doing a day trip there by plane just means that you will spend most of the day in transit and you will just waste a lot of time.

  • From here, the plan gets a little hazy, but we thought to see a piece of Hadrian's wall on our way to Glasgow where we'd spend 2 nights in a cute Airbnb (I hate long driving days and Oct 26 would be one of them)

If you just want to avoid long driving days. Return the car in Liverpool and take the train to Glasgow.

  • See some of Loch Ness in Fort Augustus, maybe make a day trip out to Isle of Skye one day.

Skip the trip to Loch Ness. It is in my opinion not that special, and you will see it on you way to Inverness anyway and can make a stop along the way.

I would love to squeeze in Blenheim Palace on our Oxford day, and
maybe Warwick Castle when near Stratford-upon-Avon.

Oxford itself is worth more than a day in my opinion, so I think you should focus on Oxford and don't try to do more in that day.

Posted by
717 posts

Hi Paul -

Some good advice here - as in skip the Northern Ireland section as you can’t do it in a day. Similarly Skye can’t, in my humble opinion, be done justice in a day visit. It’s bigger than you probably realise and is worth at least three days basic exploration (weather permitting and at the time of year you are going, light availability - it will get dark early and light late).

Loch Ness is, I concur, not that interesting of itself, nice to see but not much to detain you.

If you want to see the best of Hadrian’s Wall you’ll need to head out east from your journey to Glasgow to the area around the Twice Brewed Pub and Housesteads fort. There’s a car park at the top of the hill opposite Twice Brewed. Here the wall is at its most spectacular as it crosses the Whin Rigg. Unfortunately the journey north west cross country is unlikely to be much quicker than retracing your steps back to the top of the M6/beginning of the A74 to Glasgow at Gretna Green, just north of Carlisle.

When you are in London, while the Globe Theatre may not be open for performances, check out what’s on at the attached Wanamaker Theatre (the inspiration of US actor/director Sam Wanamaker, so kind of ‘Born in the USA’!). It’s a small (tiny) Jacobean theatre lit by candles and disconcertingly of wooden construction. It’s hugely atmospheric and not open to the elements, although the Globe-style wooden benches are in evidence still, so probably avail yourself of a cushion if available. There are varied performances from plays - not exclusively Shakespeare, we saw a play about Handel’s writing of and first performances of ‘Messiah’ and it was brilliant - to concerts - I believe The Sixteen have performed there and I would travel to see that!

Think about giving yourself a bit more time by shaving some destinations maybe. But if you insist on going to Northern Ireland, a visit to the Titanic Quarter is a must and will take up a whole day if inclement weather rules out a trip to the Giants Causeway.

Hope you have a great trip.

Ian

Posted by
2624 posts

You could easily do Canterbury as a day trip from London. Take the train from London Victoria Station to Canterbury East Station. After arriving in Canterbury exit the station, cross the street walk up to the Roman Wall turn left and walk to the city center, about a 8 minute walk.

Posted by
18914 posts

Honestly, when I initially read the sketched-out list of destinations, it made me think of a bus-tour itinerary. But you do not have a professional driver and guide to get you from place to place. There's a risk that you're going to be spending a really, really large percentage of your time just moving from one stop to the next and with your eyes on your watch while you're actually sightseeing. For me a lot of the joy of travel lies in the enjoyment of being somewhere different. I'm not much for resting my feet in cafes, people-watching, but I love to wander down a picturesque street, peer into shop windows, etc. I'm unhappy when I have to rush out of a town before I've seen everything I'm interested in.

It should be noted that trains to Canterbury West from St Pancras take less an hour, Going from Victoria is much slower

Posted by
104 posts

Some points to consider. Family of 6. Size of rental vehicle. Amount and size of luggage. Laundry facilities. Amount of time traveling from A to B.

Posted by
619 posts

Welcome to the forum. You will need to rent a people carrier (minivan) to hold the family which means limited luggage storage. Take warm clothing and rain jackets for this time of year. Backpacks or soft-sided luggage are easier to squeeze into tight spaces. I agree that Northern Island will be best saved for another trip. Daylight hours are going to impact sightseeing and there is a very good chance of cold and wet weather. As you get further north in England, you will have less light and more chance of bad weather. I love Scotland and the HP was one of the highlights of our trip, so I would keep that plan (the kids will love it). You may have to skip the Isle of Skye also. Your plan is very ambitious but I applaud you for taking all the family on a trip of a lifetime.

Margaret

Posted by
4998 posts

The hazy drive from Wales up to Glasgow is probably going to pass thru Carlisle. My husband and I hiked the path of Hadrian’s Walk, west to east, in June 2017. The first few days had zero to almost no surviving wall stones. Carlisle gas a very good, but small museum with Wall displays, but don’t expect to see standing Wall remnants.

Your best bet for seeing and experiencing the actual Wall, without going much farther east, is the Birdoswald Roman Fort, near Haltwhistle. Bless you’re going to stay the night somewhere on the way to Glasgow, that’d be my suggestion.

Posted by
4998 posts

Re: Father Ted. On your farther-in-the-future trip, when you can tour the west coast of (southern) Republic of Ireland, include two places. The Aran Islands, off the coast and west of Doolin and Lisdoonvarna, feature 3 islands. The biggest, and farthest from the mainland, is Inishmore. That should be on your itinerary, for at least 1 night, but 2 would be better. The smallest, and closest to the mainland, is Inisheer. It has the shipwreck that’s on the show’s opening aerial footage, and is the real “Craggy Island.” The ferry from Inishmore to the mainland stopped at Inisheer, but not long enough for me to bike out to the wreckage site. A day and night there could make the trip complete.

Back on the mainland, Vaughan’s Pub, in Kilfenora, had the best seafood chowder of any place we tried on that trip. And we tried a lot of places, and all were very good, so this one being the best is really saying something. It was the location for numerous Father Ted episodes, and a photo on the wall shows maybe 200 people packed into a pretty small space. I’ve never seen that episode, but it was clearly an epic piece of telly history. The town has had annual Father Ted festivals.

Posted by
25773 posts

and get ourselves to Heathrow hopefully via the Picadilly Line from Green Park or Victoria Station.

just a little things - yes, the Piccadilly Line goes direct from Green Park to Heathrow. But it doesn't go via Victoria. If you join the Underground system at Victoria, there are a couple of things you will want to know.

There are three lines serving Victoria, the Victoria Line, the Circle Line, and the District Line. You might be tempted to go one stop on the Victoria Line and change at Green Park but that will be a slow choice and Green Park for line changes can be quite confusing. Before the recent times if you only had a backpack or light luggage and were strong you could easily change to the Piccadilly Line at South Kensington. Nice set of stairs right on the Circle/District - pop down and hop on the train to the plane. Hmmmm. Ah - not now I'm afraid. South Kensington is closed to Piccadilly Line trains until sometime late Spring at the earliest. So that's off.

So the best way to change lines is at Barons Court (or you could use Earls Court) where it is a simple cross platform change. Just be sure you get on a District Line train westbound at Victoria. If you hop on a Circle Line train (from the same playform at Victoria) it will turn right before Barons Court and you will have to go to plan G.

Posted by
5 posts

Forsooth! If I had more of Shakespeare's abilities, I'd summon a sonnet to express the upwelling of grateful emotion I feel for the kindness of your replies. Since I'm new to the forum, I don't even know yet whether this reply will make it to any of your inboxes or if I need to tag each @username to make this little note shows up in your inboxes. Thank you very much for the help you've offered, each of you.

[ About our N. Ireland side quest day ] I agree it's a little much, but my easyJet tickets for the Giant's Causeway side trip are already booked, and I think they're not refundable, but I still feel good about that day because it was my teen daughter's top wish to see it and she was sad to learn it was in N. Ireland and not easy to get to from our planned road trip. A moment came over me, where I reasoned that in 20 years time I would feel more regret for not giving her that memory than if I stayed practical. <3 I'm excited to add The Gobbins to our path back to Belfast on that day. Thanks for that tip, @Cyn!

Thank you @acraven for the great info about London Walks - we definitely want to take a few good walks like those, and it's good to know we might be able to adjust our schedule to the weather and do the walks on the dry days and hide from the rainy days in the museums.

Thank you @Laurel for the encouragement about Salisbury! It seems like an ideal first base for a few nights (and to do our PCR covid tests there) ... We can see some Salisbury sights, and visit Stonehenge from there, and perhaps just see Bath while passing through toward a second few nights using Cardiff as our next base.

I'm gathering that I would be wise to make some contingency plans for heading to museums and other indoor options if weather is uncooperative.

Thank you @HowlinMad for the tip about Lyme Park and Gretna Green and the HP Studio Tour -- I wish I could rent a period costume for my wife and myself -- it'd be such a hoot to get a photo of us dressed up like Darcy and Elizabeth with Pemberly in the background! You could be the chauffer of our carriage ;)

Uh oh, I'm running out of time to address all of your helpful replies right now - I'll have to return to this in a bit.

Posted by
73 posts

I'd pare it down and segregate out the places that are more on the B or C list. Then focus on getting the most out of the top places, maybe adding a day to some of them so as not to be doing a 'fly in/fly' out. Presumably there will be more trips in the future for the other stuff.

I certainly did hurried fast trips where I tried to hit it all in years past. Then I slowed it up a lot and now try enjoy the smaller nuances of 'travel ' as Arthur Frommer would say as opposed to vacation. I might go to a town ostensibly to visit some famous place and come away touched by the people, customs, food, some other idiosyncrasy and maybe that was the most rewarding in an odd way. It's tough to do that when you flit in and out at rapid fire. The other thing to remember is that travel time really cuts into things and wears you down. I try to build a dedicated travel day in here and there to recoup. But it wherever you go it sounds like a great trip.

Posted by
2746 posts

Just one addition to geovagriffith's comment "I highly recommend Stratford Upon Avon, if you have any interest in Shakespeare, don't miss it" -- I agree, BUT it really takes a very full day (as in, stay two nights and get an early morning start) if you want to do more than scratch the surface. It's a busy town with traffic, and the places of interest are spread out. Whether you use your own rental car (risk of taking a wrong turn here and there, being in the wrong lane to turn where you want to go) or the hop-on hop-off bus (limited schedule, but wonderful tour guide commentary) you can't just zip from Mary Arden's Farm to Anne Hathaway's Cottage etc.

Posted by
256 posts

Sounds like a great trip! We did a little of that in 2018. In Liverpool, you have to be National Trust members to reserve a tour inside Lennon and McCartney’s childhood homes.

Posted by
2169 posts

Since I'm new to the forum, I don't even know yet whether this reply
will make it to any of your inboxes or if I need to tag each @username
to make this little note shows up in your inboxes. Thank you very much
for the help you've offered, each of you.

The forum software is pretty primitive so unfortunately we won't get any notifications.

[ About our N. Ireland side quest day ] I agree it's a little much,
but my easyJet tickets for the Giant's Causeway side trip are already
booked, and I think they're not refundable, but I still feel good
about that day because it was my teen daughter's top wish to see it
and she was sad to learn it was in N. Ireland and not easy to get to
from our planned road trip.

If it's your daughter's top wish I can understand the trip to NI. But a day trip by plane still seems like a bit too much, even if you're travelling without luggage you'll still spend 5-6 hours travelling that day. If you only have one day in Northern Ireland my suggestion is to take the Liverpool-Belfast overnight ferry. It will arrive in Belfast in the morning and give you a full day in Northern Ireland before the ferry back to Liverpool departs. And since it saves you two nights at the Airbnb it might be the cheaper option, even if you can't get any money back from Easyjet. You can also bring the car on the ferry which saves you the time of collecting and returning another rental car in Belfast.