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Fall 2017 trip to England-London, Cotswolds and......


10+ Posts
Hello!!! I'm so happy to have found you all again. I posted my long intro just a minute ago and look forward to learning and sharing our mutual love of travel with all of you.

My husband and I are in the very early stages of planning a trip to England this fall, late September/October. I'm thinking we will be there for a bit over 2 weeks. We haven't booked our flights yet but will be doing so very soon. Possibly even today. This will be our first trip there. I could really use some help.

I'm going to try to break this up into logical pieces instead of throwing it all out there at once.

I guess my first couple questions are basics.

Since our flight isn't booked yet, we are still open on the number of nights we will be in England.

Question 1: My initial thought is 5 nights in London, but I'm wondering if we should stay at the beginning or end of the trip. We will be renting a car for the rest of the trip. I thought we'd pick up the car at the airport upon arrival and then travel on to our first destination, somewhere in the Cotswolds, for 4 nights hopefully. I'm concerned that we will be jet lagged and not want to drive on arrival from the Eastern US. Google maps says it's a bit over 2 hours to drive, but I know those numbers are seldom accurate. I'm sure some of you have experience at this and wonder what you think.

Question 2: I'm going to leave details for London open until we actually get our itinerary set but would appreciate advise on where to stay. We prefer apartments or b& b's to hotels. We love to walk but I know London is huge and we will need good access to transportation hubs.

Question 3: For the Cotswolds we want to stay in one location and walk from there, so we are hoping for a location that will make that easy. So far Chipping Campden is on the top of my list. I've skimmed through some of the trip reports and it sounds lovely. Apartment/cottage recommendations would be wonderful. We've rented extensively through airbnb in the past and have had good experiences. Renting direct from someone does cut out the middleman on both sides, but I'm not comfortable with that without positive reviews from others. How many nights do you all think are needed. I know, a lifetime is never enough. I'm thinking 4 nights.

So, that's 5 nights London, 4 nights Cotswolds, 9 nights. If we are doing 18 nights, less 2 nights for travel, that's 16 nights on the ground. That leaves us with 5 nights to fill. I'm wondering if I shouldn't add a day on and make two more 3 night stops-but where? We love history and ruins, churches and walking, and small "real" villages. I think I need to see Stonehenge. I've read it's disappointing, but hey, it's Stonehenge for crying out loud. I've also read of the Avebury Stone Circle and think that's on my short list. Bath is intriguing. Sigh. It's a wonderful problem to have, trying to fill up nights in England.

Question 4: We don't want to see England "through a windshield" so don't want distances driving to be too long. I think a nice loop type trip would be good, starting at Heathrow, driving to the Cotswolds, then moving on in some logical manner to make a return to London for the end of the trip. I'd appreciate any advice on locations to park ourselves for 3 nights where we can do short day trips or walks or stay put and enjoy if we have the inclination or weather drives us indoors.

I hope this isn't too much in one post. I can break it up into separate posts if you think it's better. I don't want to scare anyone away!

Thank you all so very much.

Hi Cindy,
Welcome to SlowEurope! I am not an expert & am sure others will chime in with more advice. I would agree with you that it is a good idea to not try to drive after such a long flight. Why not stay in London at the beginning of your trip. After your 5 nights in London, you could take a train to Bath and hire a car there or pick up a car at Heathrow on your way.

Bath would be a good base as it's a charming town & you can easily visit Stonehenge and Salisbury from there.

From there, you could drive up to Chipping Campden. It is a good location for walks as well as the nearby Hidcote and Kiftsgate gardens.

After CC, you could drive to Oxford, perhaps stopping at Blenheim Palace along the way. You could return the car there & take the bus directly to Heathrow or perhaps drive to Windsor for the last night or two if you are interested in Windsor Castle.
Hi Cindy
Worth having a look through some of the recent threads posted by ArtnBarb, as these discuss some of those very challenges, but might also spark some ideas. However we're all different, so it would be great to find somewhere that really suits your tastes.

That problem of 1st location interestingly came up on one of their threads, and it's worth seeing what flight options you have. If you can fly into Birmingham airport, then getting to the Costswolds is easy, and allows you to walk off jetlag. That might mean a drive straight from the airport, but could be done via train, allowing you a few days in Stratford upon Avon (or elsewhere) before hiring the car. If it's a choice between Gatwick or Heathrow, then Heathrow is better for the Cotswolds, but either might appeal more as a fly/train option to London. Whilst the big cities aren't great for getting over jetlag, it avoids having to drive a car when wiped out by the journey.

Chipping Camden is good, and has enough there to avoid you having to jump in the car for bread / milk etc. Broadway is more picturesque but a little more touristy.

Bath and rural Somerset seem logical extensions, but worth looking at the south coast as an alternative. Stonehenge is a day trip, so could sensibly be pencilled in and see how you feel about it. I like Bath, though comfortable shoes are essential due to the cobbled streets. Bristol is a logical place to drop off the car if needed, to take the train back to London to finish. The service is now fast and reliable according to a dining companion yesterday. Train tickets can be pretty cheap if you book in advance for a specific train, and avoid peak business hours. We can help advise.

So if you can fly into Birmingham, out of Heathrow or Gatwick and hire car at Birmingham airport and drop off at Bristol/Bath, then that has the workings of a cool 3 base location trip. However if London airports are the only option, then London can fit at either end, but I'd lean towards starting there, then hiring a car west of London / return to Heathrow, as this means the heaviest luggage (at the end of the trip) is easier to move from car to trolley & then wheeled into the airport.

On our first trip to the Cotswolds, we stayed just outside Stow on the Wold near Lower Swell. I loved the location as it was an easy drive everywhere we wanted go. That being said, I also liked Chipping Campden and the Moreton in Marsh areas. From there, we headed north to Ambleside in the Lake District which I found to be so beautiful - but, I think that is farther north than you want to travel.
On our first trip to the U.K. years ago, we started off in London, rented the car after 4-5 days and drove to Stow (visiting Windsor Castle on the way), then to the Lake District. We then headed up to Scotland for 10 days, so we flew home from Glasgow. That trip was also in Sept/Oct which is a great time to go!
Others on this board are so much more familiar with the areas in England near Bath and Stonehenge that you are interested in visiting - you will get great advice!
If you are staying in London at the beginning of your trip, think about taking the train to Oxford and seeing that beautiful town and the historic college there. You could rent a car there and it would be a short, easy drive to wherever you decide in the Cotswolds.
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Ian, Thanks for the ideas. I did a quick search on flying into Birmingham, which sounded great. Unfortunately it isn't feasible for us. Laughingly one of the flights I found had us flying from Philly to LHR, then to AMS to get to BHX. Rather absurd. A non stop flight from PHL to LHR is 7 hr 25 min, the 2 connections required to get to BHX turned it into 15 hour travel day. Ouch. We have to drive to get to a major airport, and PHL, while a long drive, works out well for us because we have family in the area to stay with, leave our car and get a drive to the airport. Either that or we have to drive 2 hours to Buffalo and fly to JFK, which ends up costing quite a bit more and taking as much time as it takes us to drive the 6 hours to PHL. One of the only times I regret where I live is when I need to fly anywhere.

Susan, I am going to investigate Bath more thoroughly. I'm thinking we could train to Bath on our arrival, which looks like it could be around 6-7 AM. We could then spend the day in Bath acclimating to the time change. We could spend 3 nights in Bath, maybe renting a car on our second or third day and driving to Stonehenge/Salisbury. Then leave Bath for our 4 nights in Chipping Campden or there abouts. That would leave us 3 nights to spend somewhere else before finishing up with 5 nights in London.

Do London first. You won't need a car there and it also gives you time to work off jet lag. Then get the train to Oxford and pick up the hire car there. Burford is also worth considering as a centre for teh Cotswolds. It is an attractive stone town with a good range of accommodation and eating places. If you have chance, apend a day at Blenheim Palace and Gardens. They are wonderful. Also think about a day for Stratford upon Avon with all the Shakespeare connections. These may put on an extra two days.

After the Cotswolds think about either Bath or Salisbury as a base. Stonehenge can be done from either. People either seem to love or hate Stonehenge and many people do say that they prefer Avebury. You can't really compare the two. Avebury is a massive circle of isolated stones which you can walk among quite freely. Stonehenge has the massive horseshoe of trilithons, surrounded by a ring of lower stones with lintels. Unless you have arranged a visit with access to teh stones, you view from a distance.
Wonderful responses! I love this group.

Mom 83, Stow on the Wold is on my list to check for accommodations. I'd love to spend time in the Lake District too but I'm trying to be realistic about how much time we have and how much we want to drive. Nothing is carved in stone yet but I'm about ready to book flights, either today or tomorrow probably. Once that is done I will hammer away on the itinerary. I keep telling myself that there will be more than one trip, don't try to do so much this time around. I know I will have a better experience that way, but my monkey mind keeps telling me I have to do and see it all!

Eleanor, I've been reading about Burford as I scan the previous posts and trip reports. I imagine my final decision will be based on what accommodations we can get. I see there are a lot of limitations because we don't want to stay a whole week.

One reason we want to finish up in London instead of starting there is because I'm looking at departure flights that leave LHR at either 10 or 12 AM. For me to have any peace of mind at all, I would need to stay a night near the airport. If we are already in London I wouldn't be concerned, but if I had to get there from somewhere else I'd be a wreck worrying about getting there on time. So that would cut a night off our stays somewhere else. Probably would mean 4 nights in London instead of 5, with the additional night being spent in an airport hotel.

Dear Husband has driven on the "wrong" side of the road before, during a two week trip to Ireland back in 2008. He did fine then and is fairly confident that he will manage this time. I'm guessing the roads in the UK will be better developed than those in rural Ireland. There were a lot of times there when we were on single lane roads and had to back up when a car was coming from the other direction, and a few times when the stone walls were so close that I had to fold the side mirror in or lose it! Of course there is undoubtedly a lot more traffic to deal with in the UK.

Plodding away at my laptop. Remembering when I rented houses blindly, through ads in Chamber of Commerce brochures and wondering if that wasn't easier than all the choices we have now.

Cindy P
Cindy - my husband agrees with your conclusion on driving in Ireland vs England - the stone walls in Ireland were an issue for him, too! We encountered those same stone walls in parts of Wales last summer! And walls of dense hedges! The above picture is a 2 way road near our cottage in southern Wales - one car barely fit!
Mom 83. I actually got a scrape on my cheek once when I had the window open when a piece of hedgerow reached in the car window and grabbed at me. And the really scary thing about most of those hedgerows...they are on top of stone walls. We noticed most of the privately owned cars in Ireland either did not have hubcaps or they were tie wrapped on. They all lose them from jumping over curbs and rocks.
Hi Cindy
One option for an ultra-safe logistical overnighter before the return flight, is Windsor/Eton. Utterly charming and relaxing, plus much much faster to get to Heathrow from there than even a taxi from Central London. I do think London first makes a lot of sense if arriving into a London Airport, as it gives flexibility to simply crash in your hotel room rather than driving the car immediately.
Ian's suggestion of Windsor the night before is a good one as it is only a few minutes drove from Heathrow. Windsor castle is worth visiting too.
Windsor Eton sounds like a perfect spot for a last night. Trying to figure out where the best place would be to pickup and drop off a rental car if we were to end up in Windsor Eton.
Hi Cindy,

You're right, our trip plans are super similar and overlapping! In brief, we are starting with 7 days in London (One of us has never been), arriving 9/13. We found the best lodging selection through Airbnb. Maybe it was because we decided to stay in the East End, but there seemed to be the most options through Airbnb. We chose the East End because of the street life, good markets and trendy restaurants. We are then going to head back to Heathrow to pick up a rental car, and head down to Stonehenge, hopefully staying overnight in Avebury (not planned yet), and then over to Bath. Then up to the Cotswolds for about 5 days. We wanted to stay around Chipping Camden, and once again, found a lovely recently updated place through Airbnb in a hamlet called Aston Magna. The folks here at SE discouraged staying outside of a village with some services in walking distance, but the place was so perfect for us two couples (two fairly equivalent bedrooms and bathrooms), that we went ahead with it. Here's the lesson learned! I wanted to reserve with the agency directly, but I couldn't get any price info to come up on their website. But it did show up on their listing on Airbnb, and so I went ahead and booked it that way. I later realized it is a browser issue! I use Safari as my default browser and I now know that sometimes a pop up won't pop up. So we're paying a premium, but so be it. The agency is https://www.character-cottages.co.uk. We are going to spend our last day and evening in Oxford, and then drive back to Heathrow for departure. We need to plan a Meet-Up or I guess now they're called Get-ToGether! Let's talk more as plans continue, ok? Julie
Stonehenge: I wonder if the disappointed are looking solely at the stone circle? To appreciate it fully, you need to see it and how it might have been used in the context of quite a large surrounding landscape. I haven't been since the new visitor centre was opened, but I gather access may now be organised in a way that makes that broader appreciation easier.
Windsor Eton sounds like a perfect spot for a last night. Trying to figure out where the best place would be to pickup and drop off a rental car if we were to end up in Windsor Eton.
Hi Cindy
Heathrow airport. On the way back this makes it as simple as possible, because those heavy bags can go straight from car boot to a trolley - and I really value simple at either end of the process. On arrival you'll take the Heathrow express (or tube if the Piccadilly line is direct to the nearest tube station to where you'll stay) into London. Then on leaving London, you take the same journey back, to pick up the car from the airport. This means you'll know exactly where to drop the car on return (keeping it simple :) ). Other options are definitely feasible, but I do prize simplicity.
Julie, a GTG is a lovely idea. Our plans are far from firm yet, still going back and forth about whether to do London at the beginning or end of our trip. Beginning seems to be winning out. If so we will be in London on your last day....so that may or may not work out. I haven't even begun to pick an area of London to stay in, much less an individual apartment. I'm usually much further along in planning our annual trip, but our original plans for Belgium/Netherlands didn't work out (completely our fault) and this trip has been on the back burner for a couple years. I have ideas of what we want to do, but the logistics are....well you know.

Ian, yes pick up and drop off of the rental at LHR would be the simplest. We are considering picking up elsewhere and dropping off at LHR even with the upcharge, dependent on our schedule. If we don't need a car for our first day or so then we could save a bit of cash. And the airport rentals have an upcharge, even the basic insurance costs more from the airport. So we are still exploring our options.

I'm starting to consider just 3 bases for our visit instead of 4, I will start a second post to get some opinions.


CindyP I hope you have an amazing trip! My husband and I did a similar trip in September 2012 (there's a trip report if you're interested), staying seven nights in CC and seven in London. It was a long day when we first arrived (flew into Heathrow, public transport to London, train to Morteton-in-Marsh, public bus to CC) but we survived, and I would do it again rather than drive those narrow roads! (I am a driving wimp). Even without a car I found seven days was not enough to explore the Cotswolds. I also loved our too-short visit to Oxford. We visited Broadway, SotW, the Slaughters, MiM, and a few others and CC was our absolute favorite of the villages.

I also really liked doing London at the end, after we had relaxed in the countryside, and were ready for a bit more action and variety.

If I were doing it over again I'd be tempted to add a few nights in either Bath or Oxford and cut down on London, but I would go back to CC in a heartbeat!
Devarae, thank you. I'm curious to read how you managed without a car. I can't seem to find your trip report. Is it on the old Slow Travel site>

Devarae, thank you. I'm curious to read how you managed without a car. I can't seem to find your trip report.

It was a challenge not having a car, definitely! We had to be flexible and couldn't go everywhere we wanted, and I had to check lots of schedules! If you were okay driving in Ireland I imagine you'll be fine though! (I was miserable driving in Ireland :) )

Here's the trip report (sorry I didn't have time to break it into smaller chunks or include photos as I was copying it over from the old site, but there is a link to our album at the end) : https://www.sloweurope.com/community/threads/two-weeks-in-the-cotswolds-and-london-in-2012.1944/

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