Three weeks Great Britain - with senior and a child

Hi - I am in the very early stages of planning a 3 week trip with my mom, who will be 75 when we travel, and my son, who will be 11. Mom and I prefer a "slow" style of travel, really soaking up a place vs. running from sight to sight, and had just two bases for our two week trip to England in 2011. We pretty well covered what we wanted to see between London, Bath and Dorset on that visit, but never got to Blenheim or the Cotswolds, which were both on my mom's wish list. This time, we would like to see more of England, with just a bit of Wales and Scotland. Mom feels that this may be her last trip due to finances, so I really want to make it good :-). My son has never been, and will be happy if he sees Harry Potter sights, castles, Roman ruins and a beach or two. We plan on renting a car, but would consider train for short day trips or for longer hauls between cities. Here is what I've come up with - does this sound feasible? Any suggestions? - 4-5 nights London (British Museum, Natural History Museum, Tower of London, day trip to Harry Potter studios, possibly to Windsor - might need more nights!) - 3-4 nights Cotswolds (pick up car - is Heathrow the best place? Day trip to South Wales?) - 2 nights York - 2-3 nights at my aunt's near Whitby (N. Yorkshire coast, Castle Howard, other nearby sights) - 3-4 nights Alnwick (for Alnwick Castle, Bamburgh, coast - possibly see Roman Wall and/or Durham Cathedral on way from N. Yorkshire?)
- 4-5 nights Edinburgh (thinking we would drop the car here and possibly take small coach tour to see Western Highlands or other day trip tour) I've thought of spending more time in Wales - possibly Snowdonia, and in Scotland, but can't see a way to do either without adding days/travel time. Any suggestions are welcome!

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7819 posts

Beth I think your plan looks reasonable, I maintain that a 2 night stay is really only one full day in a place so thats my minimum stay normally, so instead of seeing more places I enjoy the ones I see. I haven't been to all the places you are going, but agree that London is worth at least 5 nights if you can work it, remember the first day is a bit of a write off being tired and jet lagged etc.
Also since you are going to the Natural History Museum I would definately pop into the Victoria and Albert Museum , it is right across the street from it, and also free. Its one of my faves in London!

Posted by Brian
Los Angeles, California
1986 posts

day trip from Cotswolds to S. Wales- drive via the ruined Tintern Abbey in the Wye Valley, to me its one of those special places you want to wander through and just absorb it. In my opinion (even though from S.Wales stock), I would stick to the Wye valley and not push it to try and get to S.Wales- and then not have time to see anything. From Cotswolds to York is a bit of a push, consider overnighting in Derby county and visit Chatsworth and possibly Dove Dale

Posted by Beth
Frisco, CO, US
66 posts

Pat - Good call on the V & A. I think my mom would love it, although I've never been. The Natural History Museum is for my son, but I'd enjoy that one as well. And I agree that two nights in a place is really the bare minimum. Brian - I also agree with your suggestions. I don't see how we can do Wales justice with our other destinations, but would like to see the Wye Valley and Tintern Abbey. I'm trying to make sure there's a mix of things we'd all enjoy. My mom and I are pretty easy, so I just need to throw in sights that will keep a young boy interested. I thought about visiting the Corinium Museum while in the Cotswolds, for example. Chatsworth would be good. Maybe we could fit in a two night stay in the Peak District. I've got plenty of time to tweak our plans - this may not happen until June 2014! We're in money-saving mode at present, but I'm big on planning the big details long in advance and then letting the daily details unfold as we travel.

Posted by Ken
Spring, Texas
599 posts

Blenheim Palace is definitely worth the visit. Tintern Abbey is interesting. We had a tour by a "reenactor" that was great (and free). It's a natural stop on the way from Bath to the Cotswolds but I don't think I'd recommend it or any part of South Wales as a day trip from the Cotswolds too far. There is a Roman Villa on the southern part of the Cotswolds but it isn't what I'd call a "don't miss" site. Unless you are planning on doing hikes I don't think there are 3 or 4 nights worth of activities there. After Blenheim Palace the estates and gardens in the area are easily topped elsewhere. I suggest you carefully look at what you want to see and do there before committing to that many nights. I also suggest you try to pick a spot other than the airport to get your car. If I'm not mistaken there is an airport fee attached to the rental. It's also more expensive to get to Heathrow than many surrounding spots to rent cars. You could look at taking the train to Slough and picking up a car there. Slough is right next to Windsor so you could see it then. Locals would probably have a better solution to where to pick up a car. The drive from the Cotswolds to York is about 3 hours. You could break it up with some stops along the way. If you arrive late, two nights in York is not enough time (IMHO). I suggest you up it to three.

Posted by Keith
United Kingdom
678 posts

Depending on where you pick-up your hire car and where exactly in the Cotswolds you choose to stay, there are two likely routes you would take out of London. If you take the one involving the M40, then you will drive past Oxford which has at least two Harry Potter related sites (the Bodleian Library and Christ Church were both filming locations). If you then continue from Oxford into the Cotswolds one route takes you straight to the front gates of Blenheim Palace. I don't know anything about car rental in Slough, as suggested above, but it does seem to make more sense (assuming rates are not very much worse), than going to Heathrow. You could then go Slough - Oxford - Woodstock (for Blenheim) - Chipping Norton (or wherever in the Cotswolds you decide to stay), as a very practical day's journey. There is plenty of parking around Oxford (but charged) and at the Palace. An alternative would be going straight to Oxford from London by train/bus and picking up the car there - but I'm not sure what you would do with your baggage, unless you picked up the car first thing on arrival.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8731 posts

There is plenty of parking around Oxford (but charged) mmmmm yes, but .... You do need deep pockets to park in Oxford. If you are not familiar with Oxford, one of the pay and display car parks might work or you could park in the parking structure at Westgate shopping structure. Street parking, if you ever find it will be in many places a maximum of an hour. £1.00 for half an hour and it rockets up to £2.50 for an hour. The pay and displays aren't much better and if you use the Westgate be careful of scraping the sides of your car and the spaces are very narrow. Spaces at the pay and displays are rare and pretty narrow too. Better to see what you want and then get the car at the Station, IMHO. This from somebody who has to park in the center of Oxford frequently. If coming into Oxford with a car I'd recommend using the Park and Ride facilities. Cheap parking and a free easy bus right to the centre.

Posted by Beth
Frisco, CO, US
66 posts

After considering these replies, and looking at the AA route planner, it appears the most direct driving route after London, and one which would include sights of interest for all of us, would be from Windsor (Slough)- Oxford/Blenheim - Cotswolds - York - Whitby (aunt's)- Northumberland (Alnwick and Roman Wall) - Edinburgh. I don't see a way to fit Wales in neatly, much as I'd like to see it. I count at least six bases on this route, not including a stop in the Peak District (which sounds nice but not "must-see"). Does that sound reasonable in 3 weeks, or like a painful tour of the motorways? I have actually done long road trips in the States with my mom, husband and son, and as long as my son has something to entertain him enroute and sights of interest at each destination, he is happy. But we don't want to dash from place to place, either. The other option I could see - which would also completely leave out Wales - would be to take the train from London to York, then drive the rest of the route to Edinburgh, ditch the car, and do a day trip or two by small coach from Edinburgh. This appeals in terms of less drive time, but I think my mom and son would really enjoy Oxford and a bit of the Cotswolds (although as Ken says, maybe no more than 3 nights). Sorry - this is sort of stream-of-consciousness rambling now, but your replies are helping me get a better idea of the practicalities. Keep them coming!

Posted by Keith
United Kingdom
678 posts

" it rockets up to £2.50 for an hour." You are parking in the wrong places! Its £4 for 3 hours on Savile Road. But, yes when I said plenty of parking I meant using the park & ride and should have made that clear. Beth - it looks like five or six bases depending on how you deal with London/Windsor/Oxford/Cotswolds. I don't think the route is overkill - certainly some of this will be on motorways or fairly boring "A" roads, especially the middle stretch from the south to York. But for quite a lot of your tour you will be driving around country areas, with plenty of opportunities to stop at villages/"view-points" and along the way along the way visit other sites that take your fancy - plenty of castles, ruined monastries, stately homes, gardens, etc to choose from.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8731 posts

Thanks, Keith. You're right, I don't park there. Using http://www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/cms/content/street-parking I do note that the £1 for 30 minutes and £2.50 for an hour is true there too, with less for longer. I have to get to the covered market so tend to park in Broad Street but that is not for the feint of heart.

Posted by Katy
London, UK
130 posts

If you have decided to go straight to York from London (train is great), then it would make sense to spend more time in London. You could look at renting an apartment in London, I'm sure you could plenty of advice here about this. Then you could look at doing Oxford, the Cotswolds,Windsor (and maybe some other destinations) as day trips. Both Oxford and Windsor are easy on the train. I always suggest looking at London Walks - walks.com - and their Explorer Days. I can recommend these + they will also give you some idea of whats doable.

Posted by Beth
Frisco, CO, US
66 posts

Thanks Keith, Nigel and Katy! Again, I can see two possible scenarios based on these replies. It sounds as though we could collect a car at Slough, drive to Oxford, park in a park & pay, then proceed onward from there. OR - we could stay in London longer and do daytrips, as Katy suggests.
If we were to do the first - hiring a car in Slough - would staying in Windsor make sense for 2-3 trips into London, the Harry Potter studios (haven't looked at the logistics of this at all), and possibly a visit to Highclere Castle? And if we were to base in London, can anyone recommend a particular Cotswold day trip? Katy's suggestion appeals for its simplicity, and I like the idea of a short train ride to York vs. long drive. My only concerns are that it may be more expensive to base in London, and that we'd get city-weary. BUT - there would be no shortage of sights to keep us all entertained, and the northern part of the trip could be more oriented toward slow travel through the countryside and along the coast. Does this sound like a realistic assessment?

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8731 posts

OK, bear with me here.... I'm slow today. Just got back from a treatment and the cogs are meshing poorly. I don't want to be rude but I'm afraid I may sound rude. Sorry. Why would you go to Slough (not as bad as the Slough of Despond but not a place to go out of the way for - unless you are a British The Office fan) to rent a car to then find the M4, connect to A404(M) to the A404 to the M40 to the A34 and then try to find parking in Oxford which you already know is both difficult and expensive - = - when you can peacefully pop on a train in London Paddington, look out the windows at the scenery as the train makes its way along the Thames Valley and arrive calm and refreshed at Oxford Station in only 60 minutes, an easy walk into the centre; and hire a car there when you are done?

Posted by Katy
London, UK
130 posts

The Cotswold day trip I recommend is the London Walks Explorer Day trip. walks.com. I did this trip last summer and it was terrific, would not have been able to get around as much in one day without it. They train to the Cotswolds and have coach waiting.

Posted by Beth
Frisco, CO, US
66 posts

Nigel - Actually, your reply made me smile, as your sense of irony appeals to my sense of humor... Slough was mentioned in an earlier post as a potential place to pick up a car - no more - and I would only consider it if we were in Windsor, having stayed there rather than London. But you are right - train to Oxford would be much easier. In my internal musings, I'd imagined staying a few nights in Windsor as a potential base for visiting Highclere, Harry Potter studio north of London, and possibly a friend in Winchester (although he could as easily come to us). None of which may make sense in actuality. But it was a thought. If we took the train to Oxford, and wanted to have a look around before picking up a car, could we store luggage somewhere?

Posted by Beth
Frisco, CO, US
66 posts

Katy - Thanks for the info on the tour. I'll check it out!

Posted by Keith
United Kingdom
678 posts

I fear in mentioning Oxford ealier, I might have made this all rather more confusing than it needs to be, sorry about that. Is it now decided that you are going by train to Oxford and picking up a car there? I raised the same luggage question as you do before - all I've thought of since is that you could (a) rent the car as soon as you arrive and then park it somewhere with your bags in it or, better, see if the car company will let you leave it with them until later in the day, or (b) in the past it's been reported that Oxford Backpackers Hostel near the railway station, store luggage for a fee - not sure if they still do. Hopefully someone has other sugestions. Incidentally, at the risk re-opening the discusssion, I can't think of a good reason to base yourself in Windsor rather than central London in order to see HP studios, Highclere or Winchester. Better, I think, just to see Windsor as a trip out of London (or on the way to Oxford, which is what I thought you were planning when picking up the car at Slough? If that is still a posisbility, instead of Nigel's route, take the A335 to the M40 and come off at the A40, not the A34 - comparing traffic routes is something of a national hobby here, almost up with talking about the weather!).

Posted by Ken
Spring, Texas
599 posts

As the originator of the Slough car rental comment, I want to add that this was only in response to the question of where would be a good place to rent a car outside of London. I recall that there is a National Car Rental location close to the Slough train station. I was going to use it once but then changed my plans. I've never been to Oxford so I can't comment on the relative value of the sites available. I have driven through/around it coming out of the Cotswolds so I guess I can say I declined to visit it when presented with an opportunity. If you want to go to Oxford, it probably makes more sense to do it as a day trip out of London or as a place to pick up a car. Unless you want to do walks, I think a day of Cotswolds cuteness is enough and that could easily be done with a tour out of London. I don't think the London daytrips do Blenheim Palace which is definitely worth seeing. Of course, no one can see everything on a single trip (or even a lifetime living in the UK) so it's necessary to pick and choose. If the train to York sounds like the best use of your time, I'd say you should go for it. Blenheim Palace and the Cotswolds will be there for next time. I agree with Keith on recommending you not base yourself out of Windsor. The B&B/hotel rates are right up there with close-in London and the 8 or 10 GBP train rides every day would chew up any savings and lots of valuable time. If you want to save money, I suggest you look south of the Thames. I've never stayed anywhere there but I've seen lower cost options when I've searched. It's slightly less convenient but not as much as Windsor.

Posted by Beth
Frisco, CO, US
66 posts

Keith - Nothing has been decided as yet, but your suggestion of Oxford was a good one. I'd already considered it as an interesting stop for the history and a few Harry Potter sights, so I let the conversation drift that direction. Honestly, I'm only examining the logistics as a way of helping me frame a logical itinery, so the level of detail you are all providing is much appreciated as a means to help us decide which route will offer the most sights of interest with minimum headache. So, all suggestions are appreciated, and absolutely nothing is set in stone. I hear loud and clear that London as a base is preferred over Windsor, so that settles one question. If we decide to include Oxford, Blenheim and the Cotswolds, then we may opt to proceed only as far as York/North Yorkshire and return to London for our flight out, leaving the north and Scotland for another trip. But, if we wish to spend a few days in Scotland, we will probably take the train to York and drive onward from there. I'll come back with the more detailed questions once we've settled on our route, but in the meantime, your replies are appreciated!