Drive the UK’s most spectacular routes, taking in castle-strewn dales, desolate moors and England’s steepest road.
Discover the mountainous Lake District
Wrynose and Hardknott are not only some of the most splendidly named points on Lake District maps, they’re also home to some of the UK’s most challenging mountain roads — single-track lanes that slalom and climb like old-fashioned rollercoasters over the Cumbrian countryside.
To try them out yourself, set out from Kendal for the shores of Lake Windermere, continuing past Ambleside to Coniston. The next morning, strike northwest to the foot of the Wrynose Pass. Soon the road turns skyward — climbing up among craggy fells and grassy slopes where Herdwick sheep graze, occasionally looking up from their chewing to watch the passing traffic. If all this seems challenging enough, wait until you descend along the Hardknott Pass —England’s steepest strip of tarmac, with a gradient of 1 in 3, it is often closed by ice and snow in winter months. On the plus side, take your eyes off the road for a second and you might be rewarded with sweeping vistas of green hills, the Irish Sea and the Isle of Man just visible in the distance.
Arrive: Follow the A591 northwest from Kendal to Ambleside and on southwest to Coniston. From the A593 north of Coniston, take the turnoff marked ‘Wrynose’. After Hardknott, follow signs from Eskdale south to Broughton-in-Furness, returning to Coniston via the A593.
Stay: Lodge at the Waterhead Hotel —a century-old institution with tidy lawns running down to the shores of Coniston Water.
Take a spin trough the cotswolds
With ivy-clad stone cottages, ye olde tea shoppes and creaking mills, the landscapes of the northern Cotswolds are familiar to many, with towns packed with daytrippers during high summer. Less often visited but every bit as picturesque is the southern part of the Cotswolds. To explore it, head south from the town of Stroud — driving over the windy heights of Selsley, onwards into a landscape of hilltop copses, stone farmhouses, cider-powered pubs and sluggish streams.
Make for the village of North Nibely and the Tyndale Monument — a tower built to commemorate local hero William Tyndale, a translator of the New Testament — whose lofty heights afford divine views of the Severn Estuary and the hills of Glamorgan beyond. Return to Stroud via the picturesque villages of Nailsworth and Slad — the latter home to author Laurie Lee, and the setting for his immortal 1959 portrait of Cotswolds life, Cider with Rosie. After an evening sipping 2 West Country cider in Stroud, bear eastward the next morning for a visit to the ancient town of Cirencester.
Arrive: From Stroud, take the B4066 to Dursley and North Nibley. Head east to Kingscote, making for the A46, which leads north to Nailsworth. Slad is set in a steep valley just north of Stroud . Cirencester is east of Stroud on the A419.
Stay: The Burleigh Court Hotel has 18 rooms in a palatial 19th-century mansion in Stroud.
Get lost in the Galloway Hills
They may not have the epic vastness of the Highlands, but Scotland’s Galloway Hills have a subtle drama all of their own with forested slopes above which red kites circle, glittering lochs where anglers congregate, and meadows where stags strut about. Start out a road trip in the region by heading south from Ayr on a single-track road across the park towards Kirkcudbright (pronounced kirr-koo-bree) — a seaside town of 17th-century merchants’ houses. The next day, head westward along the misty shores of Fleet Bay before turning inland into the hills along the Queensway— a scenic stretch of the A712, winding among lowland meadows strewn with thistle and heather.
At the end of the road is Clatteringshaws’ Loch, a reservoir in whose still waters the rolling Galloway Hills are reflected, and a trailhead for paths into the hills beyond.
Arrive: From Ayr follow the A713 towards Kirkcudbright, from which the A75 and A712 lead you into the Galloway Forest Park.
Stay: The Selkirk Arms Hotel is an atmospheric 18th-century hotel in Kirkcudbright where Rabbie Burns once penned his ditties.
Weavethrough Dartmoor National Park
The desolate, melancholy beauty of Dartmoor is arguably best appreciated from behind the wheel of a car— with granite-topped tors looming in and out of view, lonely coaching inns and millennia-old standing stones by the roadside. Plot a course from Exeter towards Moretonhampstead through moorland on the B3212, popping north for an afternoon exploring the Jazz-Age country pile Castle Drogo. The next day, drive west to inspect Postbridge’s 13th-century granite bridge and Princetown’s fearsome 19th-century prison, before returning to Moretonhampstead along the northern edge of the park— being cautious of ponies prone to wandering out into the road (and perhaps hungry, wandering big cats too).
Arrive: Follow the B3212 from Moretonhampstead towards Princetown, before following the A386 to Lydford via Tavistock. Return to Moretonhampstead via the A30 and the A382.
Mill End country hotel has 15 individually styled rooms arranged around a medieval mill, three miles northwest of Moretonhampstead (from £90; millendhotel.com).