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English Countryside for a week - Trip Report Pt 1

This was my husband and my first trip to England and our first trip to rent a car and drive. Driving was a bit stressful from time to time, even though my husband was ok with a standard and we were comfortable with left-side-of-the-road driving, having lived in Japan for 8 years. However it also gave us freedom to do things on our own time-frame, which we could change as we felt like it. We loved visiting the countryside and being far from cities on this trip! I am writing this report because I myself read all comments and advice voraciously before traveling. :)

Arrival into Birmingham airport in the early morning hours was fast and easy. Our flight from JFK scheduled for 7am actually arrived at 6am - an hour early! We were out with suitcases in hand by 7am.

Car We had reserved a car through Autoeurope from Europcar for 8am Sunday. According to the website, they opened at 6; however no one was there (at any of the car counters). There were several of us passengers there with reservations, one of whom was British - so he picked up their phone and called a number and within 30 minutes a whole crew was there. We think the delay was because no one had a reservation before ours at 8. (Others had either guessed later or not entered a time.) After reading lots of opinions, I opted for their full insurance coverage when I reserved. That was completely worth the peace of mind.

Navigating First step- figuring out how to change the car GPS from French to English..... (I had wanted to bring our own GPS but it is old and I couldn't get the maps to load). Second, using postal codes was easier than addresses. I just hadn't come across that info in pre-trip research. Third, GPS was both a blessing and a curse. She (I called her Gertrude) was right 90% of the time. Which meant you couldn't really relax with directions. However help with roundabouts and the fact that most of our driving was not on the big expressways made it very useful. (The first more random "turn left here" where the sign said "Crematorium this way" made us suspect she had a warped sense of humor.) I am sure that somewhere there was a setting that WASN'T "shortest distance between two points". :)

Car Parks Wonderful. I had researched them at all our stops. However we hit the Port Isaac car park on our first morning and didn't have quite enough coins yet - point being, be sure you have @£5 in coins. There was nowhere to get any at that point, unlike all the other places we went. :) A wonderful kind lady came along and actually just gave us a couple of pounds to help and wished us a good trip! That was our first experience with the wonderful hospitality we encountered everywhere.

Port Isaac We are big Doc Martin fans and loved this part of our trip. We did decide to take John Brown's tour (about 10 on it) - a little unusual for us. It was completely worth the £10/each. He did give us show gossip but also local history - both in good measure. He talked about architecture, fishing, gave us a live lobster demonstration, as well as showing filming sites. I would love to go back and have a week to spend in Cornwall!

Tintagel We also loved the beauty of Tintagel. I "street view" as much as I can before going anywhere, but I was still surprised at the distance and amount of steps. However we did almost all of them and loved it. It is definitely not for someone with troublesome knees, though. :)

Dartmore We stayed 3 nights in Moreton-Hampstead. It's a lovely little village and a good base to explore. Just a word of caution for first-timers: the roads into and out of are miles of extremely narrow road, sometimes less than 2 lanes, at a normal 50-60 mph, with 15ft hedges right at the edge of both sides - so no room to maneuver. It, more so than anywhere else we drove, was a little nerve-racking. Once you crossed into the actual park area on the main road, it was open and you just had to watch out for sheep taking a nap on the road.

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1936 posts

English Countryside for a week - Trip Report Pt 2
Wells -- I came across Wells in Rick's book and elsewhere in this forum. It made a nice overnight stop with Glastonbury before and Stonehenge the following morning. We attended evensong in the cathedral and loved it - a real highlight! We are religious but not familiar with the practices there - but we felt very welcomed, not overwhelmed, and completely refreshed after the beautiful singing.

Stonehenge -- Ok, I knew we needed to go, but I was expecting it to feel touristy and be a little underwhelmed. Not so. I know you can't walk among the stones but it was impressive. So don't question - just go.

Avebury -- We went from Stonehenge to Avebury. Also impressive in a different way.

Stow-on-the-Wold -- We spent a restful couple of days here. We were a little tired of driving so didn't wander out to lots of villages, but did visit Bourton on the Water, arriving about 4:30 - after all the tourists - and in the rain. We called it Bourton in the Water - peaceful either way! We also randomly came across Hazleton, about 10 miles away. My husband's family (Haseltine) came from England in 1640, with the name going through various spellings - so we figure that somehow there must be a long ago connection!

On our last full day -- as we traveled back to the Birmingham airport to spent the night, we stopped at Broughton Castle. I would love to have toured inside -- but it was closed because they were filming a BBC Antiques Roadshow there that day! We like the show and it was so fun to see the filming (who knows, if they air Margaret's miniature doll and book, we might be on as well!). And yes, we did know ahead of time. :) From there we drove an hour to Kenilworth. As it also just happened to be Father's Day, they had all kinds of special demonstrations going on. It was a day of serendipities!

I asked advice from the board about where to stay our last night. Nigel advised staying at one of the airport hotels - and that was good advice. It was 6pm by the time we arrived and it was easy to check our car back in, eat dinner, and call it a night before our morning flight.

We bought the overseas English Heritage Pass before going. We saved a small amount of money by doing so, but it also saved some time in ticket buying and brought a few little extras like an audio guide for Kenilworth. I am not sure if the audio guide for Stonehenge came free with our "membership" but I think so and we really liked having it.

Thanks to everyone who takes the time to post and answer all the questions that come up! It helps more people (like me) than you will ever know!

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961 posts

Lovely review, Gwynn! Thank you for taking the time to tell us about your trip. I was lol at "crematorium this way". It sounds like you had a wonderful time enjoying the countryside and people rather than just big city sights!

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we just finished a week of driving in southern England as well, and, not sure if you noticed, but there were signs for Crematorium (a?) at many places along the highways! Our friend asked someone about it, and they communicated a very "well, of course, how else would you find them ? and doesn't everyone need to know where they are?" kind of vibe - which is, of course, rather true! but still unusual, for Americans, anyway; we got the sense that they were very busy places! ;-)

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1936 posts

Kristinasparkle - that is funny! I guess what my husband says with dark humor about cemeteries "They're the most popular place in town - people are just dying to get in" would be true for crematoriums, as well. :)