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  • You could take almost any section of the 11,073 miles of Britain’s coastline (and that’s not including the islands!) and enjoy a beautiful walk along cliffs, beaches and dunes. The fantastic network of footpaths in Britain means that nearly all of the coastline is accessible to the public and can be walked in linear stretches or enjoyed as part of a circular route, taking in some countryside as well.

    Here are some of our favourite stretches around the country, to give you a taste of the Great British Coastline!

    1. Around Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire (circular) – 5.6 miles

    Old lifeguard station at Robin Hood's BayThe North Yorkshire coast has cliffs, bays and wildlife to rival any other part of Britain and this loop takes in arguably the area’s most picturesque fishing village, some wonderful cliff walking, the chance to spot fossils on the beach and a stretch of pretty countryside.

    The walk starts in Robin Hood’s Bay – the picture of a smugglers’ cove, with buildings tumbling down the hillside to the sea, and narrow alleyways wriggling through them. The beach here is a great place for spotting fossils and there are plenty of places for refreshment in town (the Old Bakery and Swell café are our favourites).

    From the village, the first section of the walk heads north across fields and stiles (lots of them!). After heading east to get back to the coast, the return leg follows the Cleveland away along the cliff tops back to the village. If you need refreshments mid-way the Hare and Hounds at High Hawsker is a short detour off the route.

    Full route directions are provided by the AA here.

    2. Dartmouth to Brixham, Devon (linear, with a regular bus back to the start) – 11 miles

    Boats on the River DartThe South-West Coast Path follows the whole of Devon and Cornwall’s coastline (as well as a lot of Dorset’s) and the whole route is so stunning you can walk any stretch of it and have a fantastic experience.

    This section from Dartmouth to Brixton in Devon offers fantastic variety – starting in Dartmouth you are in one of the south-west’s most picturesque (and popular!) towns, with its fantastic setting on the Dart Estuary. From there, you hop on a little tug ferry to the pretty village of Kingswear, with its multi-coloured houses clinging to the hillside, before sweeping up and down the cliff-side, taking in hidden coves, long, sandy beaches, stunning views from the cliff-tops and a wide-variety of seabirds, especially around Berry Head Nature Reserve. You also walk past the back entrance to Coleton Fishacre, a 1920s country retreat with beautiful gardens, maintained by the National Trust, which makes a great stop if you have time.

    Brixham itself is a contrast to Dartmouth – rather than a picture-perfect holiday town, Brixham is very much a working harbour town, always bustling and with plenty of places to try the excellent seafood that comes straight off the boats into the huge fish market every morning (an outdoor table at Claws on the harbour front is a great option if you can bag one, or a table at ‘Claws Indoors’ just on the other side of the road if not!).

    Regular buses run from Brixham back to Kingswear where you can hop back on the ferry to your starting point.

    Full route information is provided on the South West Coast Path website here.

    3. Craster to Low Newton via Dunstanburgh Castle, Northumberland (circular) – 6 miles

    Dunstanburgh CastleNorthumberland’s coastline, with its atmospheric castle ruins and vast stretches of empty beach have a wild and windswept charm.

    This walk starts from the small village of Craster, at one time a busy fishing harbour but now a peaceful place with only a few boats, although the famous Craster kippers are still smoked here and well worth a try before or after your walk!

    The first half of the walk tracks along the coast close to the sea, taking you through woodland, sand dunes and rock pools before reaching the moody ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle, looking out to sea.

    After exploring the castle ruins, continue along the coast, passing underneath tall cliffs, looking out for a variety of sea birds and along the wide stretch of sandy Embleton Bay.

    On reaching the little fishing village of Low Newton, the path turns back south, returning along a higher route, offering good views out to sea and over the cliffs and castle and a visit to Newton Pool Nature Reserve.

    Back in Craster, enjoy a well-earned pint with sea views at the Jolly Fisherman or sample some local seafood at L Robson and Sons seafood restaurant (home of the aforementioned kippers!).

    Full route information is provided by the National Trust here.

    4. St Abb’s Nature Reserve, Scottish Borders (circular) – 4 miles

    St Abb's village from the cliffsThe Scottish Borders are most well-known for the beautiful abbey ruins that are scattered across the area but head to the coast and you will find fantastic scenery and great wildlife.

    Start at the little fishing of St Abb’s from where a four mile loop takes you around the St Abb’s Head Nature Reserve. The walk takes you along cliffs that are filled with nesting seabirds during summer to the lighthouse, from where you circle inland and enjoy a return route through the surrounding grassland filled with wildflowers.

    Back in St Abb’s, refuel at little Ebb Carr’s café, right by the harbour, where you can enjoy fresh crab sandwiches, Scotland’s famous Cullen Skink or a homemade scone!

    Alternatively you can park in the National Trust car park, which also has an interesting visitors centre.

    Full route information has been provided by Countryfile here.

    5. Shieldaig Peninsula (circular) – 2.75 miles

    Shieldaig villageThink about walking in the Scottish Highlands and you might be daunted by the idea of needing to be fully kitted out in mountaineering equipment and happy to climb for hours, but Scotland’s west coast offers some of its finest scenery, and often with wonderful views of the mountains without having to be up them!

    There are plenty of options for enjoying some of the coastline and we could have chosen many to feature here, but it is hard to beat the gentle circuit of the Shieldaig Peninsula for squeezing gorgeous scenery and huge variety into a reasonably short and easy walk.

    Start in little Shieldaig village with its picture-perfect setting on the shores of Loch Shieldaig. A rocky track takes you across moorland and around the little peninsula, giving you wonderful views back over Shieldaig, across Loch Torridon to Inveralligin and the Diabaig peninsula and over the stunning Torridon mountains.

    Back in Shieldaig, make sure to pick up some smoked salmon from the fantastic little ‘Loch Torridon Smokehouse’ tucked behind one of the houses on the main street.

    Full route information can be found on Walking Highlands here.

    6. Marazion to Porthleven, Cornwall (linear, with a regular bus back to the start) – 10.8 miles

    St Michael's MountCornwall’s coastline is justifiably popular, with gorgeous beaches, cliffs and coves to be found around the whole county. Walking part of the South West Coast Path is a great way to get away from the crowds that can be found at some of the more popular spots.

    This route from Marazion to Porthelven takes in one of Cornwall’s most famous sights – St Michael’s Mount – and a great mixture of flat walking along the beach and the typical roller-coaster up and down the cliff side!

    It starts in the charming village of Marazion, where you can stroll across the causeway to explore St Michael’s Mount if the tide is low (or take a boat if not) before enjoying the first fairly flat section of the walk, which offers great views over Mounts Bay and back to St Michael’s Mount.

    The second part of the walk takes you up and down the cliffs, providing huge variety – a couple of great sandy beaches at Perranuthnoe and Praa Sands, some of Cornwall’s famous mining ruins at Wheal Prosper (very Poldark!), a smuggler’s cove, beautiful wild flowers in spring and summer and great views from Rinsey Head and Trewavas Head both back over Mounts Bay and ahead to the Lizard Peninsula.

    The walk ends in the quintessential fishing town of Porthleven – popular but not overrun, boats bob around in the harbour and you can get a pot of freshly picked crab, only just out of the sea, from the tiny shop on the harbour side! There are lots of great options for refreshments – including the atmospheric Ship Inn – before hopping on the bus back to Marazion.

    Full route information is provided on the South West Coast Path website here.

    If you would like more information about walking in Britain or would like us to create a tailor-made itinerary for your holiday in Britain, please get in touch.

  • Crummock Water (c) Matt Coppin / Great British EscapesThe Lake District National Park is a very popular area both for British holidaymakers and those coming from further afield; the vast majority of our customers include a couple of nights there during their trip, so it certainly could not be considered ‘off the beaten track’. However, most people stick to the central Lakes, which, while beautiful and with many interesting places to visit, can get a bit busy in the height of summer.

    If you head instead to the north of the area, you will find a very different feel – the same stunning scenery but with a more rugged atmosphere, a focus on hiking and exploring the great outdoors, and many areas where your only company is a few Herdwick sheep!

    Here are our top tips for visiting the area.

    Favourite short walks

    Castle Crag

    The lowest summit to be given the ‘full treatment’ by Alfred Wainwright in his famous pictorial guides, the fell walker thought it well worth the accolade, and we certainly agree – the beautiful approach, the mining heritage and the fantastic views for relatively little effort make this a wonderful outing.Borrowdale from Castle Crag (c) Matt Coppin / Great British Escapes

    There are a couple of options of where to start the walk but we like the route from the little village of Grange (limited parking available in front of the village hall), which takes you down a lane and past the idyllic campsite at Hollows Farm, on the banks of the River Derwent, before climbing through picture-perfect woodland, following the course of Broadslack Gill. You emerge from the woodland only for the last pull to the summit of Castle Crag, which is mostly on a zig-zagging path through the remains of an old slate quarry (care should be taken as slates can move or be slippy in wet/icy weather).

    Emerging onto a flat section of slate, you suddenly get a stunning view over the head of Borrowdale, with the Derwent snaking its way through the flat valley floor. A short climb through a large number of slate cairns takes you to the summit, where there is another stunning view, this time in the other direction, down Borrowdale to Derwent Water and Keswick.

    Descending from the summit, you can either retrace your steps or loop around the summit to join the Cumbria Way footpath close to the river and follow this north, to re-join your original path back at the campsite.

    Derwent Water from Castle Crag (c) Matt Coppin / Great British EscapesGrange boasts the perfect spot to enjoy a well-earned cuppa and cake on your return – at the Grange Bridge Tea Shop the service and produce can be a little hit and miss but a seat in the garden by the river overlooking the summit you have just bagged more than makes up for it!

    Cat Bells

    Another favourite is the short walk up to the summit of Cat Bells. You get stunning views over Derwent Water and the peaks surrounding the Newlands Valley, for fairly little effort. However, this is certainly not one you will have to yourself on anything other than a cold winter’s day (or very early in the morning!), as it’s extremely popular. It also features as part of our ‘long walk’ below! There are quiet routes up to the ridge from the western side of the fell, in the Newlands Valley, if you don’t want to follow the well-trodden ridge route, or to make the route a circuit.

    Loweswater

    For a low level option, the circuit of little Loweswater in the Buttermere Valley is a lovely option with a great pub nearby for post-walk refreshments (see below). The National Trust owns the land here and provides walk details on its website.

    Favourite long walk: The Newlands Horseshoe

    Taking in 1190 metres of ascent, 6 summits and 12 miles, this is a full day walk and not for the fainthearted!

    While Cat Bells, the lowest summit on the route, tends to get a lot of visitors (see above), you are very likely to be doing several other stretches of this walk in wonderful peace and quiet (so make sure you have a map and know how to read it!).

    There are several options on where to start the walk but we like the start from the little villages of Stair or Little Town in theDerwent Water and Bassenthwaite Lake from Cat Bells (c) Matt Coppin / Great British Escapes Newlands Valley. Little Town has the advantage of having a good café at Littletown Farm for a well-earned treat when you finish the route! (Although note it is only open in summer and ‘busy periods’ so worth checking before you set off if you’re relying on it!)

    The route starts by climbing to the highest summit of the day – Robinson – from where there are wonderful views of both the Newlands Valley and over into the Buttermere Valley to Crummock Water.

    The ridge then takes you over Hindscarth to Dale Head, for more fabulous views of the Newlands Valley and over to the Skiddaw massif. There is a steep descent down to pretty Dale Head Tarn before climbing again to the summit of High Spy and enjoying a stunning ridge walk over Maiden Moor to Cat Bells. From here, there is a short but steep descent back into the Newlands Valley to end the day.

    It is possible to shorten the route by descending early from the ridge back into the valley at various points along the route.

    Favourite Café: The Lingholm Kitchen

    The Lingholme KitchenThe Lingholm Estate, tucked away on the quieter western shores of Derwent Water, is centred on a grand Victorian Mansion, most well-known as being a holiday location for the young Beatrix Potter, before she made the Lake District her permanent home.

    The estate has recently opened the Lingholm Kitchen and Walled Garden – a large, light and airy café, overlooking the walled garden (reputedly Potter’s inspiration for Mr McGregor’s garden), with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. Service is excellent, homemade cakes and breads are too tempting, and lunches are a great mixture of smart sandwiches and something a bit more unusual. Excellent breakfasts and brunches are also served.

    You are welcome to stroll through the garden and The Walled Garden on the Lingholme Estatewoodland and down to the lake. If you’d rather leave the car behind, you can take the Keswick Launch from Keswick to either Hawse End or Nichol End Marina and make the short walk along the Cumbria Way footpath to Lingholm from there.

    Favourite Pub: The Kirkstile Inn

    Tucked away in the hamlet of Loweswater in the Buttermere valley, the Kirkstile Inn is everything a country pub should be. Packed full of character that has been wonderfully looked after over the last 500 years, all of the requisite ingredients are in place: original timber beams, flag stone floors and roaring fires.

    The atmosphere is cosy and welcoming, whether you pop in for an afternoon pint after a long walk or settle in for the evening to try some of the local food (rooms are also available). On a sunny day, there is plenty of outside space to soak up the grand proportions of the Buttermere Valley.

    Add to this that the Kirkstile has its own micro-brewery (now relocated to near Hawkshead due to its popularity) – Cumbrian Legendary Ales – and sells its own excellent beers alongside a selection of other local favourites and it is hard to find fault!

    Favourite activities

    Boating on Derwent Water

    Rowing boats on Derwent Water (c) Matt Coppin / Great British EscapesThe beautifully located lake of Derwent Water, with Keswick at its northern point and stretching down Borrowdale, flanked by increasingly high mountains on either side, is a great spot for those who like taking to the water.

    There are options to suit every taste – peaceful ‘hop-on-hop-off’ lake cruises, allowing you to explore all around the lake without navigating the narrow lanes; rowing boats; motor boats; and kayaks. Take a fishing trip or, if feeling brave, have a dip from one of the lake ‘beaches’ (confident swimmers only and never go alone).

    For a more unusual option, five times a year, Derwent Island House, on privately owned Derwent Isle in the middle of the lake, is open to the public and you can take a boat trip or canoe to the island and visit the house.

    Whinlatter Forest

    Whinlatter Forest, England’s only mountain forest, is run by the Forestry Commission and, as well as providing wood for fuel and building, offers a variety of activities including well-renowned mountain biking trails (not suitable for beginners), walking trails, a high ropes ‘Go Ape’ course, segways to hire and an excellent woodland ‘play trail’ for the kids.

    If you would like some help planning your trip to the northern Lakes or anywhere else in Britain, just get in touch.

  • 08 February 2018

    48 hours in... London!

    London at Dusk (c)MattCoppin/GreatBritishEscapes

    One of the world’s most well-known and fascinating cities, you could spend weeks in London and still only scratch the surface, but if you follow our tips, you can still get a really good feel for the city if your time is limited.

    In just 48 hours you can visit several of the well-known highlights, but make sure to take some time off from box-ticking to wander through the busy, cosmopolitan streets, to soak up the atmosphere and get a feel for the character of this fascinating city.

    Central London is surprisingly compact and it is easy to get between many of the famous sights without having to take public transport, and exploring on foot will help you stumble upon many of London’s ‘hidden gems’.

    Hit the ground running

    Drop your bags at your hotel and get straight out for an early hit of culture! London is well-known for its wide selection of World Class museums and galleries (most of which are free), so squeeze one in on your first afternoon.

    There are many options but it is hard to beat the British Museum in Bloomsbury. Its huge entrance atrium is immediately impressive and the collection includes the Rosetta Stone, the Parthenon Sculptures and the Oxus Treasures. Popular exhibitions are also regularly hosted, but may need booking in advance.

    Evening relaxation

    From here you can make the short walk to lively Soho for the evening (making a quick detour to Oxford Street if you fancy some shopping!). The criss-cross of streets south of Oxford Street that makes up the area of Soho is chock full of restaurants, bars and cafes and is the perfect place for some people watching.

    Try to grab a window seat at one of the many bar-restaurants along Old Compton Street for a prime view of Soho life over your pre-dinner drink. The eating options are endless with hundreds of restaurants from the casual cheap-eat to world famous fine dining – one of our favourites is Yotam Ottolenghi’s Nopi, where middle-eastern flavours take centre stage and, if you are feeling sociable, you can take a seat at the communal dining table downstairs (booking essential). It also gives you the chance to pop in for a pre or post dinner pint at The Lyric, a fantastically characterful Victorian pub that offers a wide selection of craft beers.

    Along the South Bank

    Millennium Bridge, London

    Get an early start to make the most of your full day and, after a hearty breakfast to set you up, head for Westminster, where you can see the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and call into Westminster Abbey.

    Once you are finished with the political heart of London, head across Westminster Bridge to the south side of the river, admiring the view back on the Palace of Westminster and the London skyline as you do.

    Head east and, if you would like to get a bird’s eye view of the city, make the London Eye your first stop (buying fast-track tickets in advance saves precious time). Otherwise, continue along the river, enjoying the lively footpath that is always filled with performers, food stalls and art exhibitions.

    Pass the Royal Festival Hall, British Film Institute and National Theatre, which all have options for some refreshment as well as changing exhibitions and a regular farmers’ market, and admire the impressive buildings that line the north side of the river, before reaching the pedestrian Millennium Bridge. On the south side of the bridge, call into the Tate Modern to see the latest exhibition in the vast Turbine Hall, and consider crossing the bridge to visit famous St Paul’s Cathedral.

    Back on the south side, continue on to London Bridge, where the narrowing pathways give a real sense of what this part of London was like in medieval times, and stop at Borough Market, a huge food market, for lunch or to pick up some produce. Pass HMS Belfast, now permanently moored on the Thames and a museum open to the public, to reach Tower Bridge.

    Tower of London (c)MattCoppin/GreatBritishEscapes

    Crossing back to the north side, your last stop is the fascinating Tower of London, a building with one of the most fascinating histories of any in the world. Royal palace, fortress, prison and place of execution, the Tower has witnessed many of the most significant events in English history. It remains home to the Crown Jewels as well as the famous ‘Beefeaters’, who conduct tours of the tower. Advance purchase of tickets can save time queuing.

    If you don't fancy the walk, you can take the River Bus down the Thames from the London Eye Pier to London Bridge or all the way to the Tower of London, getting a good view of the other sights as you pass by!

    Show time!

    For many, a trip to London isn’t complete without seeing a West End show, so grab an early dinner at one of the many restaurants in the theatre district that offers early bird theatre menus and spend your evening singing along to your favourite tunes.

    The most popular shows can sell out months in advance, so booking in advance is sensible if you have something specific you would like to see, but there are always last minute tickets available for some shows, so don’t panic if you haven’t booked ahead.

    If you prefer serious theatre, head for the Old Vic instead (advance booking essential), where you can have pre-theatre dinner and post-theatre drinks at one of the many bars and restaurants that line The Cut.

    Final morning

    Have a slightly more leisurely start to the day, after a big day yesterday, before enjoying a stroll through the Royal Parks of Hyde Park, Green Park and St James’ Park (hire a rowing boat in Hyde Park if time allows!) to reach Buckingham Palace, the famous Royal residence in time to watch the changing of the guard at 11am. You can nearly always get a spot where you can see what’s happening but if you want to be right at the railings, you would need to arrive early! Note that the changing of the guard usually takes place every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, but do check for your dates.

    If you have time for some last minute shopping, stroll up to Selfridges, one of London’s most famous department stores, (where you could grab a quick lunch at the café in the food hall) and along Jermyn Street, where some of the shops seem unchanged in centuries, before heading back to your hotel to collect your bags!

    If you would like any help planning a trip to London or around Britain, please do get in touch.

  • 13 November 2017

    The Homes of Literary Greats

    Britain’s literary heritage spans hundreds of years and many of Britain’s great works are known and loved the world over. Visiting the homes of and places associated with these literary greats is a highlight of many trips so here we look at a couple of the most popular houses associated with these renowned authors.

    William Wordsworth - Dove Cottage

    Dove Cottage, Grasmere (c) VisitEngland/CumbriaTourism/Dave WillisDove Cottage Grasmere (c) VisitEngland/CumbriaTourism/Dave Willis On the edge of bustling Grasmere, what was once an inn, the 'Dove and Olive Bough', became the home for William and his sister Dorothy in late 1799. They lived there for the next eight years. In 1802 William married Mary Hutchinson and three of their five children were then born here as well.

    As with Hill Top, a visit to Dove Cottage transports you back in time with plenty of the family’s own belongings throughout the house, with little having changed in the house since the Wordsworths lived there. The impressive Wordsworth Museum is next door to Dove Cottage and they have on show the most extensive collection of the Wordsworths’ letters, journals and poems in the world.

    Entirely unconnected to Wordsworth, it wouldn’t be a proper trip to Grasmere without sampling the delights of Sarah Nelson’s Gingerbread. This delicious Gingerbread was invented in 1854 by Victorian creator cook Sarah Nelson who mixed and baked her spicy-sweet chewy concoction inside her Church Cottage home – now The Grasmere Gingerbread Shop – and sold it to villagers and visitors from a table top on a tree stump outside her front door! Step inside the shop and it doesn’t feel like much has changed!

    Turning back to Wordsworth, he was born in the Northern Lake District, in Cockermouth, and his childhood home is also open to visitors, presented as it would have been when they lived here with their parents, three brothers and servants in the 1770s.

    Beatrix Potter - Hill Top

    The home of one of the world's best-selling and best-loved children's authors, Beatrix Potter's 17th-century farmhouse, Hill Top, set in the picture perfect Lakeland village of Near Sawrey, is a key stop for any literary fan visiting the Lake District. Purchased by Beatrix Potter in 1905 with proceeds from her first book, the Tale of Peter Rabbit, she used Hill Top and the surrounding countryside as inspiration for many of her subsequent books.

    Both the garden and house have been maintained exactly as she left them, so provide a fascinating insight into the author’s life. Sketches of her famous characters are still strewn across her desk and every room contains a reference to a picture in a 'tale'.

    Hill Top is a small house and the National Trust operate a timed-ticket system (to avoid the house getting too busy!) so there may sometimes be a small wait to get inside the cottage, although you can always enjoy the gardens in the meantime!

    Also in the Lake District, for fans of Peter Rabbit, visit the Lingholm Estate on the banks of Derwent Water, which has a strong connection with Beatrix Potter who spent many holidays on the Estate and credited the Lingholm Kitchen Garden as her original inspiration for Mr McGregor’s Garden in The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

    Agatha Christie - Greenway

    Use the beautiful Devon town of Dartmouth – which has a lovely setting on the edge of the River Dart - as a base while visiting Agatha Christie’s glamorous rural retreat. Agatha Christie called Greenway 'the loveliest place in the world' and it became a treasured holiday home for her and her family.

    With views over the Dart, you can see why Agatha loved it as her escape to the countyside. The Christie family filled each room with items dear to them, brought to Greenway from Ashfield, Agatha's childhood home, and from their travels, much of which remains in the house today. The house had a distinctive 1950s styling, when Agatha and her family would spend summers and Christmases here with friends and family.

    A visit to Greenway isn't complete without seeing the Boathouse, scene of the crime in 'Dead Man’s Folly', and the battery complete with cannon.

    There are many different ways to get to Greenway, including ferry and steam train from Dartmouth (both of which really add to the experience!). If you'd like to arrive by car you must pre-book your parking space online or by telephone. Timed tickets may be issued at visitor reception at busy times, just to ease congestion in the house.

    Jane Austen - Chawton

    Jane Austen spent the last eight years of her life in this charming Hampshire cottage from 1809 until 1817 (and it is proudlyChawton Hampshire (c) VisitEngland/Hampshire said that Chawton is the only house where Jane lived and wrote that is open to the public!).

    2017 marks 200 years after her death, and the museum is currently exhibiting, “Jane Austen in 41 Objects”, which is a celebration of her life. Jane was only 41 years old when she died, and the exhibition tells the story of her life and legacy with reference to 41 different objects in the Jane Austen’s House Museum collection.

    On 16 December, all are welcome to visit Chawton free of charge as part of their annual open day which marks Jane Austen’s birthday. Mince pies will be served and there will be free Christmas craft activities inspired by the Austen family!

    The Regency town of Bath is also a fantastic stop for any Austen fans, as she lived in Bath in the early 1800s and it is the setting for a number of her novels. The excellent Jane Austen Centre houses an exhibition telling the story of Jane’s experience in the city and the effect it had on her and her writing.

    William Shakespeare – Stratford-upon-Avon

    No list of literary sites around the UK would be complete without a mention of The Bard! Whist Stratford-upon-Avon itself doesn’t always have the charm of the other stops listed here and gets fairly crowded, Shakespeare’s Birthplace, ‘Anne Hathaway’s Cottage’ (his wife’s childhood home) and the homes of other members of Shakespeare’s family make an absorbing day out.

    Shakespeare's House, Stratford (c) VisitEngland/Shakespeare's Birth Trust/Amy Murrell Shakespeare’s birthplace is particularly atmospheric – wander around the house he was born and grew up in with his parents and siblings. He also spent the first five years of his marriage living here with his wife Anne Hathaway. During your visit, you are likely he hear tales of Shakespeare’s family life, enjoy live theatre on demand and get up close to rare artefacts from the Shakespeare Trust’s world class collections.

    If you would like any help in planning your trip around the literary highlights of the country or would like us to create a tailor-made itinerary for your England self-drive trip, please get in touch.

  • Whether as a means of getting from A to B or just as a fun day out, a rail journey is a relaxing way to travel and Britain is home to some of the most scenic in the world.

    Although much of our rail network was famously closed down by Dr Beeching in the 1960s, the tireless work of many volunteers and campaigners means that lots of fantastic stretches remain or are being reopened, either as part of the main network or as independent tourist attractions.

    Wherever you go, you won't be far from a wonderfully scenic journey and here are some of our favourites that can easily be fitted into many trips around Britain.

    1. The Jacobite Express – Fort William to Mallaig

    Jacobite Express ©VisitBritain/VisitScotlandA popular day trip from Fort William, the journey on the Jacobite Express steam train from Fort William to Mallaig is undoubtedly one of the most impressive in Britain, if not the world.

    Made more famous by the Harry Potter films, in which the ‘Hogwarts Express’ is seen travelling across the stunning Glenfinnan Viaduct, the journey is through dramatic Highlands scenery, passing towering mountains, sparkling lochs and small villages, before arriving at Mallaig, the small fishing port that is the jumping off point for the Isle of Skye. If you are returning to Fort William, enjoy a stroll around the town and some fresh local seafood before re-boarding the train!

    Booking in advance is almost always necessary and can be done online at the link below.

    2. The Settle-Carlisle Railway

    Ribblehead Viaduct on the Settle-Carlilse RailwayThe journey from Settle in North Yorkshire to Carlisle in Cumbria has long been a favourite with fans of rail travel. The journey crosses the rugged, open scenery of the western Yorkshire Dales and the remote Eden Valley as well as taking in some of the country’s most impressive railway engineering. This includes the striking Ribblehead Viaduct, 400 metres long and made up of 24 arches. The Victorian viaduct was built by a huge workforce in dangerous conditions between 1870 and 1864 and was recently the focus of an ITV drama, Jericho.

    Trains run several times a day and you can start in Leeds as well as getting on at Settle, and travel as far north as you like, before returning to your starting point. Many of the stops make great starts for walks in the gorgeous countryside before taking the train back.

    For the most part, these are normal electric trains, as this route is part of the main rail network, but the ‘Fellsman’ steam train is starting to run along this line again in summer 2017, after a break due to track damage in 2016. Dates are limited and should be booked as far in advance as possible.

    3. North Yorkshire Moors Steam Railway – Pickering to Whitby

    North Yorkshire Moors RailwayRunning for 24 miles across the remote, open scenery of the North York Moors from the charming market town of Pickering to the lively fishing port of Whitby, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway is a great, nostalgic day out.

    All trains are pulled by a heritage steam locomotive and stop at pretty villages in the moors – one great option is to get off at the village of Grosmont and walk the easy four miles back to Goathland (made famous in the 80s and 90s as the setting of gentle police drama, Heartbeat!), before re-boarding the train.

    4. The Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways – Caernarfon to Blaenau Ffestiniog

    Ffestiniog Railway - steam train crossing the Welsh countrysideRunning for a combined total of nearly 40 miles, the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland railway covers a beautiful mixture of coastline, countryside and mountain scenery, as well as starting or ending at one of Britain’s most impressive castles.

    The route starts in Caernarfon, where the castle can be visited and runs past the foot of Mount Snowdon, Wales’ highest mountain, and along the coast to Porthmadog. Here you connect to the Ffestiniog Railway, the world’s oldest narrow gauge railway, which heads through the Snowdonia National Park to the former slate quarrying town of Blaenau Ffestiniog.

    The route climbs over 700 feet from sea level into the mountains, through pastures and forests, and past lakes and waterfalls.

    5. The South Devon Railway - Buckfastleigh to Totnes

    At just seven and a half miles long, a trip on the South Devon Railway isn’t going to take all day. But what it lacks in length, it makes up for in beauty, as it travels along the valley of the gorgeous River Dart. Trains are a mixture of steam engines and heritage diesel engines. You can even become a driver for the day, although this needs booking well in advance!

    There are several other beautiful heritage railways in this area, including the Dartmouth Steam Railway, which makes the short journey between the popular town and Agatha Christie’s summer house at Greenway, and the West Somerset Railway, the longest heritage railway in England, at 20 miles, covering some lovely coastline and countryside, and offering at a stop in the historic village of Dunster, with its medieval architecture and impressive castle.

    This is just a small selection of the many scenic railway journeys available across Britain. If you would like to arrange a self-drive tour around Britain that takes in some fantastic railway journeys, do get in touch.

  • About my Blog

    On this blog, I am going to share some of my favourite things about Britain – taking beautiful country walks, trying out classic british pubs, exploring castles, palaces and stately homes, getting involved in some uniquely British experiences and events and much more. I hope that this blog will whet your appetite for a trip of a lifetime in Britain.

    Helen Coppin
    Founder, Great British Escapes

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