Driving in England: Lessons Learned


"An adventure!"
"It'll be fun!"
"A whole lot easier than having to drag luggage."
"Driving on the 'wrong side of the road'? No problem!"
"Hell, I drove in L.A. - what could be worse than that?"
"Maureen (my BFF) drove in Ireland!"

... All were thoughts while making the rental car arrangements for our two-week tour of the English countryside.

We arrived at Europcar and picked up our adorable Peugot at 11am. With 'Mr. Something' behind the wheel, we were on the road within 20 minutes. Our chosen mantra? "Stay to the left, stay to the left, stay to the left". Within 15 minutes it changed to ..."Let's just call a cab to come get us, let's just call a cab, for God's sake, pull over and call a cab..."
Source: AMC
Let me explain... We started our rental car experience in the historic city of Bath and highly recommend Europcar. I booked online and was careful to request a car with automatic transmission - I noticed that the car prices quoted are for standard transmission cars only. The sheer thought of driving a stick in England, using my left hand would be disastrous problematic.

Yay me.

The 'die was cast' however, when the Europcar guy handed me a map of Bath. It was then, that I realized, driving all over England would be a crap-shoot for us. Our car was outfitted with GPS (SatNav) and although we are thankful for that, we really just needed to take the train. That being said, GPS  was our virtual life-preserver.
City of Bath, England
In retrospect, Bath was probably not the best choice when picking a place to start driving in England.

If you look carefully, there are few streets that go north/south/east or west. They're just all over the place. Really.

The width of Bath's city streets originally were made to accommodate horse-drawn carriages. Metal barricades were plentiful and in place to prevent innocent pedestrians from getting run-over. 'Roundabouts' common circular traffic intersections failed to make sense to us. Familiarizing ourselves with U.K. traffic laws was purely an afterthought...

A perfect storm.

So, after our initial terror had subsided and we had traveled in the completely wrong direction, circling Bristol a couple of times,(and God only knows where else) our 1 hour car trip had turned into 5. We finally made it to Stonehenge - amidst flying expletives - only to learn that it was 4:05 pm and Stonehenge closes at 4:00 pm.

I needed a drink.

Mr. Something explained to the guard that we had traveled soooo far and were leaving the next day... She caved and told us we could "park and walk about 3/4 mile through 'the pasture' to take a look". After our lengthy drive, we looked forward to the exercise.
I had no idea we would be on the cow's turf.

Excuse us...
So, after viewing the famous rocks ... my offer of driving back to Bath was quickly accepted by (the rattled) Mr. Something and we were off. Being aware of the 'roundabouts' and having devised a plan to "just-hug-the-inside-lane-and-keep-circling-until-we-see-our-exit", our trip back was less trying... with the exception of my hitting a parked truck with the Peugot's left side-view mirror.

It was just a flesh-wound.

Lessons Learned Driving in Britain:

  1. Get online and review British Traffic Laws and signage before driving in the U.K.
  2. Request Automatic Transmission. You might have to pay a little more but it's worth it.
  3. Stay to the Left.
  4. Following the car in front of you really helps.
  5. Be aware of the left side of your car. It's really easy to hit things (cars, people, buildings etc.) Just sayin'.
  6. The Highways in the UK are great. When in doubt - find a highway and get on it.
  7. Eating and smoking while driving is illegal in England.
  8. A GPS/Sat Nav is priceless.
  9. Carry plenty of change for parking.
  10. When entering a traffic circle - hug the inside lane and keep circling until you find your exit.

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