Travel

UK holidays: The most scenic roads for driving trips for your next staycation


You don’t have to venture overseas to enjoy a classic road trip (Photo: VisitBritain/ Stephen Spraggon)

Staycations have become the norm this year, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend your UK holiday in the same spot.

From the Somerset Levels to wild Scottish lochs, here are five exhilarating driving trips showcasing the classic British countryside.

Cheddar Gorge & the Somerset Levels

When you need a driving break, stretch your legs at Wells cathedral

Length: 55 miles

A limestone canyon with near-vertical cliffs, Cheddar Gorge – pictured at the top of this article – ranks among Britain’s best natural wonders.

Begin this round trip by driving towards it from seaside Weston-super-Mare, just off the M5.

Follow the Mendip Hill-crossing A371, then let the tremendous B3135 escort you along the gorge floor.

At its end, join the A39 to England’s smallest cathedral city. Along with Wells’s colossal headline building, 14th-century residential street Vicar’s Close also merits awed inspection.

Refreshed by a night at the homely No.23 guesthouse (doubles from £70 B&B, bedandbreakfastinwells.co.uk), motor on to Glastonbury, a possible Holy Grail hiding place and Avalon location; definitely present are the remains of a huge Celtic monastery.

Now strike out northwest across the much lower-lying Somerset Levels on the B3151; expect willow trees, watery meadows and misty causeway roads. After Wedmore and Mark, rejoin the M5 near Highbridge.

Local Lore: Cheddar was made by accident by a medieval milkmaid.

Local Tip: Just west of Glastonbury is wetland reserve RSPB Ham Wall, one of the world’s best places to watch starling murmurations.

The Coastal Way, West Wales

One of the ‘evocative’ castles you can spot on the route

Length: 180 miles

One third of the Wales Way, this seaside spectacular shadows Cardigan Bay from Pembrokeshire’s cute cathedral city of St Davids up to Snowdonia.

Fortress fans are particularly in luck, with imposing castles awaiting at Cardigan, Harlech and Criccieth.

There are also narrow-gauge railways chugging into mountainsides and optional boat trips to seal-lined Ramsey Island and holy Bardsey Island.

Despite Portmeirion’s best efforts, blending Italian Riviera, Oriental and Tudor architectural styles, perhaps most memorable are the wildest reaches: secluded Gwaun Valley and its Julian Calendar-following villages (they celebrate New Year on January 13th), dolphin-watching promontory Ynys Lochtyn and the jagged Llyn Peninsula, on whose tip you finish.

A five-night ‘Coast Stories’ itinerary includes accommodation suggestions – see visitsnowdonia.info/coast-stories.

Local Lore: Some claim Arthurian wizard Merlin lived his last days on Bardsly Island in a house of glass.

Local Tip: Drink jug-poured Bass at Gwaun Valley’s timeless Dyffryn Arms.

Heart 200, Scotland

Three Lochs Forest drive looks pretty spooky in the winter (Photo: Alamy Stock Photo)

Length: 200 miles

A new inland circular, Heart 200 (heart200.scot) is much quieter than the North Coast 500, its rival Scottish scenic route.

Most motorists head west from Stirling – whose castle matches Edinburgh’s for looks and importance – to Loch Lomond & The Trossachs, before turning up into heathery Cairngorm peaks and returning through Highland and riverside Perthshire.

All of which yields textbook Scots scenery – lochs, glens, moors and mountains.

You can stop for possible walks, including to Rumbling Bridge’s waterfall, plus swim off a sandy beach in Loch Tay, play golf at Gleneagles or sip single malts at Tullibardine Distillery.

Accommodation-wise, anyone looking to complete the drive in a weekend is directed to Pitlochry’s stylish Craigatin House & Courtyard, which offers boutique B&B (doubles from £115 B&B, craigatinhouse.co.uk)

Local Lore: If you stop in the Cairngorms, beware the Big Grey Man, a 20ft humanoid prone to haunting Gaelic orations and luring hikers toward cliff edges.

Local Tip: Along with stand-up paddlepoard rentals and tutorials, activity firm Loch Lomond Leisure offers speedboat pub tours to various waterside inns. See lochlomand-scotland.com.

Cat & Fiddle – Highwayman – Long Hill Triangle, Peak District

The Roseleigh Guest House sits near a beautiful lake

Length: 27 miles

This round-trip is especially popular with motorcyclists, due to its many bends, while walkers relish easy access to Peak District hikes.

From Macclesfield, drive east along the Cat & Fiddle road – named after a remote hilltop pub, now a whisky distillery and cafe – and stop to gaze over the Cheshire Plain.

After stalagmite-ridden Poole Cavern, arrive in spa town Buxton and check into Roseleigh Guest House, an elegant lakeside property (from £90 B&B, roseleighhotel.co.uk).

Set off early to beat day-trippers onto the A500’s wiggly Long Hill section, for moorland vistas and the river-lined Goyt Valley.

Before Whaley Bridge, turn southwest onto the B5470 or ‘Highwayman’ road (referring to another, now-closed inn) whose rural hairpins and soaring descents lead back to Macclesfield.

Local Lore: Turn west of the A5004 to explore Goyt Valley and discover Pym Chair, a hill named after a highwayman who ambushed pack horse trains here.

Local Tip: Charlotte’s Chocolates in Buxton sell sell delicious handmade truffles.

Ards Peninsula, Northern Ireland

Grace Neill’s has been operating as a pub since 1611, making it the oldest in Ireland

Length: About 70 miles

Leave the Causeway Coast to the masses and explore this romantic finger of land south of Belfast instead.

Between the Irish Sea and vast Strangford Lough, the Ards majors in quiet harbour villages and sandy beaches.

From Belfast, drive via Newtownards to northeasterly Donaghadee, where boats once sailed elopers to Scotland.

Its pub Grace Neill’s has been open since 1611; far newer is the cool boutique One Shore Street, ideal as an Ards base (doubles from £140 B&B, oneshorestreet.co.uk).

Next morning, drive south past ancient Ballycopeland Windmill to the whitewashed, National Trust-run show hamlet of Kearney.

Further on in Portaferry, ferries cross the Lough’s fast-flowing Narrows every half an hour.

Take a return trip, then assume the narrow, photogenic coast road north towards Greyabbey’s monastic ruins and the Mount Stewart house’s exuberant gardens.

Local Lore: The wooden church at Saint Cooey’s Wells is thought to date back to the 7th century.

Local Tip: Try Bangor’s indoor karting facility, owned by Eddie Irvine (eddieirvinesports.com).

Britain’s highest roads

For thrillseekers who get their kicks by soaring over highways, try these lofty routes instead.

Cairnwell Pass, Aviemore, Scotland

This is the highest bit of tarmac your vehicle can tackle in the UK (Photo: The Cairngorms National Park)

AKA the A93, which quickly climbs to 670m – making it Britain’s highest road for motorists – by Glenshee Ski Centre, with wild, snowy Cairngorm Mountains scenery visible in every direction.

Killhope Cross, North Pennines, England

You can probably expect to meet a cyclist or two when you’re on your road trip

A stop-start ascent across lonely moorland eventually yields a 627m summit and far-reaching views towards the Lake District.

Bwlch y Groes, North Wales

These welsh roads were once used to test new Austin cars

Found on minor roads in eastern Snowdonia, the ‘Pass of the Cross’ overlooks grassy valleys and peaks from its 545m summit, and was once used to test Austin and Triumph’s new cars.

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