Arriving in Britain
You basically have two choices as to which airport you will fly into, London Heathrow or London Gatwick, and this choice will depend on which airline you decide to fly with. From the United States, it is best to fly direct if you can, and it is often more econonomical to fly via what are known as U.S. Gateway Airports, such as Chicago O’Hare, Washington Dulles, or New York JFK, to name three. The downside of flying with one or more stopovers is that it can add several hours to your journey and, if your first flight is delayed, you may miss your second flight altogether. Flying direct can take between approximately six and a half to eleven and a half hours each way, depending on the U.S. city you are travelling from. It generally takes a little less time going from the U.S. to the U.K. This is because the prevailing wind across the Atlantic, otherwise known as the Jet Stream, always blows from west to east, providing a literal “tail wind.” Your outward bound flight will most often be an overnight flight, landing you in London on the morning of the next day. Your homeward bound flight will generally be during daylight, and you will most often land back in the U.S. either during the afternoon or early evening. Britain is ahead of the United States time-wise, and this can vary between five hours, if you are flying from the East Coast, to eight hours if flying from somewhere in the western U.S.
London Heathrow Airport
The busiest of London’s two main airports. London Heathrow is situated on the western edge of the Capital, and is closer to both London and to central southern England than Gatwick Airport. The airport enjoys excellent road and rail links to both destinations, and has all the major car hire companies on site, as you would expect of any major international airport.
Travelling by Road from Heathrow
From the airport, take the M4 Motorway east, and just keep on going, following the signs through Chiswick and Hammersmith to Central London. This is not, however, as easy as it might seem. The roads going into London are extremely busy as well as difficult to navigate, and we recommend you not attempt this drive if it is your first time driving in Britain, on “the wrong side of the road” as well as with a whole different set of driving customs and signage. Furthermore, you will have to pay what is known as a “Congestion Charge” if you wish to drive into Central London. More is explained about getting around London on the page entitled London. If you wish to travel into London, it is much easier to travel by train and the underground. You may also find it difficult and expensive to park a car in London.
To the Rest of Britain
From the airport take the M4 Motorway west and follow the signs for the M25 Motorway. This is just a few miles from the airport. The M25 Motorway orbits London, so from here you can get to any of the major roads and motorways from which you can travel to any part of Britain. Again, if you are new to driving on British roads, be careful on the M25 as, even though it is a motorway (and therefore, more straight forward than many of the other British streets, roads, dual carriageways and highways), it can be both busy and fast. Driving in Britain for the newcomer is best attempted on a full night of sleep, and not immediately after a wearying overnight journey on a plane, after which you are likely to suffer from jet lag, and your senses are not likely to be sharp and crisp!
To Central Southern England (Crop Circle Country)
From the airport take the M4 road west, go across the M25 and just keep on going on the M4 until you reach the north Wiltshire town of Swindon. Leave the M4 at junction 15 and travel south along the A346 to the town of Marlborough. You are now in Crop Circle Country.
If you wish to travel to south Wiltshire, to Salisbury, Stonehenge, or even down to Glastonbury or Cornwall, from the airport, first take the M4 west, turn onto the M25 and go south, or anti-clockwise, and at junction 12, about 6 miles, take the M3 Motorway and go south-west. When you get to Junction 8, which is just past the town of Basingstoke, turn onto the A303. This road will take you right past Stonehenge, which is just past the town of Amesbury, 8 miles north of Salisbury. From Amesbury you can also easily travel north, and within 15 miles, you will be directly in the heart of Crop Circle Country.
If you wish to travel to Glastonbury, keep going southwest on the A303 for another 8 miles, where you will turn onto the A36 and head west, past the towns of Warminster, Frome and Shepton Mallet. From here, Glastonbury will be sign posted and will be a further 10 miles. Be on the lookout for Glastonbury Tor after a few miles out of Shepton Mallet, it is an impressive sight when viewed from this approach to Glastonbury.
If you wish to travel on to Cornwall, then from Amesbury just keep going south-west on the A303.
An Important Note for People Adventuring Forth in Britain Via Automobile
Don’t be fooled by apparent short distances! It can appear an easy drive on a map, from say, London to Glastonbury. But ‘as the crow flies’ and how things ‘really are’ on Britain’s roadways are two quite different things! Although the motorways can be fast and direct, if, as in most cases, you need to venture off of them to get to where you are going, you will find the roads twist and turn at a whim, and relatively narrower than most of the roads you are used to back in the States! Always give yourself plenty of time to arrive to your destination, if driving yourself, it may well take twice what you are used to back at home. In addition, when you venture out in a car, you must rapidly become used to very different driving customs and signs that what you are used to, not the least of which is driving on the “wrong” side of the road!
Travelling by Rail from Heathrow
The London Underground – This will take you to both London Waterloo and London Paddington railway stations, which serve the north Wiltshire and south Wiltshire areas as well as the south west of England.
London Paddington Railway Station serving Swindon, Bath and Bristol, with a connecting bus service available to Marlborough from Swindon - From the airport, travel until you reach Earl’s Court station. Transfer here to either the District or Circle line Northbound, and travel on to Paddington.
London Gatwick Airport
A little less busy than Heathrow, but also a little further away from London and central southern England. Like Heathrow, it has all the major car hire companies on site or nearby, as well as good road and rail links.
Travelling by Road from Gatwick
From the airport, take the M23 Motorway north. Go across the M25 Motorway where, after a short while, the road changes to the A23. Keep travelling north through Croydon and follow the signs for Central London. Again, I would like to emphasize that if you are new to driving on British roads, you may find your way into London difficult. Furthermore, as mentioned above, you will have pay what is known as a “Congestion Charge” if you wish to drive into Central London.
To the Rest of Britain
From the airport take the M23 Motorway north to the M25 London Orbital Motorway.
To Central Southern England
You have two choices; the longer scenic route that will take you to the south of county Wiltshire, or the faster motorway route that will take you to either the south or to the north of Wiltshire.
The latter will take you, firstly, north along the M23, then west, or clockwise, along the M25, until you reach Junction 12 for the M3 Motorway, taking you to Salisbury and the south-west of England via the A303.
Secondly, if you stay on the M25 for a little longer, until Junction 15, the M4 Motorway will take you to Swindon and Marlborough – see ‘Heathrow Airport Road Directions’ above.
For the more scenic route, take the A23 south to Crawley, then the A264 west to Horsham. Keep on the A264 to Billingshurshurst. Just before Billingshurst the A264 turns into the A29 at the village of Five Oaks. At Billingshurst, take the A272 west through Petworth, Midhurst, Petersfield and on to Winchester. Carry on through Winchester and continue along the A272 to the small town of Stockbridge. There you will join the A30 which will take you to Salisbury. This route will probably take you about three hours, but will be well worth it, since you will be travelling through some beautiful countryside and quaint English villages.
Travelling by Rail from Gatwick
Please also refer to the corresponding section above under ‘Heathrow Airport’ for travelling from London to your final destination.
Trains leaving from Gatwick Airport go to Brighton on the south coast, and into Central London. Unlike Heathrow Airport, Gatwick Airport is not linked to the London Underground system. You will, therefore, have to catch a regular train into Central London to connect, either by the London Underground or directly by train, to your final destination, depending on which railway station you travel to. From Central London, as mentioned above, you can travel by train to any part of Britain, including Crop Circle Country.
Gatwick railway station is directly linked to the South Terminal of the airport, and only a few minutes away from the North Terminal. Rail information and ticket desks can be found in both terminals.