Disembarking the massive cruise ship-sized ferry* that took us from Dublin to Holyhead in northern Wales, we went straight to the Hertz office where my father had arranged a rental car that we would return five days later in Oxford. The agreement was simple: he would drive, and I would navigate. Beside the fact that I hadn't been behind the wheel of a car for over three months prior to the trip, using a stick shift is a skill I have yet to learn. Dad, on the other hand, grew up on a farm and was driving tractors by age ten or twelve, and pickup trucks shortly thereafter - all manual.
As we sat in our punchy red Vauxhall for the first time, I asked, "When's the last time you drove manual?"
"Probably before your brother was born," he answered.
My brother just turned thirty.
One might think that driving on the opposite side of the road would be the biggest adjustment. Think again. Once we'd gotten closer to our first Welsh destinations, Caernarfon and Conwy, we stopped using highways and instead drove along narrow country lanes with encouraging signs that read "Oncoming vehicles in middle of road." Not to mention the occasional sheep and pheasants that liked to mingle with the traffic. Once we even descended a hill only to find that the road passed through a stream. It wasn't terribly deep, mind you, but had we been playing The Oregon Trail, we would have been prompted to ford the river.
And, of course, there were the roundabouts, which exacerbated the jerkiness of riding clutch, and would have undoubtedly given my mother great anxiety had she been present. (She is possibly the world's worst backseat driver).
Barring all of the above, however, the drive was wonderful. Imagine miles and miles of rolling green pastures dotted with sheep and delineated by low stone walls. The cinematic landscapes continued as we wound between hillsides made fiery with autumn leaves, weathered stone houses, and towns comprising a few hodgepodge streets at odd angles to one another. It was idyllic, like being dropped into the BBC adaptation of your favorite English Lit novel.
As Wales gave way to England, the landscape didn't change so much, but the names of the towns we were passing became more pronounceable and descriptive (Stratford-upon-Avon, Moreton-in-Marsh, etc.).
Even though part of the point of us going to the Cotswolds was to do at least a little trekking, the car provided unmitigated freedom and flexibility.
*But seriously, it had multiple restaurants and a small movie theater.