UK holiday, lots of driving, January - your guidance requested
December 5, 2017 1:48 PM   Subscribe

My late mother was a Londoner, as was her mother. Granddad was Glaswegian. My ex was a Dorset lad. My travel experience in the UK outside of those areas is somewhat limited. I'm taking my lovely husband to the UK (flying in and out of London from the States) for 10 days next month, and I want it to be a wonderful experience for him. Important facts: 1) he's never been to Europe, 2) he loves driving, 3) he loves national parks. My current plan below...

We have a friend in London with whom we'll be staying. I am confident that I can pleasantly occupy our 5 nights there, with a mix of city sightseeing, pub lounging, and a visit to at least one (if not two or three) Royal Parks - thinking of Richmond Park.

My plan outside of London is as follows (keeping in mind that 4 to 8 hours of driving a day will not be an issue):
Drive from London to Liverpool via Manchester (we both love music, he has expressed interest in both cities, and I've spent time in both), overnight Liverpool.
Drive from Liverpool to Edinburgh via Newcastle and York, overnight Edinburgh.
Drive from Edinburgh to Glasgow (these city-stays I'm also confident in, I have been before), overnight Glasgow.
Drive from Glasgow to Snowdonia National Park via Lake District National Park, overnight in Snowdonia area.
Drive from Snowdonia back to London via Stonehenge (potential to extend stay by one night in Wales so we can spend decent time in Brecon Beacons).

Keeping in mind that we're content to do quickie look-sees on this trip with a view to returning again to spend more in-depth time in the regions we enjoy the most, what are your thoughts? Is this too much, even for a couple who did a one-day round-trip visit to Yosemite last summer from north of Sacramento (about 4 hours each way, plus 3 hours in the park) and consider it a pleasant experience (we'll go again, but with only one day to spare, we made it happen)?
posted by pammeke to Travel & Transportation around Manchester, England (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, and a note: husband has expressed a wish to visit Loch Ness, and I have talked him out of this for now. It's 4 hours each way from the region we're planning to be in, and as much as I would dearly love to share the Highlands with him, I think on top of traveling almost the entire length of England (twice) in 5 days it would be too much. Please do let me know if I'm being a terrible spoilsport and should reconsider.
posted by pammeke at 1:55 PM on December 5, 2017

I would say that is way way too much, but then again we have opposite travel styles so take it with a grain of salt. If you prefer ‘driving through’ to ‘being in’ then it sounds like it might be right for you.

But since your husband likes being outside, I would skip Stonehenge (which is disappointingly low on ambience) in favour of the Brecon Beacons which is beautiful.

However! You may also wish to consider just popping right up to Scotland after London and doing Edinburgh and Glasgow without the other stops. Climb Arthur’s Seat. Go to the Scotia Bar and drink single malt whisky. That’s still plenty of driving. And you’ll know if you like Scotland enough for another trip.

Not that the rest of England isn’t wonderful! I just think you might enjoy Scotland more from your description of what you want. And you’ll still see it from your car, which sounds like it might be an acceptable alternative?
posted by Concordia at 2:31 PM on December 5, 2017

"Liverpool to Edinburgh via Newcastle and York" involves some real tedious bits of motorway, I mean you could save your energy and drive around some highway in the US.

What about if you did London - Liverpool - Manchester and then Manchester - York - Whitby - (Newcastle out of the window on the way past) - Edinburgh but get yourselves to York via the Snake Pass (which is out of your way but hey you like driving). That's still an insane amount of driving time by my standards but it takes you through the Peaks and the North York Moors and up some lovely coastline to make up for the boring bits of A1 involved.
posted by quacks like a duck at 2:34 PM on December 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sounds extremely ambitious to me. Please bear in mind the following:

The UK is densely populated and congested in terms of traffic. The major motorways all get very clogged up always and then there are roadworks and accidents.

The UK road system is not equipped to deal with snow in any meaningful way yet snow in January is entirely possible. But even half an inch will cause mayhem. If there is even a slight dusting of snow everything grinds to a hold. And efforts to get things moving again will be focused on major arteries.

The centres of the cities you mention will be even more congested than the motorways that lead to them. There will be one way systems and limited parking.

Everything will take a lot longer than you imagine. And daylight is in really short supply in the UK at that time of year.

You’ll also be driving in a right hand steered car on roads with unfamiliar to you road layout and signage and it will be a lot more tiring.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good road trip but I used to live in the UK, in a well connected area that relied on road traffic, I used to drive about 30k miles/yr, and I’d cut this down by at least 50%.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:35 PM on December 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

I missed where it said JANUARY. You know how much daylight we get in January right? And what the weather will be like?
Your itinerary would be nice in June or July as a long drive.
In January as koahiatamadl says you need to halve it at least, unless you really enjoy driving around foreign countries with foreign signs on the wrong side of the road in the dark and the rain looking for a hotel.
posted by quacks like a duck at 2:47 PM on December 5, 2017

Best answer: There are no days in any year where Liverpool to Edinburgh via York and Newcastle is a one-day event if you plan to actually leave the car. Additionally the A1 (there's no M1 up there) from Newcastle to Edinburgh is a complete nightmare involving over 50 miles of single carriageway and hundreds of slow-moving trucks. Stay on the west coast and go up to Glasgow first: there's a motorway.

If you're doing all this breakneck stuff and you've just been to Liverpool and spent four hours in traffic jams in the ugliest parts of Manchester, I cannot imagine what Newcastle has to show you that you'd not already seen yesterday. Plenty other towns have a big church and old buildings in the middle of them, so no real need to pick York specifically either. I've spent exactly as long in York as you're planning to. It looked a lot like Leamington Spa and Ely and Oxford and Bath and Carlisle. I'm probably wrong about that and it's unique if you take the time to look but... well, you see my point.

If it starts snowing, three of your five ideas are just outside the realm of possibility, full stop. Attempt ye not to cross the Pennines or Shap, or go anywhere in rural Wales if it starts getting cold and sleety.

If it's just stopped being snowy, half of southern Cumbria will be underwater and you may end up spending a lot longer in Seathwaite than you thought.

Finally let me Nth the reminder about daylight hours. But to give a concrete example: in central Scotland in January, if there's any cloud at all, it'll be dark from 3pm until after 7.30am the following morning.
posted by genghis at 2:52 PM on December 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

Yeah, this does sound a lot like you're going to be sitting in a car non-stop for five days and not actually spending any time anywhere. YMMV, but I think if you want your husband to actually experience the country, you'd need to step out of the car rather than just look at it through the windscreen, and this itinerary definitely doesn't allow for that at all. The idea of trying to drive from one city to another via two others in one day just... no. (Unless for some reason he's really interested in staring at the industrial estates of the intermediate cities from their respective ring roads before slingshotting onto the next).

Especially, as noted above, it'll be dark in the north around 3.30pm/4pm, so you won't even get nice views from your drive from that point onwards. You mention allowing 8 hours of driving, but there were only 7h15mins of daylight in Glasgow today, will be similar by January.

See fewer places and you will, ironically, see more of the country by actually having time to see it.
posted by penguin pie at 2:57 PM on December 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think your last two days would be about 6.5 hours each in the middle of the night with no traffic and no stopping. But they both involve roads that are notorious for traffic.

I'm sure you get equal problems in the US but I used to drive regularly from just north of London to West of Birmingham. On a Sunday night it took me 2 hours 45. On a Friday late afternoon the quickest I ever did it was 3.5 and the longest was 7 hours. I averaged 4.5.
posted by kadia_a at 2:58 PM on December 5, 2017

Response by poster: Thank you all for your thoughts so far - very helpful (I had forgotten that England in the snow is like the southeastern US in the snow).

One thought: what about flying London-Glasgow one way (north), then renting a car one-way back, to take us south (bypassing Wales if the weather is snowy/wet)?
posted by pammeke at 3:04 PM on December 5, 2017

Response by poster: ...and perhaps even purchasing a return flight or train if the weather looks nasty for the drive back south, and extending our stay in Edinburgh & Glasgow by a bit...
posted by pammeke at 3:10 PM on December 5, 2017

I don't think that even people who LOVE driving would think that getting from Glasgow back to London in January would be a worthwhile recreational activity. The M6 south plus circumnavigating Birmingham is to be avoided at any time of year.

Definitely recommend looking into flying both ways. But double check the timings, you might be surprised how long it will take to get to the airport.
posted by quacks like a duck at 3:18 PM on December 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Sorry, not to threadsit, but - my meaning is that if it’s safe to drive back to London via the national parks (Lake District, Snowdonia, Brecon Beacons), then we would, but if not, then we would fly. I agree that driving straight north or south between Glasgow/London sounds miserable.
posted by pammeke at 3:22 PM on December 5, 2017

Safe but it will take a while. Have you considered taking the train? Great views, more relaxing and arrives in the city centres. You could go up to Edinburgh with a stop or two on the way then back down via a couple of other stops.
posted by KateViolet at 3:39 PM on December 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

Just to add- I know you said you like driving. But the worst bit about U.K. Cities is getting into them and parking. The train would bypass all of that.
posted by KateViolet at 3:41 PM on December 5, 2017

Best answer: If flying, go to Edinburgh first and then head south after Glasgow. No need to actually acquire a car until you're about to leave Glasgow either (Edinburgh Airport to town has a tram; Glasgow's about 1h away from Edinburgh Waverley by train).

Even though I'm possibly overdoing it (barely) in previous answer, providing it's not going to be snowy the M74/M6 isn't outwith the norm for a US driving trip. I'm just really warning you off the idea of spending a lot of time on roads that aren't motorways, and along with most of the other replies here, fucksake don't start making multiple stops in major towns or large cities en route because it'll take between 1.5 and 4 hours to get in and out again from each.

They're not wrong about the M6 through Birmingham but there's an alternative partially-tolled route ("M6 toll" then M42) that skips round the awful bit and you'll be OK with toll roads anyway. That ties nicely to the motorway back to London via Oxford. Or just sit out the M6 elevated section for an hour of crawling in order to get to the M5, which you'll need if you're heading to Stonehenge. Don't go to Stonehenge though -- it's like Mt Rushmore but even more so (the postcard has already shown you a view of it better than you'll ever get yourself).

Have a look round Bath instead.

You can drive down through the Lake District from the M6 to Ulverston and then back to the M6 if the weather's not frozen (but beware: the roads are often not 2 cars wide). Snowdonia by contrast is a dead end and a 4h detour, and I've seen zero-visibility weather and 35F temps on the southern edge of the Brecon park in July when it's 70F a couple miles away. And Brecon's not on the way to anything else you want to see either. Not sure you're thinking quite hard enough about how much of this spectacular scenery you'd actually be able to see if it's pissing down or misty (A: none).
posted by genghis at 4:13 PM on December 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

There are some fairly pretty ways to drive on nice roads through the UK, and I'd say that driving down the A702 Biggar Road from Edinburgh towards Carlisle will be pleasant, and you can stop for lunch at Tebay services, which is pleasant. And then it's a few more hours down to the M56, which will take you west to Snowdonia (after it turns into the A55). And if you drive up to the Pyg track, it's only a few hour's walk up to the summit of Snowdon, past some lovely lakes. I do like the drive down the A470 from Snowdonia to the Brecon Beacons, if that's something you want to see.

But overall, I'd say that it's best to make use of daylight by not travelling in it if it's January. And the trains are much faster city to city. I'd look into getting a Britrail pass before you leave (it can't be bought in the UK), and then you should be able to make the most of any travel you do. The views from the train travelling between Scotland and England are spectacular on both east and west coasts (make sure you're on the east side of the train if you're going down the east coast). If you get the pass, you'd be quite a lot more likely to fit in e.g. both Manchester and Liverpool in the same day. Don't attempt to get the train through Wales though. It's pretty, but extremely slow.
posted by ambrosen at 4:38 PM on December 5, 2017

Wow, such a fun trip! I beg you to take the train, even if your partner loves driving, and maybe rent a car one day or something to see the countryside where the driving would be fun and more relaxing. The trains in England, despite lots of grumbling about them, really are great. They are comfortable, scenic, fast, and you get right to the center of the city. You can even take an amazing overnight train to Edinburgh. I really, really would not do any city to city driving if I could help it. Motorways are crowded and very ugly and parking is terrible and expensive.

For a jet-lagged American driving on the other side, dealing with different signs and all those confusing roundabouts -- it could be really awful.
posted by caoimhe at 3:41 AM on December 6, 2017

Best answer: You holiday like me! Hurrah for fitting all the things in!

However, I second everyone saying to skip the motorway driving. I'd fly to Edinburgh and then rent your car to explore Scotland for a bit. Then maybe get the train down, stopping along the way. Good thing about the train is you can book last minute to suit your plans so if the weather is looking terrible you can alter the route to go somewhere new. If you do decide to get the train and you are hopping on and off a fair bit - consider a railcard, it might save you a fair bit and they are usually about £25 and also get you discounts on a lot of tourist places. I know the Network Rail one gives buy one get one free on a ton of London attractions - but the railcards are sometimes only for certain regions so do your homework before you go ahead.

If you do decide to drive - please bear in mind many car hire places will have a surcharge for not returning the vehicle to where you picked it up - so be sure to find out if there is one and how much before you book because it is never on the page where they quote you the daily amount and they usually only say what it is when you are returning the vehicle!

The UK is stunning; Scotland is where I would spend most of my time for powerful scenery and then rely on England for the the cities (London, Bath, Brighton, Cambridge, Oxford, etc).

Have fun. It sounds epic!
posted by TheGarden at 6:10 AM on December 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Why drive to Snowdonia from Glasgow when there are so many gorgeous parks you can visit in Scotland?
posted by nonmerci at 2:07 PM on December 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

To add to this: if you're here in January with only 10 days, including jet lag etc., I would pick three big cities max, or two cities and a couple parks. As others have said, you'll just be driving non-stop in the dark otherwise, and that's both not fun and also kinda dangerous.

If I were you, I'd fly into London, take the train to the Lake District, rent a car and drive around it and see some stuff. Then take the train to Manchester, stay there for a day or so, see some city sights. Train from Manchester to Edinburgh, Edinburgh to Glasgow if you'd like, and rent a car in Scotland so you can explore. Loch Lomond is easy to see but if you want to really be blown away, go to Glencoe.
posted by nonmerci at 2:14 PM on December 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Your most convenient option for hillwalking in Scotland is to go from Glasgow to Rowardennan and walk up Ben Lomond. If it's a clear day, then you'll get an amazing view from the summit. (Taken 14th January, apparently). It's tame (obviously still dangerous if there's snow), but still high enough to really feel the spectacular views.

If you do (sensibly) take the train, it's worth comparing getting a BritRail pass, which will be $244 each in January (unlimited travel on 3 days out of 8) with buying your train tickets ahead of time, with buying them at the time. If you do decide against BritRail, then you're almost certainly going to want to get a Two Together railcard, which costs you £30 upfront (you can buy online and have it delivered to your phones), and gets you ⅓ off the price of 2 fares when you travel together (after 9:30 am). If you want to travel with plenty of space, your best bet is definitely a first class BritRail pass, which is around 33% more than a standard class one.

Daily car hire can be quite cheap - around £20 if you get a manual, and £60+ for an automatic, so that's still a sensible option for an odd day out to somewhere, e.g. the Lake District from Manchester.
posted by ambrosen at 4:24 PM on December 7, 2017

Response by poster: I just realized that folks might appreciate an update on this.

This is what we did:

Monday-Tuesday: Arrive London by plane in the morning, stay in London 2 nights (could have happily done 3)
Wednesday: Depart London by train in the evening, overnight sleeping on train (LOVED this - a huge hit with hubby, will incorporate more rail travel next time)
Thursday: Arrive Edinburgh by train in the morning, stay in Edinburgh 1 night (could have happily done 2)
Friday: Drive to Glasgow via Stirling Castle in a snow storm (this was unwise), stay in Glasgow 1 night (I wish I'd splashed out on a more expensive place, I compromised on location and wish I hadn't)
Saturday: Depart Glasgow by car in the morning, drive to Liverpool (via the Lake District), stay in Liverpool 1 night (Liverpool was a bit of a bust as we had so little daylight time there - I wish we'd stayed a night in the Lake District and made Liverpool a daytime destination)
Sunday: Depart Liverpool by car, drive through Snowdonia, stay in Hay-on-Wye 1 night (the weather was intermittently wretched as evening fell, making the driving treacherous - zero visibility in the dark driving through puddles deep enough to wipe out our windscreen as we tried to navigate very narrow and hilly country paths with cars coming toward us - I wish we'd stayed 1 night closer to Snowdonia and taken our time getting to Hay-on-Wye, which was definitely worth the trip)
Monday-Wednesday: Beautiful morning, gorgeous drive into Brecon Beacons, weather cooperated with us. Drive back to London via Ross-on-Wye (delightful), stay in London for 2 nights, depart London by plane the afternoon of Wednesday (2 nights London reprise worked well, as we'd had time to make a list of all we didn't want to miss out on once we got back and were able to fit it in)

We fit a LOT into a 10-day holiday (the max my American hubby was willing to take), and could have happily made it a full fortnight and felt happy about the trip. As it was, we saw most of the places he wanted to see on his first trip, and my race-through-an-itinerary-to-see-all-the-things lovely husband ended up turning to me in Hay-on-Wye and saying, "You know, for our next trip I'd be very happy staying for a week in a place like this (bed & breakfast in a pub) and making day trips from there." As a friend said to me upon our return home, "You broke him!"

He also said, of his first trip outside North America: "I only want to travel in Europe now." Counting this one as a qualified win. Thank you all for your advice!
posted by pammeke at 12:06 PM on April 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

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