To London and back in 24 hours

So, when I came to Glasgow a couple of months ago, I left most of my things in a storage facility in Southwark, London. A few days ago it was time to finally go back for it.

My life, compressed into a 15ft storage unit.

I looked into having it shipped, but after someone quoted me £700, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I went over and over the problem and came up with a solution – not a great one, but probably the simplest one – I would take a bus down to London, rent a car, and drive back up to Glasgow (North Lanarkshire, to be precise) the next day.  I planned to do the trip that quickly to save money, both on accommodation and the cost of the car rental.  Unfortunately it didn’t leave much time for sleep.

But anyway, I was determined.  On Monday night I took a taxi from where I stay in Motherwell to the Hamilton bus station in time to catch the 22:55 National Express coach to London Victoria. As it turns out, Hamilton bus station is NOT a fun place to be late in the evening. I kept myself a good distance from the other bus station patrons – a couple who were smoking (indoors, I might add) and shouting unintelligibly at …each other..the wall…life in general.  Thankfully, as it turned out, they were NOT waiting for the same bus I was.

Hamilton bus station, a unique cultural experience.


I got on the bus and, mercifully, fell asleep, only waking up for the middle-of-the-night motorway services stop all long-distance buses seem obligated to make.

The bus pulled into London Victoria as the sun rose. After reviving myself with a muffin and a coffee (the first of many that day) I walked to the Avis car hire place and picked up the car, which was in a parking garage around the corner.

And that was the start of my first time driving in London – a rented car, following a night of interrupted sleep on a bus. I haven’t driven very much in the last couple of years anyway, and the last time I had driven in Britain was 2014. So, suddenly I was in a rented Peugeot with right-hand drive and a manual transmission (these things barely exist in America).  And also, London. Anyone who says they enjoy driving in that mess is LYING.

It took me nearly an hour of intense concentration to get the 5 or so miles to the storage facility.  But as I really didn’t have that much stuff (kind of just too much to take with me on a train), the car was loaded in 15 minutes.

My stuff again, this time on a trolley.

Then, ick, it was time for the bulk of the London driving.  It took over an hour to get to the motorway and my planned stop at London Gateway services on the M1. On the plus side, my (avoiding congestion charges) route took me over Tower Bridge, which was exhilarating to drive across… on the minus side, at one point I nearly got squished between two red buses.  I mean, it was so bad I let out an involuntary scream and was surprised to emerge unscathed.

I celebrated my survival of the London Driving Experience (someone could make a theme park ride out of it) with a latte at the motorway Starbucks, composed myself, and got back underway.

Oh it was a long way. Britain seems like such a tiny country…until you actually have to drive it.  “The South” went on forever.  I felt like I had been driving all day by the time I stopped at Norton Canes services in The Midlands (which, incidentally, was where the coach had stopped in the middle of the previous night, giving me the distinct impression I was going around in circles).

And it was boring. So, so boring. The M6 Toll road was kind of exciting but only because no one else was on it (this, by the way, is what every road is like in America). Only once I got to the Lake District did the scenery get interesting.

The view from Tebay services, near Penrith.

But then, just as there were things worth seeing, it started to get dark. And I was still in England, with no sign of Scotland – literally. England got more and more sparsely populated as I went north, as though I was running out of country.  But still, not a single sign mentioned Scotland until just south of Carlisle (by contrast, “The North” is signposted all the way down in London).  I felt like I was just expected to know it was up there.

However, after Carlisle there were plenty of signs telling me Scotland was indeed imminent, and by then I was too tired to stop anywhere, preferring just to get it over with. Sheer force of will got me across the border (not a real international border, but there was a very large sign in two languages), to the A74 and M74, and home.

I unloaded the car at 8 pm, 21 hours after I had left. I got some sleep and returned the car to Avis in Glasgow at 8 am the next day.  My mission was a complete success, thanks to Google maps, a lot of Starbucks, and the all J-pop playlist on my iPhone.  But even though it all went well, I really don’t want to do it again. Fortunately, I can’t think of a reason why I would.  Everything I own is now in one place and I can get on with my life.

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