I live in the UK, so this is not travel writing. This is just a personal commentary on how things are. If you are thinking of visiting the UK, you might find some of it useful.
IMPORTANT NOTE: No-one visits England for the food or the weather. Remember this and you'll have a better time.
It's no wonder so many tourists come to London, for them it's easily the most interesting part of the UK. There are enough tourist attractions and things to see, do, eat and buy to last you a good long time. London is one of my favourite cities in the world, but sadly not one of the cheapest. In my opinion, Tower Bridge is the best sight, followed by Westminster. The entry price into attractions such as the Tower of London is a lot, but they've not worked out a way to charge for looking at the outside of Buckingham Palace etc, so if you're doing a trip on the cheap, stick to non-entry charge attractions, where you can see it all from the outside like Big Ben. Despite how it might look from the souvineers, not all British people are a bunch of flag-waving Royalists.
Chinatown is one of the most popular places to eat, and there are many all-you-can-eat restaurants which are good value but often only average quality. It's more expensive but better to get a proper restaurant and order from the menu - many of the restaurants do a very good crispy duck starter.
The South Downs is my favourite part of the British countryside. It's featured in the photograph at the top of this page and can be found between Brighton and Eastbourne, on the south coast. The are is totally unspoilt, has fantastic clifftop vies of the sea, and has beautiful gently rolling hills in various shades of green and yellow. The chalky cliffs are a uniquely British symbol and never fail to move me. The entire place reminds me of a Battle of Britain movie, and I expect to see a squadron of Spitfires heading out over the channel at any moment whilst I am there.
Manchester is a good substitute for London if you happen to be far from the South East. A recently regenerated city centre and a lot of architecturally interesting buildings make it a fine place to be, and it has a Chinatown too, just like London.
Some of the places in the UK that I'd recommend visiting are: Cambridge, Oxford, The Air museum at Duxford (If you're into aeroplanes), York (and it's train museum), The Lake District, most of Scotland, the Cotswolds (where, if you're a tourist, you'll almost certainly find the "England" you are looking for), Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, Brighton, Chester (Full of black/white Tudor style buildings) and North Scotland. If you want to go to Stonehenge, then bear in mind that, A: You're going to have to pay to get anywhere near it, unless you want to look through a wire fence from the side of the road, and B: You can't get that near to it even when you do pay - they don't let you sit on it or anything.
Much of the West Midlands is best avoided. Go to Coventry if you really want to see the cathederal, but forget the rest of Coventry unless you have a passion for 1960's concrete architecture. Also worth avoiding are Wolverhampton, Telford and Stoke-on-Trent.
If you are going to travel by train around the UK, there are two things to bear in mind. One: It's very expensive. Two: The service is terrible. I came home from work by train just the day before writing this. My train was 30 minutes late. All of the trains on the departures screen were delayed by some amount. Anything between 5 and 40 minutes delay is normal. Whatever you do, don't plan any timed trip around the train service. Many of the InterCity trains are now new, which helps a bit. The Voyager and Pendelino trains are very nice, but unfortunatley the state of the track is poor. The local regional trains are on the whole, dirty, old and not very nice - and usually crowded. There's nothing like paying for a overpriced ticket to stand all the way in a manky train.
The worst train journey you can take is on a local Centro train from Wolverhampton to Coventry. Here you will have a dirty and garishly coloured cheap looking train full of rubbish to take you through some of the worst trackside scenery in the UK. Factories, scrapyards, disused buildings, chimneys, muddy builders yards, more scrapyards, a not very clean canal with some cars lying in it, scrap railway rolling stock covered in grafitti and some of the most dreary and tedious towns in the West Midlands with such "exotic" sounding names as Tipton and Tile Hill.
In my opinion, by far the best restaurants and take-aways in the UK are Indian. There are many Indians in England, and they have brought their fantastic cuisine with them. Most towns of any size will have at least one, and many towns have upwards of 10 Indian restaurants/takeaways. Cities have countless. It's worth trying a few to find a really good one. There's a good reason it's become our national food, and some travel guides reckon it's the best Indian food outside India. Indian beer, such as Cobra or Kingfisher is also good, and goes very well with the food.
We like it. Most other people don't. I guess it's what you're used to. At least try Fish and Chips, with salt and vinegar. Chip shops are better in the north of England.
The weather during October-November is almost non-stop rain. The winter months are only tolerable at best - generally a mixture of cold and rain. Spring and Summer are the best times. Sometimes the summer is good, like 2003, sometimes there is hardly a summer at all, like 2002. Autumn used to be nice, but in the last few years has turned into a rain-fest, except 2006 which was very very hot for quite a long time.
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Copyright © M.F.Hughes 2003-2007