As it gets closer, I have been spending plenty of time wedding planning. It has begun to creep into the fabric of my being. On top of it, I’ve also been planning and explaining travel options to my lovelies back in the US. As I’m aware that many of these lovelies already follow the blog, I thought I’d post some of this information here. Even if you aren’t coming to see us any time soon, I imagine it will give you some ideas for any future travel plans you might have for the UK outside of London. Long story short, international travel is going to eat a half a day coming in and another half coming out. Be prepared. Also, unless you’re going to be in the city your flight leaves from the night before, it is almost guaranteed to be a sleepless ordeal for you to get to said airport.
The majority of people will be flying in to Heathrow and leaving Heathrow, although I realise that some may also opt for Gatwick on one leg or another. There are even some intrepid souls who will choose to forgo both options and fly to Europe and then double back and fly right into Norwich Airport. I’ve chosen to explain flying in from Heathrow and then out from Gatwick to maximise usefulness, as getting back to Heathrow basically means doing the same thing in reverse. The same can be said of getting from Gatwick. Keep in mind, like all things, the price of transport will rise the longer you wait to purchase the tickets. Anyway, we shall begin!
Bus – National Express
Your simplest, though not as pretty option. You’d literally catch a coach (read: bus) outside of the terminal that would take you straight to Norwich Bus Station. If you’re looking in advance, I’ve managed to pull up a sampling of options just fiddling with the website, leaving you plenty of time in case of late planes or long queues at customs. It stops at other places along the way, which is what will always give you the 4.5 – 5 hour journey. It is a viable option if you’d like to very briefly see Cambridge, Newmarket, Mildenhall, and Thetford – or try and sleep for a bit. Norwich is really in the backwaters in terms of flights. Also, the super cheap (~£15-£20) trip can require you to get off at a bus station and reboard another bus in the middle of London. The bus drivers will be helpful if you ask for any advice on this, but I’ll leave it up to you how good you think your mental faculties will be after a long flight.
Train – National Rail
This one could be a bit more of a challenge, as it’s not so simple as jumping onto a bus. In this case, you’d have to get through customs and then follow the signs that lead you to the Underground (it’ll probably read Heathrow Terminals 1,2,3). Once there, you’ll need to purchase an Oyster Card from one of the lovely humans at the desks if you don’t already have one. This is the reloadable card and by far the cheapest way to travel in London. It’s good for the Underground, the bus, and the river transport. It’s also good forever, so as long as you don’t lose it, you can come back any time and your money on it will still be good. (Speaking of, I should probably see what I have on mine!) It costs a grand £3 for the piece of plastic and I think they make you pre-load it with a set amount, but you should be able to put £10 on it and just be charged a grand £13 for a really handy piece of plastic.
From there, you’ll go to the barriers that you’ll see people streaming through with the little green arrows lit up. With your new toy, you just need to tap it on the little blue circle at the top of the barrier and it’ll let you straight through. Be prepared and have your Oyster ready, as Londoners are notoriously grumpy about people who hold up the traffic whilst digging for their card. They may even tut and sigh. Also, there will be a luggage-friendly barrier that you may want to use. If you aren’t quick, the barrier likes to hug your bags and you have to fight them out.
Your only option will be to take the Piccadilly line towards Cockfosters. I will be ashamed if you don’t giggle at the name when they announce it. It is hilarious. Fight your way to a seat as soon as you can and ignore people giving you evil looks for having a suitcase. They are jerks. You will then just ride deeper and deeper into central London past 20 stops that should take about 50 minutes of travel. You should then get to Holborn, where you need to get off the Piccadilly line. If there’s a crowd that won’t move, just push your way to the front and mutter sorry sparingly. They’re used to it. It should be pretty dead when you’re riding it though, unless somehow you’re on the Tube during morning or evening rush hour. After you’ve gotten off the carriage head towards the exit signs until you start seeing options for other lines. You’ll be looking for a red coloured line called Central Line, and you’ll want to be going East on whichever one comes first. Don’t worry about whatever ‘via’ line it is. That one you’ll ride for 4 stops or about 5 minutes until you get to London Liverpool Street (sometimes just labeled as Liverpool Street) in which case you jump off and follow the exit signs. Do not shorten the name and ask how to get to Liverpool Station. You will be laughed at and told you’re in the wrong city. Once through the barriers (in which you’ll need to have your Oyster ready to tap again), just follow the signs for Liverpool Street Station, or the little red rail logos with white arrows on them.
At that point you’ll be directly in the station. We’re assuming you’re a clever person and have booked your tickets in advance, which means you just need to go to one of the machines all over the middle of the station, put in the card you paid for the tickets with, punch in the code they’ll have emailed you, and follow the instructions to have them printed. Hold on to all the tickets it prints. Sometimes you’ll need them for inspection on the train. With your tickets now in hand, you need only to look at the giant board overhead that will read places and times. Find the one that matches the place and time of your ticket and wait for it to say what platform you will need. Since it’s an advance ticket, you have to get on the time you chose, not before or after. Once it has a platform number, head to the platform and feed your ticket through the barrier. Grab it when it pops back up and head to the train on that platform. Chances are that you’ll have a reserved seat because you bought an advance ticket, so look at the tickets and they should have a Coach and Seat written on them. You have like a 90% chance of being in Coach C, and that it’ll be at the very far end of the platform. If you can’t be bothered to walk that far, you can get on any Standard Coach and sit in any seat so long as they don’t have a reserved ticket on the top of them. There will be luggage racks at either end of every coach, and some overhead and under seat room as well.
From there, you just need to get cosy and sit there for a good 2 hours. Sadly, Greater Abellio don’t have a trolley service, so you’ll have to get up, grab your purse, and walk to the buffet coach (they’ll announce which one that is at the start of the journey) if you want any snacks or drinks. Even better is that you’ll be riding the train from end to end, so there’s no panic of missing your stop and ending up in Edinburgh. You can sleep if you want and they’ll wake you up to check your tickets and/or tell you the train is in Norwich. You’ll likely discover you have a magically ability to wake up right before pulling into every station along the way. You’ll get off the train, through one last set of barriers with your ticket (you can toss them at this point if you want), and you’ll pop out in good old Norwich!
Last I looked we were still about 2 weeks too far ahead to book train tickets in advance, but based off figures for a random Tuesday in November you’d be looking at about £9 or £13 for your ticket. Anyway… Now for the way back! I promise the rambling will be much shorter. Maybe.
Bus – National Express
This is all under the assumption that you’ve likely got a flight back Monday morning. In that case, both the train and the bus options are grim. Because you have an international flight, you want to be there with 3 hours to spare. With the bus, you’d either want to get a hotel and stay the night Sunday night close to the airport or be prepared to leave at late hours and kill some time in the airport. And it’ll be a 5.5 – 6 hour journey either way. If you wanted to stay near Gatwick Sunday night, I’d recommend the Best Western Skylane that is currently advertising £44 a night and has 24 hour complementary shuttle service to and from the airport.
Train – National Rail
This one could be just as awful, depending on what you want to do. Really, international travel is a righteous pain in the bum. Again, you’ll have the option to go down Sunday evening or go super early Monday morning. Looking at staying the night Sunday evening, you can catch a couple different trains ranging from early afternoon to evening times for an estimated £20. Again, if you wanted to stay near Gatwick Sunday night, I’d recommend the Best Western Skylane that is currently advertising £44 a night and has 24 hour complementary shuttle service to and from the airport. There may be other hotels worth looking at, but that’s probably a similar price no matter where you end up, and these have a guaranteed ride.
If you want to go in the wee hours of the morning, there are early trains (pre-5:00 even) that will cover your travel all the way to Gatwick and includes the Underground fares. You’d get your tickets from the machine in Norwich, then take the train from Norwich to London Liverpool Street and go back to the Underground entrance. Do not throw away any tickets! Instead of using your Oyster card this time, you would feed your train ticket into the barriers. You’d get on the Central Line again, but this time going West for only one stop. You’d jump off at Bank, then look for the Northern Line (a black line instead of red) going South for one stop. You’d get off at London Bridge (of rhyme fame!) and head upstairs towards the London Bridge Train Station. From there, you’d do the whole song and dance of finding your train again. This time though, you won’t be going end to end. It’ll likely say to Brighton or similar, but underneath will be a list of all the stops along the way. As long as the time is right and your stop is on that list, you’ve got the right train. This can be explained much easier at the station help desk if you’re a bit lost. Get on that train, then keep an ear out for the conductor who will say when your stop (Gatwick) is coming up. Or just watch the time. For instance, this one should get you there at 8:24, so if you felt antsy you could gather all your belongings and stand at the door by 8:20. From there, you’ll hop off the train and should be within shouting distance of Gatwick.
So yes, there are some options. A common theme I am seeing is that a lot of folks don’t realise that just because the UK is smaller than the US, doesn’t mean that it’s small. Please plan accordingly, so you don’t miss out on any of the wonderful things there are to see and do!