Here’s a question: what do California’s Mulholland Highway, Romania’s twisting Transfăgărășan and China’s Tianmen Mountain Road all have in common? No? Nothing? Don’t worry, it was a trick question anyway.
Because these three roads — with their twists, turns and world-beating views — share more than just one thing. True, they all frequently appear on lists of the best driving roads in the world. But, as of 2020, they’re also all off-limits. Take even one turn on any of these routes, and the minute you step back into Britain the government will instruct you to self-quarantine for 14 days. And who has time for that?
But the news isn’t all bad. While these incredible routes may be beyond reach this year, we’ve rounded up eight incredible journeys a little closer to home. So buckle up, start your engines and take a whirl through Britain’s best road trips…
The Glan Conwy Trunk Road will show you all of Wales
Let’s start with a long one. The Cardiff to Glan Conwy Trunk Road runs the length of Wales — and will give you a good central route from which to explore everything the country has to offer. Linking the southern capital with the seaside town of Llandudno on the north coast, the highlights will come as you travel through two of Wales’ national parks; the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia.
Specific stretches you should look out for include the road between Dinas Mawddwy and Dolgellau, and the hillside pass at Bwlch Oerddrws. You may struggle pronouncing them, but that won’t matter — as you’ll be lost for words anyway…
The Causeway Coastal Road will give you a taste of Northern Ireland
Hopping across the Irish Sea, our next road trip worth taking sees you skirt the Causeway Coastal Road between Belfast and Londonderry. Follow the cliffs and beaches, pass through Portrush and Ballycastle on the way, and you’ll see some of the wildest, most jaw-dropping coastline the British Isles has to offer.
The Gobbins Cliffs are a particular highlight — as are the glacier-carved glens of Antrim. And, of course, the Giant’s Causeway itself. But our top tip? Taking a break at Dunluce Castle; a 13th Century ruinous castle perched on the rocky coast. Magical, Causeway-trumping stuff.
Taking Buttertubs Pass will give you a new respect for cyclists
It may sound a little childish, but the ‘buttertubs’ in the name of this Yorkshire road are actually 60-foot limestone potholes off the side of the swerving, sinuous road. This is a serious test of driving — as fun as it is challenging; and was even used as a categorised cycling climb during Stage One of the 2014 Tour de France.
However, we’d always recommend a motor over pedal power — but that’s mainly because of the cheese you’ll be eating on this trip. Begin in Wensleydale with a tasting at the cheese brand’s Hawes creamery, before taking a similarly dairy-based drive over Buttertubs Pass. End in Swaledale.
On Blakey Ridge, you’ll find the best pub in the North York Moors
Look incredibly, exceedingly closely at the picture above — and you might just be able to spot the Lion Inn. There it is, you’ve got it. The 16th Century treehouse is located at the highest point of the North York Moors National Park, and has views over the Rosedale and Farndale valleys that’ll have you swelling with patriotic pride. They do a mean steak and ale pie, too.
The drive is just as good. Only two hours from the Buttertubs Pass above, there’s a reason that many car reviewers take new models for a spin along this stretch of Kirkby Moorside. It may just be 15 miles long, but factor its twists and turns into a longer road trip across God’s own country and you won’t go far wrong.
Scotland’s A87 will take you on a magical mystery tour
Now, while we all want to button up our Barbour jackets, fire up the DB5 and do our best Bond impressions, the Glen Etive Road featured in 2012’s Skyfall isn’t our favourite Scottish road trip spot. Instead, we’d recommend motoring a little more northward than 007’s A82 — to the Highland A87.
It’s here, along an 125 mile-long stretch of unfurling tarmac, that you’ll be able to drive between two of Scotland’s finest, most fantastical sights. First up, the fabled freshwater lake just south of Inverness, Loch Ness. And after a spot of monster-hunting, you can carry on your search for the supernatural at Uig, a windswept-but-beautiful village on the Isle of Skye — where legend has it you’ll find ‘faeries’.
A trip from Bath to Cheddar will take you through Britain’s best gorge
It’s as mouth-watering as it sounds. As one of Britain’s most spectacular natural landmarks, Cheddar Gorge is well worth organising a road trip around — with the 10 mile road wending one of the most picturesque routes through the West Country. And, once you’ve ticked off Wensleydale, above, where else are you going to get your cheese fix?
We’d recommend a trip that kicks off in Bath and sees you hone your handling skills on the bendy B3135 to Cheddar itself. But the gorge is a highlight — where you should stop off and enjoy its awe-inspiring cliffs and extraordinary subterranean stalactite show caves.
The Brecon Beacons’ Black Mountain Pass is rugged beauty at its best
There’s a real, stark beauty to the Brecon Beacons. Of course, on the right day — when the sun is shining — the place springs to verdant green life. But, this being Wales, those days are few and far between. Thankfully, even in muted shades of grey and dark purple, this rugged, rough landscape is still worthy of a road trip.
At over 520 square miles in size, we’d recommend a loop of the Welsh mountain range — with particular time set aside to enjoy the Black Mountain Pass, which drives almost 500 metres above sea level and emerges near Felindre near Llangadog.
Take the Cairngorms’ Old Military Road for a spectacular summer drive
And, if Wales isn’t enough to quench your thirst for mountain roads, Scotland’s ‘Lecht Road’, or Old Military Road, is sure to scratch your itch. Connecting Nairn, on the Moray Coast, with the small town of Grantown-on-Spey, the A939 zips up over the Grampian Mountains — and is the ideal summer road trip.
Note we say summer. You may think the snow-capped mountains would make for a beautiful backdrop — and you’d be right — but ‘Lecht Road’ is one of the only regularly closed British A-roads during wintertime. And nothing puts a dampener on a road trip like ending up adrift in a drift…