A Guide to Road Tripping in Britain

A short while ago, I wrote about rail travel in Britain and how travelling by train is my favourite mode of travel.  I guess I made it seem like travelling by car is less than ideal but there are two important aspects of car travel that absolutely trump rail travel: time and freedom

When you go on road trips, you have the time to lie in bed a little bit late one morning and there is no reason why you can’t spend that little while longer in a coffee shop or museum.  You have the freedom to choose the scenic route, you can stop to admire breathtaking scenery and you have significantly less chance of being thrown out of a moving carriage for singing at the top of your voice.

Road trips are about much more than just traveling between two points, they are about the journey, and road trips are as much fun to plan as they are to experience.  Many of the recent trips we’ve taken have been to specific destinations for example, Snowdonia in Wales and Windermere in Cumbria but I’d like to tell you about some of the best road trips I’ve undertaken in Britain and one that I have begun to plan.

England’s Ancient Heritage

London – Stonehenge – Bristol – Bath – Oxford – London

Our first road trip took us through thousands of years of English history from the ancient standing stones of Stonehenge to the remains of the Roman baths in Bath and finally on to Oxford.  This road trip took us two nights / three days but it would be really easy to add on another day or two if you wanted to extend your trip further west.

Stonehenge - main circle

Our first stop was Stonehenge.  Unless you’re there for the summer or winter solstice celebrations, there isn’t much point in hanging about more than an hour or so and so we headed off to spend the night in Bristol.

-> Detour: At this point it would be really easy to head north to Gloucestershire where you could spend the next day exploring the Forest of Dean and old town Gloucester. Alternatively, you could head further west and spend a day in Cardiff.

Early the next morning, we drove to Bath where we spent the day exploring the old town and the fabulous Roman Baths.  After Bath, we drove on to Oxford and spent the next day on a walking tour of the old colleges before returning home again that evening.

Northern History and Intrigue

London – Warwick – Liverpool – Manchester – York – St Albans - London

On our second English road trip, we stuck to our historic theme but this time delved into the more modern histories of Liverpool and Manchester, contrasted with the medieval histories of Warwick and York.  This road trip was slightly longer at four nights / five days

Leaving from London, we spent our first day in Warwick exploring the fabulous exhibits at Warwick Castle.  We then drove up to Liverpool, where we spent the night, and we spent the next day exploring the Pier Head, Albert Dock and tracing the Beatles’ footsteps. 

-> Detour: If you’d like to add an extra day into your itinerary, it would be a good idea at this point to head off to the fabulous walled city of Chester or you can also spent a day in Blackpool, a seaside resort town which I love but which most people say is a bit gaudy.

The Royal Liver Building as seen over the Cunard Building

Our next destination was Manchester, the home of Manchester United, where we spent the night.  We spent the next day and night taking advantage of Manchester’s great shopping opportunities and fabulous pubs, with a quick visit to Old Trafford. 

Bright and early the next morning, we headed off to York where we discovered York Minster, the Shambles, Clifford’s Tower and the York Castle Museum.  The next morning we headed home to London but made sure we stopped off at the Roman Ruins in St Albans on the way.

Breathtaking Vistas in the Scotland Lowlands

Edinburgh – Crieff – Aberfeldy – Pitlochry – Perth - Edinburgh

We spent a week in the Scottish Lowlands in 2010 and took several day trips from our base in Loch Monzievaird.  I was absolutely enchanted by Scotland and was especially taken with the buildings in their creepy, Scottish Baronial style.

This trip wouldn’t have been possible without a car though, so I am going to suggest a four night / five day road trip of the area (with a bonus photo!)

The View From Edinburgh Castle

On the first day, arrive in Edinburgh and spend the day exploring Edinburgh Castle, the Old Town and Princes Street Gardens.  From Edinburgh, drive to the market town of Crieff and spend the next morning exploring the old town, Drummond Castle and Gardens and The Famous Grouse Experience.

Drive up to Aberfeldy where you’ll spend your second night.  The next morning, you can explore the old town, visit the Watermill bookshop and check to see how the rebuilding works are going at the Art Deco cinema The Birks. 

Crieff (8)

After lunch, you’ll then head off to Pitlochry, the home of Heathergems and Pitlochry Festival Theatre, where you’ll spend your third night.  Pitlochry is especially popular among walkers and hikers so do keep that in mind if you arrive in season. It might be worth spending an extra night in Pithlochry if that interests you.

The next morning, you’ll drive down to Perth where you’ll visit Lochleven Castle and The Scottish Deer Centre.  You’ll spend your final evening in Perth before returning to Edinburgh the next morning.

A Short Tour of East Anglia

London – Bury St Edmunds – Norwich – Cambridge – London

Once again, we spent a week in Swilland Mill when we took our tour of East Anglia last December, but our adventures wouldn’t have been possible without a car.  I’m going to suggest a short three day / two night road trip.

From London, drive up to Bury St Edmunds where you’ll spend the day exploring the ruins of the Abbey of St Edmund and the present day St Edmundsbury Cathedral.  Spend the night in town, or perhaps drive through to one of the seaside towns of Aldeburgh, Southwold or Lowestoft. 

Spend your second day in Norwich and be sure to check out Norwich Castle, the Royal Arcade, the market and the Church of St Peter Mancroft.  Norwich really comes alive at night, so I’d definitely recommend you spend your second night in or near to the city.

Kings College Cambridge

You’ll return to London the next morning but do be sure to stop by the ancient university town of Cambridge on your way back.  Take a long stroll around the colleges and down the canals and perhaps even indulge in a boat ride if weather permits. 

From Train Windows to Reality

London – Lincoln – Whitby – Newcastle – York – Nottingham – London

I’m pretty good at turning road trip plans into reality but there is one road trip I’ve been planning since 2010 which is still but a dream.  The problem is that there is so much to see and so far to travel and while I’d like to think this is possible in five days / four nights, that might prove to be too tiring.  This is a rough idea of the next road trip that I am planning:

On the first day, travel up to Lincoln where you can admire Lincoln Cathedral and also explore some of the abbeys and monasteries lying in ruin since the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

The Ruins of Whitby Abbey

Travel up to Whitby the next day where you can explore one of the most famous ruins of all, Whitby Abbey.  Be sure to stop off in town for some famous fish and chips too or indulge in some Gothic or Bram Stoker-themed adventures.

The third day would be spent in Newcastle, a town I have wanted to visit ever since passing through there on a train.  The fourth day would be spent in York, exploring some of the Viking activities that we missed during our first visit and the last day would be spent following in Robin Hood’s footsteps in Nottingham.

What do you think? Too ambitious?

I hope that you find these road trips useful in planning your own around Britain. Personally, I can’t get enough of the history, architecture and countryside on this island.  Finally, I bring you some valuable tips if you are considering taking a road trip.

Five Tips for Road Tripping in Britain

Plan ahead but take it easy. Do plan your trips in advance to ensure that you make the most of your routes and don’t miss out on any attractions.  Conversely, don’t be afraid to stop off somewhere unexpected or to take it a little easier if you’re beginning to feel fatigued.

No room at the inn. Britain is not like the continent and you might run into trouble if you don’t book your rooms ahead.  Not only that, but you can lose out on some fantastic online or advance deals if you book ahead. We alternate between cosy country inns and the unbeatable £29 deal from Premier Inn.

Definitely learn the rules of the road. South Africans, New Zealanders and Australians can drive on their existing license for up to a year, whereupon they can exchange it for a British license.  The problem is that the rules of the road can be pretty different.  For example, speed limits are really clearly marked on all roads in South Africa but in the UK, you’re expected to remember what the standard speed limit is on a country road, a dual carriage way or the highway. Really, learn the rules of the road before you get behind the wheel!

You really don’t need to own a car. It is really easy to hire a car in the UK and it doesn’t have to be expensive either.  We’ve used Enterprise before when we’ve travelled to Liverpool and we also hire a van from them every time we move house. It is at least four of us on our road trips so the cost of car hire is far less expensive than individual train tickets for those journeys.

Satellite navigation is your best friend. I can’t stress this last point enough. In addition to the road trips listed above, we’ve visited Wales, Cumbria, Isle of Wight and even France, and we’ve also undertaken countless journeys to visit family in Liverpool and Manchester. We use a Tom Tom and we ensure that we update it before each journey and we also subscribe to live traffic updates. Beg, borrow or steal a SatNav if you have to, even use your smart phone or Google Maps, but don’t try navigate a journey in Britain without these modern conveniences!

Do you have any road trip ideas? Be sure to share them below so that other people can follow your routes.

9 Things I Learned on a Bowl of Chalk

Jonnie from a Bowl of Chalk Our excellent tour guide Jonnie from Bowl of Chalk

Not last Saturday but the Saturday before, a couple of us got together and went on a pay-what-you-want walk with Jonnie from Bowl of Chalk.  I'm going to start off by saying that the tour was excellent and Jonnie's knowledge of London, especially the Great Fire of London, was astounding.

We met up just behind St Paul's Cathedral and wound our way round the cathedral and over the Millennium Bridge to the Bankside area. There we explored Borough Market and the high street before crossing the Thames again and landing up at The Monument.

It was not a short walk and took about three hours. I slept very well that evening but my sleep was all the sweeter for the new titbits of information I picked up that day. So without further ado, here are 9 things I learned on a bowl of chalk* in London Town. I was going to list 10 but I think 9 is just as fine.

I’ve walked up and down Cheapside countless times but it never occurred to me to question the rather unusual name of this street located just behind St Paul’s Cathedral.  In medieval English, ‘cheap’ was the word for market and at that time, Westcheap was one of the main produce markets in London.  Many of the roads leading off from it are named after that produce: Bread Street, Milk Street, Poultry (which like Cheapside, is simply known by one word).

You really want to visit Cheapside, because it is where One New Change is located.  This shopping centre has a roof terrace with some incredible views of St Paul’s Cathedral and the changing London skyline.

St Paul's Cathedral from One New Change St Paul’s Cathedral and London Skyline from One New Change

Just down the road from Cheapside is Threadneedle Street which most likely derives from ‘three needles’, the sign of the merchant tailors.  Their 14th century guildhall Merchant Taylors' Hall is located on Threadneedle Street to this day.


I did know there are no roads in City of London but I didn't know this comes from the actual definition of the word road which in this case is a thoroughfare that goes from one point to another with no houses or shops on it. 

Since Roman times, The City of London has been one of the most important destinations in the world and as you know, all roads lead to Rome London, so there would be no roads in London because once you’d arrived here, well, you’d arrived at your destination.

The Shard from One New Change The Shard and London Skyline from One New Change

Being that it was the only bridge linking the City of London to the slums of the south, London Bridge was actually closed at night.  Of course, back then London Bridge was almost a town in itself and there were houses, shops, pubs and all sorts of buildings on the bridge.  For this reason, there were loads of inns down what is now Borough High Street where you could stay the night or await a stage coach.

Just in case you were wondering how gruesome medieval London really was, the severed heads of traitors and executed criminals were impaled on spikes and displayed on top of the southern gatehouse to London Bridge.  This served as a warning to all who entered London of the fate that awaited them should they step out of line.

Borough Market and Shard Borough Market and the Shard at Dusk

Great things happen in London. Really scary and monumental occasions in London are called "great". So you have the Great Plague of 1665-66, the Great Fire of London in 1666, the Great Frost of 1683–84 and the Great Smog of 1952.

If you have a vision of a dark and foggy London, you’re not far wrong.  The Great Smog of 1952 was so severe that 4,000 deaths were immediately linked to it.  It was largely attributed to air pollution and resulted in the Clean Air Act of 1956.  Fireplaces and stoves that produce smoke are still banned in the City of London.

Umbrella Installation at Borough Market Umbrella Art Installation at Borough Market

I already knew that the Great Fire of London was started by Thomas Farriner at his bakery in Pudding Lane but I had no idea that ‘pudding’ had a really different meaning back in 1666.  Basically, pudding refers to the lovely stuff that is left over once you take all of the useful bits off a carcass, in other words, it meant offal. I guess I can see the link between that, black pudding and the art of putting leftovers in a crust to make a pie.  Still, it is rather grim.

I also knew that Thomas Farriner was a king’s baker but I learned that this isn’t as fancy a title as I’d imagined.  Essentially, it just meant that he baked for the royal navy.

The Shard from the George The Shard as seen from The George Inn

I knew that the old St Paul’s Cathedral burned down in the Great Fire of London and that what we see now was built by Sir Christopher Wren.  I didn’t know that Old St Paul’s Cathedral was massive, an imposing compound that dominated the London skyline.  It was so big with its thick stone walls that Londoners thought that it could not possibly fall prey to the fire that was raging through the city in early September 1666. 

People began to store all sorts of valuables in the cathedral such as books, works of art and furniture.  Everything was lost.  Not only did the fire reach the cathedral but the scaffolding caught alight, the lead spire melted and centuries of valuable objects were lost.

The George Southwark The George Inn, Southwark frequented by Charles Dickens

Lord Mayor Thomas Bloodworth is now infamous for being the most useless mayor in the history of the City of London. As Lord Mayor, it fell to him to give permission to demolish adjoining properties which could have prevented the Great Fire from spreading right across London as it did. 

He was summoned from his bed and refused to grant the necessary permission, infamously saying that "a woman might piss it out" before going back to bed.

Thanks for that Lord Mayor Bloodworth.

The MonumentThe Monument to the Great Fire of London

Conspiracy theories were rife after the Great Fire of London. People thought it was retribution for the August 1666 raid on the Dutch town of West-Terschelling  in which the entire town was burned down by the English Fleet. It didn’t take long for Londoners to begin killing foreigners, Catholics and anyone else they didn’t like the look of.

It was up to the Duke of York, James to protect these people from the mobs and he began “arresting” foreigners to keep them safe.

So that brings me to the end of my thoroughly useful titbits of information gleamed from the Bowl of Chalk tour.  I absolutely intend to go on Jonnie’s other two walks so do let me know if you’d like to join in next time.

* Have you figured out what a bowl of chalk is yet?  Well, I’ll give you a clue, it’s cockney rhyming slang but you’ll have to visit the Bowl of Chalk website to figure out what for!

A Gorgeous Saturday Morning in Broadway Market, Hackney

St John’s Church Gardens

After our visit to Hackney Homemade on Saturday morning, Kat and I realised that we had over an hour to spare and we decided to walk down to Broadway Market.  We made a quick detour into Primark first because even though it looked pretty warm and sunny outside, it certainly wasn’t!  With a brand new teal scarf and smart-phone-ready gloves for me, we carried on with our journey.

Flower Sellers and Sheep Sculpture in London Fields

We walked through the beautiful London Fields, a very old park between Hackney and Regent’s Canal, which was historically used as a pasture field for cows and sheep.  Wikipedia tells me that there has been a park here since 1540 and I imagine that this pebble-clad statue of flower-sellers is meant to represent the various merchants who have passed through this way over the years.  There were sheep gathered around their feet and a couple of families were resting there on this quiet Saturday afternoon. 

Little Francesca Juice Bar at Broadway Market

We soon reached the Broadway Market and were treated to splashes of colour and mouth-watering aromas.  I’m learning to love markets and Broadway is one of the most vibrant and colourful London markets I’ve visited recently.

Truffles by Coco and Me at Broadway Market

Our first stop was the Coco & Me stall, which is one of Kat’s favourites. The lady behind Coco & Me is so lovely and friendly! She is a blogger too and I will definitely be visiting her blog and her stall again!

Delicious pies and quiches at Broadway Market

There is food to suit every taste at Broadway Market and I noticed that many of the stalls focused on sweet goods including an array of cakes, truffles, tarts and desserts.  If you have a sweet tooth, you simply must visit this market! Of course, those are savoury tarts and quiches in the photo above, which looked very tempting indeed.

I visited the Polish Deli and I sampled a cheese pieróg (a cottage cheese, onion and potato dumpling) and a kabanos.  Have I ever mentioned how much I love sausages of all sizes, shapes and origins?  Well, unfortunately, I was juggling a camera, handbag, kabanos and pieróg and managed to photograph neither the Polish Deli stall nor the absolutely divine food.  Needless to say, Polish food now lies firmly in my top 5 foods now, along with German, Italian, Spanish and Greek food.

Lunch at Broadway Market in London Fields

Kat made it as far as the German deli stall and had a massive Bratwurst.  I have to admit, given my love of sausages, that this would have been my choice too had we arrived here first, but I am glad that I made the choice that I did.

Regents Canal in Hackney

It was a mile walk from Hackney Central to the bottom of Broadway Market and then we decided to walk another mile east towards Haggerston Station along Regent’s Canal.  It was a really beautiful walk and Regent’s Canal never fails to lift my spirits (not that I was sad to begin with) and leave me feeling refreshed and happy.

Cycles in Hackney

The only thing that bugged us a little bit was the extremely rude cyclists.  The signs to the canal walk clearly state that pedestrians have the right of way and still cyclists charge down the canal walk, ringing their little bells and bullying walkers to move out of their way. Not cool at all.

Far too soon, our visit to Hackney, London Fields and Haggerston was over.  It was my first visit to this part of town and like Dalston which I visited in the summer (but didn’t blog about as it was meant to be a family visit) I’m really keen on exploring more of this area.  I don’t really mind the Hipsters as I was young, insecure and arrogant once too.  If anything, they are fun to look at if they’re not trying to ride you into a canal!

Broadway Market
Broadway Market
E8 4PH
Nearest station: London Fields

Featured Photo: Natural History Museum

Natural History Museum London

I often hear people say that London is one of the most expensive cities on earth but you’d be surprised just how much there is to do for free.  Most of our art galleries and museums are free and if you go to any of the major museums during the week, you will see that they are full of little groups of school children absorbing a world of information and knowledge.  It is what I love most about London, even if I do try to get ahead of the school groups and away from them as soon as possible!

This autumn and winter I’ve promised myself to go to far more museums and art exhibitions than normal and to go to new ones too.

This all started when I went to the Natural History Museum at the beginning of October.  It started with the realisation that there is more to this fantastic place than just the Dinosaurs section.  My favourite sections are Creepy Crawlies and the entire Red Zone which features a journey to the centre of the earth and a really realistic earthquake simulation.

Of course, we spent the entire week exploring London that week and we barely touched the surface.  This became really apparent to me when I saw this list of Free London Attractions and I realised just how much I still need to see.  At the very top of my list (and only on the first page!) is the Bank of England Museum, The British Postal Museum & Archive, Museum of London, and Museum of London Docklands. 

Not only that but I’ve also made a pact with my colleague to go ice skating at Somerset House and finally attend Winter Wonderland. Can you believe that I’ve been here over five years and have never managed to do either of those things?

It is such an exciting time to be in London and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else on earth right now.  How is your autumn / spring going?