This post is a bit of a stretch from the main purposes of my blog, but I'm doing it because I know how smart and practical and well-traveled the readers of this blog are. How's that for shamelessly kissing up? (Plus, our giant book sale's spring iteration is happening this coming Tuesday, so I expect a post about that coming soon, which will bring us right back on topic.)
My purely selfish request (though it could conceivably benefit others too, so perhaps it's not selfish at all?) is for residents of the U.K. or readers in other parts of the world who have travelled in the U.K.
I'm very excited to say that Andy and I are planning a trip (woohoo!), this October, to England and Scotland, probably with a brief foray into Wales. We will be spending three weeks, which is a wonderfully long time for an American vacation but nowhere near long enough to do everything we want to do. Because we made a trip to London a few years ago, we will focus on other parts of England and on getting into Scotland this time. We also did a day trip to Salisbury and Stonehenge on our previous trip, so we probably won't return to those places (much as we loved them).
A bit of background: Andy and I usually take turns choosing our "big" vacation spots, though the other always has a certain amount of veto power. This is the second time in a row that my choice has been the U.K. (our last trip, to Italy, was Andy's choice). I was able to sell Andy on a return trip because there's just so much left to see outside of London, plus Andy knows my heart is always in England and has taken pity on me. But I'm not sure when I'll be able to justify a third trip, as there are still so many other places we'd like to visit. Therefore, I really want to make this trip count!
Andy and I have overlapping but varying interests; I'm a particularly big cathedral, church, and ruins fan (though I'm not religious at all—I think it must be in my blood from a Puritan ancestor who apparently lived in Lancashire, but more on that another time), while Andy gravitates more to historical sites, palaces, and stately homes. It's also a bit more important to Andy to feel that we've hit all the really major tourist attractions, while I'm often a bit happier being off the beaten path. We both enjoy all of the above, but we try to balance them to get a good mix. And then of course there's book shopping…
Some of the places and things I think we'd like to see: Bath, York, Oxford and/or Cambridge (I'm not going to ask which is better, as that might start a civil war), Canterbury, Avebury, Rye, maybe Knole and Sissinghurst and/or Blenheim Palace, Durham, Haworth (?), the Lake District, the Cotswolds, Hadrian's Wall (best part to visit?), Edinburgh, Loch Ness (?), and at least one Scottish isle. Oh my, it sounds overwhelming already, and those were just the things that leapt to mind! My spreadsheet of sights (yes, seriously, I have one—I am nothing if not thorough) could provide many, many more. Plus, possibly a day in Hay-on-Wye for book shopping???
I hope we'll have a car for all or part of the trip. Andy is ambivalent about driving on the left, but he took to the roundabouts in Italy like a native (terrifyingly so at times), so I think he'll adapt easily. I don't drive all that much even in San Francisco, so it's really his call—but the only thing more terrifying for him than driving on the "wrong" side of the road would be having me do it! Folks have told me repeatedly to remember that distances are not great in the U.K., the whole landmass (the part we'll be visiting, at least) is considerably less than the size of California, you can cover more ground than you think you can, etc., etc., but I know we will still have to do some serious prioritizing, and no one wants a vacation to be one long, gruelling sprint. And along those lines, we also want to consider if guided tours, in some places, might be more efficient and relaxing than figuring out all the logistics ourselves (our Salisbury/Stonehenge excursion was a tour and it was one of our favorite experiences of that trip).
So here I am, asking for your advice. I would love to hear any suggestions about do-able itineraries, priorities, hidden treasures, wonderful experiences, terrible experiences, logical groupings of activities, etc. What are the tourist traps that have little atmosphere or meaning, in your opinion, and what are the can't-miss things that not everyone knows about? Are there particularly good "base camps" where we could settle in and spend 3-4 nights and see a bunch of sights in the surrounding area? Where are the best spots to consider a guided tour or two (looks like there are some from Bath and some from York that might be possible)?
And feel free to offer any other advice that comes to mind as well (including advice on how to emigrate to the U.K. so I have plenty of time for seeing everything…). I'll love hearing from people who have made similar trips. You can email me (at email@example.com) or leave comments. I might share some of the suggestions in a later post as the trip starts to come together, assuming that others are interested in totally self-indulgent information about someone else's trip!