Driving in Britain has not been as challenging as I thought it might have been. Not that it's been a walk in the park, but if you remember back to the 13th of June, my first experience driving in France involved getting lost in Rennes while I was sick (remember that I was sick last month? Well, I'm sick again.).
I continue being glad that I have been driving a manual-transmission car my whole life, so that particular learning curve has been easier to deal with. Even shifting with the left hand hasn't been too much to overcome, but I still find myself occasionally reaching out with my right hand to shift with that non-existent in-door shifter. :-) I have now lost count of how many times I have tried to get into the left side of the car, only to look through the window and realize that the steering wheel is on the other
side of the car!
Part of the easier task of driving here might have to do with us having better maps. We spent £1.99 for a nice road atlas of England, and we had picked up the "London A-Z" shortly after arriving. In the days leading up to our leaving London, I had studied that map and so had our route planned out pretty good. It worked. :-)
To my mind, the most difficult thing about driving here is the right turn—think about it for a moment. You're on the left side of the road, and now you want to end up on the left side of that
road over there. It's a touch disconcerting! It is a bit like a left turn back home, but we're all completely accustomed to being on the right side of the road! Anyway... We have a mantra: Keep left, keep left, keep left! Except sometimes I get too far left and it scares my passenger. Especially in small towns where they just park in the lane and you need to move over and there are cars coming right at you in the wrong lane!
Judging exactly where that left side of the car is... tricky!
I did manage to scrape the passenger-side rear-view mirror in a parking garage in Bath. Fortunately, the mirror already had a scrape on it, so I may get away with it. We'll see.
I've mentioned to Andrea more than once that I am glad that I am a city dweller, because I know how to parallel park! It doesn't really make any difference which side of the car you're sitting on, or which side of the street you're parking on—the principles remain the same. Pull up, back up, turn, turn, forward, turn, done! :-)
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So... I think the last update was from the morning of the 1st. I'm writing this on the 4th, but I really have no idea when it might get uploaded. There certainly isn't any wireless internet here at the Sevenways Guest House
in Buxton, and we have not ascertained the existence of any Starbucks locations in town. We're hoping there aren't any. :-) It may be Cambridge before we get anything uploaded.
Our plans for the United Kingdom have changed from what we foresaw. I think we mentioned that we found out about the G8 summit near Edinburgh, as well as the Live8 concert near there as well—and as a result decided to stay the hell away from there - and today's news reports have borne us out. When we arrived in Bath, we sat down with our road atlas and looked at distances and driving times... Besides seeing the town and the sites, we spent time discussing what our priorities are and what we really wanted to do and see. As a result of that discussion, we have substantially reduced our expectations of what sort of distances we will cover. Despite both of us really wanting to see it, we have decided to not go to Cornwall (the English Southwest) mainly because it takes so long to get there and then you have to get back out (it's a peninsula). We have decided not to go to Scotland because A) G8 and Live8, and 2) it, too, takes a long time to get there. I think Andrea is most disappointed about Cornwall, and I'm most disappointed about Scotland, but as we keep telling ourselves, we need an excuse to come back.
Once those decisions were made, we had to decide what we were
doing. After briefly considering a pop over into Wales (to see Portmerion—it was apparently the filming location of some British TV show about a prisoner of some kind), we picked a small town in the middle of England—Buxton. We picked it because it is kinda-sorta halfway between Bath and Whitby. Now, we've done Seattle-to-Ashland a few times, and while we know that we can do an eight-hour drive, it isn't exactly enjoyable. Bath to Whitby plotted out at 5:32 on MapPoint. Our experience with MapPoint has been a bit frustrating, mainly because (we feel) it tries to give you too much detail, and its driving-time estimates have been a bit low. So, we were figuring a six hour drive, and we just didn't want to do that. So, we looked over the map for someplace that looked like it would be in the middle—we picked Buxton.
While Buxton itself is not in
the Peak District National Park (England's first National Park), it is mostly surrounded by it—it is sort-of a U-shaped national park. We figured that it would probably be a quiet town, give us some time to relax, some time to see some of the British countryside. When we left Bath, we headed up through the Cotswold Hills, and while we did not stop in any of the noted picturesque villages, it was much more enjoyable than just zooming along the motorway at over 70mph.
After driving through the Cotswold Hills, we joined the M5 northbound, made our way north to Birmingham, where the M5 ends, and merged onto the M6. We followed that that for a bit, then exited in Stoke-on-Trent (not to be confused with Newcastle-Under-Tyne), and drove Northeast into the National Park. Our first impression is that it was much more built-up than we had expected, but that quickly gave way to sheep and cattle and stone walls, and wild heather ...
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As I am sick again, we took today as a rest day. We had a late breakfast and then relaxed in our room before taking a walk. The Brits are big on their public footpaths (we're working on getting a picture of a sign), and that can involve public right-of-ways on private property. We found a little booklet here in the guest house entitled Walks Around Buxton: 10 Walks Under 6 Miles
, and we picked one. It was a short one, and we also picked it because the route led directly in front of the guest house. Convenient, eh? ;-)
The walk led up through the Grinlow Woods, which "were planted by the Duke of Devonshire in 1820 in an effort to disguise the unsightly ash tips produced from the [centuries] of lime-burning." Personally, I don't think the Duke himself did any of the planting, but in any case, we walked through his woods until we reached the top of the hill. Up there we found Solomon's Temple, which is a folly "built by a Buxton man called Solomon Mycock to provide work for the local unemployed." As you can see from the pictures, it's just this tower up in the middle of a cow pasture.
I had Andrea explain to me what a folly is. It is essentially a structure built for no real purpose. Usually built on estates, some of them were built to resemble ancient ruins, some were built to house a hermit, and some were built just because...
Fortunately, it didn't really rain while we were out walking; it just misted. After we got back to the guest house, we made our way into town proper, where we found a fish-and-chips shop for dinner.