I’ve never actually been to Blackpool, and only included it as a Northern alterantive for the Southern seaside resorts I suggested. At the time of year the OP’s coming to England, he really must visit a traditional seaside resort - it won’t be too cold for them yet, and they are an important facet of the country in many ways.
If he’s not going to spend much time in London (for shame! There’s so much to see here!) then the Cotswolds, York and a general driving tour become more feasible.
The one caveat I have for Bath is that the tourist sites there are so much more expensive than the ones I’m used to in London. It would still be very cool to visit some Roman baths, though.
If you do end up coming in to Heathrow and driving out of London, the former mention of Windsor Castle is a good one; it’s a real castle that the Royal family do actually live in, though they won’t be there at the time you’re visiting. The town itself is pretty, too - lots of good fudge to buy.
From Windsor it would be easy to drive West to Bath, then up to the Lake District (via the Cotswolds) then York. York is somewhere I would recommend only by hearsay - I’ve never actually been there.
If it’s the Channel you want to see, you’ll need to go to Kent. Some bits are minging. Some are lovely. Canterbury has a really rather good cathedral and some nice old houses, but apart from that it’s a bit run down and tourist-tacky. Rochester’s nice, a good castle, cathedral, funky old buildings, good second-hand bookshops, excellent pubs and sweetshops. However it is also touristy because Dickens lived there for a little while. It’s a bit like Mozart and Salzburg - he hated the place and couldn’t wait to get out, but now everywhere you go in the town there are shops named after his more irritating characters and things with his face on them. Don’t let it put you off though; the town itself is very nice, and you can ignore the Dickens. There’s also Leeds Castle in Kent, Downe House where Darwin lived, the town General Wolfe came from (but you’re not Canadian, are you?), some other castles and things, and really beautiful scenery (including the now-famous lavender fields)… it’s a pretty fun-packed county.
Expect the unexpected. The first two weeks in September can be hot and summery or really really crap. There’s no way of knowing. (OK, so a meteorologist could probably tell you, but that’s no fun.)
Oh by the way, in the name of Elizabeth David, don’t go to Blackpool. It’s a hideous hole. My partner comes from there. We avoid going back.
If you’re going to Stonehenge, another English Channel option would be to divert south to the Isle of Purbeck area (not actually an island) near Poole, one of the nicest bits of the south coast, perhaps via the New Forest. Many of the towns/cities actually on the coast are a bit drab. The more picturesque places tend to be inland a little.
It’s funny, I know the Channel technically runs all the way round from Land’s End, but to me if you want to “visit” the Channel, it’s the bit round the corner that springs to my mind. I wonder why. The corner part also has most of the remaining fortifications and stuff. If you’re interested in wartime history, I’d recommend Dover.
The Strait of Dover section, you mean? I suppose if you actually want to gaze across at France and get a sense that it’s a channel you’re looking at and not just the sea, that’s the only place you can do it.
Maybe that’s why! It’s the famous bit, I suppose; the bit people swim, the easiest sea crossing and stuff. When I’m in Sussex or Devon or Dorset or wherever, I just don’t look at the sea and think “Ah, the Channel!” the way I do when I’m in Kent.
Which isn’t to say that I spend a lot of time in Kent thinking “Ah, the Channel!”. Now I just sound weird and no-one will take any of my advice. Oh well.
I grew up in “new” england, near Boston, MA so names like Middlesex, Acton, Bedford, Chelmsford, Concord, etc are familiar. I’ve always been facinated with England, more so than with the Mediterranean area.
I figure a driving trip in the southern half of the country is the most I can manage during my vacation (hopefully warmer than up north). How does lodging work? Do I need reservations or can I just expect to drive somewhere and find a place to stay? And I don’t mean the Motel Six either. The ultimate purpose of this trip is to find myself in a different country, not just a drive over to Disneyworld.
Teacake and others, thanks for all the information. I could buy travel books (already have) but it’s not the same as hearing from you all.
In September most places should be fairly quiet, since children will be back in school. To find the best places to stay use trip advisor. I use it for places in the UK, and I live here. Online booking a few days before you arrive would be advisable IMHO.
I would recommend you try a B&B (bed and breakfast) and have the “Full Monty” English breakfast.
BTW, the weather will be extremely variable to say the least.
Bed and Breakfast in the UK has a very different meaning to Bed and Breakfast in the US. The UK version usually involves staying cheaply in some nice old lady’s spare room (more or less), while in the US it’s a over priced chintzy cottage that the owners pretend that something historical happened.
I’ve had several successful holidays just driving about and checking into hotels when we got tired. Sometimes you may have to try a couple of places, but I’ve never ended up sleeping in the car. There’s also a tourist office in every town of any size which will book accommodation for you there and then for a small fee (couple of quid, I think). If you have specific places in mind that it would make you sad to miss staying in (convoluted), I’d book those in advance just to be sure, but I’d give myself the freedom if I were you.
Do the B&B route. Seriously, half the fun of the trip we took was planning it out first and looking at all the B&Bs we could choose from, and then just picking the cheapest one, which usually still turned out to be quite nice. I could recommend one or two if you want.
You live in Walthamstow? Wow! You must know my friend Ian…
I’d put in another vote for the Thermae Spa in Bath for an afternoon of relaxation, went there a couple of years ago for a hen weekend and we had a lot of trouble getting people to leave the spa. It was lovely, especially the roof-top pool.
If you want to see the Channel, do it from Kent - Dover’s good and I understand that Herne Bay has recently been tarted up to look quite nice.
For accommodation, B&Bs are great - you just never know what kind of place you’ll find yourself staying in.
Kent is a beautiful county, it’s not called the Garden of England for nothing! There are some great towns and villages to visit, and it’s good sometimes to just drive about and stop wherever takes your fancy.
Sussex has some interesting places to visit too - if you’re in that area, try Brighton, Hastings, Rye and Winchelsea for starters…
Well not the shitty part by the station or down that soulless high street, clearly! The part with the old church and graveyard and the pretty houses. There’s a couple of really nice pubs. It’s just a nice place to walk around and get the feel of how London’s tentacles have wrapped themselves around the ancient villages but not destroyed them. I just thought an American might find it interesting; their urban sprawl seems different. Greenwich et al are more places to go to see stuff, not just places to go to see the place, if you get what I mean.
(Where’d you live? We were down on Brighton Avenue, near the inspiringly named Dyke Towers but actually in one of those tiny damp flats in a converted Edwardian terrace. Years ago, though.)
Richmond is lovely, and it’s within walking distance of Kew Gardens. There’s not actually that much to do there, though. I suppose you could visit the rugby ground; Twickenham is just across the river.
Although it was Waltham Forest Borough I actually lived in Leyton, just north of the Orient ground (there were some old churches and almshouses there as well). I had some friends who lived in Walthamstow itself and we went out there quite often. I can remember William Morris’ house but I’d forgotten about the other stuff. When I think of Walthamstow now I tend to think of the 1930s mass that was the town hall (wasn’t the art college that Ian Dury attended also part of the same building?).