Lavender fields

2 Weeks in the UK: London to Edinburgh to London

Since it was a very last minute trip, I did my itinerary based on this guy’s I randomly found online. I am very critical of my planning of this trip because I had so much to do and tried to make it more comfortable for my parents, we didn’t really see much during our trip. I was overly ambitious and hopefully, this never happens again. I did want to share my itinerary for future reference and hopefully (whoever you are) won’t make the same mistakes I did. I know this is very late because my trip was in August.

In hindsight, I do wish I had flown to Scotland and made my way down to London because it’ll give me more time to spend in Scotland because it is just beautiful. Also, I already saw the majority of England. I think Scotland is something different in terms of scenery compared to England. But I have to say the English countryside is wow. This was my first time traveling in England in full sun since previous trips there had been an early summer or winter trip, no sun was seen. Though it is not as sunny as Singapore, the sun did make the scenic drive around mesmerizing. However, August in London is not a good idea. Imagine lots of heat and no air conditioning. ANYWHERE!

Day 1: Arrival in London

Due to last minute everything on this trip, I had to opt for an “early” departure and late arrival because it was just that much cheaper. Technically, it was not a late arrival. It was an 8 PM arrival but immigration took forever because there were hundreds of people but only 4 open counters. We only cleared immigration 2 hours later. I thought LAX was bad but Heathrow is a whole different level. I overheard the immigration officer saying that they had a company retreat that day which resulted in the overwhelming shorthand of staff.

By the time we got our luggage and took the shuttle to the car rental, it was close to 10PM. I didn’t plan for such a delay so I was nervous about my father having to drive an hour to Reading which was where our hotel was at. That would be an hour drive away in the dark. To make matters worse, despite having internet and google maps, many highways were closed due to late night roadworks. Yes, it just keeps getting better. So our hour long drive became two. Let’s just say the moment I got to the hotel. I was ready for the day to be over.

Note: Please arrive in the day so that you have plenty of sunlight to configure your surroundings and to avoid late night roadworks on highways. I don’t think you can foresee company retreats in advance.

Day 2: Stonehenge and the Roman Bath

Route: Reading — Stonehenge — Bath — Cotswold

I chose an accommodation in Reading so that we didn’t have to drive too far to get to Stonehenge the next day. To be real, it’s a big country and everything feels far. Something I have to get used to living in a tiny country like Singapore. You have to be realistic about the driving hours.

After breakfast and check out, we drove about 45 minutes to Stonehenge. It is best to purchase your tickets in advance so you can avoid the long lines and also guarantee your visit. If tickets are sold out upon arrival, you might not be able to get in. I bought my tickets online. Since my parents of a certain age, the three of us qualify for concession tickets which they did not verify when I collected my tickets at the counter. Also, do take note there will be two prices for entrance tickets to most attractions which differs due to one being a donation price and the other just the ticket price. The donation included ticket means that a portion of the sales will go to the upkeeping of the National Trust.

Photo 20-8-17, 02 24 21
sadly it was a gloomy day

After getting your tickets and/or your audio guide, you will have to queue for a bus that will take you to the Stonehenge. I really wanted to see the Stonehenge after learning about it in Art History. To each his own. Not everyone enjoys it. But if you got the audio guide, it really helps to explain certain historical and structural information. You would spend approximately 1-2 hours here depending on the crowds. There is a café/restaurant where you can buy food and refreshments. Or if you’re frugal like my family, there are tables and benches for you to picnic (in secret).

After lunch, we drove another hour up to Bath. Bath is just wow. My favorite part of being in this part of the world is the architecture. I mean those buildings are just so sexy. Seriously I could just photograph every building and still be in love. Due to time constraints, we were only able to visit the Roman Baths and sort of drive pass the Royal Crescent and the Circus.

The Roman Baths are very worth it. You would spend about an hour or two here because it may seem small from the outside but there are lots to see inside. Tickets come with complimentary audio guides which are very helpful to still catch information without reading the information boards. Essentially, there are too many people for you to read anything.

You will start at the uppermost level and work your way down where you can actually see how water is directed to the baths. Most of the original structure is preserved and covered by walking glass. There are also actors posing as people of the past who you can interact with or will do little performances at unsuspecting times. The place is like a maze so it would be good to be mindful of your traveling buddies at times. There are tiny elevators for the disabled and elderly but be mindful that it is still rather difficult to navigate in tight spaces.

We ended our day with a walk through the city center and a drive to Swindon for our Airbnb for the night.

Note: Get your tickets in advance whenever you can because it really saves you time.

Day 3: Baddesley Clinton in Warwick and Dovedale

Route: Bath — Warwick — Peak District

Another full day of driving so our day started early again. We headed towards Buxton through Warwick. We had an hour and a half drive to Warwick from Swindon. In Warwick, I visited the Baddesley Clinton. It was listed in the attractions to see in Warwick. Honestly, I wouldn’t know about it unless it was recommended. The list of attractions in England is mostly historical. Upon reading up about this house, it is definitely more than a house. I am referring both the history and the size because it may look normal on the outside but be prepared to be amazed. Every nook and cranny of Baddesley Clinton filled with stories and memories of the past.

Ticket prices because this is under the National Trust. Also, there are two types of tickets either including the garden and house or just the house. The tickets for the house would also include times you are to enter. I would recommend going to both house and garden because the garden is simply beautifully filled with flowers during the summer. The café and souvenir shop are good places to kill some time if need be due to the timed entrances to the house. I would recommend bringing small bags instead of a backpack as you would be asked to check the bag in with them or carry at the side to prevent the risk of damaging artifacts.

We then continued to Dovedale which was on the way to our next Airbnb apartment in Buxton. I wanted to incorporate any nature attractions on the trip to get away from any city vibes and it’s also a break from historical sites for uninterested parties. I thought Dovedale was just a lookout point or something. But I was rather pleased with my visit. The drive took almost 2 hours and it was all small roads that are actually considered highways there. It was a lot of up and down hills. And be prepared to lose cell connection because of the area. I was afraid we would be lost because it was all so quiet and empty around us. But the moment we reach the gate to enter Dovedale, it was like finding a whole lot of people hiding behind a bush.

Upon arrival, you will be asked to pay for a parking ticket. We were very lucky for a random driver, who was leaving and had extra hours in his parking ticket, was very kind to give us that ticket. So we didn’t pay anything. The parking ticket cost about 2 pounds or so. You would then park your car and grab your picnic supplies before heading into the main area. It’s difficult to explain what Dovedale is. It’s basically a forested area surrounded by hills. And the moment you enter the area, you can just feel a natural cool breeze. It was basically natural air conditioning.

There were people who were there with pets. There were some who were splashing around in the water. We laid our mats and just sat down to enjoy a nice afternoon lunch while dipping my feet in the water. Be careful of ducks!

The day ended with a drive to Buxton which we almost got lost due to no cell reception. But seriously the Airbnb was superb! By far, my favorite Victorian townhouse stay ever!

Day 4: Fountains Abbey

Route: Peak District — Northumberland

The day was supposed to be a short one with the aim of driving nearer to Edinburgh through Northumberland. I had only planned two stops which are Fountains Abbey and Hadrian’s Wall. However, due to roadworks and being stuck in traffic, we only managed to get to Fountains Abbey and onwards to our apartment in Newcastle.

It was extremely frustrating because each day we would be battling for time and sun to ensure my father was driving without falling asleep. This was a regret of mine because I wanted to head to Edinburgh so badly that we had mostly touch and go stops. Or we could only visit one place despite driving so much. My frustration with time was met with Google maps when we hit roads that were closed off due to roadworks. I think it is commonly faced by most travelers. Google maps would keep directing us back to that road. After a while, I had to just read the map and find my way without the GPS.  These are the times when technology is not everything and you have to rely on your own skills.

After much frustration and traffic, we reached Fountains Abbey. The place is rather big so it can take you a half day tour to properly tour the whole compound. We were not able to tour the Royal Water Garden due to lack of time. We toured around for an hour after having lunch. Be sure to bring umbrellas along because there are no shelters unless in the main ticketing area.

Fountains Abbey is a ruined Cistercian monastery. You can walk amongst the ruins but not in the main building. It was huge! As you can see, the monastery main structure is still intact. But I doubt that it is safe to walk on because it is a protected area. You can have picnics on the grass. They also have benches for picnics and a playground for children.

Day 5: Alnwick Castle and Edinburgh (finally!)

Route: Northumberland — Edinburgh

Today, we drove an hour to Alnwick Castle, located in Northumberland. The day continued to be gloomy but nevertheless, the breeze is just my kind of weather. Upon arriving at Alnwick Castle, we parked right outside of the castle. It was early in the day but the parking slots were mostly full. There aren’t many slots anyway. It helps to arrive early.

Alnwick Castle was the first castle we fully explored. We spent about an hour and a half there. There are a couple of buildings you can enter. There are also many activities for children that are medieval themed. I even spotted a quidditch lesson with kids running around with brooms between their thighs. The first two Harry Potter films were filmed here. The gift shops are filled with Harry Potter merchandise. There is a small exhibit near the café and fish and chips restaurant for Downton Abbey fans. This was the castle the famous British drama was filmed.

You can visit a former dungeon and walk around as you please. There are also timed tours that you can join. The main exhibit of the castle showcases the life of the Royals as this castle belongs to the Duke of Northumberland. The main exhibit is truly mesmerizing because you see the photos of past and current royals. (There are photos of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge along with Her Majesty the Queen.) It’s like visiting a cousin of the royals. Everything is just beautiful. I was totally mesmerized by the interior. (Think Beauty and the Beast movie before the curse) All the beauty is not allowed to be captured because photography is absolutely not allowed. So you’ll just have to take mental photos. Honestly, the exterior of the castle does the interior no justice.

After snack time, we drove another hour or so towards Edinburgh. From the highway towards Edinburgh, you can see the ocean which is beautiful on an otherwise gloomy day. There are viewpoints you can stop along the road to really enjoy the scenery. Rest stops are also available along the major highways for food or just to take a break.

We arrived at the Edinburgh Airbnb apartment slightly earlier than I expected. So we had a walk around the city center before checking in. The neighborhood we were staying in was just beautiful. The architecture of the city is just beautiful. I felt like I was living in a posh neighborhood. (I don’t know why I didn’t take more photos. But I think I was busy with directions.) We ended the day with a quick trip to Waitrose where everything I love (Oat Milk included) is so much cheaper.

Day 6: Exploring Edinburgh Castle and Livingston Outlet Mall

I have to say Edinburgh kicks London’s ass. Not only is it a beautiful city with so much architectural beauty everywhere, it is just filled with people whose accents I can’t understand. Everywhere I turn is a photo worthy building. We started our day at the Edinburgh Castle. I didn’t purchase tickets in advance so we had to wait in line for quite a bit. There were tons of people everywhere despite it being a huge place. I don’t think there’s much of a difference between going early or late here because it has a steady flow of crowds throughout the day.

Each “exhibit” is in a different building so that’s how they disperse the crowds. There are guided timed tours conducted by men in kilts and thick Scottish accents holding umbrellas. The guides provide more detailed explanations of the history and various buildings as there aren’t many information boards around. Exhibits include a display of crown jewels, war memorials and a museum about the wars. There might be queues in certain buildings but fret not, the queues are usually moving ones. You can also get a bird’s eye view of the city of Edinburgh here.

We walked around outside the castle grounds. There are a couple of touristy shops. We decided to leave because it was rather chaotic outside with firetrucks and police officers everywhere. And also strange men dressed like weird “It” clowns. We had to walk to the other side of the park next to the castle to get to parking. It was definitely a walk back to the car. We then decided to have a relaxing afternoon shopping at an outlet mall in Livingston which was about half an hour away.

Unfortunately, I was too busy to take photos at the Livingston Outlet Mall. If you’re in the UK and you’re on the bigger side like me, please please buy jeans from Marks and Spencer because it’s at least half the price in Singapore and the jeans look good for us plus size ladies.

Day 7 and 8: Edinburgh to Hitchin via Liverpool

Route: Edinburgh — Liverpool, Liverpool — Hitchin

I decided to combine these two days as there was not much we got to see due to being stuck in traffic. Highway traffic was so bad that our drive from Edinburgh to Liverpool took the whole day. It’s crazy to plan roadworks in the day where there are a lot of cars and what makes it worse is that their highways have three lanes so you’re basically fighting with two lanes of cars. We had to mostly kill time by waiting at rest stops for some traffic to clear before driving again.

We got to Liverpool around 5pm or so and many shops were already near closing. We did have a good walk around the town. Liverpool is a harbor city so it’s mostly boats and birds. There isn’t much attraction around. But we did have a quick visit to the Liverpool Stadium the next day before heading towards Hitchin. We just enjoyed some downtime and headed to bed early.

Our 8th day was mostly shopping. After a quick look at the Liverpool Stadium, we headed towards Cheshire Oaks Designer Outlet Mall. I was excited for this because my cousin had recommended as the place to shop. (And I was eyeing a MJ bag.) I have to say it wasn’t as awesome as the Las Vegas Outlet mall but it was the nicest outlet mall I have ever seen. The bathroom countertops are marble! Though it lacks proper eateries so don’t expect to have lunch there. There was a great crepe stall!

Day 9: Lavender Fields in Hitchin

Route: Hitchin — London

I was most excited for this throughout my trip. I got this from the havehalalwilltravel site. However, the lavender that was available, was not so vibrant as seen in photos because it was late in the summer. Nevertheless, I thought it was worth my 5 pounds per adult ticket. You basically pay £5 for a brown paper bag of A4 size and one pair of scissors (which we had to share among the 4 of us). You can actually pluck it by hand but scissors would make it easier. They can’t provide more because there is a limited quantity of scissors.

Armed with your paper bag, you can now collect as many lavenders as you want. There is no limit. You can even use your own bag if you want more because I saw many Brits actually using eco bags to carry their lavender and here I thought we were kiasu.

After you have picked lavender to your heart’s content, you can make your way to the café or museum. The museum is really really small that gives you some insight of how lavender essential oil is made or how lavender is dried. There is also a nursery where you can buy lavender plants or other plants. I was very tempted! But the café is simply charming. It has a very barn farm feel to it. You can order food or pick out sandwiches and bottled drinks from their cool section. I got myself the honey lavender ice cream which is made at the Hitchin farm itself. OMG, your life will never be the same.

The café is joined by their mini store which sells everything lavender. They do sell the prettier lavender that is more vibrant in color. I got myself the lavender essential oil which is my favorite purchase from them because it is really good for when I have my headaches. It is really calming.

After getting our lavender on, we headed towards London to drop off our bags at the Airbnb before returning the rental car. We decided it was more budget-friendly to explore London via public transport. There isn’t much of a need for a car in London and we were spending another 3 days here anyways.

I’m not sure to share what I did in London because it’s not my first time here so we mostly did some shopping and sightseeing. Pretty standard stuff. Nevertheless, the drive to Edinburgh was definitely the best part. It’s a great experience to see the English countryside. Every view was picturesque and breathtaking. Definitely worth it!

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