Monday, August 1, 2011

In Search of Roots – A trip Through Ireland and Great Britain
Part 2 – Getting There, Bath, and Driving on the Left

We arrived at Heathrow Terminal 1 about 1:00 PM, 45 minutes late, after our overnight trans-Atlantic flight. By the time we had walked the distance to passport control and had our passports stamped we moved to the baggage claim area, where the baggage from our flight was coming along the belt. We rolled our suitcases through the tunnel to the adjoining Central Bus Terminal; where we sat down to wait for our 3:15 bus to Bath.
Shortly after three, the bus was announced and we boarded. Leaving Heathrow, the bus had a lot of passengers, however many left at the first stop, and I was able to sit by the window for the rest of the ride. We arrived on schedule at 5:50 in a drizzling rain with about a seven minute walk to our B&B at Three Abbey Green, as shown on the map.

Sue checked us in to the Lady Hamilton Room (see the room at ) which I had specifically reserved the previous August. By this time we had been on the road for 20 hours. Pat was ready for bed; I wanted a meal, and Sue mentioned that Tilley’s Restaurant, mentioned in Rick Steves’ book was just around the corner. I went there to find that I was still in time for the £12.50 two course early bird dinner special. The Cornish Brown Crab soup and sautéed chicken breast were just perfect. Even with the rain it was still quite light at 8:00 PM and I returned to the room to get my camera to come out and take a few pictures.

After a sound night’s sleep we awoke and went down to the treat of our first English (Irish) breakfast. The “Typical English Breakfast” served at most B&B’s is one egg, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, and beans, and toast. (Some references double the first three items). I opted out of the beans and with toast and juice had much more than I usually have at home.
With that fuel we went out to see the sights of Bath. First was a trip to the Roman baths which give the city its name. These and the Bath Abbey are only a short walk from our hotel. We spent almost two hours touring the baths from top to bottom. After a light lunch at Sally Lunn’s we then toured the Bath Abbey. The Bath Abbey is a still active 15th century church, built on the site of a previous Norman Cathedral and the original 8th century Abbey Church. After we both toured the main level, Pat went back to the room and I took the tour to the tower. This tour provides a close look at the clock, the bells and a 360° view of the city. It requires climbing 212 steps on two spiral staircases.

We then felt the need for a some liquid refreshment so we adjourned to The Huntsman, a nice pub at the end of North Parade Passage. The Huntsman offers free wi-fi, so we had a couple of pints of beer and some pub grub for dinner and walked the block back to our lodging.

Friday the 17th was our big day. After another healthy English breakfast we called a taxi to take us to the local Hertz office to pick up our car. Instead of the F Class Vauxhall (or equivalent) that we had requested our car turned out to be an M Class Ford S-Max (semi SUV). This was a much more expensive car at the original price, but it was much larger than we wanted. However, it was the only automatic on the lot, so we had to take it. The rental premium for automatic is only about 20% in England; well worth it as we had planned for Pat to drive.

Our initial trip was to take the car to Stonehenge and return to Bath for the night before pushing on to Chipping Campden. As mentioned earlier, I had both programmed the GPS and printed Google directions for Stonehenge. It is about a 35 mile trip that takes about an hour. We arrived safely at about 11:45 and spent about an hour walking around the site and taking pictures. The site is impressive and there is a constant stream of traffic on the entry road. However an hour allowed me to take pictures from every conceivable angle, plus the cows in an adjacent field plus a picture of the entry road with continuous lines of traffic. We then returned to Bath for necessary libation and one of Tilley’s three course dinners.
We had one slight mishap on our first day; the only one of the trip. English streets and roads are much narrower than we are used to here in California and when people park, they sometimes leave only one traffic lane on what is nominally a two way road. As I found out, if there is oncoming traffic in this situation, one driver has to find a place to pull over while the other one passes. In one town, I attempted to keep moving under this situation and brushed our left mirror against a parked car. This knocked a turn signal lamp of the mirror housing and left it dangling by its power cord. I pulled over to a parking spot and found that it could be snapped back into the housing as good as new. I learned my lesson right away and whenever that situation happened again, I always pulled over to let the oncoming car pass or pull over himself before proceeding.
Another problem I had to get used to is making wide right turns. In California, at least, right turns need to be made as close as possible and left turns can be made to any open lane in the cross street. After many years of driving, this is a hard habit to break. I really continued to say to myself “Left is the new Right” and had to consciously think when making right turns not to take the inviting close (oncoming traffic) lane, but to swing wide, usually around some kind of traffic island in towns. Pat did her part by keeping me away from the left margin of the road, which apparently is another automatic response of right-handed drivers in a left-handed world.
One other realization in England and Ireland is that if you are not on the motorways it takes about twice as long to go a given distance as it would in the U.S. The roads are narrower and it seems that little towns are closer together. In planning the trip, I had differing time estimates from Google and my GPS about how long the trip would take. Somehow, also because driving was more tiring, we didn’t make some of the more ambitious goals that I had set out in planning the trip.

To see more pictures of Bath and Stonehenge, point your browser to

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