Like I've said in previous posts, I always knew I wanted to tack on a trip to the UK if I could make it happen during my "break" from life. I have been to London a few times, and then another quick stop or two in Canterbury and Dover before heading to France, but even those visits were really a long time ago. At some point in my life I've become a bit of an English history junkie, not to mention a giant, massive Jane Austen fan. Add in my father's Scottish heritage, and I knew there were simply tons of places I wanted to go and visit. After my trip to NYC with the fam, I did go home to my Mom's to rest up before flying over, and I took advantage of all the maps my father had collected. I simply took an old atlas and started marking the places I knew I wanted to go. Austen film (and book) locations, castles and cathedrals I'd studied in the past, and then some Scottish sites I knew I wanted to hit as well. Based on those little X's on a map (along with advice from my mother who HAD traveled in Britain fairly extensively), I developed my itinerary (Google maps telling me that everything was about 2 hours drive from everything else was incredibly helpful!). I did leave some flexibility, but I also had to book a car for my drive, and be sure I was going to get back to London in time for my flight home!
I think it was about the day before I left when I realized I probably should purchase an up-to-date guide book for some help with hotel & restaurant reservations. Now, I am pretty loyal to the Lonely Planet guide books, though I prefer the forums on Fodor's for travel advice. I had given Fodor's a chance with my Australia guide book, and wasn't satisfied with it. So at the good old bookstore (what will happen if they all go away?!?!?), I was reaching for the Lonely Planet when something else caught my eye. Good old Rick Steves. A whole series of his guidebooks was prominently displayed, and I sort of laughed, given that his shows on PBS are a little dorky. BUT - I do know that he knows his stuff about Europe, so I picked up his Great Britain guide and started comparing it randomly with the LP one. It was a better size and more flexible, and I noticed lots of little hand-drawn maps and walking tours. I decided to give it a shot and let me tell you - that was a GREAT choice. I'm sure the LP one would've been good as well, however I was really quite happy with Rick's advice. He favors smaller, family-run accommodations, which really works well in the UK especially. Plus- he seems to know them all personally and they all were wonderful, especially when I told them where I'd found their place. His restaurant advice wasn't maybe as good, but restaurants come & go much more often, and well, food isn't exactly the reason you visit England or Scotland (sorry to say, but true!). His tips about what to visit (and when) were spot on, and I do like his philosophy about travelling a bit more like a local. The other part that made me fall in love with the book was that his "Best 3-week trip by car" itinerary was nearly identical to what I had already planned! There were of course some differences - he includes Wales which I didn't have the time to squeeze in, and he omits Derbyshire which I wasn't going to miss due to the Austen associations, but otherwise basically the same - making it SUPER easy to follow while on the road.
So, as a quick overview- here was my plan:
- Arrive in London & spend a few days with my buddy from travelling in NZ, exploring while she was at work, and catching up/being entertained at night!
- Head west through Hampshire & Wiltshire (major Austen territory) with a night in Salisbury and a few nights in Bath.
- Stop for one night in Oxford before spending a few nights in the Cotswolds. (Note: Oxford is NOT mentioned in my book. Mysterious omission, and I've decided Rick must wish he was a Cambridge man or something.)
- After the Cotswolds, I'd make my way north to Derbyshire for some more Austen sites, then I'd make my way further up to the Lake district (aka: Beatrix Potter territory).
- After the Lakes, it got a little fuzzy, but I knew I'd spend a few days in the Highlands of Scotland, including a couple of nights on the Isle of Skye, before hitting Inverness and turning south (I literally decided my overnights while actually IN the Lake District!).
- Scotland would be finished off with several nights in Edinburgh, which was one of the places I was most excited to see, but again- I didn't decide where to stay between Inverness & Edinburgh till the day or two before-hand.
- Once my week in Scotland was complete, I knew I would hit Durham, and then York, and finally Cambridge before returning the car for a final few days in London, but this was where the flexibility came in. I knew things would be recommended to me along the way (which they were, fabulously!), so the second half of my trip was purposely left much more open. Good thing too, because the second I stepped into York, I knew it needed more than the night or two I'd originally allotted!
I'm not planning on doing a "diary"-style blog for this part of my trip, mostly because I'm not actually on the trip & reporting back my daily experiences. Instead, I'm planning on sort of thematic posts - some regional, some comparisons - to try to keep it interesting for y'all. This was truly a dream trip for me, so hopefully some of my posts will inspire some of you to also explore this amazing island!