If you’ve ever spent any time in a car with me (unlikely), you’ll know how much I loathe driving around. I love traveling around to see new places, but the instant the words “road trip” are uttered, I’m probably already figuring out a way to get out of my travel plans and stay at home on the couch instead. I’ll go to great lengths to avoid being in the car for anything longer than about half an hour. Being stuck in a tiny metal box feeling increasingly nauseous is definitely not my idea of a good time, no matter how pretty the scenery is (I get really, really carsick).
Well, almost no matter how pretty the scenery is. There’s one trip that has nearly made me reconsider my opinion, and that’s driving down from Edinburgh, Scotland to England’s Yorkshire region, a trip I took with my parents earlier this summer.
Stop 1: Good Times & Old Friends in Edinburgh, Scotland
Catching up with old friends is always nice, but it’s even more fun when you get to go visit them in an exciting city. One of my best friends from home actually ended up doing something like me as an adult – she grabbed her dual passports and hopped on the next plane to Europe. Only I should really say I did something similar to her, as she did it first, heading off to a small city in Scotland for college. Just a little while ago she moved to Edinburgh, and it was so much fun to discover the sights of her new city with her.
She may be relatively new to Edinburgh, but she already knows about some really incredible places in the city, from a fantastic shop that sold old maps to little cafés where J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter (confession: I am a huge Harry Potter nerd so I freaked out). We also had a lovely day out at the the city’s botanical gardens, where we enjoyed a very tasty lunch. British food gets a bad rap, but Edinburgh has some fantastic food if you know where to look. Luckily, having a charming local guide helps you find the best eats!
We had a really nice weekend in Edinburgh, and I could see myself staying there for months on end (basically, until it gets cold). But there were more sights to see, so we were off to…
Stop 2: Conspiracy Theories at Rosslyn Chapel
Right, we didn’t go very far for this stop. Rosslyn Chapel is only a few miles outside of Edinburgh, but it would have been a shame to drive past such a spectacular sight. This small church’s sandy copper walls overlook lots and lots of rolling green countryside.
You may have spotted Rosslyn Chapel in the Da Vinci Code movie. There are apparently quite a few people who believe it’s involved in mysterious groups like the Freemasons and Knights Templar, partly because of some of the unusual carvings on the inside of the chapel, like one of two riders on one horse.
There’s also a very cool carving of the seven deadly sins and seven virtues on one of the arches, but ‘greed’ is with all the virtues and ‘charity’ is with all the sins. Hmm…what fancy conspiracy theory can you come up with for that one?
Oh, and this is one of those annoying places that doesn’t let you take photos inside (apparently somebody tripped and fell a few years ago on the chapel’s uneven floor while taking a picture), but I sneaked a few anyway. The ceiling was just so intricate I really could have spent all day there snapping away. Look at me, taking down the system, one illicitly obtained photo at a time.
Mini-stops: Surprise Visits to the Ruined Abbeys
One of the definite advantages of taking a road trip over a flight is that you can say “Oooh, what is that? Let’s stop and get out and have a look!” While I don’t enjoy being in a car, this is something I love about road trips, and on this trip there were lots of interesting little things to have a look at, like a couple ruined abbeys.
The first one we came across was Dryburgh Abbey in the Scottish Borders, just a few miles off the main road we were taking. Unfortunately, we managed to get there just as the abbey was closing for the day. But a very kind security guard let us in on a secret – there’s a little public footpath that goes past the side, so you can peek over and get a good eyeful of the abbey.
Later on down the road in Yorkshire, we were rounding a corner and suddenly this incredible view popped up. I’d already begged for the car to stop a few times to take pictures of the scenery and we really wanted to get to where we were going…but there was no way we could just drive past Bolton Priory.
Stop 3: Castles & Cathedrals in Durham
The first overnight stop we made was in Durham, which I’d never been to, but it had the triple allure of being on the way, being featured in the Harry Potter movies, and having a UNESCO World Heritage Site (for the castle and the cathedral). It turned out to be a great little day stop!
First up, we visited the cathedral half of the UNESCO site. Now, living in and traveling around Spain means you end up visiting lots of churches and cathedrals, so I’ve seen a fair few in the past couple of years, but the Durham Cathedral was still something really special. The outside seemed to glow golden on the pretty sunny day we visited, and on the inside each column had different patterns carved into the stone. Every inch was really beautiful.
The cathedral is also where some scenes from the Harry Potter movies were filmed. Check out the courtyard cloister, and you may recognize it from the first two movies.
Oh, and this is another place where you can’t take pictures inside (but I had a few anyway, annoying tourist that I am).
The castle is the second UNESCO site, and it’s also rather quite spectacular. Today it’s not a castle at all, but instead student dorms at Durham University! Yup, students here actually get to live inside a castle, living up to the fantasies of Anglophiles everywhere. Their dining hall is said to be the oldest working kitchen in the U.K., and it serves the students formal dinners twice a week. Things are pretty fancy here.
Stop 4: Over Hill and (the Yorkshire) Dales
Did you watch the Tour de France this year? If you did, you probably saw the cyclists biking up and down some very beautiful and very steep hills. Those are the Yorkshire Dales, and they were very excited to host the opening stages of the Tour this year. We drove through pretty places with funny names like Appletreewick; you may have seen Buttertubs Pass on Le Tour.
Yorkshire is sometimes called “God’s Own Country”, and even if you’re not outdoorsy it’s hard not to appreciate how truly beautiful it is. If you are outdoorsy, however, there’s lots of great hiking, biking, and walking to do around here. Just watch out for any stray sheep!
I am not especially outdoorsy, but even I could appreciate the splendor of the countryside whilst sat happily in a café tucking in to a cream tea. But seriously, this is some of the most beautiful countryside I’ve seen on my travels. Maybe that’s why the Lonely Planet picked Yorkshire as one of its top places to visit in the world this year!
Stop 5: Finishing Up in Fairytale York
We finished off our tour of the U.K. with a little day trip to York, which may be my favorite smaller city in the U.K. (so far). It seems like every single inch of the city is covered in some kind of cute little detail. Of course, I’m not alone in thinking that York is quite lovely; it’s a very popular place for a day trip and is filled with visitors oohing and aahing over the charming sights.
The main attraction is York Minster, the biggest cathedral of its type in Northern Europe. The inside is light and airy because of the gigantic stained glass windows that let the light pour in. If you’re feeling energetic, you can walk up the 275 steps to climb the towers for some really amazing views. I was not feeling very energetic, but I do have the certificate to prove that I have done it at some point in my life.
We were only there for a few hours, just enough time to stroll around the fairytale-pretty streets and enjoy a cup of tea and a scone. (You may have guessed there were lots of cakes and tea involved in my U.K. trip this time around). Oh, and of course, as the Tour de France took off from York for one of the stages, the whole city was kitted out in bright yellow bunting.
After York, we drove off further south towards a city that has reportedly been declared Britain’s Most Boring City. After thorough investigation, I agree with the ranking and thus have nothing to say about it on my blog. 🙂
So, even though I find road trips stressful and very physically uncomfortable, seeing all these beautiful sights in just a few days was definitely worth it. While I may not be planning any solo road trips in my near future, getting to discover a little bit of Scotland and northern England proved to be a fantastic trip.
What’s the best place you’ve ever seen on a road trip?