Driving Routes in England
Culture1 August 2019
Great Britain’s great for many reasons, not least because of its fantastic scenery. Why not see a whole chunk of it by driving the legendary route from John O’Groats at the top tip of Scotland to Land’s End at England’s most south-westerly point? There are some great places to stop at and explore along the 874-mile route – here are just a few…
The mostly northerly point of Britain is a place called Dunnet Head, but just 11 miles away is the small coastal village of John O’Groats. This the iconic starting point for the 874-mile 'End to End' journey to Land's End.
There’s plenty to do here before you even start to think about heading south; bracing coastal walks offer dramatic cliff-top views and the chance to spot wildlife from puffins to dolphins and, if you’re lucky, even killer whales.
With almost 800 islands off the coast of Scotland, you could spend the whole summer hopping between them. If you’re short of time start with Orkney, which is just a short ferry crossing from John O’Groats, where you can visit the preserved prehistoric village of Skara Brae and the Standing Stones of Stenness.
Hug the rugged east coast as you begin to head south on the 270-mile journey to Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh. The sat-nav will tell you the trip will take about five-and-a-half hours but it’ll take you much longer to carve through the breath-taking scenery as you make regular stops to update your Instagram feed. When you reach Inverness turn left and head through the stunning Cairngorms National Park on your way to the capital.
There’s history aplenty when you reach Edinburgh. Visit Edinburgh Castle to marvel at Scotland’s crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny, then head to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill – and that’s just for starters.
Why not visit the Scottish National Gallery, the National Museum of Scotland, or the Royal Botanic Garden? And if you’re there in August you should take in the Fringe – the world’s largest annual arts festival.
The Lake District
Head south from Edinburgh in the direction of Carlisle and on to the Lake District. Stop at Gretna Green just before you cross the border and soak up the romance – the village became a haven for those young and in love almost three centuries ago when the 1754 Marriage Act forbade anyone under 21 to marry in England and Wales without their parents’ permission.
Just south of Carlisle lies the Lake District National Park. Keswick to the north and Kendal to the south are perhaps the most well known market towns in the Lakes, but they are far from the only tourist attractions. This is England’s largest National Park at 1,500 square miles, and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017. If you’re looking for adventure you can climb Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England, or swim in the deepest (Wast Water) or biggest (Windermere) natural lakes in England.
Meanwhile, if the arts are more your thing, why not visit Wordsworth’s home in Grasmere (now a museum dedicated to his life) or the house in Hawkshead where Beatrix Potter lived?
Continuing the journey south, skirt the Forest of Bowland, cut through the north west, and pass the Shropshire Hills on your way to the Wye Valley. The Welsh Marches form the border between England and Wales that winds its way down the centre of the River Wye. There are no end of woodland and riverside walks in the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean, but if time is tight try the circular walk from Tidenham Chase past the Devil’s Pulpit.
Step back in time with a visit to Chepstow Castle or Tintern Abbey. The castle is a fascinating rambling and visual treat rising from cliffs overlooking the Wye, while the abbey is one of the best-preserved medieval abbeys in Wales, dating back to the 1100s.
If you’re more at home on the water, you can hire a canoe at Symonds Yat for a gentle paddle in the stunning gorge. For a more leisurely time, enjoy a drink on the terrace at the Saracens Head in Symonds Yat, then ask one of the bar staff-cum-boatmen to pull you across the river in one of the last traditional hand-pull cable ferries.
With some 200 miles still to go before you reach your destination, relaxation is the name of the game and there’s no better way to chill out than in the spa city of Bath. The city became known for its spa around 60AD when the Romans built public baths that were fed by hot springs. A visit to Bath wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the site, where CGI and interactive exhibitions show the role the baths played in the city almost 2,000 years ago.
While you can’t take a plunge in the original pool, you should spend some time at the Thermae Bath Spa where you can relax in Britain’s only naturally warm, mineral-rich waters. After you’ve recharged your batteries there’s plenty to see in the city. The glorious Georgian architecture of The Circus and The Royal Crescent are a must, as is Pulteney Bridge, which brings an iota of Italy to the heart of Somerset.
Head 200 miles south west of Bath and you’ll eventually end up at the most south-westerly point of England; Land’s End. Cornwall is famous for its pasties, cream teas and beautiful beaches – some 300 miles of them to be precise. If you’re going to explore one, make it Ninjizal, one of Cornwall’s best-kept secrets. Often deserted, and with no signposts or car parks to give it away, the beach boasts caves, rock pools, and even a freshwater waterfall. Once you find it you might not want to leave, but if you do manage to tear yourself away you’ll discover lots to see and do in Cornwall, whether you’re a lover of adventure, heritage or nature.
There are surf schools and cliff-top walks, squeeze in a visit to Tintagel Castle and the Eden Project, and make sure you take a brisk walk along the man-made causeway to St Michael’s Mount at low tide – there’s no better end to the End to End.
Photographs: Alister Thorpe, Shutterstock