Hey all, you may remember me, I was on here about a month ago prepping for an extensive 3 week trip to England.
I am back now, and I don't even know how to organize what I have seen and done. Maybe starting with a topic rather an a run down of an itinerary might help.
As some of you may know the first part of my trip was about a week of driving. From Oct 17th to the 25th. I rented a car at Heathrow from AutoEurope. They offered me a Toyota Rav4 at first but I told them I would be more comfortable with a car with a closing trunk as the RAV's just had sort of a cloth slide over. They ended up giving me a Mercedes...and although I wasn't again totally sure about taking on a luxury car I didn't want to belabor the process so I took off.
My first destination was a bed and breakfast near Downton, which is close to Salisbury. I headed south on the M3 and about 25 miles out it became a parking lot. Turns out there was a fatal accident and the freeway was closed. Being used to this sort of thing (LA driving) I got off on a "Welcome Break" thinking I would find a parallel road and ended up stranded with a line of people who had the same plan in mind. Long story short, it was a very very slow crawl to the alternative road which of course was clogged with everyone else using it, and the rest of the trip to the bed and breakfast was slow and required a few inquiries as far as how to get where. But I made it to my destination. Exhausted but intact.
The rest of my driving took me up to Exmoor Park, then I spent a whole day driving north to get to Lancaster, then to Carlisle, across to York, down to Petersbourough, then near Ipswitch..so I ended up doing a giant clockwise circle. I can at some point get into more detail about where I stopped along the way, but this post is going to be about my observations driving in England.
First..I would not recommend England as the very first place to drive for someone who has never driven on the left side of the road. I found, in general, the country to be congested and the drivers riding up your butt no matter *where* you go. Small towns just seemed crammed with cars, and it seemed whenever I needed to make a three point turn or just take a moment to get my bearings somewhere there was always someone coming around the corner or coming up behind me. Without fail. Even the quieter backroads that connect one larger roads...thinking I could relax and take a nice country drive..you will soon discover that if you are in a car, the English countryside is not that relaxing. There was *always* a line of cars behind me. Always. I was never alone. Even in the most remote areas..look in the rear view mirror and sure enough you're being followed. I found the worst offenders to be truck drivers because of their aggressive impatience. There were times I would look back and the trucks were so close to me that I could not even see their headlights. Not a good feeling.
Of course many cars passed me in the opposite lane, I saw some daredevil risks being taken as people shot out at the last minute to try to get around people like me who fastidiously stuck to the speed limit, and I was very nearly hit by someone speeding headlong into my lane pasing someone, getting back in lane at the last minute.
The roads out there are very narrow, and again, giant trucks, they looked like sanitation trucks, etc would go flying past you, meanwhile you are driving what feels like precariously close to the unforgiving rock walls running alongside your car. Maybe driving at high speeds on these narrow roads is an aquired skill that gets easier the more you do it or something.
I didn't find parking to be too problematic though, I was able to find places to park on the roadside in the various towns I stopped in, or I had a taxi bring me to city center instead of bothering with the hassle, like in York. It was more the actual driving and the *pace* that you are expected to drive that was really unnerving. There are speed camera signs all over the place, although I do suspect many of those are just planted there by themselves...the speed limit is not followed by alot of drivers.
Oh, and if you are more comfotable driving 65-70 on the freeways, only stay in the left lane. The other two right lanes people go flying at speeds they would never get away with here. At least 85 mph..so I learned very quickly to stay out of their way.
Another quirk of the freeways there is that unlike here in LA where you get an offramp about every mile or so, in England you have to wait sometimes 6-7 miles for the next "junction" in order to exit the freeway. It was curious to see as I was driving down the M3 that first day to realize that I hadn't seen an exit for miles and miles.
Traffic flow isn't that great..or should I say the control of traffic flow..there were times I had to wait and wait and wait for the road to clear of cars before finally moving out..again, even in these small towns the endless stream of traffic I was seeing was hard to believe..England is deceptively empty looking...you see these big green fields and just a farm out there once in a while but the truth is there are lots and lots of homes tucked in there and lots of cars, and they all come streaming down the hills almost out of nowhere.
I only got honked at maybe twice, hehe..I was too slow moving out when a light turned green or something, and again it was, like it always seemed to me, some angry young guy in a delivery truck who eventually went storming past me in a fury. What's funny about it all is that I am used to that here in LA on freeways but *not* on these little quiet backroads.
The biggest bit of info I can give for those who want to try a drive in England is first, practice your left hand driving in a smaller, lesser congested country..like Ireland or Australia if you can. Before you leave each day on your journey, very carefully memorize the names of the highways you need to take..because once you reach those roundabouts you need to think fast when the signs come up and you don't want to send yourself off in the wrong direction. Some of those smaller cities (even Salisbury was confusing) can be mind boggling when you don't know where you are and one wrong turn on a roundabout can send you way off track. You will find that roundabouts are everywhere and they are key junction points where roads change direction and you pick up the continuation of your trail, so be prepared to be on the lookout and know exactly what the name of the highway you need is.
There are a reasonable amount of gas stations along the way, easy enough to find..and you pump before you pay which is something that was phased out of the US years ago. Other than that they are set up much like US stations..with mini marts and most have bathrooms out back.
And yes, the gas is expensive but you just factor that into your trip. I paid a little extra at the car rental place so that I did not have to return the car with a full tank..that saved me an extra stop at a gas station close to the end of the trip to make sure the tank was full..I was instead able to drop it off with maybe half a tank and not have to pay $7 US per gallon to fill it up.
I highly recommend not just an overall country map but also a detailed, city by city atlas as well. Don't be afraid to stop and ask directions..I was always double checking with people if I wasn't sure about something. I found people to be more than happy to give me directions, in fact I often just rolled down the window and called to someone on the sidewalk if I got desperate! Everyone was happy to help. That made it a bit easier since the driving could get stressful.
I returned the car on the 25th back to Heathrow and was quite frankly glad to have. :) But certainly I was able to get to places that no tour bus would be able to go to, and I saw and experienced things that are exactly why you rent a car to see. I clocked just over 1000 miles and ended up with some beautiful photos from some of the places I was able to get to.
So there it is...the big excursion. Wel, next came London, which is a whole other story for another day!