It’s worth getting up early in Scarborough: this is the east coast and dawn can be spectacular. The town spreads around two broad bays with a promontory in between, topped by the castle – Brontë fans will want to go up there via St Mary’s churchyard, where Anne is buried. South Bay is the earlier settlement: the harbour is a joy to explore and early birds who have an appetite should not miss the Harbour View Café, aka “the tea shack”, which serves superb fish and chips from 6am till lunchtime, largely for the homecoming fishermen.
There’s plenty to delay a road trip. Another great cafe, the Watermark, is along the seafront where the North Bay Railway operates steam loco excursions up to the Sea Life aquarium. Walk north on the coastal path from there to reach Burniston beach, home to a cliff of sandstone that keeps dropping dinosaur footprints on to the strand. Will Watts from Scarborough’s Hidden Horizons does fossil-hunting trips (adult £7, 5-16 years £5).
If all these distractions have delayed the trip, stop overnight at Scalby’s Plough (doubles from £100 B&B). Outside rooms are particularly good and it accepts pets. Those who prefer staying closer to town could try Toulson Court guesthouse (doubles from £60 B&B), which gets rave reviews.
From here, the logical, and most beautiful, route is west across the moors (in roughly the same direction as the popular coast-to-coast walking and cycling trails), especially in August when the heather is blooming. Good stopovers would be Grosmont; try Grosmont House B&B (doubles from £100, grosmonthouse.co.uk), and a trip on the North York Moors steam railway. Those less enthused about trains can press onward across the moor to pretty Stokesley: market days are Friday and the first Saturday of the month. Chapters boutique hotel (from £80 B&B) is on the historic high street.
Having had some great natural panoramas, and with plenty more to come, it’s time for something completely different on day three: the Tees Transporter Bridge. Tucked away behind Middlesbrough railway station is one of the wonders of the industrial world, a sort of Alpine cable car for vehicles, except it’s horizontal and on Teeside – and only £1.30 for a normal-sized car. Who needs theme parks? Emerging from this unusual river crossing, swing left and quickly hit the highway that’s the best: the A66.
Leaving Scotch Corner behind, the road starts to climb, but before hitting the heights, sneak off into Barnard Castle, an underrated town with a castle and excellent museum, the Bowes, a vast stately home in whose storeroom a Van Dyck masterpiece was discovered in 2013. Also on the walls: Goya, El Greco and Empress Eugénie’s bodice. The story of how all this fancy treasure reached the north Pennines is fascinating: the illegitimate son of an earl falls for a Parisian actress and they decide to build the world’s greatest art collection – in Teesdale. Stay in town at the Three Horseshoes Hotel (doubles from £80 B&B) or Homelands Guest House (doubles from £85 B&B).
From Barnard Castle, head back towards the A66, but pass under that road and take a left to Bowes and Tan Hill. The winding road soars up on to some spectacular moorland and the highest pub in England, the Tan Hill Inn – a good coffee – or overnight – stop (rooms from £100, or £30pp in a bunk room). In good weather there is a store of great walking around here, with both the Pennine Way and Coast to Coast trails passing near. There are also many wonderful picnic spots with wild swims (try Stonesdale Beck or Kisdon Force). Take the lane towards Keld for Wain Wath Force or Currack Force waterfalls (the indispensable Wild Guide Lake District and Yorkshire Dales has detailed instructions).
Head west again into Kirkby Stephen, a fine market town. Splash out on a stay at Augill Castle (doubles from £180 B&B), or try welcoming Redmayne House B&B (doubles from £80 B&B). South of town is Pendragon Castle, a ruined outpost of King Arthur. The Pink Geranium is a good cafe stop in town. Much of this area is in the recently expanded Yorkshire Dales national park, but the Lakes are in sight.
On day five, take the backroads towards Kendal, then head on through Ambleside and up the Wrynose Pass, not for the faint-hearted driver. But don’t continue on to the steep Hardknott Pass: turn left at Cockley Beck into one of the Lakes less-visited and more wonderful corners – the Duddon Valley. Park at your overnight, Wallabarrow Camping Barn (£10pp, wallabarrow.co.uk), and climb to the top of the Old Man of Coniston. All the southern lakes are at your feet.
Finally, pop down into Ravenglass, via the Hardknott if you prefer. You’ve done it: coast to coast. Stay at Rosegarth Guest House (doubles from £74 B&B,) and enjoy another lovely steam railway – the Ravenglass & Eskdale. Or stay in another castle – well, its coachmen’s quarters to be precise – the glorious Muncaster Castle (double £90, family room for four £110, both B&B).