Planes and Trains and Cars, Oh My!

It was mid-February, and we were now beginning to spend money. The first big expenditure was airfare ($1,700 for the two of us). We had already bought some books by that time, and had our passport photos taken, but all of that was less than a hundred dollars. The airfare sealed the deal. We were going. Now we needed to think about transportation and lodging.

We were fairly certain we wouldn’t be able to get much sleep on the plane. It was scheduled to leave Houston at 3:45 pm (Houston time) and arrive in London at 6:55 am the next morning (London time), after only nine hours and ten minutes in the air. Which meant our bodies would think we were arriving at 12:55 am (only an hour or so later than we normally go to bed), and we would still need to get to Bath, about eighty miles away from London. Tired though we would be, we planned to stay awake until that evening so we could conquer the jet lag the first day.

So, we had to get from London’s Heathrow airport to Bath (somehow), with little sleep, and spend a few days there recovering and relaxing. Bath would be our home base when we headed out into the countryside – maybe to see Stonehenge or some of the Cotswolds.  We didn’t want to arrive in Bath frustrated and tired and have to search for a place to stay.  So I started Googling phrases like “lodging in Bath.” I discovered almost immediately that hotels were usually more expensive than bed and breakfasts. It also occurred to me that the location of the room in the city could be important, and that our chosen mode of transportation could be a factor in where we stayed in other English locations as well. Did I need to decide between renting a car or using other means of transport before I could do anything else?

I think I had probably already decided to rent a car by this point, but I wasn’t admitting it to myself because I was still investigating Britain’s rail and bus system. Rail could easily get us from one city to another, and local bus systems could take us where we needed to go within most cities and towns. But what about the out-of-the-way locales?  I wanted to visit some of the sites in Cornwall associated with King Arthur, and they’re scattered across the countryside. What if we found really some great B&Bs that were ten or fifteen miles outside of towns. Could we get there with local bus systems? If we had to rely on taxis too much, the cost of transportation would go way up. Also, there was a time factor to consider. Bill Bryson, in Notes From a Small Island, mentioned missing trains and discovering (after arriving somewhere on a Saturday night) that a town had no train service on Sundays, etc.

How we were going to travel inside the country would have to determine (at least to some degree) where we stayed, and even how much luggage we brought. If we packed very lightly and carried everything on our backs, we could walk from train or bus stations to our rooms, but if we were going to haul much luggage, public transport would probably be difficult to use effectively.  Could we really rely on public transportation without a lot of headaches or time wasted?  Before we could make effective decisions on lodging, we had to know how we were going to get around, public transportation, taxis, shoe leather, or driving?

So, I was not only worrying about where to stay, but how to get to and from each new location.  After several days of looking at websites for train and bus schedules and hotel rooms and B&Bs, we decided we really needed a car if we were going to see the country effectively. Originally, I thought we might take a bus to Bath, and rent a car there.  We didn’t think we would need a car while we were in Bath, so it didn’t make sense to pay for an extra four day’s rental.  I tried at several car companies, but couldn’t find one that would let me rent a car in Bath and return it to Heathrow. Later I discovered I could have easily done that, but I placed an order with Hertz, through Continental Airlines, for an economy car like a Ford Focus, and received a discount as a Continental OnePass member.  We were going to pick the car up on May 6th, when we arrived at Heathrow Airport, and would return it there when we came back to London on May 22nd.  We planned to only rely on bus and the subway (BrE the tube) while we were in London. We would end up spending nearly a thousand dollars to be able to drive Flio, but we hadn’t spent any of that yet. I’ll cover that in a separate post.

Since we now knew we would have a car while in Bath, we could begin thinking about side trips, like a day to drive out into the countryside to see some things (maybe Stonehenge), or even drive over to Wales and see a castle or two or Tintern Abbey.

While I was looking, I ran across an advertisement for a guided tour of Stonehenge and other sites near Bath.  It looked very interesting, so Minay and I discussed it and arrived at a scenario for the first week of our stay. We decided we would spend four nights in the Bath area, and a couple more nights in Devon or Cornwall (southwest of Bath), before heading north again toward the Cotswolds.  Our first day would be spent getting to Bath and seeing whatever we could see on the way.  The next day, just recovering and seeing a little of Bath, then Bath in depth and the Stonehenge tour during the next two days.  The two days in Cornwall and Devon would be to see King Arthur stuff before we headed toward Central England and Shakespeare Country.  After that we would decide what we wanted to do next.

So, I had plane tickets and had reserved a car.  I needed to lock down reservations in Bath and London, and reserve two spots on the Stonehenge tour.  The tour was going to leave town from the Bath Abbey, so I knew it would be helpful to have a room that was close to the abbey, figuring we could leave our car parked at our hotel or B&B, and just walk to the abbey the morning of the tour.  In for a penny, in for a pound.  I went ahead and reserved two spots on the All-Day Mad Max Tour to Stonehenge, Avebury and the Cotswolds, for Sunday the 9th, our last day in Bath (£60 for the two of us, to be paid to the tour guide when we left for Stonehenge).

(Note: You’ll see the designation for British pounds, £, frequently from this point on. If I don’t provide a conversion to dollars for the amount, you can assume it is about $1.52 per pound, roughly the conversion rate at that time. The £60 charge for the Stonehenge tour translates to $91.20 USD.)

We were getting closer. Plane travel and ground transportation was now covered.


Next — Finding Lodging in Bath

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