England in May
Still just tossing this one around. Question, though - is it possible to get around the country using nothing but trains and buses? I really don't want to drive. I've been looking at the Britrail site and also the Visit Britain site makes it look like it's possible - but we all know how internet travel booking site paint a rosy picture.
Short idea list so far includes London, Norwich (friend there), Peaks National Park, Stonehenge and Bath and possibly Nottingham. May try to make this another literary trip following Pride and Prejudice and the Robin Hood Tales.
I'm trying to figure out if I can take two weeks off or not yet. Just got my vacation time straightened out and am also trying to make sure I have enough time for the Grand Tetons in June.
I know this is vague, but decided to put it out here and see if anyone has good ideas. I'd like to go ahead and get my plane ticket booked and get over that initial heart attack soon.
England in Spring
Actually, May is my favorite time to travel in the British Isles. My latest such trip was last year at that time and I had a great time while never traveling much more than 100 miles from London. I did have a car, however, as I thoroughly enjoy driving those English 'B' roads. England does have, besides the rail system, a fairly good inter-city bus system, but I'm afraid you'll have to inquire locally to make the best use of it. Most towns are compact enough that once you get to them, you can cover them on foot.
As for Stonehenge, I think I'd recommend that you book through one of the outfits that offers tours from London. This is pretty much the only way to actually get in amongst the stones any more. During the day, the monument is fenced off, and it is only after it 'closes' for the evening that these tours come in with a limited number of people who are allowed into the actual circle. (Remember that England is NOT a classless society.) I've experienced Stonehenge both ways (not on tour, but long enough ago that one still could walk freely through the site) and to be inside the circle and touch the stones is absolutely worth it. Especially with the added bonus that, since the tours are in the evening, you get sunset as well.
One other thing. My heritage is Norman English. My last name is the Americanized version of the Anglicized version of the French version of the Norse name meaning 'son of John'. So Robin Hood was the bad guy.
Thanks for the Tips
Eh - my ancestry is mainly Irish (county Armagh), German (my last name is most probably made up, though), with a little English and Native American thrown in for good measure. So I can't really choose sides for or against Robin Hood. I'll be a impartial observer. :)
Good to know about Stonehenge. I did see something about backpack tours that would take you to Stonehenge and several other points along the way. I wonder how those are. Anyone have any experience?
British Heritage Pass
I saw that AZBuck had mentioned them in his roadtrip report. The link on his page is broken, btw - here's the new one.
Is this a good deal? Looks like it would be 59 pounds or approximately $118 for a 17 day pass. Would this really be cost beneficial to me?
Back when I had no choice but use public transport I used to hate it. The trains were overcrowded, overpriced and unreliable. Once I had a car I was delighted not to have to use them - especially when the goverment privatised them and they became dangerous too. Thankfully, these days, they've undergone a thorough modernisation and are pretty damn good if you avoid peak times. Still expensive, unless you book online in advance, but they're mainly nice shiny new rolling stock on the major routes and not too shabby on the commuter routes.
You'll generally find public transport to be very good in the UK. It's such a small country and we seem to have endless miles of railway that you can get to most areas reasonably easily. Buses and taxis are very good in the major cities and you should be able to get a cab easily enough even at the most deserted of stations. As AZBuck suggested, there's also a couple of reasonably decent bus lines: National Express and Mega Bus
I don't know whether that pass would be good for you, I guess it depends on what sights you want to see and what it includes?
I've been to Stonehenge twice. Once as a (very young) kid where I remember being able to walk up to the stones and touch them. It was fantastic. I went back last year with a couple of friends from Salisbury. They had a pass from work which gets them into hundreds of places for free so we decided to pop down for a laugh. Well I wasn't laughing... it cost the earth and you couldn't get anywhere near the stones. I had no idea that you could get over the ropes (without getting arrested) and I would definately recommend that.
Personally I'd avoid Nottingham. It's okay but just an average northern city (unless you were visitng Donington Park, of course!) like so many others. Personally, if you were fancying the Peaks, I'd check out Manchester and take public transport out to the Peaks.
One place I would definately recommend is Edinburgh. You can fly up reasonably cheaply (if you book in advance -- you seeing a trend here?), take the overnight train (expensive) or even take the bus (not a good idea unless you get a direct run) and it's simply fantastic. Lots of touristy stuff to see and do and a great atmosphere. If you had a car (you could rent one there) then there is some gorgeous scenery in the vicinity.
Back to London and that is chockablock full of sights. Outer London is a bit of a hell hole if truth be told but central London is very cool. Be sure to take a ride on the London Eye (ignore how much it costs, it has to be done) then have lunch in St Katherines Dock before taking the riverboat (take one of the touristy ones with the commentary) down into Docklands. It's coming on a treat down there and is well worth a visit.
Transport in London is simplicity in itself and I would definately avoid a car there. There are thousands of black cabs, more buses than you can shake a stick at, the Underground is pretty good despite its critics and there's the Docklands Light Railway and the riverboats. You can even get an 'all in' travelcard for the buses, tubes and DLR which works out quite a good deal.
I'd be pleased to answer any specific questions you have if I can.
That seems a fair price for what you will be getting -- if that includes the 'over the ropes' tour
Originally Posted by lhuff
Another couple of places that I like which are easily accessible:
Windsor - take the train or bus out of London and visit the castle and take a river boat ride. A cool town.
Wessex coast - I am sure they run bus tours down to here from London. If not take the train to Southampton or maybe Bournemouth and take a tour from there. It's a lovely area and there's some great scenery down there.
Yay - Insider Information
This is starting to sound really discouraging about Stonehenge - oh well. May just skip it this time and just check out the fake one in Texas at some point. And it even has the Easter Island Heads.
Good to know about the bus lines and trains. I saw one site that had fairly decently priced packets for American Tourists for the trains. Might have to really think about that.
I'm sure Stonehenge isn't the only Ancient Pagan site in England - I'm guessing that there are others that aren't as popular. I'll have to do some digging. Also - I think I'm more interested in the Romans than the Celts.
Oh - and the Natural History Museum is something I've always wanted to visit. Is that worth it?
Oh don't worry - I'm sure I'll be bugging you to death with this whole thing. :)
Originally Posted by UKCraig
Ok - I can already see this turning into a five month long tour of England at the rate I'm collecting cool things to see.
I really think that I'm going to stick to England for my first trip over the pond. Just to cut down on my possibilities. Unfortunately I'm a major history buff and the huge amount of historical sites that England has to offer is about to drive me nuts. I want to see it all!!!! (ok must take deep breath)
But for this time - I think I'm pretty much going to try to base myself in London except for what will probably be an overnight excursion to the Peaks and some of the surrounding areas.
Probably wise. It may be a very small island but, with every trip I take away from here, I realise just how much we have crammed into it!
London is a pretty cool place in its own right and you could happily spend quite some time there without getting bored. From the Cutty Sark and Greenwich, through Docklands, up into the city itself there is lots to see and do.
You could maybe split your stay into, say, three periods in London seperated by a couple of excursions. I'll see if I can find a suitable Stonehenge/Salisbury/Glastonbury/Bath tour as that sounds like a candidate for one of those excursions. Then return to London for a couple of days before taking a train to Manchester, have a look around the city, then maybe rent a car for a couple of days and go explore the Peaks. If you're worried about the driving on the wrong side deal this'll be the ideal place to get some practice in... and you'll get to enjoy it so much more that way too. It's like me hoping to see Yellowstone from a Greyhound bus... you'll just see so much more with a car really...
This excursion could be a possibility. Stonehenge and Bath should both give you a taster of some of the more historic locations in the UK. Would you prefer a day trip like that or an overnight trip? I did see a cool looking three day excursion something along the lines of London - Windsor Castle - Stonehenge - Salisbury - Glastonbury - Cheltenham - Bath - London. But I accidently closed the window and now can't find it again! The only problem with that would be you'd need to stay in the tour operators hotels and they tend not to be such a great price.