Magnificent road trips in the UK

Lorna Cowan / 30 May 2018

Enjoy being behind the wheel? Lorna Cowan chooses the most beautiful routes in Britain, from rolling countryside to craggy mountains and coastal vistas.



A Jurassic jaunt

West Bay to Studland, 66 miles

Doubling up as ITV’s Broadchurch, West Bay harbour is the starting point of this Dorset adventure along the Jurassic coast. After admiring views of the 18-mile shingle Chesil Beach from the high coastal road, you arrive in Abbotsbury, a village awash with thatched cottages, a chapel believed to help women find husbands, and the world’s only managed colony of mute swans. Further on, near Weymouth, the Isle of Portland is famous for its stone and a lighthouse at Portland Bill.

Retrace your tracks back to the mainland and drive to Osmington — a white horse can be seen on the chalk hillside — then continue to picturesque Lulworth Cove, and perhaps walk 30 minutes along the South West Coast Path to the limestone arch of Durdle Door, jutting out of the sea. Back at the wheel, the eerie village of Tyneham is worth a visit. It was evacuated during World War II and has been deserted ever since. Tales of treachery and treason await at Corfe Castle, built by William the Conqueror, before you reach your final destination, Studland, home to a wildlife-rich nature reserve.

The drive: Leave West Bay and join the B3157 until you see the B3156 on the outskirts of Weymouth. Follow signs to Portland — the A354 goes to Portland Bill — then return to the seafront and take the B3155 until you reach the A353. Head east and shortly after Poxwell, continue east along the A352 Wareham Road. At the Red Lion pub, turn right towards Winfrith Newburgh and on to West Lulworth. Back on the B3070, look out for the right turn-off to Tyneham, before heading on to Corfe. You’ll then join the B3351 to Studland.

Follow the route on Google Maps.

Guildford to Dorking, 34 miles

The Surrey Hills

Guildford to Dorking, 34 miles

You may not notch up the miles on this journey within the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, but it’ll be a delightful leisurely drive through quintessential English villages. First up is Albury, near the Silent Pool, a beautiful, mystical, spring-fed lake — with a gin distillery next door. Then it’s on to charming Shere, home to timber-framed houses, a working forge and a church with a broach spire. Continue to Abinger Hammer and look out for its impressive clock, which overhangs the main road. ‘Jack the blacksmith’ strikes the bell on the hour.

Passing through Holmbury St Mary, Leith Hill Tower is next on your itinerary. Visitors who climb all 78 steps to the top can claim they’ve reached the highest point in the South East. They’ll also see Wembley Stadium! Nearby Abinger Common is reputed to be England’s oldest village, with dwellings dating back more than 7,000 years. And the quirkily named Friday Street was the backdrop of the BBC’s futuristic series The Tripods in 1984. Your route then takes you around Abinger Roughs, hidden woods with ancient trees once explored by Charles Darwin. Take in Ranmore Common and possibly Polesdon Lacey, an Edwardian country retreat, before your last pit stop, Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking. Cheers!

The drive: Leave Guildford on the A246, follow signs to Albury, then the A25 to the Silent Pool. From there, drive south turning off for Shere, then return to the A25 for Abinger Hammer. The B2126 takes you to Holmbury St Mary and on to Leith Hill. Follow narrow country lanes to Abinger Common and over to Friday Street, then at Wotton turn left and join the A25 again. White Down Lane on your right takes you to Ranmore Common, with the A246, then the Dorking Road at Great Bookham, taking you on a detour to Polesden Lacey. Follow Chapel Lane until you reach the A24 — the slip road takes you north, so at the first roundabout change direction south to Denbies.

Follow the route on Google maps.

Glasgow to Glencoe, 115 miles

Traverse the Trossachs

Glasgow to Glencoe, 115 miles

It’s only 30 miles from Glasgow’s hectic city centre to the Trossachs National Park, but it feels like another world. Tranquil and idyllic, and beside the bonny banks of Loch Lomond, the drive along Duke’s Pass towards Loch Katrine is a delight, as is the pretty town of Callander on its border. You then enter Rob Roy country — the Scottish folk hero is buried at Balquhidder Church cemetery. As you continue north, the sheer scale and grandeur of the mountains can’t fail to impress. Buachaille Etive Mor rises high above Rannoch Moor, and there’s a convenient layby from which to admire the Three Sisters mountain range. If you fancy a hike, the Devil’s Staircase is part of the West Highland Way. Back in the car, drive on to the village of Glencoe, the site of the infamous Massacre back in 1692. If you’re a MacDonald, beware!

The drive: From Glasgow’s Charing Cross, take the A82 along Great Western Road to the A739, then join the A809, which takes you to Finnich Glen. Turn right onto the B834 before joining the A81. When the road splits, take the A821 along the Duke’s Pass until you meet the A84. Either turn right to Callender or continue left until Lochearnhead and the A85. At Crianlarich, the road becomes the A82 and takes you all the way to Glencoe.

Follow the route on Google maps.

Berwick-upon-Tweed to Alnwick, 56 miles

Northumbrian castles

Berwick-upon-Tweed to Alnwick, 56 miles

Northumberland boasts more castles and historic sites than any other county in England and this self-drive trip visits a fabulous four. The first castle on the itinerary is at Lindisfarne on Holy Island. Built in the 16th century, much of the stone used came from the nearby Priory. At low tide, it’s easy to drive across the causeway, just don’t get stranded there.

Next up is the imposing Bamburgh Castle, perched on craggy rocks above the beach, then it’s on to the fishing village of Craster — kippers are a local delicacy — where you can walk along a coastal path to Dunstanburgh Castle. For a brief interlude, but an equally awe-inspiring sight, Howick Hall Gardens and Arboretum is only 3 miles further along the coast. Head inland afterwards to Alnwick, the home of yet another captivating castle dating back to the Norman period. You may recognise Alnwick Castle from Downton Abbey and as Hogwarts in two Harry Potter films. Amusingly, a spellbinding Poison Garden is nearby, full of intoxicating and poisonous plants. A sign on ornate black gates warns visitors, these plants can kill!

The drive: Leaving Berwick-upon-Tweed on the A1167, head south to the A1 junction and drive towards Alnwick, turning left when you see Lindisfarne signs. Cross the causeway, then retrace your route back to the A1 and continue south until you see the left-hand turn to Waren Mill and Bamburgh. The B1342 becomes the B1340 Links Road, then at Embleton follow Sunny Brae to Craster. Next, take Windyside Hill to the B1339. Stop off at Howick Hall or continue through Longhoughton, crossing the A1 and on to the B6341 to Alnwick.

Follow the route on Google maps.

Ambleside to Wastwater, 24 miles

Uphill in the Lakes

Ambleside to Wastwater, 24 miles

This self-drive adventure, perfect for confident drivers with a head for heights, doesn’t take you far, but you do travel high over the stunning Lake District National Park. Hairpin bends and challenging gradients will test your skills — and the nerves of whoever is in the passenger’s seat — but it can be great fun. Setting off from the popular town of Ambleside, the first uphill climb is on the single-track road at Wrynose Pass. At the top is the Three Shire Stone, marking the meeting point of three historical counties — Cumberland, Lancashire and Westmorland.

Next is the even steeper Hardknott Pass, a snake-like road not for the fainthearted. However, after negotiating the twists and turns, and numerous cyclists, you’ll come to a Roman fort sharing the same name. Continue then to Wasdale Valley and Wastwater, England’s deepest lake lying at the foot of England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike. It’s a peaceful spot to unwind.

The drive: Take the A593 out of Ambleside towards Clappersgate and after approximately 4 miles leave the main road and turn right, following the Side Gates Road to Little Langdale. Carefully drive up Wrynose Pass then Hardknott Pass, before reaching Eskdale Green and Santon Bridge. Turn right at the Old Post Office campsite and follow signs to Wasdale and Wastwater.

Follow the route on Google maps.

Llanberis to Llanberis, 65 miles

A trip round Snowdon

Llanberis to Llanberis, 65 miles

This circular trip starts and finishes in Llanberis, in Snowdonia National Park. Heading east first, the boulder-strewn Llanberis Pass runs for 5 miles through rugged mountain ranges to Pen-y-Pass, and then on to Capel Curig, a hiking hotspot. From here, pass the cascading Swallow Falls until you reach Betws-y-Coed, home of the Conwy Valley Railway Museum.

Next up is the slate-mining village of Blaenau Ffestiniog, then Portmeirion, created by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis and familiar to fans of the cult 1960s’ TV series The Prisoner — visit early or late in the day to witness the unique Italian-styled architecture at its fantastical best. Stop too, at Tremadog, the birthplace of Lawrence of Arabia. With its well-appointed buildings and street design, it’s a fine example of town planning. Then it’s back into the mountains to Rhyd Ddu, a much-favoured starting point for a climb up Snowdon. There is an easier way, though, to get to the summit of the 1,085-metre high mountain, said to be the final resting place of a giant killed by King Arthur — just jump on the train back in Llanberis.

The drive: Leave Llanberis on the A4086, until you meet the A5 at Capel Curig. Turn right and continue to Betws-y-Coed, then take the A470 to Blaenau Ffestiniog, where you turn on to the A496 until the A487 at Maentwrog. This road takes you to Tremadog (turn off at Minffordd for Portmeirion), where you turn right on to the A498. When you reach Beddgelert, take the A4085 to Waunfawr, where there’s a right-hand road that brings you back to the A4086 and Llanberis.

Follow the route on Google maps.

Inverness to Portree, 120 miles

Over the sea to Skye

Inverness to Portree, 120 miles

You’ll want to be in fine voice and know all the words to the Skye Boat Song on this Highland drive that includes a short ferry trip across the Kylerhea straits. From Inverness, the route travels along the less touristy but more scenic south side of Loch Ness to the historic hamlet of Fort Augustus, with its dramatic series of locks. Then it’s on to Shiel Bridge and up the magical Ratagan Pass. It’s a steep climb through woodland, but you’re rewarded with spectacular views of Loch Duich and beyond. Drop back down into Glenelg to board the MV Glenachulish – the last manually operated turntable ferry in Scotland – for a 600-metre sail over the sea to Skye — cue the song!

The remaining journey continues across the island to Portree, through breathtaking countryside with the majestic Cuillin mountains dominating the landscape. Look out too for white-tailed sea eagles soaring above.

The drive: From Inverness, follow the B862, and for a short period the B852, to Fort Augustus, then join the A82 pass Loch Oich. Near Invergarry, take the A87 to Shiel Bridge where you follow the Old Military Road up the Ratagan Pass then on to Glenelg. Once on Skye, the road from the ferry takes you to the A87 which goes to Portree.

Follow the route on Google maps, from Inverness via Fort Augustus to the Glenelg and then Skye.

Belfast to Londonderry, 129 miles

Along the Causeway Coast

Belfast to Londonderry, 129 miles

The Causeway Coastal Route may cover quite a distance, but it’s a great drive. Not only will you pass through three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty — the Glens of Antrim (of which there are nine), the Causeway Coast itself and the cliffs of Binevenagh — you’ll discover seaside towns and enchanting villages too. Cushendun, nestled at the foot of Glendun, is a designated Conservation Area designed in the style of a Cornish village. And 20 minutes north sits Torr Head, a rocky point that’s only 13 miles from Scotland.

Up for a challenge? Walk over to Carrick-a-Rede island via a swinging rope bridge above a 30-metre-deep chasm. It’ll be a highlight of your trip, as undoubtedly will be the Giant’s Causeway. The 40,000 interlocking basalt columns are world famous and steeped in legend. A worthy detour is next, near Castlerock. Mussenden Temple, situated in Downhill Demesne, is one of the most photographed spots in Ireland. And when you see the stunning clifftop vista, you’ll understand why.

The drive: Leaving Belfast, head for the A2 to Carrickfergus — this road will take you all along the coast. A right-hand turn-off takes you to Torr Head, then it’s just over 12 miles to Carrick-a-Rede and a further 8 miles to the Giant’s Causeway. After exploring, head back to the A2 and continue through Portrush, then Portstewart, until the right turn to Downhill Demesne. The A2 will then take you all the way to Londonderry.

Follow the route on Google maps.







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