Exploring the United Kingdom and Ireland in depth has been on my bucket list for a long time.
So I was pretty psyched to be heading to England, Scotland and Ireland (both Northern and the Republic of) for a three week road trip during April – May of this year, in a way I’d never travelled abroad before – with a partner, in a car, without much planning.
2013 Marnie would never have considered travel without at least a daily itinerary and booked in accommodation in advance…
The plan was very cruisey – I had a rough itinerary, but nothing was booked except my first night’s accommodation in London and my hire car.
I think that was the best way to do things in this situation – for example, I had friends I wanted to catch up with, and that could change plans a little to fit with schedules.
I had quite an idea of the places I wanted to visit and for how many nights I wanted to stay there, but that was also subject to change (and it did).
This showed me that being quite planned (as I usually am) and relaxed and cruisey, can both be great ways to travel – it just depends on the circumstances of the particular trip.
Anxious Marnie didn’t have a problem with any of this, which was both surprising and pleasing.
My only anxious moments were when navigating city traffic in a foreign place. But we survived (and no crashes were had).
My journey began in London, which, as I’d seen a lot of in 2013 I literally was only in town for a matter of hours – from when my plane arrived one night until I took the train west the next morning.
But, as usually, the beauty of this city – especially in the area of which I stayed, near Earl’s Court underground station – struck me. I guess I have a soft spot for London 😉
As noted, I head out west on the train from London to Salisbury, where I picked up my Ford Fiesta from Hertz rentals, which would be my method of transportation for the next three weeks.
It was then a test of my driving skills to make it to Stonehenge on England’s notoriously tiny roads (and driving in miles, not kilometres, like I am used to in Australia!) without causing an accident.
Luckily, I succeeded – and admittedly gave a little cheer. I had been nervous about driving in a foreign country, even though the Brits use the same side of the road as us, and I was pleased to have passed the first test!
If you haven’t heard of Stonehenge and it’s significance, let me fill you in:
Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument made up of a ring of standing stones. Massive, extremely heavy stones – I think I speak for everyone when I say “How the f*%k did neolithic people manage to transport and then arrange these humongous pieces of rocks here??”
In all honesty, Stonehenge IS incredible – standing in front of this structure will perplex your mind.
However, during your viewing you will also be surrounded by hustling tourists also fighting to get the perfect photo, while battling wind, wishing you were closer to the stones (the rope fences are placed quite far back) and you’ll be able to hear the hum of the cars and trucks travelling on the highway that is placed just behind this historic site.
Yes, these things do take away a little from the experience, but try to zone them out and imagine what this place would have looked like in 2000-3000BC, when archaeologists believe Stonehenge was first created.
Don’t get put off by the whole “tourist trap” thing – you’ll regret it if you come to England and don’t see Stonehenge.
Back in my little Ford Fiesta, I tentatively made my way along A roads (“main” roads that are still way too tiny for my liking but provide gorgeous scenery for an afternoon drive) and then the motorway to make my way to Bristol, where I was to meet up with a “friend” of mine, who I met on my travels in India.
It was so wonderful seeing him that it was easily decided that he would join me on the rest of my three week road trip. Score!
Bristol, an edgy, south-west city in England, seems to be forgotten on many traveller’s visits to the UK – many people just skip straight from London up to Liverpool or Manchester, or down to Cornwall.
But I urge you to come and visit Bristol – I think I fell a little in love with this place.
One sight you must see in Bristol is the Clifton Suspension Bridge above Avon Gorge, which too 33 years to build.
The bridge officially opened in 1864, after construction began in 1831 (the first plan for the bridge, however, was created in 1753).
For a bridge of that age, it is wonderfully modern, and from this viewpoint below, you’ll not only get an awesome view of the bridge itself, but also a lovely view of Bristol (see above).
Bristol is first and foremost a harbour town, so if you’re into marine transport, there’s a lot of interesting stuff to check out from Brunel’s SS Great Britain to M Shed.
Or you can do what I did, and just wander around the waterfront and be awed by the sights!
There are many places to eat with stunning views by the harbour, so take a seat and take in the atmosphere.
While in Bristol, also try to spot the spatterings of street art around the metropolis.
Famous graffiti artists, such as Banksy (arguably the most famous of them all), have originated in Bristol – and if you’re lucky you might spot one of their works (or discover) a new favourite artist).