England,  Europe,  Travel Anecdotes,  Travels

Driving in the Upside Down

If you have seen the Netflix show, Stranger Things, you know of the upside down, an alternate dimension existing parallel to the human world. Everything is sort of the same, yet completely different.

For an American, that is what it is like driving in the UK. The steering wheel on the right side of the car? Driving on the left side of the road? Parking any direction regardless of the flow of traffic? Who can live like that?! 

In 2018, we took a one-day, small group tour around Dorset and the Jurassic Coast. At the time, we thought how fun it would be to stay for an extended time in one of the coastal towns we visited. For this trip, we knew we had already planned to go to Northern Yorkshire after London, so why not add a diversion over to the coast in-between. We decided to stay in a few different towns and take our time. The best way to do that was to rent (or hire as they say in the UK) a car.

In Australia, years ago, I had driven a right-hand drive, so I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with the process. I was still nervous, however. 

Originally it was going to be three and a half of us on the drive, Frank, Morgan, Scrappy dog and me. Then Maria, Frank’s sister, decided to join us in London and on the Jurassic Coast portion of our trip, so we upgraded from a compact car similar to a Citroen 4 to a small van to fit all four and a half of us and luggage.

The morning we were to leave London, we caught the bus to the car rental agency to pick up our ride. We arrived to discover the van was not so small. It was a Citroen SpaceTourer and it was a beast. Big, tall and like a rectangular box of metal, the beast was a small room on wheels.

The Beast

Frank is not a fan of driving or being on the road even in the US. I’ve never been sure if that is due to a nervous temperament in general or my questionable driving abilities.  We drove through London traffic back to pick up our luggage and the rest of the gang and I am pretty certain that he held his breath the entire 20-minute drive.

After packing up the van, we headed out towards the coast. We were traveling through neighborhoods from Kentish Town towards the roadways out of London. I was breathing deep and trying to relax as I gripped the wheel. It was a overcast day, but not raining thankfully. I was driving up a high street lined with shops and parked cars on one side and an open park on the other. As we were driving up the street Frank said, “You are really close on this side” and at that moment my left side mirror caught a delivery van’s open side door and made a loud scraping sound. We both freaked out and while in the process of trying to pull over, up the street, I proceeded to clip the front of another parked car. Go big or go home I suppose.

Luckily for me, the delivery man was calm and very kind, and we exchanged information and surveyed the damage, which was minimal thankfully. I left a note with an apology on the other car with all my information, including my UK phone number, and how to reach me.

Once out of London, I was still shaken, but we got to some larger roadways and headed towards the coast. The roadways were fine, but Google Maps always seemed to take us off the main road and into little villages where the roads are exactly big enough for two cars, but they allow for parking. Pulling to the side and waiting for a break in the oncoming flow of traffic became the norm.

Driving through the town of Corfe Castle I was pretty sure Frank and I were going to lose all composure. The small lanes, old stone buildings up to the edge of the road, people walking to the Corfe Castle (which is stunning), and double-parked cars gave us both small heart attacks every ten feet.

Once the van was parked in Swanage, our home base for a week, I didn’t move it again until I went to exchange it for a much smaller car. Weirdly, neither the car nor delivery van had reported any damage, I’m still glad we had full coverage.

With the new smaller car, I was able to feel a little bit more in control, it wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t the upside down either.

I am a storyteller and I have been my whole life. I don't mean I lie, I just like to tell a tale or two from my experiences... and what is better than to help inspire others to experience something I love.