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Pick up rental at LHR or Cardiff?

It has been nearly 30 years since I last drove in the UK, and I will be solo; for the record I Drive about 25k miles a year in the US and — other than NYC and Boston —-am quite confident and competent ;-) .

I purchased a UK Garmin in December in anticipation of this trip and have updated the maps. At home rely heavily on my Garmin.

My only concern about driving in the UK is the first hour, and the first roundabout.....

I plan to spend six days in south/mid Wales in late September, mostly on an ancestor hunt with some scenery chasing thrown in. I can either (a) pick up and drop off a car at LHR at the end of my London stay, or (b) take a coach to Cardiff, and do the pickup /drop off there.

Cost-wise it seems to be about a wash. So, which would be better: Leaving LHR and starting out on motorways to Hay-on-wye, or picking up at CWL or Roath?

Posted by
1216 posts

Getting west out of LHR is actually not too bad- one or two easy and straightforward roundabouts along the airport perimeter and then you're on a relatively simple motorway. But there to Wales is a long drive if you're talking coming right off a red eye flight. If you're spending a few days in London first, I'd definitely pick up at the airport, but if it's right after a flight, I'd be inclined to do the coach first

Posted by
71 posts

Thank you. Definitely not driving after a red-eye; currently in Denmark and heading to London for a week prior to car rental.

My only real hesitation in doing the LHR pu/do is what to do with the car around Cardiff: I don’t want to spend time in Cardiff proper but want to visit st Fagan’s etc. perhaps for that stay outside Cardiff ... maybe Bridgend or ?

Coming from the western US where making a “quick” drive of 300 miles between cities is done in a half day without thought, I am still trying to calibrate my mind to the short distances but slower driving times of Wales.

Posted by
3978 posts

The drive from London to South Wales is tedious and prone to delays, so I would take the train there and hire a car in Cardiff.

I’m not sure which ares you plan on covering, but Bridgend isn’t the world’s most exciting or pretty location.

Posted by
4468 posts

The fact that you are only a week or two away from taking the trip means that you are unlikely to get a really cheap rail fare, although you might not be too bad with a bit of time flexibility. If you choose that way note that three of the major car hire companies have offices within comfortable walking distance of the railway station.

There is an hourly bus service from Cardiff directly to the main entrance of St Fagans that might be worth considering using rather than a car on the day - which would cost you £5 to park there anyway.

Posted by
71 posts

If I hire the car in Cardiff, I would take a coach from London; the rail fares are absurdly high even on a Sunday.

And yes... Bridgend isn’t a tourist hot spot. I was just trying to think of a place to spend the night in the Cardiff area where a car would not be a burden. A Premier Inn or similar will do for the night.

Bridgend’s only attraction is that it is six miles from Ewenny, the village in which my father grew up. Using old photos I want to try to locate the house, called “The Grange”in the 1920-1945 era.

I also want to visit Llantwit Major: the family grave (grandparents and earlier) are tucked away there.

Then swing through Porthcawl to find the location of my grandmother’s post-war hat shop on Church street (or maybe Mary Street?) and my grandfather’s Masonic Lodge ....

And then I will head toward Merthyr Tydfil to look for the great grands ....

Posted by
1834 posts

Easyjet fly direct from Copenhagen to Bristol on Weds & Sundays. Then just use the bus to the downtown station = Temple Meads and buy a 1 way ticket to Cardiff. Trains every 30 minutes & takes an hour.
You can easily reach Llantwit Major from Cardiff by train. Trains are hourly but only every other hour on Sundays. Try and pop down to the beach at Llantwit Major. The best beaches at Porthcawl are 1 mile west of the town.

If you hire a car, the Copthorne Hotel at Culverhouse Cross - on the western side of Cardiff would be a suitable location base for this area. See map:>https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.4634517,-3.2763552,2359m/data=!3m1!1e3!5m1!1e1

From here you can easily drive to St.Fagans Castle/ Museum and also visit nearby Dyffryn Gardens. Llanwith Major & Porthcawl are also an easy drive. Also recommend places are Castell Coch, Caerphilly Castle and Cardiff Castle in the city centre. DO NOT stay in Bridgend - it is a dump!

Hay-on-Wye is way out in the the ‘outback’. It has lovely scenery in that area.

If staying in London first, consider train from Paddington to Cardiff. 15 Sept to 6 Oct -& 13/14 Oct - trains are taking a longer route due to electrification works on the direct line to Cardiff.

Posted by
71 posts

Thanks, James. I am flying CPH to LGW tomorrow, so that’s set. But I do want to see the Bristol Botanical Garden, so perhaps I should go London—> Bristol, and then either on to Cardiff as you suggest and get a car there, or simply pick up (and return) a car in Bristol, though that may present the dreaded first-hour driving challenges. :-)

Thanks also for the hotel suggestion. I figure I will spend one day in the llantwit/Porthcawl area, and then head out to the much lovelier Brecon Beacons, perhaps over to Tregaron or St David’s, and then back east to Hay, Hereford, etc. if I do the Llantwit etc on Monday, then I have four weekdays to putter around mid Wales. I am not worried about winging accommodation on weeknights, but will book something for the final Friday and Saturday.

Posted by
4468 posts

If you are arriving at LGW take the train to Reading to pick up a train to Bristol rather than slogging through London. Will be cheaper and quicker too, so long as you don't just miss one (hourly).

Posted by
71 posts

Hi Marco: My plan is to spend 5 nights in London before heading on —to Bristol or Cardiff — on Sunday 16 Sep.

And then return the car to wherever I hired from on the afternoon of 22 Sep or the morning 23 Sep for another couple of nights in London before catching a flight from LHR on 25 Sep.

So it is the bit between 16Sep and 23Sep that is not yet planned or booked. Why rush? ;-)

Posted by
1834 posts

I have been to the Bristol Botanic Garden - the one run by the University. Although not covering a big area, it was very good - but difficult to find.

Dyffryn Gardens - just west of Cardiff is free on 15 & 16 September only. https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dyffryn-gardens
You may also be interested in :>https://botanicgarden.wales - which is just east of Carmarthen.

Of course, most gardens are not now at their best.

You may also like to consider an overnight in Bath - which is on the Bristol line. Don’t forget that by pre-booking your rail ticket for a specific train - it will save you money on the turn up and go fare on longer journeys. www.nationalrail.co.uk

Posted by
4126 posts

It depends on the person. I have never had a problem driving after a transatlantic flight. I am so pumped up for the travel that I am far from sleepy. However, I would plan of arriving at your destination by lunch.

On our last trip to England and Wales, we drove from Heathrow to Bath and only problem was work on the highway that slowed us down. We then drove to Cardiff after three days going to Tintern Abbey and a castle.

Cardiff is worth a couple of nights. The Cardiff Castle is good and so is the Museum of Welsh Life a few miles west of the city.

Posted by
23396 posts

For lower train prices consider splitting the fare - you may do better with an off peak return ticket from Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads and then a Super Off Peak Return Bristol Temple Meads to Cardiff Central, or even a £5 Advance from Bristol Temple Meads to Cardiff. I saw some of them just now.

If you split your ticket you don't have to get off the train. The train must call at the split location - it can't just pass through - and both tickets (or more) must be valid on the train you are on.

Try different intermediate stations.

I haven't looked but it is possible that you may even benefit from a double split, perhaps Reading and Bristol Temple Meads. Play around and see what you find...

One other thing.... why the big deal to return the car at the hiring location? Is the penalty to, let's say, hire in Cardiff and return to LHR higher than the train fare to get you back?

Just curious - I haven't heard of such a penalty in the UK. Cardiff may be in a different nation, but it is in the same country.

Posted by
1834 posts

On the London (Paddington) to Cardiff (or vice versa) run, for last minute day returns at least, try this:> CDF > SWIndon return + SWI > DIDcot return + DIDcot > PAD return. All trains stop at Swindon but not all trains stop at Didcot. If, for example, one is going westbound to south Wales and can’t find a train that stops at Didcot, find one that does - such as one going to Bristol. Get off at Swindon and then wait for the next train to south Wales - which is usually about 12 minutes behind.

Also note that on weekdays, higher fares usually apply prior to 9.30am. This is not the case on weekends.

Posted by
23396 posts

Yup, I was thinking Cornwall somewhere in the back of my dusty mind. Swindon, not Bristol for Wales.