What to see on the driving portion of my honeymoon?
September 13, 2005 5:37 PM   Subscribe

MayorCurleyinZionFilter: What must I see in the surrounds of Bath, as well as south Wales and the Cotswalds?

We're driving out from London on the M4 to Bath, up to Powys and through the Cotswolds. We have guidebooks. But we want personal suggestions. Here are the stipulations:

We have lots of time in the Bath region. Is Avebury worth seeing? What else can't we miss in/near Bath? We've read the guidebooks-- now I want to hear your ideas.

South Wales is really just a drive through, but I want another "stop and look" after Tintern Abbey. We're headed towards Powys, which I know very well (but I will certainly consider suggestions if you want to make them). But I know very little about attractions in Wales outside of Powys. The ideal suggestion here is something on the way to Builth/Llandrindod that we can find with a minimum of swearing, get out of the car, look around and continue on. I'm not opposed to walking (even though I'm an American), but I am going to be anxious at this point to get to he (sentimental) destination. But I also don't want my vacation to be memories of driving, either. Get it?

Cotswolds: just like Bath-- couple of days, only know it through the guidebooks, want insider info. Or should we scrap the Cotswolds and do Herefordshire? I always kind of liked Hereford. Or I liked the cider.

Super Bonus Question: Am I stupid to be returning my car inside the city? As in, will London driving be so awful that we should return at Heathrow and leg it into town on the Tube/Express? Boston drivers pretty much take PCP before they get behind the wheel and I can handle that. But I have to date spent a total of 25 minutes driving on the left in my 31 years. Will I be FULLY prepared to drive in that rat maze?
posted by Mayor Curley to Travel & Transportation around Bath, England (17 answers total)
if you're interested in seeing standing stones, avebury is neat because you can actually walk right up to them instead of being kept away on a tourist path.

bath also has some roman ruins (the old baths!) that are pretty neat.
posted by clarahamster at 6:25 PM on September 13, 2005

When driving in the UK I have always picked up and returned the car well outside London. A car isn't worth having there. But other drivers aren't the problem; British drivers are quite a bit better than Americans -- you actually have to know how to drive in order to get a license at all. If you do drive in the cities or towns, be prepared for two things: 1) you have to be prepared to let other cars get a lot closer to you than you're used to. We're talking paint thickness distances. 2) The hard part isn't staying on the left, it's remembering that the bulk of the car is to your left and gauging distances (with specific respect to item #1) accordingly. Spend some time practicing on the open road before driving in the cities.

I've been to Bath and Avebury and love them both but I can tell you less about them than the guidebooks could.

As far as driving outside London, on your route you might easily find yourself in Swindon. Be afraid.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:07 PM on September 13, 2005

My girlfriend spent time in the Cotswolds during the summer of 2004. She is unfamiliar with Herefordshire, but can say that the Cotswolds are definately worth your time. She liked Stow-on-the-Wold, Burford, and Chipping Camden in particular. Burford has a beautiful church while Bourton-on-the-Water is very picturesque with the river than runs through it. Near Chipping Norton there are the "Rollright Stones" which is like a mini-Stonehenge. Supposedly when you count the stones you never get the same number each time. Even if these specific places do not interest you, there are any number of beautiful villages you can visit in the Cotswolds. She felt that visiting the Cotswolds was going to be rather dull, but found it to be one of the most memorable and enjoyable experiences she had the entire time while in Britain.
posted by Atreides at 8:00 PM on September 13, 2005

Bath resdent speaking: I always liked Cheddar Gorge, and there's plenty of cider there! Avebury is seconded.

Wookey Hole used to be good (underground caves), but I think it's owned by Tussauds or some such, so things might have changed.
posted by cogat at 8:03 PM on September 13, 2005

Oh, and there's Longleat Safari Park, most people's memories of which include monkeys peeling off your windscreen wiper blades.
posted by cogat at 8:04 PM on September 13, 2005

*their* windscreen wiper blades...
posted by cogat at 8:05 PM on September 13, 2005

I just came back from studying in Bath for 5 months and I found the city incredibly beautyfull. It;'s not a city that has so many attractions, but if you just live there for 2 days and you walk the parks its amazing.
Around the place i know what i didn't like... bristol and Weston-super-mare. Skip those.
What i did like? Just driving around, the scenery is magnificent. But stay out of the motorway.
posted by Manouk at 8:31 PM on September 13, 2005

Bath is fun to walk around in. The Roman Baths are incredible, and check out the Circus, the Royal Crescent (I think #1 Royal Crescent is an interesting museum) and the Abbey.

Bourton-on-the-Water is nice (the Model Village is touristy but fun) and Stow-on-the-Wold and Chipping Campden are great as well. I once greatly enjoyed walking from Bourton-on-the-Water to Lower and Upper Slaughter on a fine day.

You'll be near Oxford, which I really enjoyed (the Turf Inn pub, poking around the colleges, the High Street, Blackstone's bookstore, and the Ashmolean Museum), and Blenheim Palace, a marvelous (and ginormous) stately home with great Capability Brown landscaping.

The Wye Valley is lovely.

And re: returning your car at Heathrow...why not? I have never driven on the left, and Boston driving may well be the equivalent of London's. But why set yourself up for a possible hassle and have to remember -- in crazy city traffic -- where to look? I'd much rather return it at Heathrow, take the fast train to Paddington, and not have to worry about more than I absolutely had to.

Also: Rick Steves has good travel info on Britain. (His Bath page; his Cotswolds page.)
posted by Vidiot at 10:05 PM on September 13, 2005

Is Avebury worth seeing?

Yes. Totally. Absolutely. I'd rather see Avebury once than the circus of Stonehenge 100 times. Explore the village, as well as the stones. Some really interesting features in some of the houses, if you're into that sort of thing (it's the only village built inside a stone circle). The stones themselves aren't anything like Stonehenge, say, but cruder, more gnarled, intriguingly shaped. The earthworks and large area of the thing is rather boggling. Get there late in the afternoon on a weekday and there's a chance you'll have it all to yourself. Take a picnic, hope for a clear day, sit on the bank farthest from the village and watch the sunset. I'm not at all a religious or spiritual sort of chap, but that place has something. Bear in mind, I'm a bit of an old stones nut, YMMV.

If you're thinking Cotswolds/Hereford way, I'll plug the Brecon Beacons (great walking and scenery) and Hay-on-Wye (books, tea, beer, more books; in no particular order - bliss.).

Driving in London is no fun and can be very time consuming at London speeds. Parking can be next to impossible (or impossibly expensive) if you don't have something scoped out in advance. Remember to pay the Congestion Charge if you go into the center. Public Transport is much preferable. The good news is the actual driving isn't as bad as some might suggest, because things generally move so slowly. What you do need is a good map or, even better, someone to navigate. You can end up a long way off course on a one-way street if you don't know your way and signage usually isn't the best. Anyway, I'd strongly suggest relaxing on a train, instead. From Heathrow to the center, about 20 mins on the Heathrow Express (spendy) or about 45mins-1hr with us plebs on the Picadilly Line (spendy/5).
posted by normy at 1:03 AM on September 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

If you're into stuff like stone circles, Avebury is far more interesting than the constrained, packaged 'experience' that is Stonehenge. You can even stay in a cottage that's inside the stone circle.
posted by malevolent at 1:41 AM on September 14, 2005

My Bath-dwelling colleague, Kerstie, dictates: the Roman baths, Jane Austen centre, Bath Abbey, pub: The George Inn (on the river)

Cotswolds: Broadway is picturesque and not too full of elderly Americans at this time of year. Bourton-on-the-Water is pretty, too, as is 'Nam (Cheltenham).

Enjoy! (And watch out for terrorists, Blighty's rife with them, you know).)
posted by Pericles at 2:01 AM on September 14, 2005

When I was in Wales, we hiked from a teeny town called Chepstowe to Tintern Abbey. It was an awesome hike, even if we did eventually end up hitchhiking back. (Yay for American tourists, apparently like yourself, who rented a car, for we were weary, yea, unto sleeping in the gift shop.) Assuming you are not vaguely hungover doofuses like us, hiking from Chepstowe to Tintern is great.

My grasp of the geography is a little bad, but if you like cathedrals and will be near Salisbury, you should stop in. Salisbury is probably my favorite church in England.
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:19 AM on September 14, 2005

If I remember correctly, while staying in Bath, we took a day trip to Glastonbury. We saw the Abbey and the Chalice Well. Also stopped for cream tea before catching a bus back to Bath. It is one of my favorite memories of my backpacking adventure (crap, was it really 11 years ago?).

The Abbey was really beautiful since we had one of those rare perfectly blue sky kinda days. We wandered around the ruins for hours and took many pictures. The Chalice Well was interesting if for nothing else, the new agey types recharging their crystals in the flowing water.
posted by MsVader at 6:35 AM on September 14, 2005

Warning: My oldest friend conceived all three of his children 'by accident' in Avebury. He's happy with the situation but has emigrated to Australia just to be on the safe side.
posted by i_cola at 1:40 PM on September 14, 2005

I'll second Longleat Manor. Kind of tourist trap-y but not obnoxiously so by American standards. Nice for the walking around. Also seconds on Oxford's Turf Tavern -- great pub if you can find it.

Ignore the player haters and head up to Stonehenge anyways. While its extremely touristy and "keep off the grass" you'll forevermore be able to say "dude! I've been there" when it comes on TV. Added bonus: freaks and crop circles both there and at Avebury.

Also in the area, the Whiltshire White Horses are pretty cool.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 1:53 PM on September 14, 2005

Definately go see Avebury. As has been said before, you can actually touch the stones (as well as climb on them if find yourself drunk and adventurous). When I was there, I used Bath as a staging ground--there are bus tours that will take you to Avebury and Stonehenge from Bath, and through a few very pretty villages you may decide to explore further with a car.

For all the grief Stonehenge gets around here, the one great thing about the roped-off stones is that you can actually get a picture of them without littering your shot with a dozen of gaping tourists.

Feeling nervous yet? :)
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:15 PM on September 14, 2005

Leave your car at Heathrow if you can, and take the Heathrow Express into London Paddington Station.
posted by madstop1 at 10:15 PM on September 14, 2005

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