Having never been to England before and not wanting to drive in London, I decided to rent a car in Crawley, drive to the south coast and follow it west to the Dorchester area. Sounded like a better plan. We caught the train early enough in London and arrived in Crawley about 9:30 AM. In the rain. We grabbed a taxi to the Enterprise Car Rental location. The car wasn’t ready when we arrived, so we waited. After about 20 minutes, they pulled the Ford Fiesta up to the door.
It took a few minutes to get accustomed to the car. We ordered an automatic as I hadn’t driven a stick shift in a long while, and I haven’t driven on the left side of the road before. For safe measure, I also took out all the insurances. Expensive, but less so than the £1,000 deductible if you don’t take them and had an accident.
The biggest complaint most North Americans have when hiring a car in England, or Ireland, is having to pay for new tires when they bring the car back. Why is this? Well, within five minutes I hit the curb on the left side. No real damage other than some scrapes to the tire. It seems that driving on the left side of the road, and sitting on the right side of the car, throws your perspective off. The left side of the car is a lot closer to the curb than you think. Apparently, it happens A LOT.
Tough When You Don’t Know Where You’re going
Once we got on the motorway the driving felt a little easier. At least all the traffic was going in the same direction. Took us about 40 minutes to get to Brighton. Easy enough. Just take the A23/M23 south until you reach Brighton. Making your way through town is tougher. Especially when you don’t know exactly where you are going. I trusted that the GPS would take us to the beach. Which it did. However, there is a lot of traffic. And the streets are far more narrow than in Canada.
After maneuvering around some street closures (the GPS always wanted to take us back to the same place), we made it to the seafront. There is parking on the street if you can find a spot. We passed the pier and had to drive a while before figuring out how to turn around. Found a parking spot on the beach side of the road about 1km from the pier. Hit the curb again while parking. Not feeling good about this. Hit the curb five times the first day before I learned.
Most Visited Tourist Attraction Outside London
I had a little respite while at the pier. Brighton and the pier have been featured in several movies and television shows including the gangster thriller Brighton Rock, the comedy Carry On at Your Convenience. The pier was also featured in The Who's concept album and film Quadrophenia. Originally, the pier had a theatre which was very popular up until the 1970s until it was damaged by a severe storm. The theatre was replaced by an amusement park which attracts up to 4.5 million visitors annually. It is reported to be the most visited tourist attraction outside London.
The rain had stopped by the time we got out of the car. The walk to the pier was cool. The wind was blowing hard off the water. Surprisingly, there were Brits actually swimming in this weather. Too cool for me. I ended up buying a tourist hoody in one of the shops to keep warm.
Palace of Fun
Access to the pier is free. On entering you have to go through the Palace of Fun, which is a large arcade packed with the latest games, coin pushers, and action simulators. Great fun for kids of all ages. Further down the pier, there are many places to eat, from crepes and ice cream to fish and chips to a full-size restaurant – The Palm Court. Enjoy a classic, seaside meal or afternoon tea while enjoying the best views of Brighton.
At the very end of the pier is an amusement park with carousels, roller coasters, horror house, and various arcades. Many of the rides were not operating when we were there. Probably due to the cold and rainy weather. The roller coasters look particularly frightening being right along the edge of the pier. Rides can be on the expensive side if purchased individually. Plan ahead. If you’re going to go on a lot of rides, it is better to buy an all-day wristband online.
We had a very nice stroll, took lots of pictures and enjoyed some ice cream before heading back. A very enjoyable couple of hours. At the car, we set the GPS for Dorchester and were on our way.