Driving at the London 2012 Olympics
The London Olympics runs from 27 July 2012 to 12 August, with the Para Olympics to follow through August. The majority of events are being held in and around London but events (mainly football) are also taking place in Glasgow, Newcastle upon Tyne, Manchester, Cardiff and Coventry. Sailing will take place in Weymouth and Portland on the South Coast.
Most visitors are likely to base themselves in London, and, even to a committed driver abroad like me, there’s really no point in renting a car to travel within the Capital. Many roads will be closed, and those that are open in the centre are subject to the London congestion charge, and parking will be difficult, if not impossible. Public transport links have been improved and I would suggest you make use of that for all events in and around London.
You may however, decide to extend your stay in England and the rest of the UK to see some of the country, or you may decide to rent a car to see one of the events being held outside London. If this is the case, I would strongly advise you not to pick up the car in Central London. Instead, take the Heathrow Express train out to the airport to the West of the City and pick the car up there. Heathrow is situated right next to the M4 motorway, which gives access to the UKs excellent, if often congested, motorway network.
Distances and approx driving distances and times from Heathrow to Olympic locations around the UK are as follows –
To Cardiff (M4 West goes all the way to Cardiff) – 220KM, 2 hours
(Local attractions – Cardiff Bay, Castle,National Museum, Millenium Stadium)
To Coventry (M4 West, M25 South, M40 West) 160 KM, 1 Hr 45
(Local attractions – Shakespeare country, boating on the River Avon at Stratford)
To Weymouth (M4 West, M25 South, M3 South, M27, A31, A354) 200 KM, 2 Hours 15
(Local attractions – Beaches, harbour, Jurassic coast)
To Manchester (M4 West, M25 South, M40 West,M42 North, M6 North, M56, A5103), 320KM, 3hrs 30
(Local attractions –John Rylands Library, Imperial War Museum, Museum of Science and Industry)
To Newcastle (M4 West, M25 North, M1, M18, A1) 460KM, 5 hours
(Local attractions –Northumberland Beaches and Countryside, Quayside, Tyne Bridge)
To Glasgow (M4 West, M25 South, M40 West , M42 north, M6, M74,M73, M8) 650KM, 6 Hours –
(Local attractions- tour of historic university, Glengoyne Distillery, nearby Loch Lomond)
Warning- Glasgow can be quite confusing when approaching from the South so you should expect to get lost. Don’t hesitate at the various motorway turn –offs, pick a route and stick to it. You can always come off at the next Junction and retrace your ‘steps’ if needed.
My pages on England and UK provide detail on which companies rent cars here- basically all the big companies have an office at Heathrow.
Driving In England
The main concern is likely to be driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road if you’re from USA or Mainland Europe. The English drive on the left and the steering wheel is on the right of the car. The gear stick will be on your left. (If you prefer an automatic car, you’ll need to specify that when renting as the majority of cars in England have manual transmission/ stick shift). As with Brits driving abroad, you’ll find that you adapt pretty quickly. The main difference you’ll notice is that at roundabouts, you’ll give way to the right. Also at a red light, in the USA you can turn right at a red light. No similar rule exists in England. (No I’ve no idea why. It seems perfectly sensible to me). Also on a multi lane road, you can only overtake to the right of the vehicle you’re passing. i.e you can’t do what the Brits call ‘undertaking’.
Roads in England are generally in good condition and in most cases the driving standards are high and rules of the road are upheld. Drivers used to Southern or Eastern Europe , Asia or Africa, will probably find that the speeds are slower than they’re used to and that driving style is quite polite. i.e tailgating and even use of the horn are frowned upon. Drivers may also flash their lights at you at junctions- this generally means they’re giving you the right of way, though proceed with caution if this happens.
England has an excellent system of multi lane roads (motorways) linking all main towns and Cities. The speed limit is 70 MPH (110KMH), though there are currently discussions on increasing this to 80MPH (130KMH) and you’ll find that most drivers travel at around this speed on motorways. As mentioned above, slower traffic should keep to the left on motorways as vehicles can only pass on the right.
The main motorways in UK are –
M1 – the main route from North to South up the centre of the country
M3- Main route from London to the South Coast
M4- London to South West and Wales
M5 –London via the South West to the Midlands
M6 – The North to South route via North West England and onto the Lake District and Scotland
M8 –Main route in Scotland linking Glasgow and Edinburgh
M11 –London to Cambridge and passing Stansted Airport
M25 –Circular route around London
M40 – Links London to the Midlands
M42 –runs South and East of Birmingham
M62 – Runs across England from Hull to Liverpool linking the urban areas of West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside
Speed cameras are prevalent throughout England and are usuallyindicated by a white sign with a black camera symbol, and the cameras themselves are generally painted yellow and are situated by the side of the road. The area on the road surface beside the camera has white grid lines painted on it too. Therefore you should be able to spot fixed cameras if you know what to look for. Average speed limits are a new development on English roads, particularly through road works. The average speed is clearly quoted and you’ll find that drivers generally abide by the speed limit in these areas, unlike on other roads with cameras where you should expect drivers to break the limit then slam on their brakes just in front of the camera! Police officers may use hand held speed cameras on motorways but its the fixed cameras which catch out most British motorists.
Obviously the British Isles are small compared to most other countries, but although the roads are in great condition, they do tend to be very busy, especially between 7am and 9.30 am and 4pm to 7pm. Therefore don’t underestimate how long it will take you to cover longer distances. Some distances between popular tourist locations are as follows (London distances are from Central London, knock about 15 KM if collecting a car from Heathrow) -
London –Birmingham – 190KM, 2 hours
London –Brighton -90KM ,1.5hrs
London –Manchester -340KM, 3.5hrs
London –York -335 KM, 3.5hrs
London –Edinburgh -650 KM, 7 hours
London–Bath – 185KM, 2 Hours
London –Oxford- 90 Km, 1 hour
London to Stratford Upon Avon – 164km, 2 hours
London to Stonehenge (Nr Salisbury, Wiltshire) – 140km, 1 hr 30
London to Penzance (Lands End) -460KM, 5 hours
London-Newcastle -450KM, 4.5 hrs
London –Cardiff – 240KM, 2.5 Hours
London –Hull (North Sea Ferry) – 345km,3.5hrs
London –Dover- 120km, 1.5hrs
London –Leeds, 320KM, 3.5 hrs
London-Liverpool, 340KM, 3.5hrs
Leeds –Edinburgh, 360KM, 4hrs
Hull-Newcastle – 230KM, 2hrs
Newcastle- Edinburgh -208KM, 2hours
Manchester- Lake District – 200KM , 2 hours
Lake District –Edinburgh – 160KM , 2hours
York –Edinburgh – 340KM, 4 hours
Edinburgh –Inverness -253KM, 3 hours