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  1. #1
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    Any Brits here? National Rail questions

    My wife and I are visiting England later this month, flying into London/Heathrow on July 5. We are heading straight to Gloucester from there and returning to Heathrow on July 12. I am trying to buy round-trip rail or bus tickets ahead of time.

    It seems like rail fares are not that much more than bus, so I'm leaning toward taking the train. The cheapest tickets have something like 3 changes with about 8 minutes to get from one train to next at each station. Does this sound like a reasonable venture for someone totally unfamiliar with England or its rail system (although we do speak US English)? Or would we be much better off getting more expensive tickets that involve only one station change? The difference in cost is about 45 Lbs total for both round-trip tickets between the least expensive tickets (with lots of changes, and part of return trip on bus) and tickets that would only involve 1-2 station changes.

    Alternatively, bus tickets via National Express would cost about the same as the cheapest rail tickets (82 vs 86 Lbs) with about the same travel time but involve no transfers or station changes. Bus tickets would cost about 50 Lbs less than rail tickets that involve fewer station changes.

    Any advice would be appreciated.

  2. #2
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    I'm British although I have been in the US for 15 years which has seen the break up of the national rail service into numerous smaller companies. 8 minutes seems like a pretty small amount of time between changes but a train station is pretty small compared to an airport (and no security) and the platforms are all pretty close, even at a large station like Kings Cross, nothing is more than a minute or two walk. Once you are out of London a lot of the smaller stations only have two platforms or 4 platforms. Also if you miss a train you can wait for the next one, depending on which ticket you get they are usually not so restrictive, the cheaper it is the more restrictive, but if you miss one you wait for the next (if you reserved a seat on a train it doesn't carry to the next train). Given the costs, I would personally take the bus. Firstly, flying for so many hours is exhausting, you'll have all of your baggage, the bus is hassle free, you get on it and then get off it at the correct place. It is really easy to get on the wrong train, usually you just jump on, find a seat and teh conductor comes around during the journey to stamp your ticket, it is at this point that you find you are on the incorrect train, so you have to get off at the next station and wait for the train going in the opposite direction.
    Don't wait too long to buy your tickets, prices increase dramatically as you get closer to departure. We always rent a car but we usually have a few days in London and take the train down there from my family home.
    Not sure I answered your question at all but if you have any specific questions that I can help you with, let me know.

  3. #3
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    Not a Brit but I still have a few scars from living there

    The bus is probably the easiest--it is a small country (despite what the Brits think) and the odds are pretty good that you can find your way to the bus loading platform in Heathrow. (Heathrow is enormous, disorganized, crowded....).

    Only direct train service to Heathrow is the Express that drops you into Paddington -- of the London stations it is the easiest to navigate so changing once there is no big deal. And the Express train platform in Heathrow is dead easy to find.

    Looks like the second change is at Swindon for the cheaper train ticket--the odds are that given the shambolic state of the trains, it is completely possible that the connecting train may not be available, or could be delayed.

    If you like trains, or if they are a novelty I would lean towards the more expensive train ticket.
    "Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary." Reinhold Niebuhr

  4. #4
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    Will you be needing a car while you're in Gloucester? If so, have you thought about renting at Heathrow? I'm generally in favor of using public transportation, but if you'll need a car at some point it's worth considering. I've travelled (briefly) in the UK with my family a couple of times, and I kind of enjoyed the adventure of driving on the "wrong" side (I never got very good at the left-handed stickshifting thing). Heathrow is west of London, so you wouldn't have to negotiate any London traffic to head for Gloucester. It's about a hundred miles.
    Ubuntu: I am what I am because of who we all are.

  5. #5
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    Any Brits here? National Rail questions

    Thanks for all info. It helps a lot. Leaning toward the bus right now, for cost as well as convenience. Don't want to rent a car. Did that in Ireland and it was scary

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by tarwheel2 View Post
    Thanks for all info. It helps a lot. Leaning toward the bus right now, for cost as well as convenience. Don't want to rent a car. Did that in Ireland and it was scary
    Some people seem to adapt better to the 'wrong side of the road driving' and probably are less affected by jet lag. But I have heard lots of stories of people hopping off the red-eye, hopping into their rental car and taking off mirrors or worse.

    As you probably found in Ireland, the roads are in general narrower, the drivers seem crazier and it never seemed to me to be a good idea to jump into a rental.

    We'd been there a week or so before we rented what turned out to be a large vehicle for the UK (some kind of mid-sized mini-van by American standards) on the weekend to go visit our cats who were quarantined. Piloting that thing along English country lanes at speed was challenging even after a good week to get over the jet lag. Then I drove it into central London on Monday morning to take my wife to work--seemed easy enough since the van didn't have to be dropped until midday.

    OMFG--nothing in my previous 30 years of driving prepared me to go down Edgeware Road and Park Lane and through Hyde Park corner in rush hour in a vehicle that felt like a semi compared to the Smart cars, buzzing scooters, crazy motorcyclists etc.
    "Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary." Reinhold Niebuhr

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    When we were in Ireland, I don't think I ever saw a car that had its outside mirrors intact. They were all either missing or damaged. No explanation needed for how that happened after driving for 5 minutes. Driving from Shannon airport to Galway ranks as one of the most terrifying experiences of my life, mostly due to a lifetime of habit driving on the other side of the road.

  8. #8
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    I flew into Ireland with my family, landing at Shannon on the red-eye, and then drove all the way to Armagh in Northern Ireland that day (400 km). This, I will admit, was poor planning. But we did stop at a lot of pretty spots along the way. Only once did I pull onto the wrong (right) side of the road after a stop, but it was a scare. Woke me right up.

    We later drove to Dublin, then back west to Galway and eventually to Shannon again. The mirrors on our Ford S-Max (one of those nifty mini-minivans) were intact at the end.

    I had had prior experience driving on the left, on a previous trip to England and a couple of trips to Antigua in the Carribean. That did help with the adjustment.

    I do not second-guess tarwheel's decision to stick with public transport.

    paredown, I have driven in New York and Rome, but London traffic is freaking insane.
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    I won't need a car anyway because we are doing a walking tour. What's the point of a walking tour if you have a car? I might be tempted if the Mercian or Bob Jackson bicycle works were close to Gloucester, but it looks like they are 100 miles away or so.

    I'm curious about what the bicycle shops will look like in England, or if I will even see any. During two trips to Ireland, I never saw a bike shop and few cyclists on the roads except for students on mountain bikes in Galway.

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    A walking tour in England. That sounds wonderful. I've always wanted to do that. Perhaps someday.

    What made you choose Gloucester?
    Ubuntu: I am what I am because of who we all are.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by tarwheel2 View Post
    I won't need a car anyway because we are doing a walking tour. What's the point of a walking tour if you have a car? I might be tempted if the Mercian or Bob Jackson bicycle works were close to Gloucester, but it looks like they are 100 miles away or so.

    I'm curious about what the bicycle shops will look like in England, or if I will even see any. During two trips to Ireland, I never saw a bike shop and few cyclists on the roads except for students on mountain bikes in Galway.
    The bike shop thing was interesting--there are still several in downtown London that bear the names of classic shops (GR Evans is the one that comes to mind), but they really sell only modern stuff and do repairs. I didn't find that many of the classic frame building/bike shop combos although I did journey out to see Roberts Cycles in Croydon, which is pretty low key--a few bikes in the shop, and a few components on the wall but they speak bicycle.

    I bought my Mercian from a young guy in Sheffield when we were there--he had purchased it directly from Mercian, partly because his father had been a sponsored racer back in the day. He told me that visiting was a cool thing to do, and someone else posted recently in Bikes and Frames about buying factory direct. It would probably be a nice day trip.
    "Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary." Reinhold Niebuhr

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    Any Brits here? National Rail questions

    We're walking in the Cotswalds and that's where the tour guide is basing our trip. It's supposed to be a very scenic area. We also did a walking tour while visiting Ireland. It's a great way to travel

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    Quote Originally Posted by tarwheel2 View Post
    We're walking in the Cotswalds and that's where the tour guide is basing our trip. It's supposed to be a very scenic area. We also did a walking tour while visiting Ireland. It's a great way to travel
    The Cotswolds are awesome!

    We just did a drive-by--it is beautiful.
    "Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary." Reinhold Niebuhr

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    Quote Originally Posted by paredown View Post
    The bike shop thing was interesting--there are still several in downtown London that bear the names of classic shops (GR Evans is the one that comes to mind), but they really sell only modern stuff and do repairs. I didn't find that many of the classic frame building/bike shop combos although I did journey out to see Roberts Cycles in Croydon, which is pretty low key--a few bikes in the shop, and a few components on the wall but they speak bicycle.

    I bought my Mercian from a young guy in Sheffield when we were there--he had purchased it directly from Mercian, partly because his father had been a sponsored racer back in the day. He told me that visiting was a cool thing to do, and someone else posted recently in Bikes and Frames about buying factory direct. It would probably be a nice day trip.
    I was back in England in March and had almost a week in London with my wife whilst we left my kids with my parents up north. My wife had to work so I had quite a lot of my time to wonder around London. I made it to 2 bike shops that had recommendations in London, first was Push because they sell Mercian and I was interested in picking one up but alas they only had one in the shop and it wasn't at all what I was looking for. The owner was a younger guy and I spent about an hour chatting with him about all sorts of things. Second was Condor bike shop, not at all what I was expecting, big glass fronted showroom. The staff was rather arrogant, disinterested and unhelpful to say the least, left there fairly quickly, not worth the short tube ride.

    Did get on the wait list for a Mercian but I didn't make it to Derby because the weather in March was terrible, lots of snow and it is about a 1.5 hour drive through the worst of it to Derby from where my family still lives. But from what I read regarding Mercian and the reasonable costs compared to some of the US steel builders it seemed like a fairly low risk adventure. So far my interaction with Grant at Mercian is top notch, questions answered within 24 hours and fully.

    I hope you have nice weather for your walking tour. Europe seems to have given up on summer in the last couple of years. I've done quite a lot of hiking in the Scottish highlands and especially the Lake District. Quiet country pubs are always a nice distraction!

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    Any Brits here? National Rail questions

    I actually have a Bob Jackson touring bike that I ordered direct from England
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Any Brits here? National Rail questions-bj-tour-build.jpg  
    Last edited by tarwheel2; 06-05-2013 at 05:31 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tarwheel2 View Post
    I won't need a car anyway because we are doing a walking tour. What's the point of a walking tour if you have a car? I might be tempted if the Mercian or Bob Jackson bicycle works were close to Gloucester, but it looks like they are 100 miles away or so.

    I'm curious about what the bicycle shops will look like in England, or if I will even see any. During two trips to Ireland, I never saw a bike shop and few cyclists on the roads except for students on mountain bikes in Galway.
    Hello.

    Do hope you have a pleasant vacation and your travel plans go well.
    There are lots of cyclists and cycle stores (shops) in Britain .
    In a town the size of Gloucester there is a "HALFORDS" cycle and motor vehicle store having a section specialising in cycles.
    There will also be small shops ( L.B.S )
    Possibly you could speak with a local cyclist for directions to the cycle shops.
    Please remember when crossing the road the traffic comes from the "wrong" direction.

    Yours
    Doug. Henri.

    I would argue that the worst driving and drivers are in Paris !!!!!
    The Roue Periphery IS A NIGHTMARE !!!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Doug. View Post
    I would argue that the worst driving and drivers are in Paris !!!!!
    The Roue Periphery IS A NIGHTMARE !!!
    Navigating in downtown Paris is pretty exciting too.

    Friends have told me that the worse driving experience they have encountered is Tokyo--I hope I get there to try it out for myself. Others have said Rome--also on my list.

    The general problem though is unfamiliarity--I am unfazed by New York city traffic, since I have a few years under my belt--but when we first got here--OMG it seemed insane. I have had passengers cover their eyes while traveling at speed on the FDR Drive--is is more like getting dropped into a video game than any other driving I've done.

    When you're the stranger, and everyone else knows exactly where they are going (and has expectations about the acceptable level of craziness) traffic will always seem insane, I think.
    "Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary." Reinhold Niebuhr

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