Just a hop, skip and a jump from the A82 over fairy-dust sprinkled hills and steamy valleys lies Glen Nevis, a snaking wooded path through a gorge filled with boulders the size of houses. Take your hiking boots and take the trail to the river and back for a couple of hours’ break from the traffic and to explore one of Scotland’s hidden gems.
If the river is low, hitch up your trousers and wade across for the chance to walk behind a beautiful waterfall, where you’ll find ne’er a soul in sight. If fairies were real, this is where they would choose to live, surrounded by mother nature and about as ‘away from it all’ as you can feel.
Driving across Scotland is a tricky business, guaranteed to give your clutch and brakes a good workout. But when crossing the Cairngorms National Park, all that revving will be worth it when you reach the peak, not just for the incredible views, but also for the highest concentration of ski schools in the UK.
Winter months bring the snow so all you need to bring is the board (or skis) and you will be treated to some grade-A skiing at the Ski & Snowboard School, amongst others in the area. Don’t have your own gear? No problem, as you can hire everything from boards to salopettes and even gloves. There are also several mountain lifts and even a funicular railway to get to back to the top.
There is something quite magical about Craigievar Castle. Perhaps it’s the remote location in the middle of an evergreen forest. Perhaps it’s the 400 years of history hiding within its walls. Or perhaps it’s because it’s an incredible tall Scottish Baronial castle painted in pink!
Visitors to Craigievar could be forgiven for thinking that the towers are hiding a captured princess, and that she would let her hair flow out of the window at any given moment, however, the castle’s real story is just as magical. Explore the collections of original family portraits and its warm, rich interior filled with mahogany and gold trimmings. Then head outside to peruse the gardens which when covered with a blanket of snow give the castle an even more enchanted look.
The M6 is the artery that connects the Midlands and the North, so if you’re making a long journey up or down the country, you’ll likely want a place to stop and stretch your legs. Aira Force is just the place. Set at the edge of the famed Lake District National Park, it’s just a 25-minute drive from the motorway, but you’ll feel like you’ve landed on another planet.
Aira Force gets its name from the immense force that the water has as it pounds its way down the cliff face and into the river below where it churns its way under an ancient bridge. Suitable for families, this is a must-see if you don’t have much time to explore the lakes in more detail.
Take the bracing walk to the top (just over an hour) for incredible views along the valleys and lakes, or simply visit the falls. Whatever you do, don’t forget your wellies as it can get boggy!"
On the main road between London and Brighton, it would be a crime not to take a rest stop at the country’s best-preserved steam railway line. There are four stations in East Sussex (Sheffield Park, Horsted Keynes, Kingscote and East Grinstead), with a restored standard-gauge passenger railway connecting them all.
You can choose to visit any one of these stations for an insight into how people used to get around before the turn of the 20th Century; many of the stations contain fascinating museums and charming cafes to wile away a couple of hours. For an extra special treat, why not book a seat on one of the departures and roll through the Sussex countryside in style?
Now in its 10th year, Winchester Christmas Market keeps getting better and better. More than 350,000 visitors flock to this small village each year to soak up the German-inspired market with its fantastic range of stalls selling all kinds of festive trinkets. See the local jewellers, painters, glass makers and textile artists and their unique gifts and decorations, ideal for a last-minute stocking filler or two. The wooden chalet style of the market makes the village feel like an Alpine wonderland.
This year, visitors can get an extra special thrill with the brand-new ice rink installed for the season. Why not break up the drive down to the South West with a quick glide around the rink and a German style Bratwurst slathered with mustard to fill a hole for the rest of the journey?
Get off the motorways and A-roads and see a little more of the country. The scenic drive along the B4632 from Cheltenham to Stratford-upon-Avon cuts through the heart of the Cotswolds, with green hills and quaint villages as far as the eyes can see. The neighbouring A46 carries most of the traffic within the area so you’ll usually find the winding B-road to be relatively light on traffic, which is ideal for taking it slow and admiring the natural beauty along the way.
Heading north you’ll travel through villages such as Willersey, famous for its country pub The Bell Inn, in a wonderful location by a duck pond and serving some of the best Sunday roasts in the area. Another village worthy of a stop is Mickleton with a collection of Cotswold limestone houses and black and white Tudor style dwellings still with thatched roofs. The detour ends in Statford-upon-Avon, the town that inspired a hundred stories by Shakespeare.
The A68 makes a refreshing alternative to the grind of the A1 to travel between Edinburgh and Newcastle. It slices through Northumberland National Park and is framed by forests and hills, begging to be explored. If you don’t have the time to take a walk then the drive is just as spectacular, winding across the landscape with sometimes hairpin intensity.
The villages along the way provide a welcome rest stop and a chance to get acquainted with the local life. Otterburn, on the outskirts of the national park and in the Redesdale Valley, is a small but vibrant community with a formidable castle at its heart. The castle’s restaurant serves delicious contemporary food in the cosy atmosphere of the 9th century building: a memorable way to break up a long drive.
WORDS BY MONICA STOTT
Monica Stott is a travel blogger and writer with a love for weekend breaks. She has a young family so will be spending 2017 exploring the UK. She loves the outdoors and loves nothing more than getting out and about with her camera.