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For the third stop on our RTW trip, we are headed to Scotland! We have 4 nights and 5 days to spend in the UK and while most people could easily spend that amount of time just exploring Scotland, I of course strive to see as much as possible in the UK while we’re there so I had a bit more ambitious itinerary in mind…the great UK road trip!
When I explained my road trip plans to my friend Jill (who lives in London) she told me I was crazy to try driving around the UK in just 5 days. And, to be fair, she’s not the first person to call my travel plans crazy. And she’s probably not wrong. I am, after all, the person who visited 13 countries in 30 days on my first RTW trip (I like to think I’ve mellowed a bit since then).
Jill warned about the traffic and the long driving distances (and I had no doubt she was right), but considering the amount of ground we wanted to cover during our 5 days, renting a car was the only sensible option.
Driving the Scottish Coast
After realizing she wasn’t going to change my mind, Jill suggested beginning our road trip with a drive down the scenic coastline from Edinburgh to York for our first day. Conveniently, that itinerary bypassed Alnwick Castle, the inspiration for Hogwart’s in the Harry Potter books. The plan was to take a leisurely drive down the coast, stop for lunch somewhere beautiful and then visit Alnwick Castle before staying over in York for the night.
This seems like as good a time as any to mention that my husband loves Harry Potter. Now, before you decide for yourself if that is appropriate reading for a man of a certain age, I should also point out that he read several of them while deployed in Iraq. So yes, he’s still tough. And I suppose if there’s ever a place you could use a little light reading, Iraq would be right up there.
When Dave and I met, I had never read any of the Harry Potter books, obviously assuming they were for children. But because I knew how much he loved them, I started reading the first one a few months after we began dating and quickly blew through all of them, followed in short order by the movies. I get it, they’re pretty good. So part of the reason Dave was excited for this leg of the trip was to opportunity to see some of the sights from the books and movies.
Unfortunately, we got a later start than planned on our road trip thanks to a mechanical problem mid-flight on our way to Edinburgh that necessitated a return to the Amsterdam airport and a change of planes before continuing on to Scotland. We were supposed to land in Edinburgh at noon but instead finally arrived just after 3:00pm.
The good news? This time of year it’s daylight until nearly 10:00pm so we still had plenty of time to see the coast. It was a beautiful drive and we stopped for lunch by the sea in a town called Eyemouth. The bad news? Alnwick castle closed at 5 and we didn’t make it there until 6, so we had to settle for seeing the impressive castle from the outside.
That night we decided to stay at a B & B in a small village just north of York and it turned out to be one of the best decisions we made. The quaint village was straight out of English central casting, the kind of place that would make a great little break from the hustle and bustle of London life. Our B&B – called the Old Black Bull Inn – was directly over the town’s only pub. On a summer Saturday night, the pub was overflowing with locals when we arrived and we made lots of new friends over a few drinks before eventually heading upstairs to bed. It was a fun night and the perfect introduction to England.
An afternoon in London
The next morning we hit the road early to tackle the 4 hour drive to London before lunch. We wanted to have plenty of time to sightsee a bit in the city and meet Jill and her husband Tim for a drink later that afternoon. Because we had a car (despite Jill’s advice) we chose to stay outside the city center near Heathrow airport and take the Tube into London for the day.
We had originally hoped to get tickets for the Harry Potter studio tour while we were in the London area but when we checked for tickets a few weeks before arrival, to my husband’s dismay our date was totally sold out. So, we settled for starting our day in London at King’s Cross Station where they have the “Platform 9 3/4” photo opportunity (which, I had to admit, was cute…and free).
After that we wandered along the Thames and visited all the usual London sights – Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Tower Bridge and Buckingham Palace. Later, we meet up with Jill and Tim for drinks and then headed back to the hotel for dinner since we had an early morning planned for the following day.
The wonder of Stonehenge
The next morning we were on the road from London at 7:30am to visit one of the UK’s most extraordinary sights. Located in Wiltshire, England – about 90 minutes west of London – the prehistoric monument of Stonehenge is one of the most famous sites in the world. Tickets to the UNESCO World Heritage site are on a timed entry and have to be booked in advance and we’d booked the first time slot at 9:00am.
Archaeologists believe that the standing stones that form Stonehenge were constructed between 3000 BC and 2000 BC. Evidence of cremated remains discovered at the site date back as far as 3000 BC indicating that Stonehenge was likely a burial ground from its earliest beginnings. However, further excavation suggests that the area evolved in several construction phases over the next 1,500 years.
But because Stonehenge was the work of a culture that left no written records, many mysteries remain. The most significant of which is how on earth this ancient culture moved the enormously heavy stones such great distances and placed them without the benefit of modern engineering?
We were absolutely enthralled by the site as we slowly circled it. It was impossible to imagine how such a place could have been created at that time. It reminded me a lot of the mystery of the moai on Easter Island. How did they get there? And why? We continued to ponder those questions as we walked back to the car. With our first mission accomplished for the day, it was time to continue our drive.
Who’s in Wales?
Our original plan for Wales was more of the drive-thru variety. It was on the way to our next stop for the night in Liverpool and I wanted to at least be able to say I’d seen a bit of it. And Dave’s heritage is part Welsh so was keen to at least make it a lunch stop if we didn’t have time for more.
Based on the map, the seaside town of Cardiff looked like our best option for a lunch stop so after wrapping up at Stonehenge I plugged it into the GPS. As we approached Cardiff, I began researching where to go for a scenic lunch spot and we settled on the harbor front area of Mermaid Quay, which was full of shops and restaurants and sounded like the perfect place to stop for a break.
Then, while searching for restaurants in the area on Google maps, I made an accidental discovery that would alter the course of our entire day – a point on the map near the harbor called, the “Dr. Who Experience.” My new husband happens to be a huge Dr. Who fan and when I said, “Hey, there’s something on the map called the Dr. Who Experience” the awestruck expression on his face told me I’d just sealed my fate for the afternoon.
Excitedly, Dave realized that he did know Dr. Who was filmed in Cardiff, Wales but hadn’t made the connection until I mentioned it. So, when we arrived in Cardiff, lunch was quickly downgraded on the priority list and we went straight to the Dr. Who Experience hoping we’d be able to get last minute tickets. Luckily (I suppose), we were able to get tickets for the tour scheduled for an hour after we arrived and spent the time in between “enjoying” the memorabilia museum (also known as not having lunch).
The “Experience” part was very Universal-studios-esque and Dave loved every minute of it. And I love him, so I played along and I admit it was fun watching him get so excited about it, especially since he’d been denied most of the UK’s Harry Potter experience.
The Fab Four of Liverpool
Thanks to our extended stay in Wales, we didn’t roll into Liverpool until dinnertime and were welcomed with relentless rain. We knew our time in the city would be short and the weather wasn’t exactly conducive to heading out on foot but we wanted to see at least a few Beatles sights before heading to the hotel.
A quick internet search revealed the song-inspiring locations of Strawberry Field and Penny Lane so we stopped at each for photo ops before heading downtown to the Aloft Liverpool Hotel for the night. The hotel is located in a beautifully restored historic Liverpool building and it was absolutely gorgeous. The Beatles museum was long closed by then and none of the tours ran that late so we settled for a late dinner at the hotel and hoped the weather would be better for some quick sightseeing in the morning.
Luckily, the sun came out for a bit the following morning allowing us to take a walk to some of the nearby Beatles sights like the Hard Day’s Night Hotel and the Cavan Club (where the Beatles first got their start). It was actually a lovely city and I wish we’d had time to see more of it but our priority for the day was getting to back to Scotland to see some of Edinburgh so, alas, it was time to hit the road again.
Ending in Edinburgh
The drive from Liverpool was only about 3 hours but since we got a late start we didn’t arrive in Edinburgh until after lunch. I’d splurged with my Starwood points for a room at the luxe Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa Edinburgh and it was totally worth it – our room had a spectacular view of Edinburgh Castle! It was also helpful that we were right in the heart of the city and an easy walk from everything we wanted to see.
We had hoped to visit Edinburgh Castle but figured it would likely take up most of the afternoon so instead we opted for our own walking tour of the city. We began in the pub-lined Grassmarket neighborhood and ended with a stroll down the Royal Mile before settling in at a pub for a beer.
It was a terrific afternoon and the perfect way to wrap up our whirlwind road trip through the UK. But, of course, we barely had time to scratch the surface in the UK so further exploration (and a more extended stay) is definitely in order sometime soon.
But for now, it’s a 6am flight to Paris in the morning and an overnight flight to India to continue our honeymoon journey around the world!