Essentially, I suggest you read at least the last 30 pages of the NATS Application process thread. That will answer most of your questions.
As for your girlfriend and dogs being in the midlands, I rather suggest that a decision will need to be made for what regularity you need to keep the relationship happy. I am under the impression that the first two months at the College are pretty hard-core, and that travelling to the Mids is unlikely to be an option on your weekends. But that after the initial 2 months it calms down, a bit.
As I've said, best thing to do is to thoroughly read the NATS website. Read the last 30 or more pages of the NATS Application Process thread, and then finally ask any questions you still have there. There is a veritable army of helpers on that thread raring to encourage you and help you along.