I spent close to year and a half in London but never sat behind the wheel of a car. From what I understood of the UK rules, an Indian passport holder could drive in UK (without an international driving license or any permission from any UK authorities) anytime within the first one year of his/her arrival in UK. After the one year lapsed, you have to go get a UK license to be able to drive (yeah, the law is a bit silly – it allows someone who’s just landed in UK to hire a car, but not someone who’s lived there for more than a year and might be more familiar – some lawyer was trying to balance car rentals’ and travelers/pedestrians’ interests). Anyway, the one year period lapsed in my case and I never ended up driving a car in the UK – something that I really wanted to do. But there was a loophole – if I left UK (for good) and came back on a visit, I could drive (and more importantly for me, my girlfriend couldn’t since she was continuously in the UK – I like driving and am a bit possessive about it).
So, in first week of June 2010, we (me and my girlfriend), decided to do a road trip across the UK – from London to Edinburgh up north – going through the Lake District. We decided to take it easy and decided to do the 650 kms journey (UK is really small like approx from Chandigarh to Jaipur) over 3-4 days. We went to London City Airport and got ourselves a car – a grey Ford Fusion (I am prejudiced against Fords but this was the only car available) – in retrospect, it was good solid car with good grip on the road (it rained once or twice, as you can expect in the UK).
Some random things that I remember:
1. UK road rules can be a bit scary in the beginning – there are so many of them to observe. But you pick them up as you go along – like in India, they drive on the “right” side of the road. The most important rule to observe was giving way to those on your right. Turns out of roundabouts are called “exits” and are well marked.
2. The expressways (equivalent of our National Highways) are called Motorways. The smaller roads (maybe = to our State Highways) are called A roads. We made our way up on the M1. Once on the Ms, you can really speed up – speed limit is 70mph (roughly – 110kmph). Lane discipline is strictly observed, the right-most left lane left empty for overtaking. Now, the good thing is that they clearly warn you before the speed cameras come – so what ends up happening is that most people keep speeding and slow down when they see these signs. So I got to drive at 90mph (roughly – 140kmph). If you get “caught”, the speed camera automatically clicks a pic and sends you the “challan” – the rental company deducts it from your credit card. Neat. We had to refuel ourselves once – that was actually more confusing than driving. While petrol to fill and where to bill. Girlfriend, who is indeed smarter, figured out.
3. UK is beautiful. Here is how we planned our journey:
Day 1 – London to Matlock (Matlock is a small pretty town in the countryside). We went dumped our luggage at a B&B – run (quite often) by a charming, socialable English couple. This B&B is the best I have stayed in. And we left for Chatsworth House – you can see some pics and information here – I’m really bad at remembering historical details. We walked around, took a tour and took in the scene – green moors dotted with sheep, the weather sunny but not hot, and the obligatory stream. The lunch was English (not so good) but the scones with clotted cream was good. For dinner, we ate at Maazi – an Indian restaurant which serves Indian food for the English (and is therefore bound to be crap – and it was). The redeeming factor was that the chap who was serving us was from Delhi and knew good English and generally did a good job.
Day 2 – Matlock to Ambleside, Winderemere – we left for Lake District – that part of the UK which is blessed with lakes, hills, and some poets with the ability to romanticize them well. It was cold, we felt like finding a good pub in the city, but also take the cruise on the Lake Windereme. The lake is bigger than your usual lakes in India and surprisingly still – as the sunset, you could be lost in your own thoughts and what you were doing in this world and that there are so many things that you haven’t seen (and will probably never end up seeing) and that money is needed to do all those things.