In my last post, I talked about all the things we saw and did in London for the first four days of our trip. After taking in the capital, we hopped in the car and began our UK road trip.
On driving in the UK: Although we don’t own a car in Germany, my husband and I have lived here long enough to have traded our American driver's licenses in for German licenses. We had no trouble renting a car in the UK (though Matt does have an International Driver’s License, which is basically an English translation of his German license), and Matt and my brother-in-law did most of the driving.
They quickly got used to driving on the other side of the road and following road signs. We were a bit surprised by the number of roundabouts that replaced the need for traffic lights, which are more common in the US and Germany. We used Apple maps for road navigation, though I still preferred free paper maps for walking around. I tried to pick one up in every city that we visited as I find them both more accurate and useful for finding cool things to do.
Eating on the go: While on the go, we often picked up breakfasts and lunches at convenience stores. While I know this statement is less than glamorous on a food blog, food in the UK can be both expensive and heavy. Like in Japan, I found the convenience stores, like Co-op and M&S, stocked a number of delicious boxed sandwiches, colorful pre-prepared salads, and healthy snacks. They were perfect for busy days when we wanted to make the most of our time.
Our first stop after leaving London was Oxford. We took the train there from London so we could pick up the car and avoid the city traffic. The train ride was fast (around an hour) and very comfortable. Unfortunately, the station didn’t have anywhere to leave our luggage, so we had to roll it to the tourist center in town which was a bit of a pain. We were able to leave our luggage there (for a fee) while we walked around Oxford on foot, visiting the many colleges and libraries.
We did our own wandering instead of any kind of tour, and I found the old stone buildings and lush lawns enchanting. It would be a great place to return if we had friends there who could show us around. I also found a fantastic shop called Scriptum, full of handmade leather journals, feather and fountain pens, whimsical stationary sets, and other gifts from the romantic era of writing.
As far as food goes, I was thrilled to find some smooth fudge at Fudge Kitchen. Growing up in Maryland, I used to each whole slabs of it at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, and have found it difficult to find since moving to Germany. I was talked into (though it didn't take much convincing) buying a four-slice pack including salted caramel, lemon cream, peanut butter, and chili chocolate fudge. The salted caramel was by far the best, though next time I'd like to pick up some clotted cream, too.
The Oxford Covered Market didn't have as many food choices as I would have liked (though we were happy to find another Pieminister), so we were really lucky to find a little street market at Gloucester Green for lunch. The area was a regular United Nations of food! We ate some delicious Chinese steamed buns, fried Polish pierogies, and Indian pav bhaji. There were also food stalls selling Spanish paella, Japanese gyoza, Vietnamese bánh mì, and Italian polenta.
The Cotswolds & Stratford-upon-Avon
Though we’d planned to drive up through the Cotswolds, we made a last minute decision to go to our hotel in the north first. This meant we only got to see a few of the villages in the north that evening, including Evesham and Chipping Campden, but really the whole countryside was lovely and worth the drive. (Next time, I would definitely stick to the plan and drive through.)
We stayed that night at the Adelphi Guesthouse in Stratford-upon-Avon, which was a particularly lovely experience. When we arrived, we were met by Simon, one of the owners, who kindly treated us to tea and slices of his wife Sue's delicious homemade gingerbread. Simon was an excellent host who told us all about Stratford, giving us tons of tips and sights to see.
Our walk that evening through Stratford was relaxing, and we ate a pretty good meal at the Garrick Inn, one of the oldest pubs in the town. We drank Abbey Ale while dining on the Fish and Chips and Sausages and Mash, though the ambience of a 600-year-old pub was probably the best part (the menu, while decent, is part of the Old English Inns chain). The next morning before leaving town, we were treated to a hearty, Full English Breakfast prepared by our hosts at the Adelphi -- definitely one of the highlights of our stay!
The Lake District
We wanted to head up to the northern part of the Lake District to hike Helvellyn. Unfortunately, a bit of traffic around Manchester and the threat of rain caused us to change our plans. The hike we ended up on started in Grasmere and looped around the Eavesdale Tarn. We stopped by the post office in Grasmere where we were able to pick up a paper map of the hike, though be forewarned that when it says you can make it around the lake, really, you’ll need a good pair of high rain boots and not the breathable hiking shoes that I wore. Nevertheless, the stunning views on our hike filled with lush, vivid countryside and brooding clouds made it one of my favorite activities on the trip.
To save on cost, we ended up staying at the lowest part of the peninsula in Barrow-in-Furness. Our hotel was very modern and nice, but the food left something to be desired. Next time, I would pay the extra to stay in the Lake District for longer.
I’m not really sure what I expected from Glasgow; I found it to be an odd mix of stunning Victorian architecture and weather-worn, industrial side streets that lent the city a more utilitarian feel. I think I'd need more time than just the two days we were there to fully understand the city. We stayed in the Tartan Lodge hostel, which while a bit far from the city center (about a 15 minute walk), was clean, welcoming, and in a cool building: the lodge used to be an old church.
The highlights on our visit were Glasgow Cathedral and the Necropolis, which was built to mimic the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. The Barras Market was a bit of a bust with more flea market stalls than arts and crafts. Buchanan Street in the center of town offered plenty of main street shopping to make up for it, with the added benefit some pretty impressive buskers.
What we really enjoyed were the many breweries, including Brewdog’s third location, where we had an excellent lunch of the Patriot Burger (brioche bun, beef patty, smoked bacon, cheddar, pickles, onion, baby gem, bbq sauce, and fries), Jackpot Burger (brioche bun, beef patty, chorizo, black pudding, blue cheese, bbq sauce, and fries), and Chicken Wings along with some Punk IPA on tap. On recommendation from some locals, we also stopped by the local Drygate Brewery where we had their Gladeye IPA and Outaspace Apple Ale, both of them very good.
For dinner that night, we decided to try Banana Leaf for their Chinese-Malaysian cuisine. I'd never had Chinese-style Malaysian food, but really liked the spicy sauces and fresh prepared meats and veggies. Matt started with a light Lemongrass Cocktail and I had a glass of wine while we nibbled on some fresh Pickled Vegetables brought to our table by our friendly server. We then ordered the Tasting Platter appetizer complete with vegetable spring rolls, chicken satay, crispy wontons, fish keropok lekur, pork spare ribs in rich curry sauce, and spinach salad. For my entrée, I had the best Soft Shell Crab fried with salt, chilli, peppers, and onions, while Matt indulged in a Beef Brisket with Curry Sauce. I would definitely go back again!
Following our fabulous experience with Sunday roasts on our Ireland trip last year, we booked a table at Hotel du Vin's Sunday Roast. I'd read online that the main draw here is the French Market Table from which you can nibble on a number of salads, cured fish, patés, cuts of meat, and more. However, my favorite part of the meal, oddly enough, was the rich, creamy Golden Lentil Soup that they served first. My Sunday Roast platter with beef, potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, and vegetables was solidly good, though Matt and my brother-in-law were less happy with their entrées from other parts of the menu. I ended the meal with a Cheese Platter, which I couldn't finish because I was so full, and Matt had some lovely homemade Profiteroles. My advice is to stick to the roast and come hungry as the four-course meal is substantial!
On our way out through the west end after lunch, we noticed a number of hip-looking bars, cafés, and shops, so if we ever have the chance to return to Glasgow, it's an area I'd like to explore some more. We did try to stop by Paisley Abbey on our drive east, but unfortunately the church was (ironically) not open on Sundays.
Our next stop on our road trip and my favorite in Scotland was Edinburgh. The cobblestone downtown area was absolutely charming, and the city was alive with the Festival Fringe, which we were lucky enough to be in town for. Both of the nights we were there we saw a number of street performers, including comedians, fire breathers, magicians, acrobats, musicians, and every combination thereof.
We got in late in the afternoon on Sunday and spent the time exploring the high street and getting our bearings. That evening, we booked a tour of Mary King's Close, one of the underground side streets in Edinburgh, where we learned all about Edinburgh's early history, complete with some plague tales. The tour was both information and highly amusing as told by our costumed tour guide who also happened to be a local student.
For dinner, we stopped by Whiski for some food and live traditional Scottish music. Although the bar was packed, we were able to find a table and order some excellent Innis & Gunn Oak-Aged Beer and Williams Brothers Ale. I tried haggis for the first time with their Haggis Stack (a slice of haggis on top of mashed potatoes and turnips in a whisky sauce) and absolutely loved the flavor. It reminded me a bit of the scrapple I used to eat growing up in Maryland. Matt's Steak and Ale Pie, though in an unexpected form factor (see the picture), was just as good, but the real winner of the meal was the Sticky Toffee Pudding. The combination of rich, moist cake and warm toffee sauce was out of this world! It's easily one of my new favorite desserts.
The next morning we headed out early to explore St. Giles Cathedral and Edinburgh Castle where we saw the Honours of Scotland (crown jewels) and learned about the history of the castle's prison. For lunch, we stopped at The Three Sisters courtyard to try some of the street food that we'd seen earlier in the day. Matt had a Sausage Mac & Cheese while I tried three kinds of Hirata Buns (fried sweet potato, chicken satay, and teriyaki beef). It seemed like they have a lot of events in the courtyard, and the bar menu looked great for a gathering as well.
That afternoon we set out on a hike up to Arthur's Seat. Not knowing what to expect, I made the hike in my ballet flats but would definitely recommend sneakers for this. The gradient was pretty steep at times, but the view over the city was totally worth it. On the way back into the city we did a little shopping along the Royal Mile at the usual tourist shops for postcards, but also found some other cool local places along the way. I bought some ridiculously buttery fresh-baked Shortbread at Pinnies and Poppy Seeds on St. Mary's Street, as well as a some fantastic brownies (including a Biscoff Bar!) at Mimi's Bakehouse along the Royal Mile. Closer to the center of town, we also stopped by the Royal Mile Market selling all kinds of goods from local craftspeople inside of the old Tron Kirk.
That night, we had another great meal at The Holyrood 9A. Matt and I made a deal to split two kinds of burgers: The 55° North (beef patty, prosciutto, garlicky mushroom, brie, truffle mayo) and The Blue Murder (beef patty, smoky bacon, blue murder cheese, beetroot relish, tabasco-cumin ketchup). We worked our way through most of the Scottish Tempest Brewery beers on the menu after finding the Tempest Brave New World IPA to be exceptional. Matt also ordered some sweet and crisp Doughnuts with Beer Ice Cream for dessert.
The next day we left Edinburgh to continue our trip, and made a quick stopover at the Glenkinchie Distillery for a little whisky tasting. Much like our tour of the Jameson Distillery in Ireland, we learned about the process for Scottish whisky production. I was surprised that many of the smaller Scottish distilleries, like Glenkinchie, sell about 90% of their whisky to larger distilleries for blends, so that even though I've never heard of Glenkinchie before, I've surely tasted their whisky in Johnnie Walker Black. At the end of the tour in the tasting room, we tried four different whiskies, one for each of the flavor profiles: Glenkinchie 12 year (light and floral), Glenkinchie Double Malt (fruity and spicy), Singleton 15 year (rich and rounded), and Caol Ila Distiller's Edition (full bodied and smoky). While I still prefer beer and wine, I'm starting to appreciate the variety of flavors in a good whisky.
Hadrian's Wall & Durham
After leaving Edinburgh, we'd planned to stop somewhere along Hadrian's Wall to do a little hiking. Unfortunately, we had no idea where to go, so following a map that I'd picked up at a rest station, we made our way to Newcastle-upon-Tyne to the Great North Museum. There we learned a bit about the people who lived along the wall at the edges of the Roman Empire after it was built around 122 AD. We also met a helpful museum employee who pointed us to some Roman ruins along the wall, and another helpful museum employee who then pointed us to a car park where we could walk the wall along milecastle 39. As we found out, though the wall is relatively well excavated at this part of it, it's impossible to see the full extent of the wall around the city of Newcastle where it is less well preserved.
We spent the night at the lovely Lambton Hounds Inn in Pity Me outside of Durham. While there's nothing much to offer in the town of Pity Me, the inn was cozy and served another fantastic Full English Breakfast in the morning. They also surprisingly boast ownership of the wooden bar taken from the Titanic's sister ship, the Olympic, which was acquired when the ship was retired in 1936.
The next morning we drove into Durham to see the Norman-style cathedral. I was especially interested by the large lion head door knocker with which sinners could seek sanctuary for up to 37 days during the Medieval period. The cloisters out the back were also of note; they were used for filming scenes at Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films.
We spent our last day of the road trip in York, which really wasn't enough time. The city was absolutely stunning with rambling cobblestone street and little shops, pubs, and bakeries all over the place. Our Safestay hostel was especially neat: an old Georgian townhouse built in 1752. Our room in the basement was once the meat cellar, and we had a lot of fun playing pool in the old kitchen.
Our first stop was to the York Minster which is one of the largest Medieval Gothic cathedrals in Northern Europe with 128 stained glass windows. It took 250 years to build the current cathedral, though the site is over 2,000 years old. I was especially impressed by the King's Screen which always reminds me of the scene in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell when they are enchanted. My sister-in-law and I climbed the 275 stairs up the tower for a panoramic view over the city before venturing down into the undercroft to see the remains of the Roman barracks from the city of Eboracum that was discovered during reconstruction of the cathedral in the 1960s. Our visit was well worth the 15£ fee.
Later that evening we walked through the Shambles area to do a bit of shopping. Although most of the shops were closed by the time we got there, the half-timbered houses along the streets were lovely to see. As the sun began to set, we walked York's city wall starting at Micklegate. It's one of the longest and best preserved walls of any city in England.
Feeling a bit wary of pub food after a disappointing lunch, we decided to check out Akbar's for some Indian food. Though it's a chain, the Garlic Chili Chicken and Beef and Okra Jalfreezi were pretty solid, and the giant piece of Family Naan hanging by a hook looked impressive. The service was pretty excellent as well.
We left York early the next morning to return the rental care to Oxford and catch our train back to London where we had tickets to see Macbeth that evening (see my first post on London). Although we were ready to come home to Leo and start eating home-cooked meals again, we had a fantastic 12-day trip across the UK. Choosing to rent a car and drive ourselves was probably the best decision that we made, because I felt that we really got to see a lot and experience all the different ways of life in the UK. More than anything, I'm impressed by the wealth of history contained in each city. I felt like we could have easily spent more time in Edinburgh, York, and the Lake District, and I'm looking forward to returning again someday!