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2 week driving tour of England and Scotland

Just finished a great 16 day driving tour of England and Scotland. Here are some practical tips that may be of help to others.

ITINERARY

Truncated version of the 3-week driving tour in Rick Steves' book, but with the addition of Skye:

  • Day 1: arrive in Heathrow (sleep in London)
  • Day 2: free day in London (sleep in London)
  • Day 3: pick up car at Heathrow, drive to Blenheim Palace then Cotswolds (sleep in Stow-on-the-Wold)
  • Day 4: drive to Keswick in Lake District (sleep in Keswick)
  • Day 5: enjoy the area around Keswick (sleep in Keswick)
  • Day 6: drive to Glasgow, lunch in center of Glasgow, then drive to Oban (sleep in Oban)
  • Day 7: all-day boat tour of Mull, Iona, Staffa Island (sleep in Oban)
  • Day 8: drive to Castle Stalker, Fort William, Glencoe (sleep in Fort William)
  • Day 9: hired a guide to take us from Ft William to Skye then back to Ft William (sleep in Ft William)
  • Day 10: drive to Doune Castle, then Edinburgh (sleep in Edinburgh)
  • Day 11: day in Edinburgh (sleep in Edinburgh)
  • Day 12: day in Edinburgh (sleep in Edinburgh)
  • Day 13: drive to Housesteads Roman Fort, then to York (sleep in York)
  • Day 14: day in York (sleep in York)
  • Day 15: drive to Lincoln, then to Hayes (a suburb near Heathrow)
  • Day 16: drive to Heathrow, drop off car, fly

THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS ITINERARY

  • Picking up and dropping off the car at Heathrow worked well. We figured the choice of cars available at Heathrow would be good.
  • Only one-night stay was in the Cotswolds. If we skipped Blenheim palace, we would have had more time to explore and maybe even walk part of the Cotswolds.
  • Driving north on Kirkstone Pass to Keswick (as recommended by Rick) is truly stunning. Stop the car often to really appreciate it.
  • Castlerigg Stone Circle at Keswick is worth seeing.
  • The drive around Newland Valley recommended by Rick is wonderful.
  • We went to Oban because we wanted to see Iona and Staffa Island. It worked fine, but in retrospect, I think it may have been better to simply go all the way to Iona on the ferry on day 6. We got to Oban by 3:30pm, so it would have been easy to get to Iona by dinner time. It does mean taking a 45 min car-ferry from Oban to Mull, driving an hour to the other end of Mull, then another ferry (10 min) to Iona. Had we slept in Iona for 2 nights, we would have had more time to explore Iona and Staffa Island (and attend morning or evening service at the Iona Abbey) the next day.
  • Staffa Island is an amazing geologic phenomenon. Definitely worth taking the boat tour (Staffa Tours) to go see it and explore this small island on foot.
  • We really wanted to see Skye, but fitting this in seemed like just too much driving. Then we found a tour guide based in Fort William named John Irvine (Highland Scenic Tours) who was willing to pick us up at 8 am, drive us around Skye, and get us back to Fort William by 8pm. It was a long day but we loved seeing Skye and I didn't have to drive!
  • Doune Castle is easy stop on the way to Edinburgh. Worth the stop.
  • We were happy with itinerary from Edinburgh on.

DRIVING

I was happy they offered us Volvo XC70 station wagon, which it was large enough for 4 adults and luggage, and it's a safe car. But in retrospect, I might ask for a narrower car or SUV. On major motorways like M1, the Volvo was great. But on the small one-lane, windy streets in the Lake District and Scotland, it was scary to drive this big car.

GPS and SAT NAV

We all had iPhones (with Google Map) and UK data plan. My iPhone also had Waze and a free iPhone app called Navmii. I highly recommend Navmii -- it worked very well even in remote areas where we did not have cellular service. You can also use Google Map offline, but not as good. Bring a good cell phone mount to attach your iPhone to your rental car.

Posted by
4194 posts

Looks like a great trip, glad you enjoyed it. Lots of driving, and I can relate re the wider car. We wanted an automatic so got a bigger car than we'd have preferred otherwise, and I had trouble on those narrow roads, and never got close to the Highlands. Good idea to use a guide for Skye.

Too bad you missed Durham Cathedral, one of the highlights of our similar trip. But we too loved Keswick area, Edinburgh, Hadrian's Wall, and York.

Thanks for sharing this with everyone.

Posted by
3 posts

How to shorten this itinerary to 14 days

If you truly needed the road trip to be 14 days, what would I do differently?

  • We loved Isle of Skye. Would not take this out.
  • Eliminate one night by skipping the Cotswolds. On Day 3, drive straight from Heathrow Airport to Keswick (make sure you get off the major motorway at the end, to go north through Kirkstone Pass, as Rick Steves recommends -- that is a stunning drive).
  • Eliminate one night by reducing Edinburgh from 3 to 2 nights. The drive from Ft William to Edinburgh is only 3 hours, which means if you skip Doune Castle (or make the stop very brief), you can get to Edinburgh by noon. Take the 1:30PM Mercat Tour of the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle (takes ~3 hrs including time to browse through the castle). That leaves you 2 evenings and 1 full day in Edinburgh.
Posted by
3 posts

More thoughts on making this a 14-day trip

If you take away the Cotswolds from the itinerary above, then consider flying in and out of Manchester Airport (the busiest airport in England outside of London). There are direct flights to Manchester from Chicago, New York, Atlanta. There are no non-stop flights from the U.S. west coast, it appears.

Then, you'd have a very short (2 hr) drive to Keswick on the first day. This is such a short drive that you might be able to do it the day after you arrive in England (rather than waiting an additional day to acclimate to a new time zone). That will get you another night to add elsewhere in your itinerary.

And, a very short (90 min) drive from York to Manchester on the last day -- so close that such that you might not need to spend a night near Heathrow on the very last night, thus giving you back one additional night that you can add to your itinerary.

The Cotswolds and Bath are great sites to visit, but just visit them some other time when you are in London.