Hitting the open road and driving from London to Cornwall? Or perhaps you want to reach the Duchy via public transport? Travel writer Emma Henderson shares her top tips when it comes to embarking on the big journey...
With its vast open spaces, sandy beaches and great food, Cornwall attracts a whopping five million visitors every year, with a fair amount of them coming from London, but making the trek down to the county can be long and time consuming.
Albeit, the London to Cornwall drive isn’t one of the UK’s most scenic – until you get off the main roads and into Cornwall itself, that is – but there’s plenty of great stops along the way that make it more enjoyable, from farm shops to ancient monuments and wild gardens to castle ruins.
The London to Cornwall route by car is roughly about 270 miles from the centre of London to Truro, but obviously it depends on your start and end destinations. By car on a good day, the journey should be about 5.5 hours. Of course it can be much longer, especially during school holidays, when the weather’s good and, if you’re going electric, the car’s range.
Driving is by far the easiest and most convenient way to get to Cornwall, although it’s not the most eco-friendly way to travel. But due to the lack of public transport infrastructure within Cornwall, it’s certainly the most convenient way to travel, especially if you want to be out and about exploring everything there is to do there.
There’s two main driving routes from London to Cornwall. The first – and my now preferred route – is going via the A303, which turns into the A30 in Cornwall. It weaves through lots of little villages throughout Wiltshire and Somerset and breaks up the rather monotonous journey that the second option provides, via the M4, the M5 and then the A30. The motorway option is slightly longer in miles, but can be quicker as the A303 switches between dual carriageway and single lanes. Although on the motorway route, especially during busy driving days, there can often be accidents causing sizeable delays, which if you’re in an electric car, can also be a worry.
I travelled from my flat in south west London driving an electric car, a Volvo C40, which has an impressive range of up to 315 miles. Although you could technically do the journey in one go within that range, it’s best not to let the car drop below 30% and you never know if a charge point will be free or working, so topping up along the way is the safest way to travel.
There aren’t as many charge points in Cornwall as there are in cities, and usually there’s only a couple of chargers, so it’s essential to plan your charge route. I’ve included useful charge points below at each worthy stop, too. The Volvo C40’s car’s navigation system also helps as I was able to search for the nearest charging points. But as they’re all different and require different apps or systems, it’s best to know which ones you want to aim for. I found InstaVolt chargers to be easy to use, relatively fast and were not the most expensive. They’re also usually at service stations so there’s food and loos available too.
Tips for driving from London to Cornwall in an electric car:
Although Cornwall feels quite remote, there are a number of ways to get there via public transport.
Flying from London to Cornwall
Cornwall’s got its own airport in Newquay, which although it’s tiny, it’s usually a breeze to get through, making it great for family travel as you don’t need to navigate the many perils (and expensive shops) of a larger airport.
British Airways, Ryanair and Aer Lingus have varying flights from all five of London’s airports to Newquay Airport, where fares can be as low as £32 one way. The earlier you book, usually the cheaper the flight. Another viable option is to fly to Exeter airport in Devon, and hire a car from there.
Trains from London to Cornwall
The Paddington to Penzance sleeper train is one of the most well known of its kind in the UK, only second to the Calendonian sleeper going north to Scotland.
Going to sleep in the capital and waking up in Penzance means you don’t feel like you’ve lost any precious holiday time. Single tickets start from £43 and take about eight hours, while day time trains are about five hours.
Trains from London to Exeter or Okehampton
You can also get the train to Exeter St Davids, or Okehampton in Devon from London Waterloo or London Paddington. Waterloo is the slower service (up to 3.5 hours), while the Paddington line takes between 2-2.5 hours. It’s a shorter journey than going to Penzance, but at Okehampton you’d have to rely on a bus to take you further, as there’s no car hire facilities, but there are at Exeter St Davids.
Undoubtedly Stonehenge is the best known attraction along the A303, and you’ll know you’re near from miles away, by the long seemingly unexplained lines of traffic it causes. Much like the unexplained jams, the prehistoric stone circle is largely a mystery as to how the stones came to be there. Stopping here is barely even a detour as you just turn off Longbarrow roundabout and follow the brown signs.
Address: For Sat Nav, use SP4 7DE, otherwise follow brown signs on A303
Opening times: Daily 9.30am – 3pm
Tickets: £20.90 for adults and £12.70 for children. Under 5s go free
Charge point: There’s eight high power chargers at different areas of Solstice Park services – the last services before Stonehenge, about 6 miles before reaching the site
After opening in 2020, this stop has revolutionised the journey on the A303, and it’s accessible from both directions of the dual carriageway. Although there’s no petrol services (charge points are coming in June), it’s still well worth a stop, especially if you have children and dogs as there’s an outside eating area (that’s also covered) for everyone to have a stretch. Inside there’s a cafe, an excellent food market that’s full of locally sourced and artisan produce, a cheese and meat deli with fresh and hearty sandwiches to takeaway, fresh veg and bread, coffee and a sit in cafe. It has plenty of the goodies that will make great gifts.
Address: 1 Orchard Lane, South Cadbury, Yeovil BA22 7FS
Opening times: Daily 8am-6pm
Food served between: Breakfast until 11am, lunch between 11-3pm
Charge points: 10 rapid chargers due to be installed end of June
If you need to make a deal with small people with something to keep them quiet in the back, Otter Valley cafe is a great little pitstop, literally on the edge of the A303 in the village of Monkton, and offers locally made ice cream, sandwiches, salads and light lunches, as well as pizzas to sit in. Dogs are welcome outside, too.
Address: Monkton, Honiton EX14 9QN
Opening times: Mon-Sat 9am-5pm. Sundays 9am-4pm
Food served between: Breakfast until 11.15am, pizzas between 12pm and 3.15pm
Where to charge: Route Restaurants Route 303, Honiton EX14 9ND (4 miles before getting to Otter Valley) has two rapid chargers
The last worthy pit stop before coming off the motorway or the A303 is Darts Farm, which is accessible whichever route you take to Cornwall. It’s been going for an impressive 50 years, after starting as a ‘pick your own’. It’s now a destination in its own right thanks to its huge food hall, complete with a butchery and deli, selling its own farm produce, filled hampers and other local and seasonal food. If you forgot about gifts before hitting the road, there’s an extensive gift shop too. There’s also its own vineyard you can tour, a sit in cafe and award-winning restaurant and a takeaway shack.
Address: Darts Farm, Topsham, Exeter, Devon, EX3 0QH
Opening times: Daily 8am-7pm, except Sunday 8am-4.30pm
Where to charge: Darts Farm has 25 super fast charge points on site
A stop-off on the dramatic north coast is a must, especially if you’re not staying nearby and could miss out. Head to Tintagel that’s steeped in myth and legend which is linked to fabled King Arthur. Here you can explore the ruins of the 13th century castle, cross the walkway to the island, see the life-size bronze statue of the mythical king and head down to the little beach, too.
Address: Castle Rd, Tintagel PL34 0HE
Opening times: Daily, 10am -6pm
Ticket price: For castle entry; adults £14.50, children £8.60
Where to charge: There’s a single charger in the Churchfield car park in nearby Camelford (about 6 miles away)
Charger type: GeniePoint
After leaving Tintagel, it wouldn’t be a trip to Cornwall without ticking off a few quintessential activities, and none is more ‘bucket list’ than Rick Stein’s fish and chips. As it’s so nearby, head further south on the A39 for 45 minutes to reach the ever popular fishing village of Padstow. Just beware of the seagulls if you opt for takeaway.
Address: South Quay, Padstow, Cornwall, PL28 8BL
Opening time: Dine in Mon-Sat 12pm-8pm, Sun 12pm-4pm; Takeaway Mon-Sat 12pm-8pm, Sun 12pm-6pm
One of Cornwall’s most famous man-made structures needs little introduction and it’s an easy pleaser day out for everyone in the family. Its famous biomes cover tropical and mediterranean climates, while there’s also a 660 metre long zip line (not included in the ticket price), and a new playground opening in July, which will be the largest in the south west and will no doubt keep kids entertained, while there’s a few places to eat including in the biomes, as well as an ice-cream parlour.
Address: Eden Project, Bodelva, Cornwall, PL24 2SG
Opening times: Depending on season; open daily from 8.45am – 6pm
Ticket price: From £33 for adult and £11 for child – tickets are annual passes
Where to charge: Eden Project, Banana Car Park
If you’ve already been to the Eden Project, head to another nearby marvel from the same creator, Tim Smit instead. The Lost Gardens of Heligan were brought back to life in the 90s after being left for decades to turn into a jungle. Its 200 acres of greenery include extraordinary plants and plenty of birds. There’s a cafe and takeaway food, including stonebaked pizzas.
Address: Pentewan, Saint Austell PL26 6EN
Opening hours: Daily 10am-6pm
Ticket price: Adults £22.50, children £9.50
Where to charge: Charge points are being invested in. The current nearest are at Willow car park in Mevagissey, two miles away.
Charger type: PodPoint
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