You don’t realise how big and diverse the UK is until you’ve driven cross-country. It’s an adventure like no other: stick a pin into the dog-eared pages of a road atlas, chuck your weekender across the backseat, press play on your only CD and hit the road. That’s it. That’s what makes road trips mana for spontaneous travellers, because what they lack in planning, they make up for in freedom.
Road trips are about exploring the landscape, taking in the sights, throwing caution to the wind and living for the journey. All you need is your imagination, a loose plan, the spirit of adventure and somewhere to uncover a world of discovery.
That somewhere is the UK.
From sweeping coastlines to mountain passes and jagged gorges, these road trips will remind you just how great Britain is!
1. Jurassic Coast - Dorset
This could be our favourite and the finest stretch of coastline in England. Maybe even the continent. From start to finish, Studland Bay to Exmouth, you get the drive alongside a long sequence of sandy beaches, coastal villages and natural rock formations that document 185 million years of geological history. Without once putting your pedal to the metal, you could do this route in a day, but with so many places to stop and stare, you’ll want to leave the windows down for a week. Picnic by the dramatic limestone arch of Durdle Door. Swim in the clear waters of Man O’War beach. Stop at Lulworth Cove. Go rock pooling at Kimmeridge Bay. It’s an adventure playground.
See it to believe it: Stair Hole is the most spectacular rock formation between John O’Groats and Lands End, and the natural caves, arches and blowholes are yours to explore.
2. North Coast 500 - Scotland
There’s only one place to start: the 516 miles of tarmac known as the North Coast 500. Starting and finishing at Inverness Castle, this road has it all. The Scottish Highlands and the dramatic northern coastline. The Black Isle, Muir of Ord, John O’Groats and the Applecross Peninsula. Rocky Munros, timeworn castles, whitewashed hamlets, forests that flood the landscape, sandy beaches and skies. Big skies. Welcome to the spirit of the Highlands.
Best time to drive: this route will wow all year round, but autumn takes it to the next level, when the road is empty, the colours are incredible and the countryside is full of stags and Highland cows.
3. Atlantic Highway - Devon and Cornwall
The word highway conjures up images of an all-American adventure and the roar of an engine being forced to go faster. But not the Atlantic Highway. This 170-mile ribbon of asphalt was made for the slow and steady, a bare ankle bouncing out of the open window as you roll past sheltered bays and beach breaks, wildflower hedgerows, sloping barley fields and white-capped seas. And most of it is inland. Turn right for King Arthur’s melancholic ruins and Exmoor, hang a left for some Cornish surf, Padstow seafood and partying in Newquay, and keep the wheels pointing straight ahead for the life-affirming destination of Lands End.
Best way to do it: in a VW camper with a backpack on the passenger seat and an old board strapped to the roof.
4. Cheddar Gorge - Somerset
The West Country wilds are famous for their roads. Roads that will make you grip the steering wheel until your knuckles have turned white - and the pièce de résistance is Cheddar Gorge. For three miles, the earth looks as though it was ripped open by a giant, the road twisting and turning through the jagged crags and sheer limestone cliffs of Britain’s answer to the Grand Canyon. When the going’s good, Cheddar Gorge is the best kind of demanding, and when the traffic’s heavy, at least you get to gaze up at the deep-sliced rockfaces.
Best place to stop: everything about this route makes you want to pull over, roll down the windows and stare out - and the panorama atop the Mendip Hills is the best place.
5. Black Mountain Pass - Wales
This is it - 22-miles of mountain road that will leave your heart thudding through your seatbelt, the non-stop medley of hairpin corners and switchback bends taking you through the spectacular Brecon Beacons as your windscreen fills with views across the Tywi Valley. The Black Mountain Pass is infamous. A coiled dragway of pristine tarmac and memorable twists that will leave you torn between two options: pulling over to enjoy the wild and rugged grandeur of the Carmarthen Fans or putting your foot down as you cross the dragon’s humps of Herbert’s Pass and then sink down into Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen. Either way, you’ll want to tackle this road again and again.
The ultimate thrill: ride this road from north to south to get the most out of the views and the infamous ‘cuckoo turn’ hairpin.