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Jun 18, 2014
A Historic Road Trip From London to Edinburgh - The Wall Street Journal

A four-day journey includes visits to Hadrian's Wall, Oxford University, Liverpool Anglican Cathedral and more

STONE, AGED | A section of the 73-mile-long Hadrian's Wall, which stretches across Northern England.Alamy

TRAINS USED TO BE the least intimidating way to explore Britain. Railways are direct, while obscure mews, hidden hedge-lined lanes and twisting, centuries-old roads are not. But you no longer need a thick atlas and a willingness to ask for directions to navigate the U.K.—with GPS, driving across "this blessed plot" has never been easier. Just remember to drive on the "wrong" side of the road, and be open to all the eccentricity, epic nature and history nestled beside the asphalt (and sometimes cobblestone) on a four-day jaunt between two of Great Britain's most distinctive cities, London and Edinburgh.

DAY 1 // Town to Gown

Driving out of London is usually dreadful. The perpetually crowded and grimy terraced-house-lined roads that wind out of the city have gotten doleful reputations over the years. That includes "the trail of tears"—aka the A4 motorway. But there are many relics hidden between the diesel-choked flyovers and potholed roads to remind you that this is the ancient capital of the Anglophone world. Case in point: artist William Hogarth's serene country house is just a beer-mug's throw from the gray Hogarth Roundabout (Hogarth Lane, Great West Road, 44-20-8994- 6757). Make a hard left and you're transported back into the 18th century. The colorful Georgian mansion is where the great social satirist, who gave us iconic images like "Beer Street" and "The Rakes Progress," lived, worked and schemed with the politicians of his day. A 10-minute walk down a leafy lane takes you to the crooked-stoned Old Chiswick Cemetery, where the artist is buried with his wife, beneath an ode by William Garrick.

Depending on traffic, it takes about two hours to escape the city, curve up through increasingly green and pleasant land, and arrive in Oxford, home to the world's oldest English-language college. Visit the cathedral-like Bodleian Library (book a tour in advance, or punt down the shallow River Cherwell past college greens ( Consider a climb up the cupola of Christopher Wren'sSheldonian Theatre for hold-your-breath views over the "city of dreaming spires"( For a brainy pint, head to the ancient, pink-walled King's Arms pub, a nexus of student life since 1607 (40 Holywell St.,

The Off Duty Summer 50: Fifty Reasons to Love the Road Trip

From impromptu swimming to drive-in eats, Click here to see the full list.

Emiliano Granado for The Wall Street Journal, Styling by Renata Mosci, Hair & Makeup by Hazuki Matsushita

Day 1 (blue); Day 2 (orange); Day 3 (green); Day 4 (gold)

Spend the night in the Gothic-revivalMacDonald Randolph Hotel, whose wood-paneled bar is a setting for the "Inspector Morse" series (from $256 a night, The hotel is right across from the recently renovated Ashmolean Museum, Oxford University's renowned center for art and archaeology(

DAY 2 // Shakespeare's Land

Take the more bucolic A44 instead of the M40 highway for the 1½-hour drive to Stratford-upon-Avon. Although Shakespeare's childhood town has a tchotchke-shop cheesiness to it, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre has become rather elegant as a result of a four-year, $190 million renovation ( routinely brave the traffic for a night of innovative performances of the Bard's classics, on the stage where "triumph-ed" some of his greatest interpreters, including John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton and Daniel Day-Lewis.

The Ettington Park Hotel, a six-mile country drive from Stratford, is part of an estate that goes back a millennium and boasts enough grand salons for your "Downton Abbey" fix (from $136 a night, Aldeminster,

DAY 3 // Beatle's Cathedral

Take the M6 2½ hours north to one of England's most underappreciated churches, the modernist Liverpool Anglican Cathedral (St. James' Mount, was designed by Giles Gilbert Scott —the maestro behind England's iconic red telephone booths—when he was just 21. The edifice took 70 years to build, but was worth the wait. The cathedral is a masterpiece that looks like it belongs in Gotham City, with streamlined walls, a massive central tower and stretched arches. Like most things Liverpudlian, the place has a Beatles connection—it's where Paul McCartney premiered his first classical work, "The Liverpool Oratorio," in 1991.

Stroll down to the Mersey River and check out the beautiful Victorian-era Albert Dock—once the center of world commerce—which now sports an outpost of London's Tate Gallery ( There are loads of cafes at which to have a meal along the dock's cobbled streets.

A two-hour drive takes you into what is arguably England's most scenic area, the Lake District, with its curving ribbons of tarns (mountain lakes) reflecting steep crags that inspired Romantic Poets like Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth. Further inspiration can be found at the Masons Arms, a gastro pub in the town of Grange-Over-Sands that has cozy rooms overlooking Windermere lake (from about $160 a night, Strawberry Bank, Cartmel Fell,

DAY 4 // The Real Castle Black

Fortified by the Masons Arms' breakfast, drive an hour north through the hills and lakes until you reach Blencathra, one of the greatest scrambles in the land. Although the Scottish border is 30 miles north, this is where the spirit of Scotland begins, with its towering fells and Roman ruins. Nearby is Hadrian's Wall, which marked the northern edge of the Roman Empire (think of the Wall in "Game of Thrones," with the Scots as the Wildings). Park your car in the small, often empty lot off the side of the road and spend a half-day looping up through the sheep fields onto a sharp ridge called Striding Edge; there's a few yards of grappling at the top, but the reward is windswept views into Scotland. Take the easy route down on the other side, and now your watch is ended.

A few hours' drive north through green hills and dramatic plains takes you into the Georgian heart of Edinburgh. Clean yourself up in luxury and over-the-top Scottish eccentricity at the Witchery by the Castle next to Edinburgh Castle (from about $545 a night, Castlehill, the Royal Mile, This is the beginning of Royal Mile, Edinburgh's main drag; stroll the final part of your odyssey to the Dome on George Street for tea with sandwiches, cakes and, of course, Scottish scones—washed down with Champagne and tea (14 George St., Here's tae ye.

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