Tips for driving from Belfast to London (UK) with kids
August 5, 2020 9:24 AM   Subscribe

We have to drive from Belfast to London (taking the ferry to Stranraer, I think, unless you can think of a better way to go!) at the end of August/early September. We have young children who are hardly ever in cars (and will struggle with the long distances) and so will need to stop once, or probably twice, overnight. Ideas? General tips for car travel with kids?

Looking for ideas of where we could stop that might be scenic but not too far from the route to London (like the Lake District, perhaps?) and also places that might interest children along the way. We can take it slowly and spend a day and night somewhere, for example; we have time. We will probably be staying in AirBnBs unless someone has a better suggestion!

Any specific ideas (towns, villages, sights along the way) or tips from those who have done a trip like this before are very welcome! Only one of us drives, so we will have to break it up, and we will also have to eat along the way. Social distancing obviously applies, as well as COVID-19 travel regulations I may not be thinking of (reason we are not taking ferry from Dublin.)

And as a bonus, any long car trip suggestions with kids are also very welcome.

posted by caoimhe to Travel & Transportation around Belfast, Northern Ireland (13 answers total)
Does the overnight ferry to Liverpool have any appeal? Liverpool to London is well under 5 hours as of now. Stratford-upon-Avon for a halfway stop would add less than an hour (but I haven't been there for 25 years)
posted by StephenB at 10:21 AM on August 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

How old are your kids? One thing that has helped with my kids (now 7 and 8) is packing a small bag of little things to hand out periodically - magazines with lots of pictures, small toys they'd forgotten about, a doodle pad with a few colored pencils, new sunglasses, flashcards. I put all of the stuff in one of those string-close backpacks and keep it in the front with me and hand stuff back every 90 minutes or so, whenever they start to teeter on the edge of losing it.
posted by SeedStitch at 10:59 AM on August 5, 2020

Can't speak for the Belfast - Cumbria leg of the journey, but the long drive from London to the Lake District (and back home again a week later) was an annual feature of my childhood.

It's definitely worth breaking the journey in the Lake District. I don't know how open things like the heritage railways (large and small) , adventure playgrounds or paddle steamers will be, but I have a lot of fond childhood memories of the shores of Windermere and Coniston, the sculpture trails in Grizedale Forest, the sand dunes of Sandscale Haws and so on - there's plenty to enjoy without needing to worry too much about social distancing.

Um... Less fond childhood memories of the car journeys themselves compel me to suggest travel sickness tablets for the kids, if they can take them. If they can't, and to be on the safe side anyway, two-litre or bigger plastic tubs (with tight-fitting lids!) are a less awful thing to be sick into than a bag or, well, the car. This might also be relevant for the ferry.

Aside from the travel sickness, which unfortunately ruled out passing the time by reading or focusing on anything inside the car, mostly I just remember the journeys being very long - in particular, Yorkshire seemed to go on forever. We listened to books on tape, we played games (spotting pub signs, making words from the letters on car numberplates), we ate travel sweets, we looked avidly for road signs telling us the distance to "The North" on the way up, "The South" on the way back.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 11:23 AM on August 5, 2020

I'd agree that the Liverpool ferry might be a better option, but if you do choose Stranraer, Tebay on the M6 is an iconically lovely leg-stretching stop.

I wouldn't plan to spend an extended amount of time in Cumbria around the late August bank holiday. At the best of times, it's a soul-sucking crush of people in places near the M6 -- Carlisle, Kendal, Penrith, especially the A591 to Windermere -- and it's no fun being stuck in that kind of traffic with little ones. This year locals are obviously even less enthusiastic about the prospect.
posted by holgate at 11:40 AM on August 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

Driving long distances at night is still a thing for many families with younger children. The kids sleep a good chunk of the way. And the chances of being stuck in a traffic jam are greatly reduced because there are a lot less people on the road. This kind of requires your family to be able to get out of the door easily, even at 3am or else be happy to arrive somewhere in the middle of the night. My parents weren’t good at that. But when the neighbours invited me to join them on vacation (so I could entertain their daughter of a similar age) we absolutely left in the middle of the night and went straight back to sleep in the car.

2nding motion sickness. There are drugs for that but you need to take them well before you feel unwell. I have not very fond memories of long car journeys as a young child because I suffer from motion sickness and wasn’t medicated for it. Now I travel nowhere without my motion sickness tablets because I suffer on all modes of transport unless I am the driver. A lot of them make you drowsy which I consider to be a plus, best way to travel as passenger.

Finally, car tablet holders/mounts are inexpensive and every little helps.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:52 AM on August 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Ah so useful already. Hadn't even occurred to me to take the overnight ferry to Liverpool -- my kids actually might like that! Is that hard for social distancing though? Even if we do taht, ManyLeggedCreature's memories of the Lake District sound idyllic ...

And thanks for the car tips -- gotta get the motion sickness tablets.
posted by caoimhe at 12:28 PM on August 5, 2020

as well as COVID-19 travel regulations I may not be thinking of (reason we are not taking ferry from Dublin.

I’m just double checking because the whole quarantine regs are a bit mad: you mention driving from Belfast to London, but didn’t mention a return? Ireland allows people in from Northern Ireland without quarantine, and Wales and England also allow people in from Ireland without quarantine - so you could travel via Dublin, if that’s easier.

(Even if you do need to come back, I think you’d still be okay - provided that you planned to go straight back to Belfast after arriving in Dublin.)
posted by scorbet at 12:39 PM on August 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Excellent question scorbert -- but this is just one-way (for the time being!)
posted by caoimhe at 2:43 PM on August 5, 2020

I had a look for the official advice to back up what I was saying. Unfortunately, the Irish government’s policy on Northern Ireland doesn’t seem to be easily findable in the current documents (the only clear statement I can find is that it hasn’t changed) - but the UK government has this regarding travel to Ireland, which states that you don’t need to self-isolate if coming from NI. Similarly, the UK also says that you don’t need to self-isolate if coming from the Republic of Ireland.

So unless something happens to change that in the next few weeks, Dublin would be an option. I would definitely recommend it over Stranraer, but Belfast-Liverpool may still be a better option, depending on your preferences.

(Even if you were going back, you are allowed to transit Ireland to Northern Ireland without being obliged to self-isolate, even if coming from GB which is not on the Irish Green List. The linked Passenger Locator Form even has a box to tick for people going to NI. The form also says that you don’t need to fill it out if coming from NI, backing up the UK advice above.)

If you do go Dublin-Holyhead, there are some beaches along the North Welsh coast that it might be nice to visit. Stratford and the Warwick/Leamington area are worth a visit too, but I don’t know how interesting they would be for kids.
posted by scorbet at 3:38 PM on August 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

the lake district is beatrix potter land
posted by brujita at 9:08 PM on August 5, 2020

Be aware than anywhere remotely popular on your journey is going to be potentially booked up, or have jacked prices up, due to 'staycations' here. I would strongly suggest the already mentioned ferry to Liverpool then straight through drive to London.
posted by Megami at 12:06 AM on August 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Ah. My memories of the Lake District are indeed idyllic, but I hadn't paid quite enough attention to the timing of your trip, sorry. I concur with everyone else - August bank holiday week in the Year of the Staycation is not going to be a good time to visit. Take the overnight ferry to Liverpool, and save exploring the Lake District for another time.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 11:26 AM on August 6, 2020

Nth-ing the Liverpool/Birkenhead ferry. Going south, the M6 renovation shouldn't be in your way, but going round Manchester and across Snake Pass to the M1 at Sheffield will be beautiful and full of slow sunny drivers. I say the M1 because it takes you past Leicester (if re-opened) for the National Space Centre, a decent half-day's exhibits about British spacefaring. Also on the way down would be Milton Keynes and the Bletchley Park Museum of the UK's wartime code-breakers.
posted by k3ninho at 3:57 AM on August 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

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