UK Road Trip Itinerary: National Parks, Castles and More

by | Jul 2, 2019 | 0 comments

View of Loch Lomond

When we arrived in the UK there were 9 days where we had no commitments. All we knew is we had to go from London to Bristol within that time frame. So we debated what to do; should we city hop, or do visit some of England’s other iconic destinations like Bath and Stratford-Upon-Avon? In the end we chose neither, opting to explore some further off the beaten path destinations. That’s how the idea of a road trip was born. It wouldn’t be any regular road trip though. No, we’d rent a campervan, and tour across the country like the locals! What follows is our ultimate 9-day UK road trip itinerary.

Man standing in front of Spaceships Campervan UK
Our campervan: The Aurora.
Contents:

Snowdonia, Wales (2 Days)

Day 1 – Rental Pickup and Driving to Campsite

Our first stop was Snowdonia, a park in northern Wales centered around mountains and glacial landforms. It was absolutely gorgeous! From narrow roads, to windswept hillsides and misty horizons, we were blown away by the natural beauty we encountered.

Unfortunately, we picked up our rental later than anticipated on day 1, and subsequently didn’t get into our campsite until the evening. Even with the late start though, it was still an eventful day. From our first experience driving a large vehicle on the left, to learning how to navigate UK roundabouts and seeing the countryside unfold, we quickly became excited for everything that was still to come. We recommend that anyone else planning a similar trip head out as early as possible that first day to ensure you have time to do some exploring.

Road in Snowdonia Wales at sunset

Pulling into the campsite around dark had one major downside: we had yet to learn how to setup our bed. We had a rough idea on what to do, so normally this wouldn’t be a concern. The challenge though was that we weren’t yet used to the colder temperature of this region, so while the locals may have considered it a mildly cold evening, we were freezing, and every second the campervan door remained open meant our precious heat dissipated. By the time we climbed into bed, you could see your breath inside the cabin. Our only saving grace was that we had anticipated this shock to our system and had rented two comforters instead of just one.

Day 2 – Bounce Below at Slate Caverns

Sunrise at campground in Snowdonia Wales
Early morning views from our campsite.

After a somewhat restless night, we awoke the next morning to the bleating of sheep in the distance. Next to our campervan was a small brook trickling over the rocks. Everything was so serene. Yes, we were still cold. And yes, it had started raining. But the awe of being in such splendor outweighed both those concerns. Plus, we had an awesome indoor activity to get to.

By mid-day of day 2 we were driving into the heart of Snowdonia to participate in Zip World’s Bounce Below. What is Bounce Below you may ask? It’s the world’s only underground trampoline park built inside of an old slate mine. Sounds awesome, right? We can confirm it is!

Woman at Bounce Below trampoline park in Wales
Walking along one of the suspended walkways between caverns.

After a quick briefing above ground, we were led into the main cavern where the smell of damp earth immediately hit our senses. Waiting for our eyes to adjust, we then saw the trampolines sprawled out over four levels and suspended between 20-180 feet in the air. Connecting them was a series of shoots and ladders, each the length of a double decker bus, helping you get between bounce zones.

Woman bouncing at tBoune Below trampoline park in Wales

Throughout the experience there’s music blasting and neon lights providing an otherworldly glow to the whole cavern; it’s just enough lighting for you to see your way around, while providing an air of mystery and suspense. It was extremely exhilarating and tiring. At first I was unsure if the cost for only an hour would be worthwhile, but those four levels wasn’t even the extent of it. There are a few off shoots and secret caverns the guides don’t tell you about, so exploring the course is half the fun! After a full hour Tom and I were both thoroughly exhausted, but grinning from ear to ear as we made our way back up to the surface.

Where to Stay in Snowdonia

We stayed at the Bwch Yn Chaf Campsite. Cost was $21 USD per night for a basic grass pitch, no electricity.

Bounce Below Logistics

  • You can pre-book tickets for Bounce Below online at the Zip World website. Their system shows you the number of spaces available per time slot, giving an idea on how full that session may already be (a total of 10 people are allowed at one time). Although our group was maxed out, it felt just right in terms of capacity. There were enough people around for us to bounce with when we wanted, but also go explore on our own when desiring the space. Never did we feel overcrowded or unsafe due to the number of participants.
People bouncing at Bounce Below trampoline park
View looking down through the various trampoline levels.
  • You’ll be bouncing a lot and working up energy. Wear long pants as that’ll be good for the entire experience. However, you’ll want to wear layers on your upper half. We were bundled up in our cold weather gear (t-shirt, long sleeve and sweatshirt) upon entering the mines, but by the end had stripped to just our base layer.
  • There are lockers where you can store your valuables while in the experience, but they cost 1 pound. Either come prepared with the money to pay for the locker, or just leave everything behind in your car before entering. We rented a locker to stash our umbrella, but in hindsight could have easily set it down with our sweatshirts while in the cavern. I wouldn’t recommend doing this for more valuable or large items, but something small like the umbrella seemed like a waste of the locker rental.

The Lakes District, England (2 Days)

English countryside with rolling hills and house in distance

Day 3 – Driving to The Lakes District

From Snowdonia we headed to The Lakes District, a popular holiday destination in the northwest of England. Here the landscape was quite different, being super green and lush, with multiple lakes and quaint villages dotting the countryside (Yes, I do mean villages. In the US we don’t often call small towns villages, but in the UK it’s common). Even with the rain continuing to follow us, it was extremely picturesque.

View of a lake in the UK

Day 4 – Hiking and Exploring Local Villages

We had primarily planned to hike in this area, but due to the continued rain we opted to stay close to the campsite and only venture out in short bursts between storms. This change of plans ended up being a wonderful experience.

Woman standing under stone bridge in the UK
Gates regularly marked the border between one property and the next. They also served to keep the livestock in their designated boundaries.

Hiking (or walking as they often call it) is mostly comprised of trails that meander through people’s property. These footpaths are legal rights of way, allowing you to pass from one destination to another with the understanding that you don’t wander off the path or bother any animals grazing in the fields. This fascinated us, since in the US we’re used to going off into the wilderness, which have, for the most part, been left to their own without human intervention. We’d regularly spend days away from civilization, whereas these footpaths meander right through them.

Baby lambs in field in the UK

By walking these footpaths we were able to enter the countryside we had viewed the past few days from our van, watch young lambs as they cantered through the fields, touch handmade stone walls (that I can only assume are hundreds of years old), and visit local villages. Of course, for some this may not seem exotic, but having come from a city that’s also extremely young compared to the UK, we were enamored with everything around us.

one lane road village in the Lakes District UK
Man sitting on a bench

Where to Stay

We stayed at Hoathwaite Campsite, which is a National Trust location run by the government. As such, it’s extremely basic, offering a more ‘wild camping’ experience than any of the other pitches we visited during our trip. Cost was $23.33 USD per night, pre-booked on their website. Or you can just show up and pay the attendant that comes through in the morning.

Gourock, Scotland (2 Days)

spaceships campervan parked on hillside

Day 5 – Driving to Scotland

After The Lakes District, it was time for us to continue north, on our way to Scotland. Now Gourock is a town to the northeast of Glasgow and not your average tourist destination. The reason we went here though was to witness the first Highland Games of the summer. Unless small towns are your thing, you could change this plan and instead visit the city of Glasgow.

Now the games didn’t start until the following day, giving us the chance to leisurely drive up to Scotland. I’m glad we planned this as we got lost on our journey to the campsite and had to backtrack.

Day 6 – Attend the Highland Games

Gourock harbor Scotland
View from Battery Park, where the games were held.

From pipe bands to dancers and a heavyweight (strongman) competition, we got to experience the games as they’re meant to be held. This stop was also a bit of a homecoming for us, as Tom and I both attended a high school whose mascot was The Scots. We had highland dancers, bagpipers, and wore the Gordon tartan in marching band, so being able to see the real thing in action was quite memorable. We loved being surrounded by hundreds of pipers and drummers, hearing them tune and practice in unison. Sadly, we didn’t see anyone sporting the Gordon tartan, but there was a Floridan man competing in the heavyweight competition, who we of course cheered on from the sidelines.

Scottish pipe band marching onto field at highland games
highland dance competition in Scotland

Although the competition grounds were small and intimate (we were able to walk the entire fairgrounds in 20 min), there was no doubt that this event was a big summer highlight for the locals. In one area you had a stage where dancers performed, pipe bands were doing the same next door, and in the center the heavyweight competitions. We even saw some drum majors practicing their baton twirling/tossing, which was incredible. Sadly, we were never able to confirm if this was just a hobby or for a later competition (they didn’t list the schedule online and we weren’t willing to pay the cost for a printed program). All in all, it was the perfect way to spend our first few days in Scotland, and an experience we’ll never forget.

Heavyweight boulder carry competition at The Highland Games in Scotland

In this heavyweight competition, contestants had to carry this 200+ lb stone about 50 feet across the field, as quickly as possible. One competitor did it in under 12 seconds.

Where to Stay

There aren’t any touring pitches in Gourock, so we made the decision to spend the night before the games in Muirkirk Caravan Park, a few hours north of the England-Scotland border. It meant our drive from The Lakes District on day five was about 6 hours in total (before getting lost). It also was only about 2 hours away from Gourock, providing a quick and easy drive to the games the next morning. Total cost for the evening was $25.97 USD.

Highland Games Logistics

Weight toss competition at The Highland Games in Scotland
  • The highland games occur many times throughout the summer, across Scotland. You can find a full list of game times and locations on their webpage.
  • Although we didn’t have to pay an entrance fee, this may differ between events in Scotland. Make sure to do research in advance of your particular event.
  • Food at the games was marked up, typical to sporting events. The biggest challenge came to finding vegetarian friendly fare, with most options being meat-based. If you also have dietary restrictions, we’d recommend bringing your own meal in case there isn’t anything available to purchase.

Loch Lomond, Scotland (2 Days)

Day 7 – Hike Conic Hill

Man climbing a big tree

Our final park of the trip was Loch Lomond, located in The Trossachs National Park. This area felt like a mixture between Snowdonia and The Lakes District. It was mountainous, yet lush and green due to the waterways. It also reminded us the most of home, with oak trees, wildflowers and a nice temperate climate.

View from Conic Hill in Trossachs National Park, Scotland.
View from the top of Conic Hill in Trossachs National Park

The sunny weather continued to hold during our stay, which was perfect for hiking. We had been itching to hit the trail since starting the trip, so that’s exactly what we did. Although we started walking along the lake shore, our ultimate destination was Conic Hill, which would give us a wonderful view of the surrounding water and hills (I’m a sucker for great viewpoints). It did not disappoint! Making our way to the top, wind whipping our clothing and hair every which way, we were amazed by the landscape in front of us.

View of Loch Lomond in Scotland.

Day 8 – Explore Doune Castle

On day eight we took a day trip to just outside of The Trossachs National Park to visit Doune castle. Although lesser known than other castles, it interested us because of its use in many cinematic productions, including Outlander, early seasons of Game of Thrones (as Winterfell), and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Thanks to the audio guide included with your ticket, we enjoyed learning not only about the castle’s history, but also specifics regarding how Outlander and The Holy Grail were filmed. It was truly fascinating to see just how much some prop work and stage setting can make a small space seem so large on screen. We even took the time to re-enact some of our favorite movie moments, I’m sure to the bemusement of other visitors.

Doune Castle, Scotland
Laura reenacting Monty Python and the Holy Grail in front of Doune Castle.
View from window at Doune Castle
Nice view! You may recognize it from the scene in The Holy Grail where a lord is telling his son about building their castle in a swamp.

Where to Stay

We stayed at Cashel Campsite during our time at Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. This is a regular touring campground with all level of sites, from basic tent pitches for backpackers, to hard standing spots with electricity outlets for high-end RVs. Cost per night for their hard-standing pitch, no electricity was $18.22 USD per night.

Loch Lomond at sunset.
Final sunset of the trip, taken from the bonny banks of Loch Lomond.

Doune Castle Logistics

  • Doune castle is a short drive away from the lake. Arrive early as many tours stop here and the place can quickly feel crowded in such a small facility. You can find their operating hours here.
  • Cost of entry is £9 GBP for adults and includes the audio guide. This guide is crucial to understanding the history as there are no placards to read throughout the exhibit. It’s an easy listen though and gives visitors the option to hear tidbits regarding Outlander or Monty Python, so you can pick and choose depending on your specific interests.

Edinburgh, Scotland (1 Day)

Day 9 – Get a Taste of Edinburgh

The final stop of our road trip was Edinburgh, Scotland. Since we had already booked a bus back to England, we dropped off our campervan as soon as we arrived into town. This worked for the best as our departure was early the next morning and it would have been difficult to return the campervan. It was also cheaper to stay in a hostel that night versus paying for another in the camper.

Woman in iconic UK red phone booth

Edinburgh is an amazing city, and one we instantly clicked with. From brick lanes, to well-worn old buildings, and a modern infrastructure, it provides a wonderful combination between historical beauty and modern conveniences. We especially loved exploring the many side streets and courtyards scattered throughout the old town. It was easy to see how J.K. Rowling got much of her inspiration for Harry Potter here.

Edinburgh with Arthur's Seat in background

If you have time to spare, we recommend giving more than just one day to this city. However, there’s still plenty that can be seen in just 24 hours. You can read our One Day in Edinburgh Itinerary for more details.

Where to Stay

For our night in Edinburgh we stayed at Kick Ass Hostels. Cost was $38.88 USD for two bunk beds in a 6 person dorm. The place comes with a great social atmosphere, comfy beds, and wonderful location in the heart of the old town. It was the perfect base for our short stint in the city.

Bar made from A Volkswagon car in the Kick Ass Hostel common room
Bar in the Kick Ass Hostel common room.

Thinking about taking a road trip of your own? Make sure to read our Complete Guide to Planning a UK Road Trip. It covers everything from putting together an itinerary, to how to pick your vehicle and budget saving tips for while on the road.

Save this for later and see a different side of the UK on your next trip!

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