Part 2 of our UK road trip takes us from the English to the Scottish capitals during the warmer months of June and July. Here we share our personal experience of our road trip from London to Edinburgh.
Our family traveled full time, mostly around England and a little bit in Scotland and Ireland, for six months from March to August. The actual route and the order in which we visited places were different; mostly dictated by Brendan’s schedule. He works all around the country during the busy UK events season. We’ve laid out our complete road trip route on this map in a logical order from south to north.
Our UK Road Trip is broken down into three parts:
- Part 1: South England (Mar, Apr, May)
- Part 2: London to Edinburgh (Jun, Jul)
- Part 3: Scotland to Ireland (Aug, Sep) Coming Soon
Read our post about the cost of full-time travel in the UK
From London, we travel north to Nottingham via Northampton, Bedford, St Ives and Honingham; as far west as Chester, through the High Peak district, east towards York, further north via the scenic Coastal Route dotted with ancient castles and colorful seaside towns to Rothbury where we explore Cragside and Alnwick Castle before reaching the Scottish border and the capital city of Scotland, Edinburgh.
IN AND AROUND NOTTINGHAM
Allington is a small village in Lincolnshire. It’s conveniently close to Nottingham, Belvoir (apparently pronounced ‘Bever’ but we’re not convinced), and Sherwood Forest. We stayed in this lovely Airbnb for a few days.
Our stay was more than comfortable, but the memory is slightly tainted as we remember the smell of pungent early-morning cow dung wafting through the windows; evidence that we’re in the country, the strange appearance of dead bees at the same place at the top of the stairs every morning and the thickest cloud of the most annoying midges (miggies) we’ve ever encountered. They were inescapable at the play park. I’ve never seen Nick so irritated before, but he was covered in them, poor thing; his neck and hand black as he wipes them away again and again and again. Eventually, we ran from the park to escape the midge plague and hit the showers immediately back at the apartment. Thank goodness each room had an en-suite bathroom and shower!
I took the kids ice-skating at the National Ice Centre in Nottingham. It was their first time and Nick and Leah are hooked. They loved every minute.
First Time On Ice in Nottingham
Belvoir Castle and Sherwood Forest, worth a nostalgic visit for those who know the story of Robin Hood, is a short ride from Allington. Go skating at the National Ice Centre in Nottingham and visit Green’s Windmill & Science Centre. We had so much fun at the ice rink. The entry fee included all-day access so we decided to stay and skate and sadly didn’t make it to Green’s Mill in the end. The staff on duty are friendly and helpful enough to get first-timers, Nick and Leah, going on the ice and confident in no time.
Two-year-old Kate soon gets bored of sitting still on the little skate-seats as I push her around on the ice. She can’t get her toddler brain around the funny slippery shoes and understandably gives over to tears of frustration. My back soon feels like breaking from bending down to push her anyway so the two of us end up in the cafeteria. From there I can keep an eye on the older two as they get to grips with the skates and enjoy the ice while I nurse Kate to sleep over a lovely warm cuppa. It gets chilly at the rink. Remember to take something warm if you go skating, just in case.
Sad We Missed This One
I was intrigued by Green’s Mill and sorry that we missed it. It’s a working tower mill, which was owned by the mathematical physicist George Green from 1793 to 1841.
George Green worked most of his life at the mill his father built and only spent 14 months at school. However, he was a self-taught mathematical genius, fascinated with light, sound, electricity and magnetism. Scientists and engineers all over the world still use his mathematical theorem today. – Source: greensmill.org.uk
From the minute we started to travel the kids nagged us to visit a zoo. Any zoo! So we decided to surprise them with a visit to Chester Zoo. It turned out to be a highlight of our trip. Thanks to lessons learned from a visit to Legoland, we planned ahead, downloaded the zoo’s app and made sure phones were fully charged before we left the caravan. We hired a buggy for our toddler at the zoo and tried to see everything between 11 am and 6 pm. Plus we try to catch as many zookeeper talks as possible.
A day at the zoo is an educational gold nugget for us homeschoolers so we cram in as many lessons as possible. It’s incredible how much information hungry young minds can soak up when they’re having fun.
Unfortunately, we missed some exhibits and quite a few of the zookeeper talks. We accidentally stumbled onto my favorite exhibit on the way out, The Realm of The Red Ape. There’s so much to see and do at Chester Zoo.
Watch ‘The Secret Life of the Zoo’ on Channel 4, a documentary based on the lives of the animals at Chester Zoo. Amazing animals; with personalities fit for a TV series, that we saw up close and learned about in person.
The exhibits are lovely, lush and large. Chester Zoo is all about research and conservation and remains true to the hopes and dreams of its founder, George Mottershead. We’d love to go back again one day.
Our Zoo – June Mottershead
In anticipation (or maybe in a vague attempt at preparation) of our USA road trip that will be partly done in an RV, I booked a static caravan as our Airbnb for the night in Chester, just to get the feel of staying in a small space. Our hosts welcome us in person and go the extra mile by having fresh muffins, milk, and bread ready for us in addition to the usual essentials. After a long day at the zoo, it’s a welcome surprise.
When Pippa, our hostess, learn that we’re in Chester to visit the zoo, she digs out a book called ‘Our Zoo – The Real Story’. June Mottershead wrote the book after the BBC aired a 6-part documentary series about the story of Chester Zoo called ‘Our Zoo’. The book is about how the zoo started, told by June Mottershead, whose father started it when she was 4yrs old. She writes the real story as seen through her childhood eyes.
I read most of it that night and enjoy it so much that I read parts to the kids and plan to get it on audiobook for our road trip for all of us to listen to it in full.
Between Chester and Rowarth in the High Peak District, we stop at Dunham Massey, one of the top ten National Trust homes to visit in the UK. Tour the 17th century stately Georgian home set on a large estate to see one of the largest collections of Huguenot silver. Learn about the deer from one of the friendly volunteers in the deer park and stroll through the biggest winter garden in Britain with many snowdrops, daffodils, and bluebells.
You can let the kids loose in the natural forest play area and see how a mill (the oldest building on the estate) works before searching for a geocache or two. Have lunch at The Stables restaurant and get an ice cream from the ice cream parlor downstairs. The ice cream parlor came highly recommended but was unfortunately closed when we were there.
The Dunham Massey estate is situated just off the M56 motorway near Manchester. With our National Trust membership, we saved £33.75 on a family ticket and £7 on parking.
ROWARTH, HIGH PEAK
The small dark grey dry stone walls that mark the borders of private land and make patterns against green hills in the countryside is such a romantic characteristic of the British, Scottish and Irish landscapes that we’ve come to know and love. This is the look of the High Peak as we make our way to the tiny hamlet of Rowarth along narrow winding rural roads framed by dark green hedges and in places shaded by canopies of trees.
Our travel adventure started three months ago. At this stage, a week of peace and quiet in a tranquil place like Rowarth is exactly what we needed.
Having a great time in tiny Rowarth in the High Peak District where the scenery and dry stone walls are driving me to poetry! It is so serene. So quiet and untouched. Don’t think we want to leave. Our photos don’t do this place justice. Our host, Tony, took the kids on an amphibious water buggy ride up and down hills and streams and to top it off our neighbours are four cute ponies. #peaceful #beautifulnature #highpeaksregion #travelengland #familytravelexplore
We highly recommend this Airbnb, Rowarth Barn, and we’re sure you’ll love the host, Tony. The outside hot tub is lush and fun even late in the afternoon when it gets chilly outside. Rowarth, situated on the popular historic kinder trespass trail on the edge of the High Peak District, is a popular destination for walkers. The stinging nettles got us good so do cover your legs and arms if you head out for a walk.
Little Mill Inn pub and restaurant is well known, a popular place with locals and less than a five-minute walk from the Barn. Their food is sumptuous. The kids were in their element in the play area and loved the big slide. They even have water bowls next to the outside tables for your pets. The picturesque village of New Mills is only a 4km drive away for shopping and laundry.
FROM ROWARTH TO ROTHBURY
From Rowarth to Rothbury we stopped in the city of York to visit the Jorvik Viking Museum. I recently completed a binge watch of the Viking series and soon after that, I found out through DNA testing with Myheritage.com that I am 33.75% Scandinavian. A visit to the Jorvik Viking Museum was a must for me and we enjoyed it, but I must say that it’s quite small. We were in and out in an hour. If you compare it to the castle museum nearby and you only have time for one of the two, the museum will give you more for your money, unless you are a really big fan of Vikings.
The museum is built on a part of the town where actual artifacts of Viking life was discovered. The evidence of life on this street has been reconstructed to bring to life a Viking neighborhood for you to experience as if you were walking among them. Brendan and our older two had a good time and soaked up every titbit of the Viking story. Our two-year-old, on the other hand, cried all the way through the 10-minute ride so I struggled to listen to the audio guide myself, but still got from it what I could and loved to see how they lived.
The Oldest Villages In The UK
- Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. Celts inhabited it “near three centuries before the nativity of Christ”
- Selby, North Yorkshire
- Lowestoft, Suffolk
- Whitby, North Yorkshire
- Ipswich, Suffolk
- Colchester, Essex
- Carmarthen, Wales
- Abingdon, Oxfordshire
- Thatcham, Berkshire
- Amesbury, Wiltshire
Happy that we got to see a bit of the historic walled city of York and its connection to Viking history, we head further east to start our journey up the east coast with stops in the pretty seaside towns Redcar and Amble before we reach Rothbury. We missed Whitby this time, but it’s on our bucket list and we want to plan a proper visit there over the next few years.
In Redcar, a seaside town and resort in North Yorkshire, a friendly local tells us to skip the soft-serve ice cream at Stray beach cafe and to go to the Esplanade to treat the kids to a lemontop. We’ve never heard of a lemontop and have no idea what it is, but we do as we’re told and hop back into the car to drive further up the beachside road in search of lemontops. They’re pretty easy to find. We strike gold at the first ice cream parlor.
The coastal town of Amble By The Sea is a seaport of Northumberland. In hindsight, we probably should’ve booked an Airbnb in Amble rather than Rothbury as a base to explore the area, because we would’ve been closer to shops and the sea. The kids would’ve had a bit more to do there on a daily basis despite a few rainy days.
It’s a lovely little place but we only spent a few hours there to get lunch at the market on the pier before a stroll around the beach to the lighthouse. Coquet Island, which can be seen from the pier, has an interesting history of its own and is home to puffins and rare roseate terns. We saw the rare terns but have yet to spot our first puffin. Maybe we’ll be lucky in Ireland.
In the 1930’s, when the RMS Mauretania was heading on her last voyage to the breaker’s yard at Rosyth, the town council of Amble sent a telegram to the ship saying “still the finest ship on the seas”. The Mauretania replied with greetings “to the last and kindliest port in England”.
Either Rothbury or Amble offered good choices for Airbnb’s within our budget when we looked for accommodation in the area. Not sure which place to choose, we eventually booked this great place in Rothbury which has amazing views of the Coquet Valley. This three bedroom apartment is one of the best places we’ve stayed in on this trip.
Rothbury (The Capital of Coquetdale and center of Northumberland) lies on the edge of the Northumberland National Park and is popular with RV’ers, campers, and walkers. Alnwick Castle and Newcastle Upon Tyne are nearby and we probably wouldn’t have stumbled upon one of our favorite places in England, Cragside, if we hadn’t stayed in Rothbury.
Cragside House was the first building in the world to be lit by hydroelectric power! It was the home of the industrial magnate, scientist, philanthropist, inventor of the hydraulic crane and the Armstrong gun, and the founder of the Armstrong Whitworth armaments firm, William Armstrong, 1st Baron Armstrong.
The entire estate was technologically advanced; the architect of the house, Richard Norman Shaw, wrote that it was equipped with “wonderful hydraulic machines that do all sorts of things”.
Again, our National Trust membership came in handy and saved us almost £100 in entry fees. A family ticket to access the whole estate is £49,50 and we went twice! We highly recommend a visit to Cragside. Plan to stay for at least two days, preferably more, to really make the most of your time in this amazing place. The landscape is different from the rest of the English countryside and its forests.
The formal gardens are absolutely gorgeous with roses and flowers of every color. For someone who loves flowers but is hopeless at growing plants, I’ve accepted my fate to only have plastic flowers in my life, but… I dream of having a rose garden like the one at Cragside one day. Strange how things turn out. I love flowers, but can’t grow them. They die quickly, but maybe when I’m older and have time and patience to learn and nurture a garden I’ll have my rose garden. I love singing too but I can’t sing. Can’t hold a single note to save my life, but it doesn’t stop me from singing!
Cragside house itself is a treat to wander through and explore. Each area of the estate is so focused on making it fun for kids that I dare say children of all ages will thoroughly enjoy themselves here.
I hope you don’t mind all the photos but I can’t help myself! We can’t let you miss anything.
Cragside has walking trails to keep you walking for days if you choose, beautiful picnic areas around the lakes and a big play park and natural forest play area with a muddy walking trail for the kids. At the information center, you’ll find a cafe and the building to the right is where children can play and have fun with stimulating toys and gadgets before they collect their ’50 Things To Do’ activity book and set off to tick as many activities off their list as possible.
Visit Alnwick Castle! And that’s all we have to say about that.
No, just kidding. That’s NOT all.
There’s much more to say about Alnwick Castle and the gardens and the magical mini golf and the Harry Potter Broom Stick flying lessons and the archery lessons and the…, yes there’s so much more to do at this awesome castle that you must have it on your itinerary if you ever visit England. Our day was full of fun and wow moments.
Alnwick castle is owned by Henry de Percy, 1st Baron Percy since 1309 and its been owned by the Percy family ever since. Even the current owner is Henry de Percy, 1st Baron Percy! It seems the British really do love family names.
Entry to the castle is £44 per family and then entry to the castle is free for 12 months. Buy online to save 10%. A combined family ticket to the castle and gardens cost £70 at the gate or £25,26 per adult, £11 per child and under 4’s go free.
Nick went on a night out with Dad to see his first live concert on the grounds of this amazing castle. They saw Nile Rogers & Chic which was a highlight for Nick and a trip down memory lane for Brendan.
The Fusiliers Museum of Northumberland is a small museum located in the Abbot’s tower of Alnwick Castle. It was one of my favorite spots in the castle because I learned about historical characters who were ordinary and not royal by any means. One was about a brave young woman who pretended to be a man so that she could follow the love of her life into war without him knowing. Only much later when he was discharged did she reveal her secret. Her life’s story is fascinating and only one of many told at Alnwick Castle.
The Forgotten Garden, Alnwick
Brendan took Leah and Nick to play put-put in the Forgotten Garden at Alnwick Garden. Watch out for the swarm of bees (not real bees so don’t worry) and the giant spider. Find out who is asleep and snoring so loud that you can hardly hear yourself think as you line-up for a tricky put half-way through the course. You can be so focused on your swing that you miss him entirely, hidden under a mossy blanket.
You can visit Alnwick Castle, Alnwick Gardens and play a round of mini golf in the Forgotten Gardens in a day. Alnwick town itself is a pretty picture that we did not get to see enough of.
Most of the places we saw in England left us wanting to see more. A little travel almost always results in plans for more travel and this trip was no different. Alnwick is one of the many places in England that we hope to visit again.
Another one of the museums at Alnwick Castle is the Duke’s Museum.
Nearby Rothbury is Gateshead where you’ll find the towering Angel of the North, an iconic roadside landmark of the UK. We passed her on our way to the cinema and mall in Gateshead for a VIP family movie experience and some shopping.
From Rothbury, we continue our road trip up the A1 north towards the Scottish border for a two-week stay in Edinburgh.
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