How does driving through the UK countryside in a snazzy, comfy car grab you? It was certainly high on David Fallick’s wish list and last year he was able to tick it off. Today, he takes you through the twists and turns of his driving holiday.
After some really memorable rail journeys, the family’s in Edinburgh for a few days and then, early Monday morning, I’m back at Platform two at Waverley Railway Station. But, this time, it’s not for another train trip, rather I’m at the Europcar office to collect the vehicle we booked weeks earlier, through DriveAway Holidays, before leaving Australia.
Now, there are few more passionate about train travel, however, even I have to admit that it has its limitations, especially a lack of flexibility; trains have to remain on the tracks! Over the rest of the week Kaye, adult daughter Lucy and I will effortlessly describe a meandering route in a generally southerly direction from the Scottish capital to Heathrow, before heading home.
It’s a busy morning, with many tourists, including others from Australia, eager to collect their cars and hit the road. However, despite the demand, the numerous staff efficiently process us and there’s no need for an international driver’s licence, as there was when we first rented a car in the UK.
Armed with my key, paperwork and directions, I cross to the carpark on the other side of the station, locate the late model Vauxhall five-door, exit into the narrow back streets of the Old Town and quickly navigate back to the Apex Waterloo Place Hotel, where the girls are ready to load the luggage which fits comfortably in the spacious boot. But, before we bid farewell to Edinburgh, there’s a wee detour east to the port to view the former Royal Yacht, then it’s west and north along the south bank of the Firth to have a peek at Queensferry Crossing, the new Forth road bridge opened only a few days earlier by Queen Elizabeth II. To gain the best possible vantage point, without actually driving north over the bridge, we merely avail ourselves of a convenient exit along a minor road.
Photography and sightseeing completed, we turn south for the village of Brough. Some 400 miles (640km) sou-sou-east of Edinburgh, west of Darlington; on the border of Cumbria and Durham – pretty well inaccessible without your own wheels!
But en route we’ll eschew the motorways because our trip isn’t about taking the shortest or fastest route; we’re keen to experience the picturesque countryside, see some of the history, and meet some of the locals, all of which is the attraction of Europe in general and the UK in particular. Fortunately, my travelling companions are in furious agreement on this mode of touring. And what an exhilarating afternoon it becomes with the weather turning on a rich variety to complement the diversity of the countryside, the villages and towns – all solid bluestone and exuding history.
With a break in the weather, we stop for a late lunch at a cosy, rustic café full of locals and with an appetising menu. Batteries recharged and travellers refreshed, after some photos, we are back on the road to the 18th Century Brough Inn, our lodgings for the next two nights. Before the bar opens, there’s just enough time to unpack, settle into our upstairs room and take a brisk walk around the village. Over a drop, or two, of “the best” on tap local, we can reflect on all that we’ve done and seen on the first day of exploring off the beaten track – none of which would have been possible without the flexibility, comfort and convenience of our own wheels.
And why are we spending two nights at the Brough Inn? Because, from our advance planning weeks before flying out of Australia, this charming timeless little village is the perfect place from which to explore the surrounding countryside. So next day, after meandering around the village, the joyful but unnamed stream beside our inn and the unbelievably green pastures over the village’s low stone wall, we’re back in the trusty Vauxhall to drive the 11 miles to the market town of Kirkby Stephen. After a leisurely stroll around in the welcome and warming sunlight, we drive the few miles to the town’s station to catch the legendary Settle-Carlisle train.
Hours later, after travelling through the truly breathtakingly beautiful Yorkshire Dales and Westmorland, it’s fortunate we have our rental car because the weather has turned cold and extremely wet. A short drive later we’re back at the Brough Inn.
The next day, after another hearty breakfast and a brisk stroll we’ve quickly packed the car, farewelled our hosts, and continued our journey south.
Our destination is Hearthstone Farm, Riber, near Matlock, in Derbyshire. Only about 250 miles (or 400km) which by Australian standards is nothing. However, we’re negotiating the closely populated Midlands, historical home to British industry so we’re carefully avoiding such major conurbations as Bradford, Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield.
En route, we make an unscheduled detour near Thirsk to show our daughter Castle Howard of Brideshead Revisited fame, which is yet another historic site pretty well inaccessible for the independent tourist without his/her own vehicle. Refreshed after a Devonshire tea we continue on secondary roads to York. The girls are keen to explore this beautiful city while I’m anticipating a couple of hours at the National Rail Museum, home of the iconic Flying Scotsman which is, unfortunately, I’m informed away earning income for the museum. Undeterred, I immerse myself in the amazing array of exhibits and demonstrations spanning Great Britain’s illustrious history of all aspects of railways from Stephenson’s “Rocket” to the present day. All too soon, my phone summons me to the carpark and the three of us, now seriously behind schedule, pursue the quickest possible route to our farm-stay.
After negotiating ever-narrower country lanes between towering hedgerows we arrive at Hearthstone Farm, before parking at the front gate. Once more our bags are in the upstairs rooms in no time and since our hosts do not provide an evening meal and we’re all ravenous, we head back to Matlock and the recommended pub.
The next morning, refreshed from an excellent night’s sleep, we linger downstairs over an impressive traditional English country breakfast. We need to fortify ourselves for our travels and today we’ll be dropping Lucy in Derby to catch a train back to London. Derby is only a few miles south of Matlock and after farewell hugs and tears, we’re heading roughly west to Stoke-on-Trent, synonymous with pottery.
We have two days and nights and a tightly packed itinerary, as guests of Visit Britain. Upon arrival we enjoy a conducted tour of the historic Middleport Pottery, home of Burleigh and saved from closure by the intervention of Prince Charles and his Regeneration Trust. Next day we’re across town at another historic pottery factory, Emma Bridgewater, resurrected by an enterprising couple who have turned it into a thriving business employing hundreds and preserving precious skills. After exploring the city centre, we’re off to the World of Wedgewood, a modern landscaped factory, restaurant and museum some distance east. It’s a champagne afternoon tea before the self-guided factory tour and then a lengthy drive back to our hotel before again heading out for the opening night at a local theatre, some distance out of town. In fact “town” is misleading; Stoke-on-Trent is, in reality, seven separate towns and without your own vehicle a true logistical challenge!
Next morning, after checking out from our hotel, en route to our final stop in Woodstock, Oxford, we detour to meet the head curator of The Trentham Estate, a remarkable expanse of public parkland, gardens and extensive lake, all close to total restoration. We are blessed by brilliant sunlight.
After hundreds of miles, once again giving a wide berth to such major centres as Birmingham, Leicester and Coventry, we motor into Woodstock, a charming little town of Cotswold stone “attached” to Blenheim Palace. We can park directly outside “The Feathers” and enjoy a welcome afternoon tea surrounded by bottles of every possible brand of gin – a distinctly different décor!
It’s Saturday night so all the recommended restaurants are booked out, however, we manage to squeeze into the pub opposite. Sunday, after a leisurely breakfast, I attend the local Methodist Church and then we drive into the neighbouring village of Bladon to visit the Parish Church of St Martin, and the last resting place of Sir Winston Churchill in his family plot.
Then it’s a quick dash down the busy M40 to collect our elder daughter, SJ, from Heathrow so we can all have a farewell meal and overnight back at “The Feathers” before putting her on the train for work in London. We return our trusty Vauxhall to the Europcar Heathrow depot. Sitting on the free shuttle bus to Terminal 5, there’s time to reflect on what a wonderful trip we’ve just had. So much, in so few days; such diversity of sights and experiences would clearly not have been possible without the affordable flexibility and convenience of independent transport. So, note to self: rent a car again when travelling outside the cities of the UK and Europe. We can’t wait to do it all again!
Rental car courtesy of DriveAway Holidays.