It took us far too long to branch out and start seeing more of what England has to offer. It’s the classic grass is always greener mentality which puts you off exploring close to home. Living on the south coast of England for the last 2 years has put us ahead of a lot of expats and travelers already, many of whom venture far and wide through Europe, but often don’t make it outside of London when it comes to exploring England. After figuring out some cheap ways to use public transport around the place and discovering the economy of car hire when necessary, we’ve now taken many a road trip and seen many an awesome place right here in our own backyard. The country isn’t really that big either, so you can cover a fair amount of ground in just a few days, and if London is your only experience of England so far, you’ll be really surprised to see just how gorgeous the countryside can be and how much there is to see and do.
We can’t go putting everything that’s on offer in one post – you’d probably be overwhelmed with the possibilities! So we’ll just focus on a trip we took in the south recently and call this part 1. A short road trip over a weekend where we went from lion spotting on safari, to cave crawling in a gorge, to history hunting in an ancient city…
Our first port of call after leaving Southampton was a place that is well known to most Brits, but pretty much right off the tourists radar. We only found out about it in a conversation with a couple of our English buddies. Longleat Safari park is set on 900 acres of gardens and grasslands with an Elizabethan manor built in 1580 at the heart. You can explore the house and gardens, but the main attraction is the safari park where you’ll see animals from all over the world as you drive right through their open air enclosures. Buy your tickets online beforehand and keep your reference number handy, try to time it so you arrive right on opening to avoid crowds and queues. Head straight for the safari drive through, everything is well sign posted, and just before you enter the park, you’ll be given an audio guide CD to play in your car as you go.
The animals aren’t in cages, so they own the place. You’ll find yourself waiting for Zebra to cross the street and trying to carefully creep around stubborn camels. If you’re in a rental car like we were, then I recommend avoiding the monkeys, they clamber all over the cars and play with anything they can grab – the amount of broken windscreen wipers and dangling number plates we saw was pretty hilarious. Make sure you have some change on you to buy deer food when you get around to them. They won’t be afraid to pop their heads right inside the car to get those tasty pallets! You’ll see signs along the way that tell you if it’s safe in that area to have your windows down or not, I tried to be sneaky and open mine to get a shot of a roaring lion, but was very quickly spotted and told off – I’m sure you’ll still try it though!
After boarding the boat ride and seeing the seals, gorillas and hippos, it was back in the car and onward to the next stop. We packed plenty of snacks for the drive and jammed along to whatever radio station was in range. Driving into Cheddar Gorge is so cool, cliffs suddenly appear and rise to nearly 140 metres, it’s a playground for rock climbers. There is loads to do here – Gough’s cave with it’s mirror pools, secret chambers and gigantic stalactites is almost other worldly. You’ll also spot the only authentic cheddar cheese in the world, maturing in the cave as it has done for a century now. You can explore other caves, hike around the gorge top, check out lion rock (pictured at the very top of this post) and of course pay a visit to the Cheddar Cheese Co. and nab some of the only cheddar made in Cheddar – can you tell we love cheese? You can get a single ticket with access to everything, and if you buy the Longleat/Cheddar combo pass online, you’ll save money too.
We booked a sweet little cottage on Airbnb for the night, 2 minutes out of Cheddar town on a quiet street. These places can be a bit touch and go, but this was a definitely a winner. We cooked up vege fajitas for dinner (with some of our new cheddar) in the quirky green kitchen, lit the fire and drank a bottle of wine while we tried to put together a puzzle. Later on we made use of the bath tub for a soak, complete with lavender bubbles and enjoyed an undisturbed sleep in the cosy master bedroom upstairs. It was a 2 bedroom place, so with 4 people was only 20 pound per person for the night – with everything you need and more included, it was an absolute bargain.
Sunday morning started with a quick hike up Jacob’s ladder in the gorge, the tower at the top gives you views for miles over the green fields and rolling hills of Somerset. We then set off along the winding back roads to get to Bath – not on purpose mind you, it seems like a GPS will do anything to keep you off the main roads! We passed by vast open fields, farms and people riding on horseback before suddenly appearing in the middle of charming old Bath. First we visited Royal Crescent, the famous row of terrace houses built in a semicircular shape around the road’s bend. You pretty much have to wait for someone to die before you have a chance of buying here, and you’ll need to be rolling in cash. Strolling back to the centre, we checked out the Abbey and Roman Baths before heading to River Avon for a wander along Pulteney Bridge. We couldn’t leave without a visit to Fudge Kitchen, a little homemade fudge shop right near the Abbey. Be warned, there are free samples galore and you’ll get so buzzed on the sugar, you won’t be able to leave without buying a slab (or five).
The last stop on our little road trip was the Prior Park Landscape Garden, it boasts one of only 4 palladian bridges in existence with an 18th century design, and a spectacular view back over the Bath skyline. You could get completely lost walking the 6 mile circular route around the National Trust park, but there are plenty of shortcuts and other trails too. There are swings hanging in the trees, meadows made for picnicking, and although you are right next to the city, you’ll be in a ring of nature’s absolute tranquility. The easiest way to get here is to catch a bus from the city as there is no parking on site. But if you need to drive like we did, then try Priory Close right by the park entrance. The street has huge signs saying ‘No Parking Available’, but it was completely empty when we parked there and there are no restrictions at all on Sundays.
It was just a short drive back to Southampton to drop off the rental car and head home. A two day rental of a small car cost us around 60 pounds and we used 22 pounds worth of petrol, which we thought was great for the amount of ground we covered and the flexibility it gave us. If you’re under 25, there will usually also be a young drivers fee too, but even a small car fits 4 people, so divide up the cost with a few friends and it really is great value. A little tip, avoid hiring cars from airports if you can, there is always a big fat premium on top of the normal hire charge. A quick google will let you know if there is a city branch near by you can go to instead – we’re all about saving money here!
Keep an eye out for more tips on what to see around England coming up
What do you think about public transport vs car hire? We’d be ever so grateful if you shared your money saving road trip tips with us too!