It is a broad request, I realize, but if anyone has thoughts on the intinerary that I've posted on my own blog at http://stevesblogrm.blogspot.com/, please offer any insights there or here on the wall. Thank you for any comments or thoughts!
Your plan looks well-paced and certainly gives you the combination of rural and urban that you want. I've never been to Cornwall (perhaps trip #5) so I can't comment on that. You've factored in travel days well so I doubt you'll find yourself behind schedule.
I've yet to drive in England. If you're comfortable driving on the left and possibly having to drive a manual transmission, you'll see more of village England than I. (I relied on Mad Max Tours out of Bath and saw only the small village of Lacock.) One comment about your transportation: I found the train trip from Gatwick Airport to Bath tedious. I'm hoping others on these boards will comment about this suggestion. I wonder whether it would be worthwhile for you to return your car somewhere closer to London rather than return it to Bath and thereby avoid the long train (with transfer) back to London. Perhaps Reading? Again, I am not experienced with this and I hope others will comment.
We do have automatic transmission cars in Britain. You only have to tell the car hire company that that is what you require.
Day 1 – Thursday – Arrive London from US
Train from London to Bath (90 minutes)
Day 2 – Friday - Bath and Area
Day 3 – Saturday- Bath and Cotswolds
Day 4 – Sunday - TRAVEL DAY Leave Bath - Drive to Cornwall
Day 5 – Monday - Explore Cornwall
Day 6 – Tuesday - TRAVEL DAY - Leave Cornwall, drop off car in Bath, Train From Bath to London – Sleep in London
Day 7 – Wednesday - London
Day 8 - Thursday - London
Day 9 - Friday - London
Day 10 - Saturday - Leave London
To begin with, I'd add a little more time in the Cotswolds. As for the car, I've always rented with AutoEurope and never been charged extra for picking up in 1 location & dropping off in another. I'm also not crazy about driving (on the left) as soon as I arrive at the airport. With this in mind, my input is: take the Express bus from LHR to Oxford & rent a car there (Avis is by the train station on far west side of town). Spend 1st night in Cotswolds, 2nd in Bath, then continue to Cornwall, but return car to Gatwick Airport which opens up other places you might want to see like Stonehenge, Winchester, Arundel, etc. before getting to London.
Steve, the summer is the high tourist season in the UK. Visiting in April, May, September or early October can give you good weather and smaller crowds. You do get more hours of daylight in the summer, since the sun will be up until 9pm or so. That's great for a long day of car touring.
Your proposed itinerary looks easily doable to me, but not leisurely. I've moved around at a similar clip. Some suggestions: You have all of Day 4 as a Bath to Cornwall travel day. The driving won't take that long. Think about cutting through the Dartmoor on the way.
I'm not sure one day is enough for Cornwall. But, given the option, I'd want the three days in London.
You don't have to drop off the rental in Bath just to catch the train back to London. Drop off fee aside, you might leave the car in Penzance in Cornwall and grab the train there. it's a much longer trip than from Bath, but it is an option.
An entirely different plan: Focus on London and one other region. For example, take the train to Penzance, rent a car, and spend 5 days using your hotel as a base to explore the southwest. Each day is a potential day trip to someplace new, and, if you wake up lazy, you can stay put because you don't have to be anywhere. Then, go to London for the remaining days. The downside is that your first day would be spent on the train. It's a trip of several hours from Paddington Station down to Penzance.
I'd recommend avoiding the Motorways unless you really need to make time. Travel on the smaller roads is much more rewarding.
Try to brush up on UK road sign lingo before you go. Can't recommend any specific sites, but I know you can find them via Google.
And, finally, if your departing flight leaves London early in the morning, consider spending your last night at an airport hotel. Much less hassle in the morning and no need to get up at O'Dark Thirty to get out there from London.