In Edinburgh, Scotland, I bought my first $80 tank of gasoline. Or almost a tank. I only pumped about 10 gallons, but when the meter on the pump ticked 40 English pounds (about $80), my fingers instinctively let loose of the trigger. At about 1 pound (or $2) per liter, I paid almost $8 a gallon for gas to power my little English rental car whose name I could never figure out.
The car got more than 40 miles per gallon, which I earned by driving slowly and favoring 5th gear. When gas is measured in quantities the size of a whiskey bottle, every jigger counts.
The train from Edinburgh to Liverpool, England, would have been cheaper and quicker than renting a car, even for the day. But I had always wanted to see Hadrian's Wall and the Roman fortifications that stretch east-west 73 miles across northern England. The impressive stone wall, built nearly 1,900 years ago along a ridge to protect Rome's Britannia from invading armies in the north, was well worth the journey. Motorists will find travel markers and display museums that explain Roman life. At many points, you can get out of your car for a short trek up to and along the wall. I spent more than an hour on a nice afternoon wall walk near the rural town of Bidoswald in Cumbria. With the new Hadrian's Wall National Trail, you can walk end-to-end for the first time in 1,600 years. Check out the short video and plan your visit.
The drive south from Edinburgh also took me through Scotland's Borders area, where I could imagine the great military battles of Scotland's past. The land is wild and open with grazing sheep and twisting country roads that seem too thin for two cars to pass at 50 or 60 miles an hour.
Driving in the United Kingdom is always an adventure unless you are alone on the road. The British system of placing the steering wheel on the right side of the car instead of the left, so you can pilot your vehicle on the left side of the road instead of the right, takes some practice and occasional rubbing of tires against curbs on the left. Driving on the left is not all that difficult, but it is complicated by maddening signage at frequent circles called roundabouts that rob you of any sense of direction. Moreover, the American instinct in an emergency is to veer right. In the UK, right would take you into oncoming traffic. The key move is left, always left. Left around circles (clockwise). Left lane when turning right. But look right first, because at an intersection, cars arriving from the right will be in the closest lane, and if they are in the roundabout, they have the right (left) away.
Be prepared also for two-handed driving. Your right hand is busy with the wheel, while your left hand is needed on the gear shift, as most rental cars are standard shift, and you would pay a heavy premium for automatic transmission. Two handed driving means no time for taking a sip of water or coffee. That's the reason English cars have no cup holders; you don't have a free hand to grab a cup.
I rented my car on the Internet from 1car1, because a convention I attended in Manchester, England, offered a special rate of 99 English pounds per week. When compared with other rental car companies, 1car1 was competitive or lower, even on non-convention rates. But be aware: 1car1 rental sites tend to be off-the-beaten track in cities, and 1car1 offers no refund if you bring the car back early. I rented a car for 11 days, taking it back three days early, but had to pay for all 11 days. Also, parking charges in cities are exorbitant, as much as $30 a day, so you don't want to drive into a city and let the car sit.
David Molyneaux is editor of TravelMavens.net