Back after 2 weeks in the UK

Swerd

Swerd

Audioholic Spartan
On Oct 1, I left for a 2-week vacation in the UK. I returned two days ago, and now I'm back to see what's up at AH.

I flew on Virgin Atlantic to London Heathrow. It was the usual overnight flight, leaving at 6:30 pm EDT, and arriving about 6:30 am London time, five time zones to the east. Virgin Atlantic offers "Economy Delight" seats with 3 additional inches of leg room, but with otherwise standard economy seats. They're 17" wide – and after 7-8 hours, that plain sucks. I'll consider the next step up in seats to "Premium Economy", but I wonder how expensive they are. They look like standard 1st class seats on domestic flights, and Virgin Atlantic says they're 21" wide. As you'll see, I'd rather spend money on hotels than airline seats.

After landing & going through passport control (all automated),we caught an express train from Heathrow to London's Paddington rail station, about 15-20 minutes. Taxi to King's Cross Rail Station to catch a train north to York. We were in York by 10 am! My experience with railroad travel in the UK was excellent. The trains are modern and fast.

We stayed in York for 3 days at the Middlethorpe Hall & Spa. Built in 1699 as a private estate, it's now owned by the National Trust and is operated as a hotel by Historic Homes and Hotels. It was a great place to recover from jet lag and relax. We toured the city of York, walked on the medieval walls around the old city, and toured York Minster the ancient cathedral started in the 12th century over the ancient ruins of a Roman fortress. I liked York. It's an older compact city that was hardly effected by the industrial age, or the subsequent decay afterwards. Two cab drivers both recommended Betty's Cafe Tea Room, so we went there. It was lovely.

Next day we rented (hired as the Brits say) a car, a Volvo V40 with a diesel engine. (Diesel fuel cost £1.34/liter, or $6.26/gallon!) Of course the steering wheel was on the right, and cars drive on the left side of the road. The car I rented was red – warning everyone that a Yankee was driving. We quickly named it "Eric the Red Peril". Other than getting in & out (I'm 6' tall & the V40 is low) I liked driving it a lot. It had all the latest bells & whistles, radar/laser crash avoidance, & was able to tell me the speed limits in most places as I drove. I thought the UK was all metric, but the roads are still marked in miles and the speed limits are in MPH. Most everything else seemed to be metric.

I'll post photos once I shrink them enough for AH.

Right after picking up the car, we drove to the North Sea coast to see the towns of Whitby and Scarborough. They were nice, but the drive exhausted me. Handling the roundabouts was a major eye-opener in the differences between Britain and it's former colonies ;). Whitby had a small but interesting museum about Capt. James Cook, the British explorer of the Pacific. He lived there when he was a young apprentice sailor.

It turns out that the Google Maps app on my phone took me on the absolute shortest distance routes, even if they made use of tiny narrow back country roads. In the US, these roads wouldn't quality as 2-lane black top roads. Because I was intensely focused on the simple mechanics of driving, using both eyes, both hands, both feet, & both halves of my brain, I was exhausted by what was roughly a 2 hour (one way) drive.

The next day we left York and drove west to the Lake District, the "British Alps". We stayed 3 days along side of Lake Windermere in Holbeck Ghyll lodge. Even though the roads were better than my first day out, I was worn out by the drive. It's tough driving on narrow roads with everything in mirror image. This hotel, a former hunting lodge owned by Hugh Lowther (the 5th Earl of Lonsdale) was wonderful, full of rustic woodwork, stained glass doors & windows, with very good food and a spa.

After 3 days at Lake Windermere, we drove south. After about 3 hours, we stopped to see Chatsworth House, an obscenely expensive 16th century stately home in Derbyshire owned by the obscenely wealthy Duke of Devonshire. The house was started in the 16th century by William Cavendish, who apparently accumulated great wealth illegally while supervising the royal dissolution of the English monasteries during the reign of Henry the VIII. (I read royal dissolution of monasteries as royal confiscation.) His descendants bought more land as well as titles to become Earls and then Dukes of Devonshire. This house, completely rebuilt from 1687-1702, was more like an ornate art museum with all the ambiance of a large railroad station, rather than a home. I wasn't impressed, but maybe I was grumpy after another drive. For all his wealth, the Duke charges tourists a lot of money to come & gawk. The country side was beautiful, rolling green hills and thousands of sheep. We stayed 1 night at the Devonshire Arms at Beely, on land owned by the Duke. The Devonshire Arms restaurant had a pub where I had a pint of Black Sheep Ale.

The next day, we got back in Eric the Red Peril and drove all the way south to Dorchester (a total of 5 hours). We stopped midway to have lunch in the Cotswolds, in a town called Stow-on-Wold. The Porch House Pub & Inn was in a building that dated back to the 10th century.

Our destination for the next 3 days was the Summer Lodge Country House. It was the best place we stayed on the trip. Their food was outstanding. My wife & I were by far the youngest people there, and until the last day, the only Americans there. Most of the people we met were charming, entertaining, and delightful. We spent the first day just lounging around, and going to the spa. The next day, we drove to the English Channel to see Lyme Regis, where, during the early 19th century, a young woman named Mary Anning discovered many Jurassic Era marine fossils buried in the limestone cliffs. The region is now called the Jurassic Coast – Mary Anning is now credited with developing the modern science of paleontology. We spent 2 days exploring the area. By then, I had learned how to deal with Google Maps driving directions better. Avoid the shortest routes and stick to the A-numbered highways, preferably the A roads with 2 digit numbers, such as A35.

After that, we drove Eric the Red Peril for the last time, going east toward London. We stopped to visit Arundell Castle on the way, and finally arrived at London Gatwick Airport where we said goodbye to Eric, and got on the Gatwick Express train into London, Victoria Station.

We spent 4 more days in London, never driving a car – riding the Tube instead. I found the smart phone Map apps were very good at directions for walking & riding the Tube. I never once felt lost in London. We stayed in the Bloomsbury Hotel (OK, but not worth a link). London is quite a place and deserves much more than 4 days. Our highlights were the Tower of London (looks to me like it was a set from a Monty Python movie),the Churchill War Rooms, Westminster Abbey (with carillons sounding off on a brilliantly sunny day, a long walk along the Thames River on the Victoria Embankment, & a night at the theatre (The Man in the White Suit at Wyndhams' Theatre in Covent Garden). I really loved it there. Near Westminster Abbey, we had lunch at the Westminster Arms pub. In honor of Churchill, I had their Spitfire Ale.

On Wednesday, we zoomed back to Heathrow, and flew Virgin Atlantic back home to Washington. Today is Friday, and I'm finally up to writing about our trip.

I loved nearly everywhere I visited, loved the people, and I'm particularly proud that I drove over 600 miles in Britain without major mishap. OK, I hit a few curbs with the left front tire (the rental agent assured me I had insurance to cover the tires & wheels),& at least once gouged out hedges on one of those too-narrow roads with my left side mirror. After I did that, I noticed how many of those hedges seem to have grooves carved in them by cars.

On occasion, if I had the chance, I asked various people there if they wanted to trade Boris Johnson for Donald Trump. Everyone's first reaction was outright laughter, regardless of their politics. The score in favor of a man-for-man exchange was 0 out of 6.
 
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C

CajunLB

Audioholic Intern
Thanks for the very good story of your vacation. I always wanted to visit London.
 
davidscott

davidscott

Audioholic General
Thanks Swerd great post. I do want to visit England as well as Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Did the Ancestry thing a few months ago and I am 81% Welsh and English. From family records I knew I was at least half Welsh and have some 3rd cousins there. I might just have to go. Thanks again!
 
KEW

KEW

Audioholic Warlord
Sounds like you had a wonderful trip! Thanks for sharing!
It brings back some memories and also highlights that I was young and inexperienced travelling; having many one-night stops while hell-bent on seeing as many things as possible. In more recent travels I have a (very flexible) general rule of thumb not to change where I sleep more than twice a week - it is just nicer to take a little time and drink a little deeper (as you did)!
I had two big issues/worries driving there!
1) I drive a manual at home, so figured to save some bucks and hire a manual car in England. What I didn't think about was shifting with my left hand. It didn't really take long to adapt, but the first couple of hours of driving were a bit of a "thrill" not being able to reflexively change gears while trying to see what I can of a new and exciting place! I don't remember if the shift pattern was mirror image of if first was identical to the layout on an USA car!
2) I found driving on the "wrong" side of the road to be surprisingly easy ... when there was traffic! What was scary was when there was no other cars around, it was too easy, say if I needed to turn left at the next intersection, to reflexively turn into the right-hand side of the road instead of the left hand side. I made several mid intersection/turn corrections as realization hit (or as my wife and/or daughter checked me)! But, like I said, as long as there were other cars (especially on-coming traffic) driving on the left side of the road in a right-drive car seemed totally normal for me - maybe I am semi-dyslexic?

It was silly, but my wife (now ex) and I amused ourselves by using an Elmer Fudd voice whenever we said "Stow on the Wold"!
Like I said, I wish we had slowed it down - my memories are such a blur and I am very sketchy on what memories belong to which location. One great idea is setting up photos on screensaver (TV and Computer) so our memories of trips do not fade! I suspect you often have the TV idle while playing music, so I suspect you and your wife would really appreciate it if you had your trip photos on rotation on "the big screen"!
 
Swerd

Swerd

Audioholic Spartan
For what it's worth, some general travel tips I learned:

Google or iPhone Maps give good directions as I drove. (See my comments above about avoiding the most narrow roads for the shortest distance.)

I ordered 2 weeks of International Data service for my phone. I could get WiFi and roaming without excessive charges.

In London, these same apps gave very good directions for walking or riding the Tube. The first time you enter a Tube station, buy a plastic fare card called an Oyster Card to pay your fares. You can load the card with some cash value and pay by credit card. I tried £10 which worked for 2 days. It's easy to use, and easy to add more cash value in any Tube station.

I carried my passport, cash, & credit cards in a passport-sized wallet like this. This was too large for my back pocket, so I wore cargo pants with large pockets on the legs. I could fasten both buttons which aren't so easy to re-open, so it gave a bit of pick-pocket resistance. I never had a problem with that. I did the same with my phone. These pockets allow easy access while you're seated in a car or airplane.

I had both Visa and Master Card credit cards which were widely accepted where ever I went. I told both that I was travelling in the UK. Other cards, such as Discover, may or may not be accepted in the UK.

I got an electricity adapter like this one. It worked well, but may have been overkill. Some hotels had USB wall taps to directly recharge a phone without an adapter. And our London hotel had one US type wall outlet. I didn't use it and never found out if it was the standard British 240 V or transformed down to 110 V.

For easy unit conversions, I downloaded a free app called Units Plus. It converts just about any units I can think of, including daily updates of the $ to £ currency exchange rate.
 
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Swerd

Swerd

Audioholic Spartan
In more recent travels I have a (very flexible) general rule of thumb not to change where I sleep more than twice a week - it is just nicer to take a little time and drink a little deeper (as you did)!
Good idea. I found that 3 nights in one location wasn't long enough. It was time to move on just as we got comfortable. In the future, I'll slow the pace down a bit.
I had two big issues/worries driving there!
1) I drive a manual at home, so figured to save some bucks and hire a manual car in England. What I didn't think about was shifting with my left hand. It didn't really take long to adapt, but the first couple of hours of driving were a bit of a "thrill" not being able to reflexively change gears while trying to see what I can of a new and exciting place! I don't remember if the shift pattern was mirror image of if first was identical to the layout on an USA car!
2) I found driving on the "wrong" side of the road to be surprisingly easy ... when there was traffic! What was scary was when there was no other cars around, it was too easy, say if I needed to turn left at the next intersection, to reflexively turn into the right-hand side of the road instead of the left hand side. I made several mid intersection/turn corrections as realization hit (or as my wife and/or daughter checked me)! But, like I said, as long as there were other cars (especially on-coming traffic) driving on the left side of the road in a right-drive car seemed totally normal for me - maybe I am semi-dyslexic?
Your experiences with driving seem very close to mine. I also drive a manual at home, but I guessed I might do better with an automatic in Britain as I was quite busy with the simple mechanics of driving.

Yes, we have a lot of photos, all on our phones. I'll work out some way to get them onto something with a bigger screen.
 
mtrycrafts

mtrycrafts

Audioholic Slumlord
Glad you were able to manage driving on the left especially after reading about that wife killing a Brit there driving on the wrong side.

I was on a jury a good number of years ago on a liability claim when a Brit was driving here in the US and went to the wrong side and had a bad accident.
Killed his daughter. The oncoming driver was not really hurt.

I drove in New Zealand for 2 weeks and Ireland for a good week. Yes, it is a 100% concentration effort.
 
Alex2507

Alex2507

Audioholic Slumlord
I have a hard enough time driving here, never mind trying to drive over there. You guys are nuts.

:)
 
Swerd

Swerd

Audioholic Spartan
I also avoid driving in Boston. It's dog-eat-dog there. Too many people ignoring the rules of the road.

In the UK, the drivers all seemed to respect the rules of right-of-way on the roundabouts. Thank goodness for that! On the UK motorways, I experienced little or no tailgating, which is a dangerous & ugly habit in the parts of the US I know well.
 
Alex2507

Alex2507

Audioholic Slumlord
Assuming you drive in Boston from time to time, UK is a piece of cake!
I also avoid driving in Boston. It's dog-eat-dog there. Too many people ignoring the rules of the road.
Boston is probably where they started driving on the right to begin with ... as a complete surprise to all the people on the left.
 
NINaudio

NINaudio

Senior Audioholic
On the UK motorways, I experienced little or no tailgating, which is a dangerous & ugly habit in the parts of the US I know well.
I'm always amazed at how much people out here tailgate, they're worse tailgaters than NYC/NJ drivers! You can be on the expressway going 80 (which is 15 over here) and people will be riding your ass without enough room to slide a Fiat 500 in between the two of you! It's pretty nervewracking, stupid, and dangerous
 
GO-NAD!

GO-NAD!

Audioholic Ninja
I also avoid driving in Boston. It's dog-eat-dog there. Too many people ignoring the rules of the road.

In the UK, the drivers all seemed to respect the rules of right-of-way on the roundabouts. Thank goodness for that! On the UK motorways, I experienced little or no tailgating, which is a dangerous & ugly habit in the parts of the US I know well.
I lived in the UK for a couple of years (near the Lake District) and drove a friend's car there. I never found the transition to driving on the left very difficult - just remember that the driver is closest to the centre line, just as in North America.

I found that drivers there were quite respectful of the rules of the road. Although it seemed that there were few marked crosswalks, drivers always respected a pedestrian's right-of-way. However, should you dare to try jaywalking, I believe drivers looked upon it as an opportunity to support Darwin's theory.
 
KEW

KEW

Audioholic Warlord
Boston is probably where they started driving on the right to begin with ... as a complete surprise to all the people on the left.
I don't know how much time you've spent in Boston, but you've done an impressive job of absorbing the contrarian attitude of those Bostonian miscreants!
 
Pogre

Pogre

Audioholic Spartan
I've always wanted to visit the UK. When you think about the history and some of the ancient structures still standing it puts into perspective just how young the US is as a country.
 
Swerd

Swerd

Audioholic Spartan
I've always wanted to visit the UK. When you think about the history and some of the ancient structures still standing it puts into perspective just how young the US is as a country.
I was amazed to learn how many Roman ruins have been found in England.

York Minster was built on top of a large Roman fortress, home base for an entire Legion. The wall around much of the old center of York dates back to the Romans. It was largely rebuilt during the 14th or 15th century, so it has a medieval look to it. But the Romans put it there first.

There was a small dig that exposed a Roman Army encampment, in small town named Ambleside along side Lake Windermere.

And those are the ones I saw. Many other small towns had Roman origins. Some towns have names today that are clearly related to their Latin names from 20 centuries ago.
 
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Swerd

Swerd

Audioholic Spartan
Boston is probably where they started driving on the right to begin with ... as a complete surprise to all the people on the left.
I think the British drove on the left only because the French & Germans drove on the right. It was defense against invasion.

Now that I'm familiar with English roundabouts, I can't imagine how the Nazis could have successfully invaded in 1940. All their tanks & trucks would have been stuck at the first roundabout they encountered.
 
Swerd

Swerd

Audioholic Spartan
OK, busted. That was me on my first day. After that, I returned the first car for the ALL RED one.

That couldn't have been in the UK. They drove on the right, and never stopped or slowed before entering the roundabout.

OK, they didn't enter the roundabout in the standard sense. But they did enter the airspace above it.
 
KEW

KEW

Audioholic Warlord
I've always wanted to visit the UK. When you think about the history and some of the ancient structures still standing it puts into perspective just how young the US is as a country.
In the perspective of old vs new...
One thing I thought was cool was seeing an old home getting the roof re-thatched - yes it is still a thing even in modern industrialized country like England (or Germany for that matter).
The home I saw was a very nice home and I don't know the economies of thatched roofs, but based on their presence in Europe, they are either very hard to convert or reasonably competitive with other roof surface materials!
As I recall, they were at least 8" thick, so offered some thermal insulation as well!
 

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