I walk everywhere?
Almost. Thanks to the Ramblers Association and others who've protested
and illegally ambled with intent over the years [see Kinder Scout
you're free to roam over a great deal of lovely British countryside
without fear of getting caught in the mantraps filled with crocodiles
and piranhas that landowners used to scatter about... unless I'm
confusing that with a James Bond movie.
cities and larger villages there's a scarcity of pavements/sidewalks,
so you may find yourself on bridleways, waymarked trails, or a meandering
footpath that's been in existence for 5000 years and was formerly
trod by druids on their way to the Saturday night bingo and virgin
sacrifice. You're encouraged to follow the Countryside
which boils down to not trampling over crops, leaving gates and
cows as you found them, and remembering not to drop litter or slower
members of your party.
You may also
find yourself on small country lanes and suddenly forced to hug
the hedgerows to let motorised traffic by. Watch out for wing-mirrors.
Rubber boots which reach up over the calf. Green, or in extreme
cases blue or black. Authenticity increases with amount of mud spatter.
They don't typically provide much in the way of arch support or
basic comfort, but are indispensable for mucky fields. Available
at various footwear emporiums and Homebase.
has right-of-way on roads?
Cars, except on zebra crossings, which are wide striped pathways
straddling the road where pedestrians are given special legal dispensation
to ford the endless stream of traffic. Contrary to popular belief
you are not required to wave at motorists who let you cross.
Cycling isn't nearly as death-defying as it might look, particularly
in urban areas. Naturally it helps if you're comfortable balancing
on two wheels in the first place. Helmets
are popular but not mandatory and certainly not a panacea of protection;
bear in mind that they aren't designed for impacts at speeds much
higher than about 12 mph, and cars usually travel faster. Useful
if you bump into a pensioner and she hits you with her cane, though.
to pedal on any road unless it's posted otherwise, which means almost
everywhere is fair game. Motorways, which have route numbers prefaced
with an M and are marked in blue on maps, are strictly verboten,
which is a shame because they have large breakdown lanes and purely
in terms of elbow room are superior to many other roads. When journey
planning remember that roads which look as if they might be quiet
and bucolic on a map could very well turn out to be hell on wheels,
Laws which apply
to motorists apply equally to cyclists. More or less everybody who
doesn't cycle will want to remind you of this.
I use dedicated cycle lanes?
Ride wherever makes you feel safest. Such facilities are often poorly
maintained and appear to have been designed to make cyclists feel
suitably second-class. When seeking safe haven on pavements consider
dismounting to avoid conflict with pedestrians
and police constables.
I rent a bicycle?
Mountain bikes are usually available at one end or the other of
more popular designated trails, and occasionally you'll find a bike
shop or rental stall in a city. Theft is another option, but there's
the bummer of going to hell afterwards.
This is a charity organisation devoted to getting people out of
cars for at least some portion of their travelling time on earth.
Best known for their work on a National Cycle Network consisting
of traffic-free paths and signposted routes which in their opinion
Johnny-come-lately on the British road numbering scene.
The first was the Preston Bypass, opened in 1958 and now part
of the M6 and M55. Basically just big, fast roads designed to
keep everything moving.
Main trunk roads have single digit numbers, slightly less important
arteries have two digits, and on down to three and four. The
numbering system gives a rough idea of where you are in the
country, for example 100 and 1000-series indicates Greater London,
Essex, Cambridgeshire & East Anglia, and 90 and 900 means
you're up in northeast Scotland. See Wikipedia
for a full explanation. Some sections of A roads have been elevated
to motorway status in all but name and have been awarded an
Lower traffic density. Follows the same scheme as A roads but
almost always have three and four digits.
Not everything has a number. Many singletrack lanes will be
narrower than driveways and of necessity be constructed with
the proverbial wide spot in the road to enable passing. From
the air they look like a snake swallowing a series of eggs.
How difficult is driving on the left?
That depends. Some people tend to do this anyway when they
nod off. Britain certainly isn't
the only country
that keeps to the left, but is in the minority. It can initially
be very unnerving, particularly if you're renting a car with a manual
transmission (cheaper and in greater supply) while also coming to
grips with shifting with your left hand and talking on your
mobile phone, which incidentally is illegal, demonstration though
it may be of dexterity and multitasking. By the way, you haven't
lived until you've done the above (minus the phone) while attempting
to restart a stalled car halfway up a steep hill with impatient
traffic idling behind and below.
to keep UK fatalities down but less worried about road safety elsewhere,
the Ministry of Transport (MOT) used to advise motorists "to
practise in your country of origin for a week or two before driving
in the UK."
normal learning curve timeline is a few hours of This isn't right
but I'd better do as the Romans do followed by a day or two
of dreamy unreality, at which point your nervous system will have
accepted it and you'll probably only be bothered by the occasional
flashback of the way things used to be. Should you continue to be
unavoidably drawn to the right, consider a chauffeur or public transport.
course, it's that crucial 'getting used to it' period that's of
concern to anyone in your potential crumple zone. It may be a weight
off your shoulders to know that the courts are notoriously lenient
as regards vehicular manslaughter. We won't bore you with common
sense advice like practicing in a parking lot (not a school parking
lot while it's in session) or Dartmoor (watch out for the sheep).
Initially you'll probably be too frightened to drive anywhere else.
No, the only real way to learn how to do anything is to just do
it. British motorists are famous for their patience and sensitivity.
found that the mantra left is life, right is death worked
wonders. A thick skin also helps.
they let anybody drive?
As long as you are in possession of a licence which wasn't doesn't
stamped on it, from a generally recognised state or country, yes.
[Go to the Driver
and Vehicle Licencing Agency site
for details.] You aren't required to have an 'international licence'.
Visitors can typically drive for at least a year commencing with
each new visit; in the case of those from the European Economic
long can I drive on my foreign licence after becoming resident?
This is entirely dependent on when you want to stop being a law-abiding
motorist. The DVLA provides a list of foreign nationals for whom
making the exchange is simply a matter of paperwork. Others, including
US citizens, have a year's grace to take the written test, bundled
with a hazard perception
video game, followed by a practical test. The first step in this
journey is to acquire a provisional licence, easily done by sending
your passport along with applicable form and fee to the DVLA.
If you haven't passed within the year your foreign licence is no
longer treated as an honorary British one, and you're immediately
demoted to learner driver status with only your provisional licence
to sustain you. This means you're not allowed to drive on motorways,
and must be "supervised by a qualified driver" (over 21
and held a full UK licence for at least 3 years), even if they were
born about the time you first got behind the wheel. To top it off
you're required to attach an 'L' plate to your car. You get the
feeling they'd like to add 'azy' to it.
the British test is more demanding than many others, there is a
natural desire to artificially prolong the definition of a year.
Visitors get their odometer reset with every booze cruise
to Calais. Residents are allowed no such fresh start. According
to the DVLA, "Your country of normal residence is taken to
mean the place where you usually live and have personal and/or occupational
ties." Make of that what you will. Note that students are treated
no differently than anyone else.
truth is nobody keeps track of these things. It won't even come
up unless a) your insurance company gets curious, which is quite
possible, b) you're stopped by a policeman who perhaps just wanted
to tell you to have a nice day, and blurt out the shameful truth
in a moment of panic, or c) you break the law in a more obvious
way or get in an accident and find yourself in court. You won't
go to jail just for driving on an invalid licence, but there will
probably be a fine involved (it's up to the judge), with points
on your provisional British licence if you have one, generously
transferred to your full licence if you get one. Don't have either?
Expect a heftier fine delivered with a sterner glare from the bench.
'grace year' is theoretically to allow you sufficient time to prepare
for the test. PGB opinion is that if you're competent your first
day here, 364 days later doesn't change anything other than one's
perception that the roads are full of lunatics who managed to pass
their test on their Dr Jekyll day. No doubt the year is also meant
to keep nonresidents from clogging up the system. Tourism is a big
industry, and the government is not about to stop people from motoring
from one antique shop to another and giving them sufficient time
in which to do it.
The theory test is computerised, multiple choice, and not terribly
difficult. Though the unwary can be tripped up by stopping distances
on spilled daiquiris and other minutia, if you're blessed with a
modicum of common sense it's possible to pass without cracking a
book. However, we highly recommend at least a quick scan of the
widely available Highway Code
while you're eating breakfast the morning before.
hazard perception test, which consists of a series of scenarios
involving woolgathering pedestrians, always-scary cyclists, your
fellow randomly motivated motorists, and dangerously unpredictable
road furniture, is trickier because it's perversely biased against
drivers who have cultivated fast (i.e., lifesaving) reflexes; click
too soon too often and you'll fail. Save yourself unnecessary heartache
and wear out a good practice CD.
practical test is, in many people's experience, a nightmare of mirror-signal-maneuver
moments and nervous laughter. Your date for 45 minutes will be a
polite but no-nonsense examiner who has been invested with the awesome
responsibility of Keeping British Roads the Safest In The World.
The tension will mount until that final reverse into a parking bay,
when you will be given the news and either enjoy an adrenaline rush
of euphoric relief or be struck dumb with the beta blocker of despair,
a condition later likely to develop into an acute case of dull rage
in which lack of volubility is not a noted symptom. It's all a bit
of a drama; a rite of passage wasted on experienced drivers, who
are inevitably advised to be grateful they've erased those 'bad
habits' picked up in years of somehow managing to stay alive on
this man read
the Highway Code?
is the Highway Code?
A melange of strongly worded suggestions spiced with red-hot nuggets
of law signposted by numerous MUST
and MUST NOTs. Its
purpose "is to prevent accidents by ensuring that we all adopt
the same rules when we use the road." You're advised to purchase
a copy at the nearest convenient bookshop [or read it online], absorb
its almost biblical wisdom as some would have
it, then simply follow Sgt. Esterhaus' advice on that old
American TV show Hill Street Blues: Let's be careful out
is a roundabout?
Evidently you haven't been to Milton Keynes. Roundabouts, also called
gyratories, are a mystery to anyone used to having their junctions
meet at angles, mostly of the 90 degree variety. Traffic streams
around a central island - except for mini-roundabouts, where it
streams around a central spot of paint - after first yielding to
anyone coming from the right. There is true genius in the circle:
it allows for smooth changes in trajectory, and if you've taken
a wrong turn an easier way to get back to from where you've come
has yet to be found, unless it's staying home in the first place.
is no truth to the rumour that Valhalla is to be found deep in the
hearts of the islands in the larger roundabouts. Once upon a time
some people went round and round and round and got a little too
dizzy. Happened in Milton Keynes.
is 'pay and display'?
Ubiquitous system whereby a communal parking meter spits out a permit
after being fed exact change. You stick it inside your windscreen
or lay it on your dash and hope that the dog or baby don't eat it
- neither of which should be left unattended in a car we hasten
to add, but sitters are expensive.
is Vehicle Excise duty?
Also a form of pay and display. Popularly known as road tax, though
it isn't, as cyclists and certain other users of the Queen's highway
justifiably get a free ride. The fee buys you a small round piece
of paper which must be displayed on the vehicle's windscreen at
all times, and the satisfaction of knowing your money is being spent
wisely on more roundabouts.
or who is the MOT?
Acronym for Ministry of Transport. Also, annual test to ensure your
vehicle is still roadworthy and has components (emissions systems,
brakes, soft toys in the rear window) which meet the required legal
minimum standards. Many garages do MOTs. New cars are exempt for
the first three years.
I ship my car over?
Yes indeed. It's a crowded little island but there's always room
for one more. You can choose between container service (car goes
in box) or roll-on roll-off (car sits in parking lot on big boat).
The former is more expensive, but you can stuff the container with
other worldly possessions. If you fail to ship it over within a
year of moving to the UK you'll be asked to pay vehicle import duty
or claim an exemption given compelling circumstances. In any case
you'll also have to cough up a paperwork fee.
a vehicle which has its steering wheel on the left is not to be
greatly feared. Passing is more difficult, but smacking cyclists
upside the head becomes easier.
is the Knowledge?
Taxi drivers in London are required to pass a test which requires
that they download the A-Z [a popular street atlas] into their brain.
It's not surprising that the Highway Code can get squeezed out to
make room. When taking a cab you should tell the driver where you're
going before getting in so he has the opportunity to decide how
good a tipper you might be.
Yes. Most of it's tax. Small price to pay to enjoy the most convenient
and devastating mode of personal transportation ever invented.
cities have their own system, e.g. London's tube, or the East Hill
Lift railway in Hastings, which runs 81 metres up a 1:1.28 gradient
and is chiefly of interest to those escaping the amusement arcades
on the promenade. Everything else may safely be called British Rail,
though it's actually National Rail and consists of many companies
which go under
many names, some more colourful than others.
do just that. They're large, reasonably comfortable and fast, and
stupidly expensive. Suburban lines bring the commuters in from the
provinces and also tie together the villages and towns but with
less showiness than the intercity trains. You
buy a ticket at the station, though in some cases can acquire it
from the conductor en route.
Nice when it
a lot of complaints about the state of services, augmented by a
litany of apologies ringing hollowly from tannoys on the platforms.
A great pruning
of the national rail network began under British Transport Commission
chairman Richard Beeching in the Sixties and carried through the
early Seventies, when 40% of the network was dismantled or abandoned
to the elements. (Bits of it are now bicycle lanes, thanks to Sustrans.)
Then came privitization
in the Nineties: the system was broken into pieces which through
the magic of capitalism as applied to a vital public service became
less than the sum of their former whole. And thus it remains to
this day, a shadow of its former glory.
sorry. Cancelled? Sorry. Overcrowded? Sorry. The
only thing that keeps them from encouraging passengers to ride on
top like you see in old movies set in India is low clearance in
tunnels, rooftop electrification on some lines, and reports in rural
areas of brollies blowing away and getting caught in the sheep.
One of the biggest complaints is the appalling lack of communication
with passengers. It's quite possible to sit in a stationary carriage
for an hour or more without a clue as to the delay and nothing to
sustain you but gossip and overpriced tea. When and if you are brought
into the loop it will likely be to dispense another volley of apologies
as a way of passing the time.
It is not a
good idea to leave bags or packages unattended at a station unless
you want to get it closed down because of a bomb scare and/or have
your bag destroyed or opened by the authorities, who will subsequently
have no compunctions about making fun of your taste in knitwear
if it hasn't been remotely detonated first.
I take my bicycle?
The government is purportedly keen on integrated transport. The
message doesn't seem to have filtered through to the train companies.
Uttered a Thameslink spokesman who may still be ignorant of how
Le Shuttle and many ferries operate: "I have always found
it strange that people would choose to take one mode of transport
and put it on another." Nevertheless you
can usually get your bike on board; it's all down to the the company,
and when you wish to travel. Rush hours are a bad idea. Convenient
times in general are frowned upon. On intercity and other routes
you're required to book in advance and pay a small fee. There is
a draconian limit of no more than three on many trains. It's all
very chaotic - or thrilling, if you're a glass-half-full person.
I talk loudly and at some length on my mobile phone on the train?
No. Although there is technically no death penalty in Britain, repeat
offenders will be punished by drawing and quartering. Phones of
the departed will then be smashed into pieces and buried in separate
corners of the kingdom so they can never ring, or sing, or bleep,
trains typically have a quiet car.)
A rose by any other name. These large
people movers are of the same genus but a slightly different species;
coaches are usually bigger, better appointed, and go further than
trains, and often unavoidably slower, these provide the missing
pieces in the overland transportation puzzle. National Express
run the largest intercity network.
and town has buses lurching through its streets, and most villages
are on some route, no matter how desultory the timetable.
In metropolitan areas a skeleton service may run all night, unlike
the trains. They also take over from railways when there are engineering
works, heavy-duty raking of leaves off the line, etc.
in London are on their way out, by the way. The future is bendy.
It's only natural
that an island nation composed of lots of little islands (over 6,000
at last count, but most are home to birds and BBC nature documentary
film crews) would have lots of ferries. While over the years bridges
have in many places obviated the need for boats, it's still possible
to, for example, catch a ride across the Thames at Woolwich in London.
Short of hiring a small airplane it's the only way to see most of
the western isles of Scotland and other places of interest. The
Isle of Wight also remains untethered.
it to say you can fly between various points within the UK if you're
in a hurry. There are dozens of airports,
many of them international as borders aren't terribly far away.
Most incoming tourists and future taxpayers will be processed through
Heathrow or Gatwick, both of which are connected to London with
also a transport option but usually take circular routes. You'll
see them on a summer's day, filled with toffs spilling their champagne
over the groundlings below.
In 1979 Bryan
Allen pedalled/flew the extremely light aircraft Gossamer Albatross
across the Channel. Away from England.