My husband Chris is a real Francophile and during this trip in early March 2019, we planned to drive to Northern France from our home in Glasgow, stopping off at some chosen spots in England. I love England and visiting some special places en route that we hadn’t seen before was an equally attractive part of the trip: it definitely wasn’t just a case of breaking up the journey!
This was the plan:
Day 1: Glasgow to Ullswater/Lake District.
Day 2: Climb Hallin Fell. Drive to Yorkshire and Fountains Abbey/Studley Royal. Jervaulx Abbey Overnight in the tiny village of Breedon on the Hill.
Day 3: Stratford upon Avon and Stonehenge. Overnight ferry Portsmouth to Caen.
Day 3: Bayeaux Tapestry, Normandy beaches, overnight Honfleur
Day 4: Etretat and Honfleur
Day 5: Bethune/Pas de Calais ( WW1 Memorial of Le Touret; my Great Uncle died on the Western Front in 2016, only 19 years of age.) Train from Arras to Paris.
Day 6 : Explore Paris then train to Arras. Drive to Dieppe for evening ferry to Newhaven.
Day 7: Arundel Castle, Oxford.
Day 8: Cotswolds
Day 9: Cotswolds/Baddesley Clinton House
It was a terrific trip of around 1500 miles blessed by mostly good weather.
7 March: Glasgow – to Ullswater
We set off after Chris finished work on Friday at 2pm.It’s an easy drive to the Lakes from our home, mostly motorway and the M74/M6 wasn’t too busy. I’m a fan of Ullswater and it’s only a 15min drive off the motorway so this was a nice overnight to break up the journey from Glasgow to Yorkshire and the south coast.
2.5 hrs after leaving home, we arrived at the Macdonald Leeming House Hotel set in gorgeous grounds. A quite imposing, 4 star hotel, we’d got a great off peak deal on it (hmmm…might have been a reason for that!) Our large, nicely decorated room was on the ground floor with a terrace leading to the huge garden and a view of the lake. Unfortunately the smell in our room (No 19) was horrible, as if stale socks were festering in it somewhere! Anyway, no alternative room was available, despite my efforts, so we kept the patio door open to get some fresh air in, which did help. Then we set out some cold food we’d brought – parma Ham, good bread, olives and cheese, tomatoes and – most importantly – popped open some champagne to toast to, hopefully, a lovely trip! I did hope the weird room aroma wasn’t the promise of things to come.
Breakfast was mixed next morning – good cold buffet to start, muesli, yoghurt, grapefruit juice and fresh fruit; but cooked fare was poor. Very disappointing given a good British cooked breakfast is usually very good and hardly a complicated thing to get right. Undercooked sausages (bright pink inside) were returned and came back as burnt offerings, shrivelled and black. Still, the view out of the dining room window was lovely.The calories saved, I’d make up with through cakes or a scone later. Had a stroll through the grounds, absolutely lovely and the lake looked quite idyllic.
8 March: Hallin Fell and Fountains Abbey/Studley Royal (1.5hrs – 84 miles)
It was a narrow, winding but lovely drive round the other side of Ullswater to the start of the Hallin Fell walk. Parked opposite pretty St Peter’s Church and from there, it was only a mile to the top.It was a short 20 minutes or so slog, given as the very high start plus we were racing up to beat some hefty looking shows coming our way.Not a soul at the top and despite the low cloud and the fact that it was blowing a hoolie, it was a smashing view over Ullswater and to the mountains.Well worth the minor effort.
Back to the motorway via Pooley Bridge and took the A 66 across country via Appleby/Brough to Scotch Corner and south to North Yorkshire. I like the A66 for scenery though it can be slow. However, a radio report came over about a lorry spilling its load creating horrendous tailbacks on the A1, so we decided to take an alternative ‘back country’ route instead, just to keep moving. This turned out to be a very lovely, quiet but tortuous detour which added about an hour to our journey – still preferable to sitting stationary for twice that time on the motorway!
FOUNTAINS ABBEY/STUDLEY ROYAL
I had visited Fountains Abbey many decades ago when the boys were very young but wow – a lot had changed! There is now a very large visitor centre and café and a good network of tracks; I remember walking down a muddy path through a field to get to the wonderful Abbey ruins. A bit more formal now but nicely done.
It was now an overcast but dry, cold day. Looking back at a review I did of it in March 2019, I said I was ‘underwhelmed’ by the whole place which seems a bit harsh.The Abbey was a beauty but the water gardens of Studley Royal I found a bit dull. It being March, perhaps grass rather than the colour of flowers or shrubs dominated though the overall design is very much about the water features. I feel a bit guilty about this as it IS a World Heritage Site; maybe I was tired after the extra time it had taken us to get here. After an explore of the grand ruins, we made our way along the left hand path to the lake. I thought this was the best feature – the view back to the Abbey itself with the water foreground was sublime. There were various temples and statues to admire as we made our way up onto a high path through the woodland, with various views to other water features. Unfortunately, the trees have now grown so high that some of the original grand views no longer exist. After 90 minutes or so we strolled back up through the grounds to the café as I had calories to make up given my sausages breakfast – time for tea and a cake.Oooh…very disappointing fare on display, all in those wee plastic wrappers and the place looked like a bomb had hit it; litter everywhere.
Crisps in the car, an apple and a flask of hot water for tea, so complete starvation was avoided.Did feel a wee bit cheated though.
It was a lovely 30min or so drive through attractive, quiet countryside – I really do like Yorkshire – and to my delight, a cracking wee tea-room was part of this small, lovely place. It had to be tea and a cream scone and I think my mood was much improved by that! The place was going like a fair and there were some lovely things to buy too. Paid for our tickets and then walked across a little country road to the Abbey, a small ruin in bucolic countryside. Somehow, this spot captured us both more than Fountains Abbey, perhaps the utter solitude being part of its charm.
Breedon on the Hill
2 hours + drive south now lay ahead to reach Breedon on the Hill, a small village in Leicestershire, with a 16th century church, gorgeous accommodation and not too far from the motorway.It would give us a good head start next day to the coast.
It was a great choice, the quarry was out of sight (we often see Breedon Quarry lorries up in Scotland) and our Airbnb was Breedon Hall, the grandest house in the village with large walled grounds.It was truly stunning inside, a real country house with antique furniture and just overall comfy and classy. The very welcoming couple who ran it invited us into the lounge for drinks and nibbles – very much appreciated! – and we had a great chat with them about their own planned driving tour of Scotland.
Went out for dinner to the characterful and very pretty 16th century Hollybush Inn which turned out to be a cosy, romantic wee place , all low beamed ceilings and tiny windows with pretty curtains and lovely set tables lit by candles. Excellent steak and real chips and a first class sticky toffee pudding for us both. England does these pretty local Inns SO well.
Next morning, a great breakfast was served by our hosts in their enormous and stylish kitchen – homemade muesli, yoghurts, fresh fruit, gallons of tea, toast and eggs and bacon.Ooh…stuffed and set up for the day!
A walk up the hill to the wonderful St Mary’s and St Hardulph church came next, a building which has some of the finest Saxon carvings in England. It was a superb place, fascinating.
A final stroll through the village again and a look at this strange wee structure with its witches hat roof, which was used in ancient times to temporarily lock up villagers who were being a public nuisance!
Said goodbye to our nice hosts and headed to the motorway to continue our journey to the south coast.
Leicestershire to Portsmouth via Shakespeare country and Stonehenge.
In just over an hour, we were parking the car in Stratford upon Avon. We didn’t go into Shakespeare’s house as such, but got a coffee and cake in a nice café , the Box Brownie , with a really friendly guy serving who Chris was delighted to be able to talk cricket with!
It was a lovely sunny, spring day and we enjoyed strolling through the very handsome town itself with some very grand buildings including the famous theatre. The walk along by the river was a delight though it must get mobbed in peak season; in March it was quite quiet. So saying, there was a fair old queue for Shakespeare’s Birthplace but I had read very mixed reviews of the interior. I’m a huge fan of the Bard and teach his works to my English students so I didn’t feel the need to gen up on a potted history as such. Better to actually read what he wrote! This was a wee extra stop we hadn’t originally planned, but it was a really good one.
But the big No 1 Must See for me today was always going to be Stonehenge.
Two hours later, I was so excited to arrive at this World Heritage Site.We had booked tickets for 3pm and thankfully, managed to get parked with a good half hour’s grace – I really don’t like leaving things too tight which always stresses me. This was a free visit as we have Historic Scotland cards and there was reciprocal membership to several sites in England.It wasn’t too busy parking wise and very well organised, with our ticket giving us access to regular shuttle buses that in 5 mins or so, dropped us off at the site itself. Again in peak season it might all feel very different.
It was outstanding! I wondered whether the sheer familiarity of the place through photos, reading etc would detract from it but I was overwhelmed by how magnificent it was. I thought the nearby motorway might detract too, but it didn’t due to the landscaping. It’s so good too that everyone is kept well back from the stones and not allowed to wander around them. If nothing else it makes photos much better! But really the scale and shape of it all had me in raptures.
The visitor centre is quite a place – cavernous – but it looked quite touristy so we headed off once we’d seen the Stones.But it was interesting to see how Stonehenge would have looked originally, through this model:
It was only around 75 mins to Portsmouth from here but we made the mistake detouring via the New Forest. Maybe we didn’t visit the best part of it, but neither of us found the area very appealing, though we did see the famous moorland ponies. Salisbury’s cathedral spires looked very enticing but that would have to wait for another trip.
After we got parked, we made a mad dash to the Naval Dockyard in the hope of seeing the HMS Victory but we’d left it too late and it had just closed by a whisker! Oh the disappointment! Many years ago we visited the Vasa Museum in Stockholm and were stunned by the spectacle of an intact warship built in 1628.The scale and magnificence of it was unforgettable and I’d really wanted to see the Victory too.Just too much to see on that journey south! As ever in that situation, I begin to fret about…oh we could have cut that out..or if we’d only hurried a bit more at that point….but it’s absolutely a waste of energy and finally Chris said ‘Enough – we’ve done really well.It’ll all be here a long time, we can come back.’ Sigh…yes, all true.
Now we had a bit of a wait before we could begin boarding our ship for the Channel crossing.I must say, Portsmouth felt a bit down at heel and grubby and nowhere appealed for food so we stopped off at a supermarket and bought some cold cooked chicken thighs and spicy dip, bread and butter, pickles and cheese and had a picnic in the car, nicer than it sounds. A wee Prosecco to wash it all down too which Chris reckoned would be well out of his system by the time he had to drive us on board.
Around 10pm with night long since fallen,we were finally allowed onto the ship and thankfully, the alcohol didn’t mean Chris steered the Megane off the ramp and into the sea. Very impressed with our clean, spruce little cabin and shower area. Grabbed our overnight bag, then went up on deck to watch the ferry manoeuvre out of this very famous port (Chris is a huge Patrick O’Brien fan and devours his stories about British warships and naval history, so he was fascinated by it all.) Portsmouth now re-invented itself and looked quite spectacular, all lit up, as we sailed slowly out of the main harbour area.Bye bye to the good old UK!
The ship was due to dock in Caen, Normandy around 7am so we set our alarm for 6am.
However, at 4am we were both rudely awakened by a terrible hooting sound which I thought was some mistaken alert that had come over the Intercom. I remember saying to Chris ‘Och it’s ok…it’s not for us…’ and turning over in my little bunk again to go back to sleep. Wrong! In half a minute, the alarm went off AGAIN accompanied by a clear announcement that it was wakey – wakey time and that we’d better get out of our kip. No doubt we were getting roused at this ungodly hour to make sure everyone was ready and off the ship without any delays. A quick scramble up, a sleepy shower, sluggish donning of clothes, overnight bag re-packed, then we staggered along like zombies to the restaurant to feel human again with tea and toast. I am NOT good that early in the morning.Never mind – La France, here we come.