This journey through unspoiled areas of northern England is an enjoyable road trip in its own right, but it can also be linked to a Scotland driving itinerary. We flew into London and boarded the high-speed train to York from King’s Cross station, a trip of just over two hours. York lies some 20 miles north of England’s primary industrial belt — which includes the major cities of Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds — but North Yorkshire, Cumbria and Northumberland contain some of the most scenically impressive landscapes in the country, as well as several national parks and numerous places of cultural interest.
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On arrival in the ancient Roman city of York, proceed to Middlethorpe Hall, a 29-room country house hotel dating from 1701, set amid 20 acres of landscaped grounds, about two and a half miles from the city center. In the afternoon, enjoy a treatment in the hotel’s spa, housed within two Edwardian cottages, which has a luxurious indoor swimming pool. Have dinner in one of the handsome paneled dining rooms at the hotel’s excellent restaurant. A tasting menu with paired wines is offered, and a seasonal menu is also served (except on Saturday).
After breakfast, take a 15-minute taxi ride into the center of York. Visit Clifford’s Tower, a Norman fortress, from the top of which there are memorable panoramic views. From there, stroll to York Minster (15 minutes), the city’s immense Gothic cathedral, on which work began at the end of the 11th century. The Great East Window is the world’s largest expanse of medieval stained glass.
For lunch, head to the Star Inn the City, which serves exceptional modern British cuisine. Its riverside terrace overlooking the River Ouse is delightful on a fine day. In the afternoon, walk along the city walls — built in the Middle Ages on top of the Roman ones — which remain almost completely intact. Afterward, visit the JORVIK Viking Centre, a museum that vividly reconstructs York’s Viking past.
For dinner, you may wish to consider Hudsons, the fine-dining restaurant at the Grand Hotel, where chef Craig Atchinson serves a superlative nine-course tasting menu.
After picking up your rental car, leave Middlethorpe Hall and drive to Castle Howard, a spectacular 18th-century country house, one of the largest in England, which lies 15 miles to the northeast of York. Built by Sir John Vanbrugh for the Howard family, the Earls of Carlisle, it contains a fine private art collection. Castle Howard’s appeal also stems from its having been the fictional Brideshead, in both the television and movie versions of Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited.” Having explored the house and grounds, drive for 11 miles northwest to Harome.
In the afternoon, head west to Fountains Abbey (32 miles). Once the wealthiest abbey in England, the picturesque ruins today form a focal point for the water gardens of Studley Royal Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
From Studley Royal, continue west to The Devonshire Arms Hotel & Spa, a 40-room early-17th-century inn, which has been owned by the Dukes of Devonshire since 1753.
Take time to relax after the drive, and then head to the hotel’s atmospheric bar for a flute of Champagne, followed by dinner at Burlington Restaurant, where talented chef Paul Leonard serves a menu that takes full advantage of fine local and seasonal ingredients.
After breakfast, explore the Bolton Abbey estate, including the ruins of Bolton Priory, which were painted by J.M.W. Turner, among others. For lunch, you may wish to consider the Yorke Arms, a gastropub with a Michelin star, housed within an 18th-century coaching house and shooting lodge, located 17 miles to the north in Nidderdale, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
In the afternoon, go hiking, fish for brown trout in the River Wharfe — the trout are relatively small but numerous, and the river is extremely pretty — or relax in the hotel’s spa. You may also wish to drive 16 miles southeast to the attractive spa town of Harrogate. Enjoy an early dinner at the Malt Shovel, a gastropub housed within a 16th-century coaching inn, seven miles to the north of Harrogate, in the village of Brearton.
After checkout, drive north through the Yorkshire Dales National Park to East Witton in Wensleydale. Have lunch in the afternoon, then continue west to Kendal (47 miles), the gateway to the Lake District. Gilpin Hotel & Lake House lies seven miles to the west of Kendal, close to the eastern shore of Lake Windermere. (The Gilpin Hotel is a 25-room property that includes five detached Spa Lodges with their own hot tubs and saunas; the Lake House is a separate six-bedroom sanctuary, with its own spa, located a mile away.)
After relaxing in your room, head to the hotel’s Michelin-starred main restaurant, where chef Hrishikesh Desai combines local ingredients and classic technique in his “modern British cuisine with a twist.”
After breakfast, drive 12 miles north to Grasmere. There, visit the Wordsworth Museum and then tour adjacent Dove Cottage, where the poet lived for eight years from 1799 until 1808 with his wife and sister, a period during which he wrote many of the poems for which he is best remembered.
If you are feeling mildly adventurous, drive west from Grasmere to Wasdale Head, over the Wrynose and Hardknott passes (around 30 miles). Originally built by the Romans — there are remains of a Roman fort on the Hardknott Pass — the road is the most scenically spectacular in the Lake District. However, it is narrow and steep and suitable only for confident drivers in good weather.
Have lunch at the restaurant at Wasdale Head Inn, a simple but atmospheric pub considered to be the birthplace of British rock climbing. In the afternoon, either retrace your steps or head north on the A5086 to Cockermouth (29 miles), where you may be interested to visit the Wordsworth House and Garden (the poet’s family home).
Then take the B5289 to Keswick (14 miles), a minor road that runs through the heart of the Lake District, past Crummock Water, Buttermere and Derwentwater.
From Keswick, drive back to Gilpin Hotel (23 miles) via the main A591, thereby completing a circular tour. Either eat at the hotel’s Gilpin Spice restaurant (pan-Asian cuisine) or, for something more elaborate, consider the superb Michelin-starred restaurant at the Forest Side hotel in Grasmere, for modern British cuisine made with local and seasonal ingredients.
Today, if you are feeling energetic, go for a full-day guided hike along one of the Lake District’s innumerable trails. (Andrew Harper Travel will be able to arrange for an accredited Blue Badge mountain guide to escort you.)
Alternatively, take a steamer lake cruise on lovely Ullswater, and then have lunch at Sharrow Bay, ideally on the hotel’s glorious lakeside terrace. Afterward, visit Hill Top, the home of famed children’s author Beatrix Potter. For dinner, one option would be the gourmet restaurant at the Samling hotel, overlooking Lake Windermere.
Check out, and drive 60 miles northeast to Farlam Hall, a secluded country house hotel that has long been a favorite of Andrew Harper members.
Finally, head to the Chesterholm Museum at Vindolanda, situated next to the extensive remains of a Roman fort. There, a superb small museum displays Roman boots, shoes, armor, jewelry and coins, as well as some of the famous Vindolanda tablets, wooden sheets, each about the size of a postcard, with still-legible Latin text written in ink. Have dinner in the gracious formal dining room of Farlam Hall.
After breakfast, drive 53 miles east to Durham. Situated on a dramatic promontory overlooking the River Wear, Durham Cathedral (a UNESCO World Heritage site) is considered to be one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in Europe. It contains the shrine of Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, a seventh-century saint, as well as the tomb of the Venerable Bede, an Anglo-Saxon historian and translator whose famous “Ecclesiastical History of the English People” was completed in about A.D. 731. The cathedral library has three issues of the Magna Carta, as well as some of the earliest printed books in England.
You may also wish to take a guided tour of nearby Durham Castle, a Norman fortress that is now part of Durham University. From Durham, retrace your steps for 24 miles to the Lord Crewe Arms in the exquisitely pretty Northumberland village of Blanchland.
After check-in, have a casual lunch in the atmospheric bar or, on a sunny day, outside in the lovely walled garden. In the afternoon, explore the village and its 13th-century abbey. Have dinner in The Bishops Dining Room, where the hotel’s talented chef, Simon Hicks, serves delicious traditional cuisine.
Having checked out, drive roughly 60 miles north to Alnwick to visit majestic Alnwick Castle, the seat of the Duke of Northumberland. Afterward, proceed for 16 miles north to Bamburgh and have lunch at The Wynding Inn. In the afternoon, visit dramatic Bamburgh Castle, parts of which date to the 11th century, set on a headland overlooking the North Sea.
From Bamburgh, it is then a 15-mile drive north to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, an important center of Celtic Christianity for 300 years, from the sixth century until the Viking invasions. (Around A.D. 715, a monk named Eadfrith created the famous illuminated Lindisfarne Gospels, which are now on display in the British Library in London.)
Take note: Lindisfarne is cut off from the mainland at high tide, so if you are not careful, you can be stranded for several hours.
From Lindisfarne, drive for 70 miles northwest on the A697 to Edinburgh and check into The Balmoral. From Edinburgh, you can either return to London by train (approximately four hours and 20 minutes), or continue your road trip through the Scottish Highlands.
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