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Crazy to drive London to Penzance on a Saturday in August?

Looking to travel from London to Cornwall on a Saturday in August. I understand Cornwall is crazy in August, with many people driving in on Saturday causing lots of traffic. Ideally we would get advance fare train tickets and then rent a car in Penzance. The problem is that the car rental in Penzance (and Truro as well) closes at 1pm on Saturday, and is closed on Sunday altogether. The 7am train doesn’t arrive until 2:15pm. I don’t want to get off the train at an earlier stop because it seems that would negate the point of taking the train to avoid traffic. The 6am train arrives at 12:37pm and I think that is cutting it too close. I really don’t want to leave any earlier than that. Would it be crazy to just drive from London?

Posted by
4665 posts

Who knows! Whereabouts in London will you be starting from as it can a substantial amount of time crossing London and how much time you have to spend of the M25. However, generally the earlier you start the less traffic you'll encounter apart from when you're close to your place of arrival.

Would it be easier to move the trip a day eariler and not have to worry about the early closure of the car rental?

Posted by
27721 posts

You said in a recent post that this will be your first time driving in England.

An August Saturday from London to Penzance isn't the way I'd want to learn.

Have you checked several places to rent a car?

Have you considered getting one in Plymouth or Truro?

The A38 on a summer Saturday isn't a great recipe for happiness.

Have considered going overnight on the sleeper?

Posted by
5547 posts

This drive on a Saturday in August will be hideous. Expect a 7-8 hour drive plus breaks for lunch etc. Not something I would want to experience and I am used to driving on British roads, whereas you won’t be. It was bad enough when I was a child, 40 years ago being driven to Devon on holiday on an August Saturday, but now, with double the traffic and many staying in the U.K. this summer due to Brexit uncertainties, the roads will be busy.

Consider taking the train to Exeter and hiring a car there if this gives you more car hire options.

Posted by
592 posts

Bristol is on the junction of the M4 and M5, so it is where traffic from London meets traffic from the Midlands and the North. On summer weekends, the congestiion is very bad, and often made worse with lots of trailer caravans and occasional breakdowns and accidents.

Different people approach the problem in different ways. Some argue for an early a start as possible. On occasion, and not recently, we have made a late start and so followed the congestion down to the south-west. We have had a fairly trouble-free journey. Travel on a Friday afternoon can be as bad or worse than travel on a Saturday.

It's all best avoided if you possibly can, and even more so if this is your first experience of driving in the U.K. The major risk is of low-speed shunts while you are tired and driving in heavy start/stop traffic.

Posted by
2 posts

I just went to Cornwall 2 weeks ago...I have driven around both Scotland and England for around 30 days prior to visiting the area- lets just say it isn't a place I would drive unless you are experienced with very narrow and slow roads. Penzance is not for the feint of heart die to the narrow roads some of which are two way but only fit one car. It's a beautiful place and you should visit. My suggestion is to fly into Newquay and rent the smallest automatic car you can find. Don't try driving all the way from London it will eat a good 9 hours up. Roads are slower down in those parts of the country. Also don't contemplate driving through Dartmoor - it's basically an exercise in road hazards. Marazion is lovely. Try to eat at mermaid alley in Penzance.

Posted by
389 posts

Flying to Newquay would be a good option except I suspect Saturday August flights are now either fully booked or hideously expensive. If you can make a train to Plymouth work that would probably be my preferred option balancing traffic and train

Posted by
45 posts

Thanks for all your feedback. If driving from London, we would rent the car at LHR, which would add another hour to the journey and probably some extra stress. We can’t move it a day earlier, airfare is booked. I considered renting the car in Truro, but they also close early. I figure if we get off the train further out, we’d just be stuck in traffic, thus negating some of the benefit of taking the train in the first place. I considered the sleeper but others said it wasn’t great for sleep. I will have to look into flying to Newquay, I haven’t checked that out yet. We definitely plan to rent the smallest automatic we can find! My husband is very comfortable driving but of course we will be extra cautious. I’m thinking maybe our best bet is to take a 4 or 5am train if I can get one. Am I correct to think a 12:37 arrival at Penzance rail station is cutting it too close to the 13:00 closing time?

Another question - I would like to take a daytrip to Tintagel. Is that doable from Penzance in August?

Posted by
5161 posts

So many people advised against driving from London and for you to pick up your rental elsewhere. I’m a little surprised you are sticking with your plan. I do hope you have a lovely trip.

Posted by
27721 posts

I wouldn't want to be the last person of the day arriving at a provincial car hire desk. Too much chance of only getting a rubbish car or being strong armed into something I don't want, need, or want to pay for.

But I can't magic a solution.

I don't want to push any particular potential solution but I will say that in all the years I worked on the British railways I never heard much bad at all about the Cornish sleeper. Unlike trains in the US it isn't subservient to freight trains, it doesn't stop to switch parts of the train in and out like in Europe, and generally has a good reputation, especially now since the new trains have come on.

There is an excellent description complete with videos on the Man in Seat 61, at https://www.seat61.com/Cornwall-sleeper.htm

Posted by
1889 posts

Are you locked into Penzance? It is way down the peninsula meaning a longer drive down from London v places in central Cornwall.
Do you have to get the car the day you travel down from London? If not, why not take the train all the way and spend the first night within easy reach (without car) of the rail station. You say that the car rental places are closed on Sundays. If so, would it not be possible to go somewhere on the Sunday by train or local bus? From Penzance, St.Ives springs to mind. Then pick up a car on the Monday for wider touring the County.
www.traveline.info is pretty good at telling you how to get from place to place using buses.

Map:>https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@50.3227886,-4.9034455,10.01z/data=!5m1!1e1

Posted by
2125 posts

I see there were posts on your other thread discouraging you from taking the sleeper. While it might not be like sleeping in your own bed, I agree with Nigel in that it’s a good solution to your logistical problems.

The first day time train leaves London at 07.02 – other than the sleeper there’s no good way of getting to Cornwall early enough on a Saturday to collect a car.

Posted by
149 posts

A trip from Penzance to tintagel is doable. I was staying in Mousehole, next to Penzance, and took a day trip up to tintagel by car. Lovely drive, spent a few hours at tintagel. It was the only thing I had planned that day and I was able to take my time and make a few stops there and back and I was back at my rental before dinner.

Posted by
239 posts

I think people are overstating the problems a little. It is likely to be a long journey with quite heavy traffic, but just set off early and be patient. Start expecting it to take a long time and you'll be pleasantly surprised if it doesn't (take quite so long, at least--it's still a fair old slog from London).

Posted by
4665 posts

Thanks for all your feedback. If driving from London, we would rent the car at LHR, which would add another hour to the journey and probably some extra stress

Adding another hour from where? Renting from LHR is one of your better options, a wider choice of cars including more automatics than you'll find outside of airport rentals and you have two relatively easy motorway options, either the M3 or M4, both of which are going to involve a bit of time of the M25 (the M4 less so but that route is slightly longer). Heathrow is on the correct side of London if you're wanting to head west so that will save you time.

I don't advocate driving straight from a long haul flight even more so a drive such as yours. have you contemplated a National Express Coach? A dummy booking made for a Saturday in August, LHR to Penzance resulted in the cheapest tickets at £84.40 for two passengers, leaving at 08:50 and arriving at 17:20. Yes, it's a long journey but it's a comfotrable bus, there's entertainment and free wi-fi on board, the driver knows where he's going and you don't need to worry about transitioning to driving on the left after a long and probably sleepless flight.

Posted by
45 posts

JC - I meant an extra hour traveling from our hotel in central London back to LHR to pick up a car. Basically the extra stress of navigating ourselves back to LHR with bags etc!

Pete - If it weren't a Saturday in summer, I would feel better about it!

James - thanks for the video link, very helpful!! Our trip is very short, and my priorities are Penwith, the Lizard, and Tintagel (if time), so that's why I chose Penzance. Thanks for the bus link, I will check it out.

Ashley - thanks for the feedback on Tintagel, I hope we are able to fit it in!

Ramblin - thanks for the encouragement to look into the sleeper again. It actually looks very nice! Makes a lot of sense to save a day of wasted time on a train, too.

Nigel - excellent point about arriving last at the car hire and getting stuck with what's left. Thanks for the sleeper link.

Thanks for your replies. I looked into the Night Riviera again as suggested and it sounds totally doable and could be a fun experience. However I'm disappointed to see that the booking window seems to have opened a long time ago (can book out into November already!), not 12 weeks before as Seat61 says and I expected... so there is limited availability and the price is at the highest point... a bummer as I have been patiently waiting for the booking window to open! Also seems like I can't book a child ticket online, looks like I would have to call the UK to figure it out. Our trip is short. We have 4 nights in Cornwall. My plan was day 1 (Saturday) - train from LHR and pick up car in Penzance, day 2 - explore Penwith, day 3 - explore the Lizard, day 4 - day trip to Tintagel, day 5 - morning train back to the LHR for evening flight out. Public transportation to explore the places we want to see looks possible but challenging. Could we do the Lizard on Sunday by public transportation if we had to wait until Monday to get the car? Is public transportation limited on Sundays? Another option would be to stay in London 1 day longer and take the Sunday day train to Penzance and rent the car Monday morning, cutting out 1 full day (the Tintagel day). I have wanted to visit Cornwall since college, so even just 2 days will be worth it to me. Thank you for your patience and help, we don't get to travel as often as we would like and we are really excited about this trip, even if it shorter than others would recommend.

Posted by
45 posts

Just found this on Seat 61: "there's a gap of several weeks when only expensive fares are shown, before the cheap Advance fares appear. So if the cheapest price you see when booking your London-Edinburgh trip 10 weeks out is over £140, don't be fooled into thinking "Oh no, the cheap tickets have already sold out!", just wait a few weeks until Advance fares magically appear from £25 upwards." Could this be what I'm seeing?