Visiting the Cotswolds : Should you rent a car? Driving in the Cotswolds. Tips for Visitors.
Driving around England can be a bit of challenge to those used to driving on the right hand side of the road and our Cotswold lanes may be rather narrower than the highways and byways you are used to. Added to this, being in control of an unfamiliar car with the steering wheel on the right.
However, people sometimes ask me, “Is a car necessary?” when they are planning a visit to our cottage. I reply that it is not necessary but I highly recommend that you do. If you just want to live in the cottage and walk or cycle round the area that's fine and doable, but if you really want to explore the beauty of the North Cotswolds from our village base, then by far the easiest means to get you around is your own car. Our local bus services are patchy, particularly on Sundays. You may find you have either too long or too short a time between buses if you want to go somewhere and come back again. You are not your own master. However a new service(Monday to Saturday, 4 times a day) has sprung up between us and the station at Moreton in Marsh which means you can travel from the airport into London to get a train to Moreton and maybe delay renting a car for the first day and do that locally. This will avoid driving directly off a long flight.
I would recommend, when renting a car that you do not always jump at the opportunity to upgrade when they try to impress/flatter you with an offer of a bigger car than you have paid for at the rental place! On the roads around us and the surrounding North Cotswolds villages there is a high likelihood that there could be stone walls and hedges either side of the narrow lanes increasing the chances of scratching a rented/hired car. So think carefully about your skills as a driver! Of course, if you are intending to travel long distances before or after or even during your visit then you have to weigh up the relative merits of big comfortable car against smaller more manageable one.
But if you want to get off the beaten track and explore the 'inner' heart of the Cotswolds, for ease of driving the, sometimes, single track back roads, you probably should opt for smallest car they are offering and that will fit you. You will find manoeuvring, stopping in overtaking pull ins ( usually found on single track or extremely narrow roads, but not always....) reversing, etc. a whole lot easier in a small car. Remember also that if you are visiting towns or cities such as Oxford, that street parking is difficult. You will most likely have to park in a public car park which may well be a multi-storey. Most of these multi-storeys were designed when nearly everyone had dinky little cars and spaces allocated are completely unsuited to the wide SUV's of today so even in a little car, you may find you are squeezing into a narrow little space between two of these monsters.
For those unfamiliar with them, you really need to read up on roundabouts so you know how to deal with those. Especially confusing for the 'tourist' driver are what are still known (decades later..) as 'experimental' roundabouts. These are the ones where the driving circle is just marked on the road, barely raised. The high ones with grass and trees on hide the traffic coming from in front of you so really you just concentrate on everything emerging from the right, to which you must give way. There are some good diagrams to explain here https://www.highwaycodeuk.co.uk/roundabouts.html
I also found a blog on the web, written from the American perspective, about driving in England. I think he goes over the top in describing driving in the Cotswolds as a 'nightmare' so please don't take too much note of that! You can. of course, avoid the narrow lanes......but then you will then never know the secret and wonderful places you have missed seeing