Driving Through England

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London Eye Ferris Wheel gondola

England is one of the few countries I will drive in besides the United States. At least I can read the signs. By renting an automobile you have the opportunity to be free and easy and you can stop in the small villages and towns, park your car and just wander around.

Many people use the bed and breakfast facilities to spend their nights and this also makes for easier, less formal travel. You’ll enjoy the bed and breakfast homes because they allow you to meet the local people and experience their way of life in the rural areas. The full English breakfasts, which, in most cases, are included in the cost of your stay, will keep you full for much of the day. It’s a good way to get started. The Web is a good way to discover the facilities available to you throughout England and you can book online.

When to travel England? Summer is the most popular, however, I personally prefer the shoulder seasons of late spring and early fall when many of the tourists have departed.

Last summer Norma and I flew directly from Phoenix to London on a British Airways 747. The flight takes about 10-1/2 (ten-and-a-half) hours. Upon arrival and the usual customs formalities, we took a taxi into London and stayed at the London Hilton.

Plan to spend at least three days in the city because there is so much to see and do in this important metropolis.

I did not want to drive in London, so we booked sightseeing tours to visit the famous places in the city.

First, I recommend taking a tour that allows you to get on and off at different points, this way you can spend time in the locations that have interest for you.

The basic tour takes about two hours, but can last as long as you wish if you choose to get off in several locations and walk around.

These busses operate about every 20 minutes, so you’ll never have to wait long to get the next bus to resume your tour.

Guided tours may be booked at the concierge desk at your hotel. They have all the information you require to make the proper decisions with tour bookings.

One tour can take you to visit Windsor Castle, St. George’s Chapel, Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House and State Apartments. You’ll probably have a guided tour of Westminster Abbey before returning to your hotel.

Another day’s tour can take you to the Tower of London to view the world’s best-known collection of crown jewels. On this tour you will ride the famous London Eye, a Ferris wheel which soars 450 feet above the Thames river. That night you can see a current live London theater presentation.

Another day take a guided tour to see the British Museum and enjoy walking through the collections of art and antiquities. This is one of the finest museums in the world and should not be missed.

And don’t forget to take high tea in one of the up-scale hotels while you are in London. This is a real treat.

You can take an English break for a day and board the Eurostar high-speed train that will take you under the English Channel and across the French countryside to Paris. The journey takes only two hours.

From the station you can walk about, find a small restaurant for lunch and perhaps take some time for shopping. Then, board the train back to London arriving for dinner. What a day that will be.

London is one of the best walking cities in the world so you may wish to do nothing more than just walk your legs off taking in the sights on your own.

Car rental is easy in London and I suggest you reserve this in advance. We decided to stay at a bed and breakfast owned by some friends. The drive from London to Kent took us about two-and-a-half hours. Our “home” for seven days was at a manor house called Starborough. It was built in the 18th century, but remodeled in both the early and late 19th century, and situated in a parkland setting beside a moated castle. It is only 20 minutes from Gatwick Airport and in the middle of the countryside with views to North Downs. From the manor house we took drives from Kent into Sussex and West Sussex.

The refurbished bedrooms are generously proportioned with televisions and tea/coffee making facilities. Each of the bathrooms has a bath and shower. Full English breakfast is served using fresh local produce. Afternoon tea and dinner may be available by prior arrangement. Last year we paid 110 pounds per night for a double room. It may be different this year.

The manor house is only two miles from Lingfield Racecourse. The historic castles of Hever and Chiddingstone, Penshurst Place and Chartwell are all within a few miles.

There are many other National Trust properties within easy driving distance. Golf courses and some excellent pubs are also in the area.

The manor has a heated outdoor swimming pool, which may be used at the management’s discretion during the summer months. If you would like to contact Jonathan and Lynn Mathias at Starborough Manor, the address is Marsh Green, nr Edenbridge, Kent, TN8 5QY, England. Telephone: 01732 867595 or www.starboroughmanor.co.uk.

On one of our days out we drove to Lewes, a small village and walked the main street to snoop through many antique stores. Fascinating! We had lunch in a restaurant that is known throughout the area for is unique menu featuring items that you normally would not find in a lunch facility. It was also a market and fruit stand and had tables that were inside and outside for dining. What a great experience!

After lunch we drove south to Brighton on the Sea. This is a city much larger than I expected having many apartment buildings to house the English vacationers wanting some time in the south to get some sun, sand and sea.

Another day we drove to Chartwell house — the former country residence of Sir Winston Churchill and his wife. You can enter and walk through much of the home to view his library, office, dining and living rooms, as well as several bedrooms.

The house is on three floors and docents are located throughout to impart information and answer questions. There is also a visitor center for books and other memorabilia. The gardens are vast and beautiful and worth your time for walks through the various portions to enjoy the flowers, plants and trees.

I am a train buff and one morning we drove to Sheffield Park in East Sussex to ride the Bluebell Railway for an hour.

The train was built in the late 1800s and is in perfect condition. It is often used in films depicting that period and you may have seen it in English features. It was a great ride through beautiful countryside with some small villages in between stops. Good for photography with the old steam engine pulling.

Nearby is Sheffield Park Gardens, which are very picturesque and you’ll want to spend at least two hours walking the paths to enjoy the large area with an impressive lake.

Hever Castle was interesting. This was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn who you will remember from Henry the VIII’s days and who later became Queen of England. Until this visit I was not aware that she had been raised in a large castle. You can walk through portions of the castle as well as the vast gardens.

There is a restaurant on the grounds where you can enjoy lunch, which we did and later walked through a maze and got confused. You’ll enjoy a stroll through the Tudor gardens nearby. This is well worth a day.

In Kent alone you can visit Tonbridge Castle, Penshurst Place and Gardens, Squerryes Court, the home of Charles Darwin, and many other notable examples of English treasure.

We have only discussed southeast England as well as London. If you took a month you would enjoy every minute of every day driving through the quaint villages and towns all over England stopping along the way to enjoy the local color. You might give it a try sometime.

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