British Isles - May 2014

We are planning a trip to the British Isles for the last two weeks of May 2014 (exact stay 14 days). We will fly into Heathrow and bus directly to Bath for 2 days to start the trip right. We plan to rent a car for the duration We want three days in London at the end. We would like to stay in a castle in Scotland, on the water for two days. Any suggestions for an itinerary and must sees, given the short time? And where should we drop the car before we head to London?

Posted by Ken
Spring, Texas
599 posts

You really need to be more specific and that will require some additional research on your part. All I can tell is you want to hit Bath and London with a castle stay in Scotland. That means you are planning to cover a lot of ground in your two weeks. I suggest you get the RS Great Britain book and read it carefully. Decide what interests you. His British Isles itinerary is 3 weeks and I can assure you it is a kamikaze-paced tour. I personally think Bath is over-rated but it's definitely worth seeing. It's a good jet lag city but so is Windsor. From Bath, Rick would send you to the Cotswold which is worth a day for the English cuteness and longer if you wish to take some of the many walks. You can get to the Cotswold through South Wales where you can see Tintern Abbey and Chepstow Castle. From the Cotswold you could do a ~4 hr drive to Conwy which is on the water. You could stop in the Lake District for a night before continuing on to Scotland. I can help you with castles to stay in. You could drop the car off there and train to York and London. Personally, that's way too busy. You'd spend a lot of time traveling between places to check off your list. You could easily do two weeks (or more) in England and Wales south of the Cotswold. You could easily do two weeks (or more) in northern England/Wales and Scotland.

Posted by Rebecca
Nashville, TN, USA
645 posts

"Any suggestions for an itinerary..." This is a pretty broad question, and difficult for us to answer since we don't know what your interests are. Are you interested in museums? Historic sites? Castles? Small towns with tea rooms? You should have a guidebook and a map to begin to sketch out an itinerary. Is this your first time to Great Britain? I second what Ken said, "You really need to be more specific and that will require some additional research on your part." You could look at the "England in 14 Days" Rick Steves' tour. Either sign up and do his tour, or look at the map of the route it takes and imitate that. You could start in Bath, as you have planned, go north to the Cotswolds from there, then do a loop north into Scotland, east to Edinburgh, turn in the car there, train to York (stay one to two days), train back to London. Here is a website that may help you in your search for your castle. http://www.celticcastles.com/

Posted by Cynthia
Gig Harbor, Washington, USA
1202 posts

Glad to see someone else thinks Bath is overrated! ....My suggestions: start with either Salisbury or Winchester, check out Stonehenge or Avebury if interested, maybe head over towards Wells and Glastonbury, Bath if you like, then head up through the Cotswolds (agree, one full day is plenty, the area is pretty but very twee!), see Warwick and Kenilworth Castles, Oxford if you like. (This gives you a chance to compare three cathedrals, then two castles!). After about six days, circle back towards Heathrow, (total drive for this circuit is about 300 miles) return your car. Fly to either Glasgow or Edinburgh, see a bit of the Trossachs and the Borders area which aren't so far as the highlands.(about 200 miles) Return the car in Edinburgh, take the train back to London with perhaps a one night stop-over for York. Yes this is busy, but I assume you aren't going to Europe to rest up!.... Lots of castle hotels - choose one that fits into your itinerary....For a small fishing village (not Cornwall), you might like Robin Hood's Bay, near Whitby which has a superb abbey.

Posted by Mollyne
Baltimore, Maryland
3 posts

Thanks for the info so far. We were in London and Bath last year in September, but briefly. We love the outdoors and would like some good walks/hikes. Wouldn't mind renting a bike at some point during the trip. We also like to be pampered and thus Bath for the spa and a wonderfully unique vegetarian restaurant "Demuth". We like countryside and other than London prefer to stay away from big cities. We have tentative reservations for a castle near Inverness. Other that that we prefer B&Bs or small hotels. Want to be off the beaten path and experience the culture and the people more than the museums and monuments. We prefer funky to classic. I was looking for a small fishing village, but they seem to be in the Cornwall area which would be too far south if we plan to get to Scotland. Thanks for the tip about the Cotswold area. I thought it required more time. I am reading RS book but he gives a three week itinerary. Does this help or do I need to be even more specific?

Posted by Rebecca
Nashville, TN, USA
645 posts

This helps a lot, Mollyne! With this information, I would suggest that if you have found that interesting fishing village in Cornwall, you should include that. Many of the things you just named are found in southern England. You could do an itinerary in which you do Bath, the Cotswolds, then drop down to Cornwall area, spend several days there, work your way east to Stonehenge, Salisbury, Avebury, then on to Kent, where there are many castles (the fabulous Leeds Castle) and stately old buildings. Beautiful countryside. You could then turn in your car at Gatwick airport, train to London, spend several days, train to York, spend a day or two, train to Edinburgh, spend several days, fly home out of Edinburgh. You could make your reservations to fly "open Jaw", that is, into London, and out of Edinburgh. It would reduce the amount of driving and backtracking you'd have to do. This plan would involve leaving Inverness and most of Scotland for your next trip. But you would pick up the Cornwall fishing village which you had mentioned. Take at look at this article about the South Coast Hiking Path: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_West_Coast_Path

Posted by Rebecca
Nashville, TN, USA
645 posts

Here is itinerary Number 2, an alternative. You could start in Bath, as you have planned, go north to the Cotswolds from there. The Cotswolds are a group of cute villages where you could easily spend an entire week walking the paths and trails, riding bikes, and enjoying the countryside. I disagree with others who have said one day is enough; unless you are on a very tight schedule. You can do day trips out of the Cotswolds to see Blenheim, Stratford Upon Avon or Warwick Castle. Take a look at this Cotswold hiking path: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cotswold_Way Next you may want to head north to The Lake District. Scenic areas, countryside and trails. Then go north to Hadrian's Wall on the Scottish border, then on up into Scotland, to Inverness. At some point, head to Edinburgh, turn in the car there, train to York (stay one to two days), train back to London. You definitely need to get a good map of England and Scotland right away, and start looking at various itineraries. You can't do a good job of planning this trip without a map. What ever you don't have time to see this time, leave it for your next trip. If your main priority is relaxation, don't jam your schedule too full. Good luck planning your trip!

Posted by Ken
Spring, Texas
599 posts

You definitely need to look at a map. Inverness is in the far north of the "big island." Any further north would require a ferry. You have two hard days of driving between Bath and Inverness. If you stop to see anything, you could spend weeks getting there. If you like the outdoors, spend a few days doing walks in the Cotswold. That's the only reason I can see to spend more than a day in the area. Blenheim Palace is great on the way in and is worth a solid half day or more. Stratford-Upon-Avon is a drive-thru unless you are planning to attend the theater there or are a diehard Shakespeare fan (IMHO). Warwick Castle (so I've heard) is a good half day but with lots of activities arranged for kids. It's also pretty pricey. It could be something to see on the way out towards the north. All these wonderful things take time. I think you're trying to do way too much in two weeks. You're going to be rushing around way too fast to see much and you won't have a couple of days for walks anywhere with your schedule. If you try to include Cornwall it becomes almost comical. Are you possibly writing a script for another National Lampoon movie -- British Vacation? At least you aren't one of the posters that come here every so often wanting to do Ireland, England and Scotland in a week. Please, stop and smell the roses.

Posted by John
Tampa, FL, USA
67 posts

Bath is over-rated? Yes, to a degree but still pretty darn good. I think Bath, like Edinburgh are very physically pretty cities with good architecture and geography BUT both are getting a lot of trash and tourist ticky tackytheir popularity seems to keep them resting on their laurels. But Bath was pretty and a better "laid back" place than a "hit and run". I look into a Mad Max tour in Bath. I think much of your plans will revolve around your castle stay as Scotland can get a little hard to get around without a car. So nail down the Castle options first and plan around it.

Posted by John
Tampa, FL, USA
67 posts

Bath to InvernessI considered this. Take an evening train Bath to London Paddington. Transfer from Paddington via Bus/Tube/Taxi to London Euston. Take sleeper train from Euston to Inverness. You would get in around 830am. You can store bags, if needed, at the nearby Inverness bus station. The train into Inverness is pretty enough. Look at http://www.seat61.com/CaledonianSleepers.htm#.UhynFhukpiw Mind you the sleeper often results into a fitful sleep. You might want to start the sleeper to Scotland your first night and visit Bath at the end.

Posted by Thomas
Snyder, Texas
503 posts

Mollyne,
We did a similar car trip. We started in the Cotswolds and worked our way north to Inverness over a 9 day time period, which is about the time you have. You can take a route that suits you. If you don't spend time backtracking, you will have time for a nice trip. We left the car in Inverness and flew from Inverness to London Gatwick on FlyBe Airlines. It was a comfortable jet non stop flight that took about an hour. We were at our London hotel within 4 or 5 hours of dropping our car off . It's easy to get into London from Gatwick by train.

Posted by Mollyne
Baltimore, Maryland
3 posts

Thank you all so much for your wonderful suggestions. It has given us a lot to think about. I like the idea of flying from Inverness to London rather than driving. That will cut a lot out. I am sure I will have more questions, but I will chew on all your advise and when I digest it I will ask for for another helping. Mollyne

Posted by Keith
United Kingdom
683 posts

Just to add to your research options - Flybe run daily (I think), flights from both Newquay and Exeter to Inverness (although I suspect the Newquay ones are indirect via Manchester or Gatwick). They would allow visiting both Cornwall and Inverness without the drive between the two. Also, from Inverness to London, there is an overnight rail service called the "Caledonian Sleeper".