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Overscheduled, insufficient time for trip to Cornwall, need advice

First of all, I want to thanks everyone who asked and answered so many questions previously. They've been very helpful.

Next, a little background information to help give context. Next March we'll be taking a family trip, flying into London. We'll have 8.5 days on the ground, not including our departure day. There will be 9 in our group (3 grandparents 65-70 yrs, 4 kids 5-13, and my spouse and me). This trip grew from my family just in England to include the grandparents and Paris. 3 years ago, my wife and I did 3.5 days in London and a week in Ireland/Northern Ireland, so we have some lay of the land.

So, on to the questions.

My wife insists on seeing Cornwall and I've been tasked with making it happen. She and the grandmothers all love Poldark, so she wants to be able to have them all see the area. I know it's a long drive and going to see it without spending extended time there means you drive for the majority of two days and have very little time to see things. We live in the Western United States and multiple times a year drive extended distances for vacations/visiting family and so my wife insists we can handle it.

So my questions are first, how to execute this plan and second, what would be an alternative location that would be more reasonable to visit that I could convince my wife of (she wants at least a day or two that is her choice and not just seeing the standard things in London and Paris).

Current plan is that our flight (already purchased) lands at 3:20 on a Sunday. We intend to take the HEX to Paddington and grab a train to Bristol and spend the night there. The next morning we'll rent a 9 passenger van from Sixt and drive to Bath, spending the duration of the morning there. From there, we'll drive down to Stonehenge and spend an hour before heading to the Newquay area, arriving in the evening.

The next morning (Tuesday) we'll get an early start and go over to St Agnes head and walk along the shore. There's a chance of doing something else as well depending on what my wife finds in her research. We'll leave the area by 11 to get back to Heathrow by 4, catching the 6:01 Eurostar for Paris.

So, my biggest concerns about this (other than acknowledging that it doesn't have sufficient time for food and breaks and gives us almost no time in Cornwall) are:

  • Will we be able to reliably rent a 9 passenger automatic van in Bristol? Sixt says I can rent one there (part of the reason for Bristol instead of going to Bath directly), but I'm worried that they won't actually have one available and then what? No one else in the group should/wants to drive.

  • What else am I not accounting for? Normally I expect that I can look at Google maps, add a half hour for a half day drive or an hour for a full day drive and be good. Google calls the drive from Newquay to Heathrow 4 hours and 10 minutes. I figure budgeting 5 hours gives me time to drop the rental car off after filling it up with gas and make the hour tube ride to St Pancras with an hour to get onto the Eurostar for Paris.

  • What sort of alternatives can I offer my wife that don't require a full day's worth of driving on an 8 day trip? Something outside of London, preferably nature based. Something that would be a good alternative to seeing the Poldark area, but maybe similar type of area.

  • Right now I'm trying to get tickets purchased, and rooms reserved. Planning for a group of this size has me worried about finding good places to stay and buying advanced tickets to keep things as affordable as possible. However, we haven't purchased/reserved anything other than plane tickets yet and so we can still shuffle things around.

After the Cornwall excursion, it's 3 days in Paris and 3 in London which I think I have a handle on.

Thanks for reading the rambling. I've been impressed with the quality of those who help to answer questions on this forum, and am hoping to gain some insights to have a great trip.

Posted by
1286 posts

Whew! Your title says it all. Your itinerary makes me exhausted just looking at it. I think you’re going to have 3 very tired grandparents and 4 very cranky kids. Can you rethink these first 3 days? I drove in Ireland many years ago and in Italy recently. I’d add an hour or two to all driving times plus more time for potty stops, food and unexpected sight seeing.
It sounds like Paris may not be up for discussion but if it was me, I’d leave that for another trip and enjoy England.

Posted by
3789 posts

Can you fly the wife and grandmas somewhere closer and let her drive them while half of you retain some sanity? I know it's not helpful but does any of this take into account narrow lanes, big vehicle, kids in cars, speeds that nowhere resemble North America, when 'stuff' happens? And is she sharing the driving? My personal belief is those who 'insist' anything, need to contribute to the solution or execution.....does she even realize what it even entails? I wish you all luck.

Posted by
8889 posts

Tuesday - drive Bath - Stonehenge - Newquay.
Tuesday Newquay - St Agnes. Leave 11:00 to Heathrow, 18:01 train ot of St Pancras.

Absolutely, totally, no way.

1) A 9 person "van" (people carrier) is BIG. It won't fit on the side roads in Cornwall, only on the main roads.

2) "Google calls the drive from Newquay to Heathrow 4 hours and 10 minutes." - Google is not in the real World. 6 hours minimum on a good day. And you will want to stop for food and other breaks.

3) Even if you assume you will get to Heathrow at 16:00, you need to drop off the car and get from the car hire place to the terminals in order to get to the tube station. The car hire places are outside the airport and require a shuttle bus to get to ath airport.

4) You need to be at the ticket barrier at St Pancras minimum 45 minutes before departure, 1 hour recommended, This is for passport control (2 x, exit UK and enter France), all before getting on the train.

Posted by
19161 posts

Something else to check about the rental vehicle: I have never rented in Europe, period, and I've never rented a vehicle for so many people anywhere, but I remember comments on this forum about some other country (could have been Italy) to the effect that vehicles above a certain size require a specialized (commercial?) license, not just a regular driver's license. I have no idea whether there's any such limitation in the UK, but don't waste any more time planning to drive until you've verified you can legally drive the size of vehicle you need. It's usually recommend that travelers check the consolidators (AutoEurope, Kemwel and Gemut) for rental rates, because they are often less expensive than going directly to the rental-car company. I've read that AutoEurope has very helpful telephone agents, and I think that would be a good place to start asking questions about license requirements for the type of vehicle you need.

And the luggage-capacity problem is real, based on other posts here. I really am doubtful that you're going to find a 9-passenger vehicle ("people-mover" in the UK, I believe) that will hold everyone's luggage. Even if there is space, it is not a good idea to drive around with a lot of visible luggage piled up inside a vehicle you are parking at restaurants and tourist attractions en route to your next hotel.

We have some UK residents here (like emma), and I think some others who have spent considerable time in England. They can suggest an area a lot closer to London that will provide a rural experience. However, I'm sure you realize there's a real risk that nothing will measure up to the dream of Cornwall (chilly, damp and windy though it is likely to be in March if you actually go there).

This itinerary seems to be a compromise. Compromise works well in general family life but not necessarily so well when you're building an itinerary for a very short trip. It can lead, as here, to far too much time in transit. I know you understand that. You just need to convince the others. Perhaps laying out the required travel time, in detail, will help:

  • Driving time from ViaMichelin for each leg of the driving portion of the trip. Pad generously to account for stops, getting lost, looking for parking, and walking from your possibly-inconvenient parking place to what you actually want to see.

  • Time to get to the car-rental agency and pick up the car. Time to return the car and get from the agency to your hotel or straight to St. Pancras.

  • Time to get everyone up, breakfasted and into the vehicle every morning. How many bathrooms are you going to have in your lodgings? How much will that limitation slow you down? I'm usually a solo traveler; sharing with even one other person has a noticeable impact in the morning.

  • Time at St. Pancras and (later) Gare du Nord for pre-Eurostar check-in. I've seen an hour recommended as the minimum at St. Pancras elsewhere on this forum. It won't matter that the official requirement is less than that if you miss the train.

  • Time to check into and out of each hotel.

  • Time to do laundry. Or are you going to try to carry 9 or 10 days' worth of clothes for everyone? Good luck fitting that in the rental vehicle!

Posted by
4867 posts

Bear in mind that March is usually wet, cold and miserable in western England - you may get some snow, particularly if travelling in the first half of the month.

You plan on taking a whole day (Monday) to get to Cornwall to leave there at 11am the next day? Sorry, this is a long time in transit for little reward. Your kids are going to be bored.

Others have already made the point of the size of vehicle you will require for you all plus your luggage. Google times are always significantly under estimated. Add at least a third even if there aren’t any traffic incidents plus stopping times for comfort breaks. The last time I drove back to London from Cornwall took over 8 hours as there were traffic delays and road closures.

You have little enough time for Cornwall, so don’t waste time heading back towards London to see Stonehenge and scrap Bath.

Work backwards. To catch a 6pm Eurostar, you need to be at St Pancras station at 5pm latest. Therefore, you need to leave Heathrow at 3.30 pm. Allow 30 minutes to return the car, so you need to get to Heathrow at 3pm. I would allow 6 hours minimum for this drive,so you need to leave at 9am. Personally, there is no way that I would stay in Cornwall the night before I had a 6pm Eurostar to catch. What happens if you miss the train?

If you book such a large vehicle, Sixt should have one available. You will pay a one way drop fee.

Why not fly EasyJet from Bristol to Paris? It still doesn’t give you much time in Cornwall but cuts down on the transport risks.

Alternatively, look at the New Forest, which has wild ponies on the heathland and it’s much closer to London. There are some pretty villages.

Posted by
6 posts

Thanks for the quick responses.

As you can all guess, this was not my plan for how the trip was to go when I proposed it. I would be perfectly fine to skip significant chunks of the trip and slow down, but that has never really been our vacation style. However, my wife will embrace reality, I just need to figure out how to present it and have a good alternative. Paris wasn't on the plan when she requested to do Cornwall, otherwise we would have structured flights differently and flown home straight from Paris. But Paris is there and not negotiable anymore.

Also, I welcome the reality check. So no one need apologize for telling the truth. It is much easier to correct what would be mistakes in the trip at this point in time rather than missing a train connection that will cost me over a thousand dollars to correct. The more I read on here, the more convinced I've been of the folly of trying to cram Cornwall in, but am trying to make the best of things.

I do appreciate the suggestion of flying Bristol to Paris. I'll investigate that. I've already examined and discarded the thought of flying from Newquay back to London as it doesn't solve the problem of potential delays derailing the trip.

We do plan on having an Airbnb in Paris and going laundry there, so baggage will be cut down. Probably two checked bags for everyone but grandparents and three carry-on sized bags (or medium checked bags) for them.

The 9 passenger van doesn't require special permission to drive, but I do recognize it will be large relative to the roads in many areas. I drive a Suburban here in the US, so the thought of driving that down some of the rural areas in England, I know that would be challenging. Basically my expectation would be to plan locations to visit around the ability to park there car. My wife did agree that she might be willing to drive if it was the only way, and if she did so we could have two reasonably sized (though still large for over there) that could accommodate us. She just wants everyone to be together.

I realize it's the middle of the night right now in the UK, but I still hope to get some advice on what would be a viable alternative that could satisfy my wife. Frankly we both would like to take a month or more on a future trip and enjoy more of the UK and get to see beauty of the country, including Wales and Scotland. Such a trip will wait until our children are older however.

Thanks again for the responses so far. Your generosity and insights will help my family have a better trip and I thank you for it.

Posted by
1286 posts

Reminder: all drivers (you) and potential drivers (your wife and any grandparent) will need an international driving permit, available at your local AAA office.

Posted by
12345 posts

I completely understand the desire to see the filming location of a favorite series. We included a two-night stay in Port Isaac (Doc Martin locale) on a recent trip and loved the experience. But we had the luxury of time, which you do not.

Yet here is a way to do it without that impossibly long drive. Quite simply, skip the van, use the train, and split up for the day. Like this:

After passing immigration at Heathrow, take the Heathrow Express to Paddington and catch a train to Exeter St. David's. This is a journey of 2.5 hours or less, with departures each hour in the afternoon, at a minute or 3 after the hour. You should be able to make the 17:01 but if not, the 18:03 will still get you there at a decent time. You will spend Sunday and Monday nights here.

On Monday, mom and the two grandmothers will take an early (8 am) train to Bodmin Parkway, just under two hours away. They will have pre-booked a tour like this:

https://www.poldarkscornwall.com/product/poldark-one-day-tour-exclusive-access-charlestown-bodmin-moor-and-nampara/

Arrange to be picked up at the Bodmin Parkway train Station just after 10, instead of at the beach carpark. This should be simple, given that the first stop is Bodmin Jail, and there will be at least 3 of you. Ask to be returned to the same station at the end of the day. The tour ends at Lanhydrock, which is quite close. The train ride back to Exeter St. David's is again under 2 hours.

Meanwhile, Dad, grandfather, and the children take the train to Salisbury, also about 2 hours away but in the opposite direction. Take the city bus or other transport to Stonehenge for a good visit, and spend the rest of the day seeing Salisbury and Old Sarum befor returning to Exeter To meet the ladies for dinner.

On Tuesday, the train back to London (Paddington) takes 2.5 to 3 hours, leaving you ample time to transfer to St. Pancras, store your luggage, and enjoy a bit of London (including Track 9 3/4 at St. Pancras) before queuing for your Eurostar train.

Posted by
4934 posts

We have driven twice in the UK and my research indicated and still does that Americans don't need the International Driver's License.
Our licenses are in English like yours.

We are planning a six night trip to Devon and Cornwall, with the first two nights in Exeter (next July). We plan on taking the train from Paddington to Exeter (a lot closer to Cornwall than Bristol).

One vehicle might not work, so how about two.

Posted by
6 posts

That is a seriously good idea Lola. Bath is not a must see, but simply we will be out that way and so why not. I don't know that anyone will be too upset to lose that. This gives my wife a reasonable time out in the Cornwall area, particularly Poldark related areas, without risking the trip bring derailed by poor traffic or other unforseen things. I also don't mind not having to drive an oversized vehicle around. I like it. Thanks for the idea. I think I can sell this to the group.

Posted by
765 posts

Lola - you sound like a very practical, logical person who just gave some wonderful advice. I hope the OP takes your advice. But one question - isn't Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross? What is "Platform 9 3/4 at St Pancreas"?

Posted by
12345 posts

Isabel, you are correct. Platform 9 3/4 is at Kings Cross, not St. Pancras. I just recalled seeing the sign and the people lined up for the photo, and thought it was when we were at St. Pancras before boarding the Eurostar. But it must have been when we were waiting for the train to York. In any case, the two stations are so close they can walk between them in 10 minutes or so.

So maybe the luggage storage facility I remember is at Kings Cross as well. . . .

Posted by
389 posts

Great idea from Lola. I would probably look at Bristol (1 hour train ride) or Bath (1.5 hour) as more interesting locations to take kids to over Salisbury (and closer). Also worth looking at whether flights from Exeter to Paris work better for you than train back to London and then Eurostar.

Posted by
1838 posts

Although most filming for Poldark does in fact take place in Cornwall, some actually takes place elsewhere. For example, the town of Corsham - which is between Chippenham & Bath - has been used for filming:>https://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/blog/read/2017/10/when-captain-poldark-came-to-corsham-b264
Here is the present local bus timetable for Chippenham > CORSHAM > Bath.http://www.faresaver.co.uk/timetables/5d6e1ebecf5bc.pdf

Due to the long distance to reach Cornwall, the BBC have also been known to film some coastal scenes in south Wales - at Southerndown in fact:>https://www.walesonline.co.uk/lifestyle/tv/scenes-bbc-drama-poldark-filmed-12514394
You can see where this is on this map:>https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.4535993,-3.5412188,10901m/data=!3m1!1e3!5m1!1e1

(It is possible to reach Southerndown by public transport. You would need to take a train to either Llantwit Major or Bridgend and then NAT bus 303 to Southerndown (3 Golden Cups pub). From here, it is about a 10 minute almost level walk to the top of some cliffs and then another 10 minute steeper walk down to the bay. A further 15 minute walk east through an old garden (Dunraven) brings you to a viewpoint east up the coast). The present bus timetable is here:>https://www.natgroup.co.uk/sites/www.natgroup.co.uk/files/303_0.pdf
To do this, it would probably be best to based in Cardiff - where you could also visit the Castle and if you have longer, St.Fagans Castle & Museum - which a short bus ride west of the city on Easyway 32A). Cardiff is a 1 hour train ride from Bath or 1 hour 45 minutes from London Paddington. www.nationalrail.co.uk (New faster timetable applies from 15 Dec.2019).

It is also possible to fly direct from Cardiff Airport to Paris using Flybe.
https://www.cardiffcastle.com
https://museum.wales/stfagans/
If you want to see the walk from the 3 Golden Cups pub to the beach at Southerndown - click the following link and go forward to the road junction and turn left:> https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.4522393,-3.6091285,3a,75y,272.65h,79.24t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1sU2aPlg2p1TcwukiXEG4qOQ!2e0!6s%2F%2Fgeo1.ggpht.com%2Fcbk%3Fpanoid%3DU2aPlg2p1TcwukiXEG4qOQ%26output%3Dthumbnail%26cb_client%3Dmaps_sv.tactile.gps%26thumb%3D2%26w%3D203%26h%3D100%26yaw%3D133.19064%26pitch%3D0%26thumbfov%3D100!7i13312!8i6656!5m1!1e1

If you still want to go to Cornwall, consider ‘The Night Riviera’ sleeper train:>https://www.gwr.com/plan-journey/journey-information/on-board/night-riviera-sleeper
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6wYd7IbhnI

To justify the long journey down to Cornwall, you really need to spend at least 4 days in the county. (Most Brits would say at least 6 days). https://www.visitcornwall.com
Whether you are travelling by train to Bath, Bristol, Cornwall or south Wales, you should be able to get a Group Save discount from Great Western Railway (GWR):>https://www.gwr.com/plan-journey/tickets-railcards-and-season-tickets/group-travel

Posted by
145 posts

Here’s what I would do.
Skip Cornwall entirely this trip. It deserves more time and go back in the future.
A lot of the last season of Poldark was filmed in Greenwich at the Royal Naval College. Since you’ve been to London’s before, spend a half day or day of your 3 days in Greenwich and see that.
I’d use those 3 crazy days in Somerset instead, see Bath and Wells. Wells was also used for some of Poldark.

Posted by
623 posts

I can't add much to the fine comments posted so far. But what occurred to me in reading this discussion: if you're going to include Cornwall in this trip, then just laser focus on getting to Cornwall as efficiently as possible after landing at Heathrow. Don't screw around visiting Bath or Stonehenge - they aren't Cornwall. You really won't have time. Don't clutter up the itinerary with a lot of "might be nice" stuff. Just go to Cornwall, and then to Paris, and unless somebody in your group is dead set on taking the Eurostar, save yourself a lot of time and aggravation by flying to Paris from somewhere out west, vs. backtracking to London to catch the Eurostar.

I've traveled from Penzance to London Paddington by train; it took about 5 hours. I believe it would have taken nearly twice that by car. I see that someone has posted a link to the overnight sleeper on that route from Paddington. TBH I think that with a large group including kids, the overnight sleeper isn't a great plan because sleep on that night is likely to be poor.

But I really endorse the suggestions to get as close as you can to Cornwall by train, then rent a car. And don't backtrack to London, just fly to Paris from the nearest airport with reasonable options in terms of schedule and price.

(Edited later to add: I'm operating from the understanding that there are two non-negotiable places to visit on this trip: Cornwall and Paris. And, therefore IMO you're better off keeping things as simple as possible, by focusing on getting to those places efficiently, and dropping the idea of adding other non-essential sites to the itinerary. Perhaps everyone will gain some clarity about just how non-negotiable Cornwall really is, if you develop a sensible, practical, efficient itinerary for getting from Heathrow to Cornwall to Paris. And there's always the very good ideas above, for splitting up and letting the Poldark fans do their own thing for a day or two. It's just that I'm a fan of keeping things simple, stripping away nonessentials and then seeing what might be added back in, if the situation allows it at the time. Hope that makes sense.)

I'm smiling at the idea of your multi-generational family expedition, and I hope you all have a great time!

Posted by
4765 posts

Flybe has daily 90-minute flights from Exeter to CDG. We flew them on a different short route last year and it was fine. But I have heard that they may be having financial trouble so check that carefully.

I agree with the previous poster, start with what's non-negotiable -- Cornwall, Paris, London -- and build from there if possible. Lola had a good plan, and you don't necessarily have to split up.

Cornwall is very slow going, the topography is hilly, most of the roads narrow. The weather won't be great in March, but the roads will be less crowded than in the warmer months.

Rome2rio is a good planning tool for getting places, though not always accurate. Best to book directly with railroads and airlines though.

Posted by
897 posts

No one has really mentioned the stress of driving in the opposite side of the road, esp. with a large van. Do not underestimate this. Driving with 2 people in a tiny car in Ireland was very stressful; I can’t imagine a big van with the whole screeching family. ;) Either find a train, bus, or a day trip.

Posted by
90 posts

Whichever you decide, train, minibus or both, i just wouldn't do this trip in March, especially with young children and grandparents for the reasons below.

April to October and particularly May, June and September are better months.
If there were just the two of you on this trip you'd have the resilience to soldier through any tedious travelling and deal with the unexpected. Also you don't know how jet lag will affect the other people with you.

In March the days will still be short, in March sunset is around 6pm, if it's an overcast day, will seem even earlier, no new foliage yet, bare trees and hedgerows, the opening season for many attractions and places of interest normally starts at Easter, in 2020 Good Friday is 10 April,

Travel sickness? I used to get very travel sick in the back of a vehicle, so 9 people in a minibus, along our twisting, winding roads, just the thought of this would make me stay behind, and the passenger seating layout? if its 3 seats across, the person in the middle seat gets the short straw, even if the seats have arm rests.

Posted by
2751 posts

I'm a firm believer that people traveling together should not always be together and that diversions make the vacation better for all parties. Why torture more than half the group with the Cornwall transit and visit based on a TV show appealing to only some? And, also, weigh down the interested group with the overpowering knowledge that others are not interested in this multi-day excursion? Let the adults who are interested in Cornwall, go to Cornwall, and let the balance of the group enjoy London a little longer. Meet up in London when all parties have had a chance to enjoy their separate portion of the vacation, or just all meet in Paris. Plus, it's lovely to have a trip with changes in the family group dynamics as it affords more intimate chemistry in different forms throughout the vacation. IMO

So if it were me, I'd encourage the three women to go to Cornwall on their own, while the rest of the family enjoys London. Then, depending on transit choices, either meet up in London before heading to Paris or in Paris. And, if the women won't go alone, then they don't deserve to see Cornwall. I know that sounds harsh, but if three adult women can't travel on their own, then they don't deserve the diversion. They don't have the right to ruin everyone else's vacation...your description of the first few days to include Cornwall sounds like Hell to me...and I'm not a teenager.

Driving in the UK is not like driving out west in the US so that is not a good comparison on your part.

Posted by
2834 posts

I agree with Wray. The children should not be dragged along on such an out-of-the-way trip when there are so many things that they would enjoy in London. It's understandable that your wife feels she has already seen London, but the children (and I assume, the grandfathers) haven't. By the way, the London Zoo is great-our college aged daughter insisted we go when we were there in 2014 and we all loved it.

Posted by
1321 posts

I suggest you show this thread to your wife and then renegotiate! Or, maybe step up and just say you don’t want to do it in such a hurried manner.
What you’ve suggested doing could derail your trip to Paris.
I want to visit a few extra places after a tour we’ve booked for next year. Hubby doesn’t want to, so I am happy with what we’ve got planned, as there is always next time!
I froze in Great Britain in June and July a few years ago so take in to count the weather too!

Posted by
12345 posts

Note that a lot of the negative comments relate to driving, and I agree with that. But I suggested an alternative above, and in the interests of marital harmony (which I always favor) I believe it is worth consideration.

As for the weather, yes it could be cold or rainy or both, but not necessarily so. My first trip to the UK (50 years ago when I was a student in Germany) was in March, with St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin and Easter in London. In between there were 4 of us driving around southern England in a Morris Oxford (not a Mini, thank goodness!) There was one rainy day in London, but what I remember most is the half-day we spent at Stonehenge: a beautiful sunny (but windy) day sitting in the undulating grass, reading a book with my back against one of the stones. That was before it was fenced. And in London the daffodils were in full bloom in Hyde Park, huge drifts of them. It was by no means dark and dismal.

Of course one cannot count on it being like that, so they need to be prepared for bad weather. But that applies at all times, not just March. Just look at the severe heat waves and then wild weather they had in Europe this summer and early fall. These days, you cannot count on anything when it comes to weather; just be ready for anything and be thankful if it is benign.

Posted by
14399 posts

You wrote that you and your wife spent time in the UK/Ireland 3 years ago, but you didn't mention the kids, so it sounds like it was just the two of you. What's it like when you take a trip in the US with all the kids? Are they okay strapped into their seats for hours at a time, how often do you need to stop and for how long? Who's going to get the middle seats in the van? When you pack up, are they efficient and helpful? Remember, everyone is going to be in unfamiliar surroundings and may not be as goal-oriented/focused as you are.