When your partner announces that he’s presenting at a conference in Scotland’s capital during the summer, you have two choices: stay home or follow along. Well, not only did I join him for a trip to Edinburgh but I turned it into an entire road trip through Scotland and Northern England and brought my mother along as well.
Although I was born in Australia, I actually spent my childhood in England. I have a few vague memories of life as a toddler before moving to the motherland but the strongest memories that I have from childhood are from the time spent on a dairy farm in the countryside in Kent. My family spent three years here, during which my younger brother and I started school. On the weekends, we would make trips to castles, manors and ancient sites. We lived just down the road from Hever Castle, which was Ann Boleyn’s home (one of Henry VIII’s unlucky wives). I have such a soft spot for England as I have so many fond memories from growing up in the countryside amidst so much history. Every time I return I feel as though I’m home.
On this road trip made with my partner and my mother to Scotland and northern England, I was able to visit some places that I’d been as a child (Edinburgh Castle, Glen Coe) and some others that I hadn’t visited before (Lindisfarne, Hadrian’s Wall). It was a real mix of nostalgia and discovery. The trip was 10 days long and we hired a car from Edinburgh for the duration of the trip. After spending three days in the capital, we booked AirBnBs for the remainder of our trip and spent 1-2 nights in each place.
Here were some of the highlights:
Whitby is a lovely and bustling seaside town that we passed on our way down the coast towards Yorkshire. It has an Australian connection, too; it’s where Captain Cook, the founder of the country of my birth, served his seaman’s apprenticeship. We visited the Captain Cook Memorial Museum there that commemorates the pioneering explorer.
But the highlight of Whitby for me was this abbey, perched on a scenic hilltop overlooking the North Sea. We hadn’t planned to go inside (okay, I’ll admit, the only reason I pulled over at this place was because I desperately needed a toilet break) but my mother and I seem incapable of resisting the chance to explore a good ruin, not least one with a view like this. If you find yourself on the east coast of Northern England, don’t miss this.
This was a surprising highlight for me, as I had no expectations before arriving here. This chapel was made famous by The Da Vinci Code but its history is even more exciting than the fictional one created by Dan Brown (sorry to spoil your fun, conspiracy theorists). Hidden meanings and symbolism are contained within the immaculate carvings that adorn the interior of this chapel, including that of the “green man”, whose presence signals an interesting intrusion of the pagan into this Christian place of worship. Rosslyn Chapel is an easy and very worthwhile day trip from Edinburgh by bus. Guides in the chapel give free talks every so often and if you have the chance to listen in definitely do so. They’ll let you in on lots of details that aren’t in the brochures and that you would never pick up on otherwise.
The Salisbury Crags
While we didn’t quite make it to the spectacular Arthur’s Seat (we had to pick up our rental car at 10am and had about an hour and a half, not quite enough time to complete the full hike) we did manage a splendid view of Scotland’s capital from the Salisbury Crags nearby. Edinburgh has to be one of the most scenically-located capitals in the world. Some prefer the more iconic view from Calton Hill, but I preferred this beauty.
Robin Hood’s Bay
We stopped off in Robin Hood’s Bay for one night on our way from Berwick-upon-Tweed to Malton. It was a destination that I picked. I’m a sucker for beautiful scenery and this place certainly didn’t disappoint. It’s quiet and makes an idyllic backdrop for an evening or early morning stroll along the beach.
The Holy Island of Lindisfarne
Lindisfarne might be recognisable to watchers of the History Channel’s series Vikings. It’s where Ragnar and his band of plunderers discover the priest Athelstan at a monastery. Instead of killing him, they choose to spare his life and bring him back to Scandinavia. Athelstan is a fictional character and it’s not certain whether Ragnar was among those who invaded Lindisfarne. But the Holy Island was indeed attacked by Vikings in 793, an event that is generally acknowledged to have ushered in the Viking Age.
Getting to the island is an adventure in itself. It’s only reachable during low tide via a causeway that connects it to the Northumberland coast. Visitors need to check the tides before crossing so they do not end up stranded. If you miss the opening you’ll have to wait for several hours! Pilgrims can also make their way across to the island on foot during low tide, wading through the shallow water to reach it.
Despite living in England for three years my family never managed to make it to Hadrian’s Wall, though I was taught about it at school. Finally, on this trip, we managed to see it for ourselves. This epic man-made boundary was built by the Romans in the 2nd century to keep out the Picts. Marking the northern boundary of the Roman Empire, it stretched for approximately 135kms from the west coast to the east coast of Britain. Sadly, much of the wall has been destroyed or lies in disarray but sections of it have been preserved, including this place near the Birdoswald Fort.
Some of the highlights of this trip were actual places: islands, historical sites and gorgeous views. But on a road trip, the road itself can be a highlight. One of the best parts about this trip was driving through absolutely breathtaking scenery without hordes of people about. Despite being peak season, out on the Yorkshire Moors and Dales, we didn’t encounter much traffic. The only times we needed to stop were to make way for sheep who didn’t seem to notice any boundary between the fields and the road.
While trying to reach our AirBnB in Kettlewell, a small village in the Dales, we found the road blocked off and after having no luck finding an alternative route with the sat nav, we pulled over outside a house where an elderly couple were sitting outside eating lunch. After informing us that GPS was hopeless in this neck of the woods, the husband took out an old-fashioned motorist map while his wife gossiped with a friend on the telephone. He sent us on an hour-long detour through the Dales, winding up and down along narrow country roads, past grazing sheep and stone walls. It was the best part of the whole trip.
The following day, we would go for a hike through the Dales and get lost, wandering around for ages in waist-high grass and side-stepping cow pats to find our way back to the trail. A helicopter would fly beneath us as we sat eating some lunch above a valley below. All the historical sites we saw on this trip were incredible but at the end of the day, I feel more content wandering aimlessly through grassy fields while inhaling the scent of cow shit. And that’s a fact.
As a history fanatic and lover of landscapes my highlights will always be places with incredible stories and beautiful backdrops. Have you done a road trip in Scotland or Northern England? What destinations were your highlights?