I know I’ve already written a lot about our recent trip to the UK, but I love sharing what we learn when we travel (obviously), and I don’t find any information more useful when I’m planning a trip than the personal experiences and recommendations of people in similar situations who have been there before.
Generally, we had a great experience. Most of the hotels and bed & breakfasts we stayed in were clean, pleasant and helpfully staffed. We had plenty of nice meals with the kids, and nearly all of the most common tourist things we did were worthwhile — seeing Big Ben, watching the changing of the guard, visiting Edinburgh Castle. But four particular places stood out above the others. These destinations were outstanding, and are worth going out of your way to see, visit or stay.
The Lake District It’s a big area, and we didn’t nearly see it all. But, of everywhere we went in England, it was the place we enjoyed the most, and the scenery got more beautiful every time we made a turn or crested a ridge. It’s gorgeous, peaceful and has a lot to offer in terms of fun and relaxation. The kids loved it because they were able to have so much freedom. There were big yards to play in, paths to hike on, and lakes to splash in. There is a lot to do in terms of hiking and exploring, but with two little kids, our ability to explore on foot was somewhat limited. I would particularly recommend the “hiking by car” tour we got from “Rick Steves’ Great Britain” — it gives a great sense of the area while also giving a lot of flexibility. We stopped a few places and got out to explore, but we were never more than about 15-20 minutes walk from the car (which was especially helpful when the boys played in Lake Buttermere more enthusiastically than we expected — we had to pour the water out of their boots and wring out their socks when we got back to the car!). We spent 3 nights in the Newlands Valley, and it wasn’t long enough. When we go back to England, going back to the Lake District will be our highest priority.
Littletown Farm Guest House We stayed in a small guest house/B & B in the Newlands Valley. I cannot recommend it highly enough. The location is beautiful and quiet, the hosts are warm and accommodating, and the property itself is mentioned in one of Beatrix Potter’s stories. The room was comfortable, updated and very clean, and we had a great view. And it’s reasonably priced, for all that. (My previous favorite hotel, in Virginia, was similar in its feeling of comfort and beauty, but costs twice as much per night, even accounting for the exchange rate.) This place was great, and the hosts, Sarah and Rob, really made us feel welcome. They helped us find great places to eat, helped us find good, kid-friendly hiking trails, lent us an off-road stroller to use while we were there and helped us out (even offered a ride into town) when we got our flat tire. The breakfasts and tea times that we had there were tasty, too (the scones are fantastic). Everything was very fresh — we personally witnessed the leftover scones going to the chickens at the end of the day! The entire atmosphere was so comfortable and homey, and we found ourselves down in the lounge, socializing with all of the other guests in the evening — it was a great way to get to know our hosts and our fellow travellers. We’re going back — as soon as possible.
Alnwick Castle We had been to visit Edinburgh Castle the day before, and we almost skipped going to the Alnwick Castle. My main interest in it was the fact that some of the exterior scenes from the first two Harry Potter movies were filmed there, so once we saw the outside, I was pretty satisfied. Dan wanted to see the inside, though, so we bought tickets and went in, and I’m really glad we did. The castle is beautiful, and they make a real effort to make the experience interesting and fun. Benjamin and I took a broomstick flying lesson, and the boys learning about becoming a knight and worked on slaying a dragon. It was one of the most kid-friendly stops on our entire vacation, and well worth the stop and the price of admission.
Northern Ireland Ok, it’s a big place. And, like the Lake District, we didn’t see it all. But what we did see was truly fantastic. The wildness of the Irish Sea paired with the vivid green of the rolling farmland was stunningly beautiful. We only spent a day and a half in Northern Ireland, and I wish we’d had a week to explore — there was so much to see that we didn’t get to experience. Like the Lake District, it’s a “must see” for us on our next trip to the British Isles.