After wrapping up our time in Asia, we had planned to move on to Europe via Istanbul – where East meets West. The romance of this idea was irresistible… Until we saw a flight to London for less than $300. This was a great deal compared to other flights, and we also loved the idea of finally experiencing some cooler weather.
And suddenly, we found ourselves in London! It was quite a shock to be back in a big western city. Anything you want or need is within arms reach. Everything is clean… and expensive. It was a significant change from the feel of traveling in Asia, but a welcome change in many ways.
We spent three nights in London, which ironically, happened to be experiencing a heat wave upon our arrival. As much as we were hoping for cool temperatures and the traditional London fog, the hot sun brought all the Londoners out to the parks and pubs, which was fun to see.
It was also a tragic time to be in London, since England very recently experienced a series of terrorist attacks as well as the Grenfell Tower fire disaster in London. While the city and it’s people have certainly been affected by these events, we also saw the strength and resilience that can develop when people come together and support one another in the midst of tough times.
We spent a day exploring all the must-see sights: Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Taking in the history of these places was really awesome, but our favorite part of London was enjoying the beautiful parks that were nearby our hostel, Regent’s Park and Hyde Park. Perhaps this was because you won’t find anything like these parks in Asia. Having free, immaculately maintained open spaces is something that we’ve taken for granted at home that doesn’t exist in much of the world. The parks are huge and were full of locals playing sports after work, jogging, picnicking, and strolling through the gardens.
We also did our best to hit some of London’s classic pubs, the best of which was probably the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, one of the oldest pubs in London, and one that was supposedly frequented by both Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. Another highlight was catching some live music at the Blues Kitchen in Camden Town, a fun and rowdy neighborhood full of trendy bars, restaurants, and music venues.
After three nights, we’d had our fill of the city and decided that the best way to fully experience the UK would be to hit the road! We rented a van, and Connor bravely taught himself how to drive a manual on the left side of the “carriageway.” Accommodations in the UK are also quite pricey, so we figured we might be able to save a few bucks by staying in Hostel de Van.
Our first stop was Stonehenge, the prehistoric monument that draws thousands of visitors each solstice to celebrate the longest day of the year and the monument’s alignment with the sun. We happened to arrive the day after the solstice, narrowly avoiding the crowds, although we were still able to appreciate the nearly perfect angle of the sun over the stones ($17/person).
Next, we spent a night in Bath, a scenic town in the England countryside known for the old Roman Baths that have been preserved in the town center. Although we didn’t visit the baths themselves, we enjoyed wandering the old streets and having a few pints at The Raven, one of the charming local pubs.
From there, we headed through Wales, which we found to be a lovely surprise. Small, cozy villages with narrow cobblestone streets and bridges were tucked in between vast green rolling hills, dotted with sheep. Old cathedrals and castles could be seen every few miles, and it truly felt as though we’d stepped right into a fairytale. We stayed a night in the great little coastal town of Barmouth, where we met salty American ex-pat Dave in his pub, The Royal. Dave and the other locals were thoroughly amused by our showing up in what they felt was the middle of nowhere Wales, and so they showed us a fabulous time, buying pint after pint, which effectively kept us from hiking Snowdon peak the next day as planned.
Although we didn’t get out for a hike the next day, the drive through Snowdonia National Park was beautiful, and it just got better from there. We drove up to England’s Lake District, a mecca for UK hiking and cycling. Each village in the area seemed to be filled with equally endearing B&B’s, pubs, and old stone buildings. Coniston, the village we stayed in, was no exception.
There are a lot of hikes in the Lake District area to choose from, but for convenience sake, we did a quick hike up Old Man Coniston. It was a quick, fun hike with a great view from the summit (~5 miles roundtrip). One could easily spend a week in this area hiking, backpacking, or biking from village to village.
From there, we continued north and enjoyed an incredibly scenic drive through Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, which would have been a worthwhile stop if we’d had more time.
We made it to Scotland and landed in Fort William for two nights so that we could hike Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the UK at 1,345 m (4,413 ft). We lucked out with decent weather, and the hike, although somewhat crowded, was a great time (~5 hrs roundtrip).
Our second night in Fort William allowed us to take in the town and drink a few pints. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the UK has started to catch on to the trend of American style pale ales! It’d been a long time since we enjoyed such tasty brews, but the whiskey distilleries of Northern Scotland were calling!
The next day, it was on to the Isle of Skye in Northwestern Scotland. We cruised around the island, taking in sights such as the Old Man of Storr, Kilt Rock, and Dunvegan Castle. We wrapped up the day by exploring Neist point and the Neist Lighthouse, which offer incredible views of nearby cliffs. We also saw puffins, and of course, lots of sheep. We were so far north that it wasn’t dark until close to midnight, but we watched the sunset from the van and stayed the night at Neist Point – a real highlight of our time in the UK.
From the Isle of Skye, we traveled east toward Speyside (past Loch Ness – no Nessie in sight) to sip some local whiskey. Speyside is the region with the most scotch whiskey distilleries in Scotland and is home to famous distilleries such as Glenlivet and Glenfiddich, as well as many smaller boutique distilleries. It is also home to a handful of quaint, quiet villages. We were hoping to find a village with a lively scene, but if that village exists, we didn’t find it. We ended up in Aviemore, which we were told is the local “ski town” in the winter. Even the “touristy” parts of Northern Scotland are remote and quiet, although beautiful.
Finally, we headed back down south to Edinburgh, where we stopped to take in the unique gothic architecture, which was the inspiration for the setting of the Harry Potter series. Practically every building in Edinburgh looks like a castle, and there are some truly awe inspiring cathedrals (St. Giles Cathedral in particular). We easily could have spent a few nights here enjoying the old timey pubs and exploring the nooks and crannies of this funky old city, but we had to continue our journey back to London to catch our next flight.
We went out for one last pub crawl in Camden Town, and then we were off. If you have the means and the bravery to take on the UK via road trip, we highly recommend it, although we would have found it more enjoyable with a few extra days so that we could relax our pace a bit. 1,900 miles in a week allows you to see a lot, but the long days on the very narrow roads are exhausting. All in all, the van provided a fantastic way for us to take in the countryside and gave us the freedom to explore exactly what we wanted, while also helping us save some cash. On to Ireland!
If you have any questions about our journey or thoughts you’d like to share, please comment on the blog or send us a message on Instagram @theadventuregoeson!