This is one of the most interesting times to visit England and Scotland. As the former turns its gaze toward Brexit and the latter grapples with the implications of the shift, both nations are inevitably looking inward, re-affirming their cultural identities and their entwined histories. Not incidentally, this is also the time to visit the British Isles if you want to go easy on your travel budget as the U.S. dollar will take you considerably farther.
But, Britain being Britain, most things haven’t changed at all. This proud island clings to tradition and ceremony no matter the political winds, from the hallowed halls of London where Britannia ruled the waves to the castle-topped craggy hills and glass-surfaced lochs of the Scottish Highlands. And here’s something else that will never change in England and Scotland: Gate 1 Travel’s longtime presence here means you’ll gain an immeasurable understanding of the past, present, and future of these beguiling countries from our local Tour Managers.
England: Legacies of Empire
The history of The Crown lives and breathes on every street corner in London. The architecture of this grand city spans the ages, from Westminster Abbey, whose origins date to the 10th century, to the 19th-century Gothic Revival splendor of the Houses of Parliament to the modern bustling squares of Piccadilly and Trafalgar. London—and much of England—opens windows to the Norman, Tudor, Victorian and Edwardian Ages like few other places can and reveals the stately vestiges of what was once the mightiest empire on the planet, whether you’re exploring Windsor Castle, the oldest inhabited castle in the world, or Blenheim Palace, the 17th-century birthplace of Winston Churchill. If the nobility of England interests you, and if you were a devotee of Downton Abbey, visit Highclere Castle, where the fictional, post-Edwardian Granthams grappled with the changing tides of history.
Before England was the center of a mighty empire, it was merely an outpost to another great power: the Roman Empire. One of the most remarkable echoes of Rome’s presence here are the natural mineral springs of Bath. Today, the city is also a rich repository of Georgian architecture; the city’s showstopper is the Royal Crescent, a row of terraced houses forming an elegant crescent shape. Indeed, there is no shortage of elegance in England, as the nation’s renowned bard, William Shakespeare, reminds you during a visit to his birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon. If touring the playwright’s home leaves you yearning for additional academic pursuits, then a stop in Oxford may satisfy your craving. The city’s renowned ivy-cloaked colleges comprise the second oldest university in the world and many of its alumni went on to change the world, including Stephen Hawking and Margaret Thatcher.
Legendary English poet, John Keats, wrote that “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever.” No doubt he was inspired by the Lake District, a dreamy expanse of gently rolling hills, charming farm villages and shimmering lakes. But there is also ample beauty to be joyful about in the south of England, in the Cotswolds and Cornwall. The tidy villages of the Cotswolds are among the most beautiful in the nation, clusters of stone houses topped by thatched roofs. Quaint, distinctly English villages also line the dramatic coast of Cornwall, though St. Michael’s Mount, perched atop a granite crag on a scenic tidal islet offshore, is a true scene-stealer.
Quite another seaside gem watches over England’s western shores. Liverpool is mostly celebrated as the home of The Beatles, but it is also beloved for its splendid setting on Liverpool Bay and the Mersey Estuary and its extraordinary architecture. Speaking of architecture, York Minster in the breathtaking, Viking-founded city of York was the crowning glory of medieval England. Still today, it is England’s largest Gothic cathedral. This masterpiece took 250 years to build and its central tower towers 200 feet.
Land of Tartans, Bagpipes and Whisky
Not far past Hadrian’s Wall, the largest surviving Roman artifact that stretches from the Irish Sea to the North Sea, Scotland fans northward, a dramatic canvas of rivers, lakes, and sophisticated cities threaded among starkly beautiful highlands. The nation’s landscapes have been called brooding and barren, but we think you’ll be spellbound by its soaring contours and wide-open splendor.
The capital, Edinburgh, provides insight into the Scottish heart and soul. The stunning Edinburgh Castle overlooks it all from a craggy perch as the Royal Mile stretches out to the country’s most treasured buildings: the baronial Scottish Parliament, Museum of Scotland, and Holyrood Palace, the queen’s residence when she is in town. Glasgow, Scotland’s other cultural capital, was proclaimed the “Second City of the British Empire” during Victorian and Edwardian days, such was its size and importance. Its 19th and early 20th century buildings are testament to its former status, a rich and satisfying blend of the periods’ architecture.
The stirring soul of Scotland, however, haunts the Scottish Highlands, an inspiring, wind-swept terrain of rocky hills and emerald-cloaked slopes and dales where calls of ancient clans echo through dense forests and over lochs, including its most famous, Loch Ness, legendary home of the fabled, elusive creature. The spectacular Cairngorms National Park is the centerpiece of the region, ideally explored from the enclave of Aviemore. It was near here at Culloden Battlefield that the Jacobites famously lost their battle with the British, losing their land to the empire. You can imagine the plotting behind stone walls that led up to the battle as you drive through the Highlands’ magnificent landscape dotted with castles, some left in dignified ruins and others splendidly preserved. And for sheer, unspoiled beauty, few experiences rival a drive through Glencoe, where precipitous mountains pierce the sky, rising over deep green valleys.
But the Highlands are not all inland mountains and lakes. The coastal regions have their own unique beauty. Nestled on the shore of Loch Linnhe, the town of Fort William rests at the foot of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest peak. Glen Nevis Valley skirts the mountain’s lush slopes and served as the pristine setting for movies such as Braveheart and Rob Roy. The sleepy seaside village of Ullapool, secluded and tranquil, provides a taste of life in the northwestern Highlands. Its cabbage trees might make you think you’re in the tropics for their resemblance to palm trees. Farther north, dramatic rocky coastlines point to the Castle and Gardens of Mey, once home to the Queen Mother, and to Thurso, the northernmost town on the mainland and the gateway for a day-long cruise to the Orkney Islands, a rural archipelago with a history that stretches back to the Viking Age.
On the west coast of the Highlands, the Inner Hebrides Islands beckon with their breathtaking vistas of jagged peaks, sparkling lochs, charming fishing villages and medieval castles. The Isle of Skye, connected to the mainland by a bridge in 1990, is the largest and closest to the mainland. On the Isle of Mull, spectacular sea cliffs and white-sand beaches greet you, reaching inland to jagged mountains of a rosy pink hue. The town of Tobermory is brimming with brightly colored shops, the perfect way to end a day after exploring the Isle of Iona, a sacred island where it is thought that monks created the famed illuminated Book of Kells.
Uncover the Cultural and Natural Wonders of England & Scotland with Gate 1!
There is no more rewarding way to explore Great Britain than with Gate 1 Travel, whether you’re planning your first or your fifth trip here. We’ve been showing travelers this island of unrivaled history and enriching culture for as long as we’re been in business, so we’re well suited to point you to the very best sites. Our long experience here also translates into unmatched value for you. No one can provide such a quality experience at such an affordable price. Join us!