A historic island nation. Over 7000 miles of coastline. Beautiful beaches. Soaring cliffs. Stunning views. Fossil-hunting. Ancient castles. Village pubs. Fish and chips! All of this and more await with the ultimate UK road trip.
If this sounds tempting, you’re not alone. The UK’s long and varied coastline draws millions of visitors every year – many of them on road trips. Travelling the coast is a fantastic way to relax, broaden your horizons, and generally enjoy yourself. Spending time by the sea is even great for your mental health!
But where should you start?
Here’s how to plan the ultimate UK coastal road trip:
1. Get all the boring stuff squared away before you start
Getting your budget together, sorting out your vehicle, gathering the relevant documents (if you’re coming from abroad), cancelling deliveries, paying the bills while you’re away…these aren’t the most exciting things to sort out, but they’re worth doing early. That way, you can enjoy your road trip without any worries holding you back.
For example, there’s a trend right now for retired people to buy motorhomes and fund long road trips via equity release. This is a great way to unlock cash from your property, but doing it right can be a lengthy process (8 weeks according usually). If you’re planning to finance your trip with equity release, it’s worth getting the ball rolling with plenty of time to spare.
Similarly, it’s important to figure out your budget for the trip well in advance. Plan for emergencies, like breakdowns or delays. If it turns out that your budget won’t cover emergencies, planning early gives you time to save up some extra.
If you have pets and aren’t bringing them with you, remember that petsitters are often booked months in advance – even years, when it comes to the summer months! So it’s worth trying to get a petsitter slot as early as you can.
Once you’ve got all the boring stuff out of the way, you can plan the exciting details with a clear head.
2. Pick the right starting point
Depending on what you want to see and how much time you have, the right starting point can make all the difference.
For example, if you have limited time and want to see Lands End, don’t start all the way up in Scotland. While you might speed through the middle bits, you’ll be delayed at the end by the notorious lanes of Devon and Cornwall, and might struggle to reach Lands End before your time is up.
Instead, start at Lands End and travel north-east at a more leisurely pace around the coastline.
Think also about seasonal traffic. Depending on your timescale, the point you start could see you snarled up in holiday traffic for your entire trip, or with plain sailing even at peak season. It all depends on where you start and how you time your travels.
Check holiday traffic data, and plan to avoid the most touristy spots during the most popular times. This way, you can avoid the crowds and get the beaches to yourself!
3. Don’t overstretch yourself
The UK has over 7000 miles of coastline. And every single mile is packed with things to see and do. From stunning views to wildlife-spotting, island-hopping, pubs, cafes, museums, watersports, stately houses, theme parks, castles, landmarks…the list goes on and on.
It’s tempting to try and pack in as much as you possibly can. But we’d advise the opposite. Rather than completely filling your itinerary, give yourself some leeway. Maybe even build rest days into your schedule.
Why? Because struggling to keep to an overpacked itinerary is stressful at the best of times, but it’s especially stressful when you’re dealing with the British coastline. Our weather is far from predictable, so you may have to change your plans very quickly to accommodate sudden storms or an unpredictable rainy spell.
If you don’t pack out your itinerary, you’ll have the flexibility to change your plans if need be. Maybe spend a rainy day exploring local pubs rather than local landmarks, or take advantage of sunny spells to relax on the beach.
Rather than giving yourself an exhaustive list of places to see and things to do, we suggest that you limit yourself to a few must-sees, and play the rest by ear.
We’re not saying you shouldn’t pencil in some ideas for the locations you’re visiting, but don’t stress yourself out by forcing yourself to hit an exhaustive list of targets.
4. Learn to drive narrow country lanes
Ah, Devon and Cornwall. They have some of the most beautiful and diverse coastal scenery in the country, but their roads are very narrow, very twisty, and often walled or hedged in on both sides. It’s worth learning how to drive these lanes if you’re not already familiar with them.
For a start, don’t take a gigantic vehicle down these single-track roads unless you are very confident driving in them. You’ll struggle to get a wide vehicle through a lot of these tracks without scraping the sides. So, be sensible when choosing your vehicle.
Even in a standard-sized vehicle, driving narrow country lanes is an art form. You will frequently need to reverse a long way to let other vehicles pass, and you need to be very considerate of other road users at all times.
Of course, it’s not just Devon and Cornwall which have narrow, twisty roads. Scotland and Wales also have lanes like this, and you will find them in some other parts of the country too.
We’re using Devon and Cornwall as an example because lanes like this are most common (and most notorious!) in this part of the island – but it’s still worth familiarising yourself with rural driving even if you’re avoiding the far South West.
Proper planning makes for the perfect trip
A road trip around the UK coast is a fantastic experience. Even if you only take in a bit of the coastline, you’ll still get to see some of the most wonderful scenery in the world, and experience some truly historic sights.
Good planning is vital for a great trip. With good planning, you can set off with a clear heart and head, avoid touristy traffic jams, see everything you want to see without stress, and even navigate the toughest country lanes without breaking a sweat.
Good luck, and have a great trip!