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Best road trips in the UK and Ireland

Everyone dreams of an epic road trip, whether it’s flying down Route 66 or across the Alps. But did you know we have some pretty incredible road trips right here in the UK and Ireland? Whether you’re looking for a short but spectacular route to enjoy over a long weekend or a lengthy adventure for a few weeks, you’ll be amazed at what’s on offer. Here’s Carparison’s guide to the best roads trips in the UK and Ireland.

Before you set off

Depending on your route, road trips can mean driving for hundreds or thousands of miles, pushing your vehicle to the limit on mountain or coastal roads. It’s important to maintain your lease car before and during your journey. It might seem obvious, but preparing to put in the miles by doing an overall check-up of your car is an excellent idea. Check your oil and fluid levels, your wipers (for the unpredictable British weather) and, of course, your tyres.

As with any road trip, whether you’re on Route 66 or North Coast 500, there are remote stretches of road with little or no facilities such as petrol stations or shops. So it’s crucial you’ve covered all aspects of preparation, including packing emergency blankets, a torch, first-aid kit and basic tools, as well as snacks and water.

North Coast 500, Scotland

Length: 500 miles

Starting at Inverness, North Coast 500 is an epic journey across northern Scotland. Dubbed ‘Scotland’s Route 66’, this route is perfect for a UK road trip.

The 500-mile road crosses the highlands before leading you all around the coastline. As you meander through a mix of country lanes and epic open roads slicing between the mountains and over the sea, you’ll realise there’s no better way to enjoy driving your new car.

From Inverness, North Coast 500 cuts across the Scottish Highlands, past lochs, mountains and forests. After gliding along mountain roads, you’ll eventually reach the west coast at Applecross. Don’t forget to fuel up at Lochcarron, as it’s the last petrol station before Applecross. Bealach na Ba, Gaelic for ‘pass of the cattle’, is said to be one of the most spectacular roads in the UK. The winding lane clings to the mountainside, down towards the Applecross peninsula. This route is not for the faint-hearted, but is rewarded with panoramic views over the sea beyond. Once you reach the end, you’ll find the local pub, the Applecross Inn. This is a great place to stop for a traditional Scottish meal overlooking the sea.

As you roam along the coast, the route stretches around the peninsula and continues north, towards the village of Ullapool. Despite being just a small village, Ullapool is very popular, as it’s the largest settlement for miles. Continue on past Loch Assynt and the peak of Ben More, over the imposing Kylesku Bridge and on towards the north coast.

Durness is the first key stop on your north coast stretch and this unusual town has a remote feel, as it faces out to sea with nothing in its way before the distant Faroe Islands. Its beautiful blue waters are perfect for taking a refreshing dip. After refuelling, carry on driving along the rugged north coast towards Thurso, a haven for surfers and one of the largest towns in the area.

From here, North Coast 500 bends around the top of the north coast, passing the most northerly point of Britain - Dunnet Head near John O’ Groats - before dropping down to begin the north east stretch. Take in the dramatic scenery of ruined castles and remote beaches at the village of Keiss and on to the pretty Caithness town of Wick. This stretch of road is filled with historic sites, including Dunrobin Castle, so if you’re looking to combine your epic road trip with some history, this is a great area to visit.

Don’t miss: Driving to the Applecross Peninsula, stopping to refuel in Ullapool, driving over Kylesku Bridge, a delicious pie at Lochinver Larder, exploring Smoo Cave, wandering to Dunnet Head at John O’ Groats, picking up some souvenirs at Black Isle Brewery, the sea stacks at Duncansby Head.

The Atlantic Highway, Devon & Cornwall

Length: 134 miles

The Atlantic Highway spans 134 miles across North Devon and North Cornwall. Passing fishing villages, beautiful coastlines and some of the rural South West’s finest scenery, this epic driving route is often overshadowed.

Though it technically begins in Barnstaple, the A39 actually stretches all the way along the coast north of Devon into Somerset. The tree-lined Exmoor cliffs at Lynmouth and Porlock can be enjoyed on this route, before joining up with the official Atlantic Highway in North Devon.

Rick Turner of Visit North Devon & Exmoor said: “The Atlantic Highway is the perfect choice for a road trip in North Devon, showcasing idyllic landscapes and seascapes alike as you travel down the A39 that links North Devon and North Cornwall. It connects the busy town of Barnstaple to some of our most beautiful coastal areas including Bideford, Clovelly and Hartland. A must-see if you’re driving across the South West!”

From here, the A39 winds south towards the ancient town of Bideford, where you have the opportunity to take a small diversion to the adjacent villages of Appledore and Instow, or the wide open beach of Westward Ho!. Just a short stretch further, it’s worth stopping to wander the cobbled streets of Clovelly, a village which has remained unchanged for hundreds of years.

Sue Haworth, Marketing Manager at Clovelly.co.uk said:

“Clovelly is a picturesque, historic fishing village steeped in maritime atmosphere, once owned by the Queen of England. This atmosphere is embodied in a traffic-free, cobbled street with flower-strewn cottages, tumbling down a cleft in the 400-foot cliff to the ancient fishing harbour and 14th century quay, bringing glorious views along the way.” For those keen to delve deeper into Devon’s heritage on their road trip, Clovelly is a prime stop. Sue added: “There are many literary connections; Charles Kingsley lived here, Charles Dickens wrote about it and Rex Whistler featured it in much of his work.” If you’re setting off on your trip during the summer, look out for Clovelly’s unique festivals, including the Seaweed Festival and Lobster and Crab Festival.

The beauty of the Atlantic Highway is its multitude of potential stops. There’s something to see almost every few miles, so you can take your time meandering through Devon and Cornwall to transform this 134-mile journey into an epic road trip. Further south, on the Cornish border, the seaside town of Bude has two sandy beaches, stretching down towards Widemouth Bay, a part of the coast reminiscent of California on a sunny day.

From Widemouth, the Atlantic Highway veers further inland, but there’s an opportunity to follow the coastal road through some of North Cornwall’s prettiest towns and villages including Crackington Haven, Boscastle, Tintagel, Port Isaac and Polzeath. You can then meet the A39 down towards Fraddon, where the Atlantic Highway ends.

Don’t miss: Walking through Clovelly, admiring the cliffs at Hartland Quay, walking through the gardens at Hartland Abbey, a cream tea at Docton Mill, a pub lunch at The Bush Inn Morwenstow, a stroll along the sand at Widemouth Bay, stepping back in time at Tintagel Castle.

Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland

Length: 1,600 miles

As the world’s longest defined coastal touring route, it’s difficult to imagine a more epic road trip than the Wild Atlantic Way. Spanning 1,600 miles along Ireland’s west coast, this route offers drivers the opportunity of a lifetime. From the secluded landscapes of County Mayo to the popular yet pretty County Kerry, the Wild Atlantic Way allows visitors to sample the best of Ireland’s scenery on one connected route.

If you’re heading south, your journey begins in the Inishowen Peninsula. As Ireland’s largest peninsula, it is flanked by glorious beaches and craggy clifftops. The Gap of Mamore road on this stretch ascends to 800 feet, giving you a spectacular view over the coast. From here, the next section cuts through the remote Donegal countryside, twisting down the coast towards Sligo. Mullaghmore Head is considered to be one of the finest examples of the landscape on the Wild Atlantic Way. Here you can take a ferry over to the island of Inishmurray.

County Mayo, although not as well-known as the likes of County Kerry or Donegal, is one of the most remote stretches of the Wild Atlantic Way. Impressive sea stacks, sweeping beaches and country lanes make this one of the most enchanting counties in Ireland. Branch out to the Mullet Peninsula to find some of the best beaches. From Mayo, the road stretches down to Achill Island, Ireland’s largest island. Historically, Achill Island was famous for its population of basking sharks. Today, its frontier feel draws visitors who wish to rest on the sand or admire the highest sea cliffs in the country.

The Wild Atlantic Way continues south, passing Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s sacred mountain, the valleys of Doo Lough and Delphi and Killary harbour. Before long you’ll find yourself approaching Connemara National Park and Ireland’s Sky Road, with panoramic views over the Atlantic. Narrower roads wander down the coast before reaching Galway, a vibrant harbour city.

Continue on the road past the famous Cliffs of Moher, past Kilkee and on to Tralee, before you reach the Dingle Peninsula. With seemingly endless sandy beaches, colourful cottages and ancient Irish pubs, Dingle encompasses much of Irish culture in what is one of the busiest areas in the country. But you can escape any crowds on Slea Head Drive, or take a boat over to the secluded Blasket Islands. Enjoy a pint of Guinness at James Curran’s Pub. This unique bar was originally a general store as well as a pub, so you could find yourself sipping your pint at the hardware counter.

After taking your new lease for a spin around the Dingle Peninsula, continue on to the iconic Ring of Kerry. From here you can reach the Skellig Islands, which featured in the final scene of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The route carries on further south, away from the busier areas of Dingle and Kerry, to bring you back to the remote beauty of the Ring of Beara, before stretching round the south west of Ireland for your final run.

Don’t miss: Walking on the sand at Mullaghmore, taking in the views at Keem Bay, looking up at the towering Croagh Patrick, diving into the Irish culture at Galway city, looking out over the Cliffs of Moher, taking your Mercedes for a spin along Slea Head Drive and the Ring of Kerry.

A82 Glasgow to Fort William, Scotland

Length: 108 miles

Famous for scenes in the 2012 Bond film, Skyfall, in which Daniel Craig drove an Aston Martin DB5 through the mountains, this iconic road via Glencoe is well worth a visit.

As you make your way north from Glasgow, the scenery quickly transforms. The industrial buildings and houses begin to disappear, and the lush forests surrounding Loch Lomond come into view. The A82 closely follows the banks of the loch for 24 miles, meaning you don’t miss a moment of this iconic Scottish landmark.

Fiona Robertson, partner at the famous pit-stop The Green Welly Stop, said: “A tour up the west of Scotland is a must. Head up the A82 from Glasgow and take in the atmosphere of Loch Lomond. No matter what the weather, it’s a stunning route, however be aware the road is very narrow in places. There are a couple of good parking spots on the way that will give you a chance to stretch your legs and check your camera is in good working order!”

Once you reach the end of the loch, the road begins to cut across the Trossachs, heading north to Glencoe. The landscape changes again as you head towards the Bridge of Orchy, as the dramatic peaks of Glencoe slowly come into view. Be sure to stop for petrol and stock-up on souvenirs at The Green Welly Stop. With plenty of space to park, a renowned whisky shop, gifts, clothes and delicious food, this is an excellent place to refuel for your road trip. For a true taste of Scotland, try their Cullen Skink – a traditional Scottish soup made from the finest smoked haddock.

Whether you’re embarking on the trip in your new lease in winter, spring, autumn or summer, Glencoe always looks magical. In full bloom, the landscape resembles a scene from Lord Of The Rings, while in the winter, shrouded in mist or snow, Glencoe is transformed into a winter wonderland.After driving for 90 miles, there’s no finer place to stop for a picnic than Glencoe. “The view and atmosphere of Glencoe can’t be missed,” said Fiona. “Allow time in your journey to stop and take pictures, it is part of the journey that will stay in your memory for a long time. Before Glencoe village itself, why not take the route to Kinlochleven? You will get a great view of the Pap of Glencoe back towards Ballachulish Bridge. The road is fun to drive and will take you round Loch Level in a loop.”

When you can finally tear yourself away from Glencoe, continue north on the A82 to Fort William. The rest of the route is very picturesque, crossing over Loch Linnhe and hugging the banks all the way up to Fort William, where you’ll find the imposing mountain of Ben Nevis. If you are taking the same route home, Fiona suggests a slight detour: “I would recommend taking the A826 road at Ballachulish back via Connel, Taynuilt and Dalmally. A great coastal route with delightful views.”

Don’t miss: The views across Loch Lomond, the photo opportunity as you drive into Glencoe, lunch at the Kings House Hotel, the Three Sisters of Glencoe and a dram at the Clachaig Inn.

Short but spectacular drives

Cheddar Gorge, Somerset
Length: 14 miles

At almost 400 feet deep and three miles long, Cheddar Gorge is the largest gorge in England. Luckily, you can drive through the heart of this spectacular natural landscape. Although it’s only a 14-mile route, it is guaranteed to be one of the most incredible drives you ever enjoy in your leased car. The gorge is over one million years old and, as well as its stunning road, Cheddar Gorge is a fascinating place to visit. Check out Cheddar Caves, wander through the village and pick up some cheese from the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company before continuing your drive through Somerset.

Abergwesyn Pass, Powys, Wales
Length: 20 miles

This steep, narrow road crosses the Cambrian Mountains in Wales. At only 20 miles, it’s a short run, but offers panoramic views over this remote, hilly landscape. Its hairpin bends and steep descent keep things interesting for those seeking a more thrilling drive. The route climbs up Abergwesyn Pass, through the Devil’s Staircase and on to beautiful conifer forests and desolate valleys. For those wishing to sample some of Wales’ wildest landscapes, this is the perfect road.

Snake Pass, Peak District
Length: 14 miles

Hailed as one of the best driving roads by Auto Trader in 2009, Snake Pass gives drivers the opportunity to cut through the heart of the dramatic Peak District landscape. At the start of the descent into Glossop, it’s said you can see all the way over the hills to Manchester on a clear day. Drive over moody moorland as you twist your way through the countryside.

Black Mountain Pass, Brecon Beacons, Wales
Length: 23 miles

Connecting the quaint market town of Llandovery with Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen in South West Wales, Black Mountain Pass is not only spectacular, it’s extremely practical. If you want an easy way to cross the Brecon Beacons National Park without missing the views, this 23-mile stretch is perfect. Keep a look out for stray sheep and be mindful of the hairpin bends while you’re admiring the views.

A686 Penrith to Haydon Bridge, Cumbria & Northumberland
Length: 37 miles

Named as one of the AA’s greatest drives in Britain, the A686 from Haydon Bridge in Northumberland to Penrith in Cumbria had to make the cut. Its long, sweeping sections offer incredible open views while tree-lined sections offer a glimpse of the northern countryside. At only 37 miles, the road only takes an hour, but if you’re visiting this part of the country, it’s definitely worth taking this remarkable road.

Image credits: Richard Wiseman, shrinkin’violet, Keith Dixon, ebosman, Petr Meissner, Clovelly.co.uk

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Posted on 9th April 2019 at 12:54 PM

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