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Surviving Public Transport in Cornwall

The general rule is, if you’re visiting the folk in the vast and vibrant South West, you really have to drive. I would always recommend going by car if possible, but I also have first hand experience of not having that option. As a fully-fledged member of the Oh-Dear-This-Is-What-Happens-When-You-Max-Out-Your-Student-Overdraft-Then-Graduate-With-No-Sufficient-Funds club, I’ve had to make do with a few days getting around via the range of rickety yet charming little Western Greyhound buses. So, in a bid to advise my fellow purse pinchers, it’s time to tone down my usual cheeky-chops demeanor (well, to some extent anyway) and get informative.

Perfect For:
Getting there 'dreckly'
Planning your trip

Getting there: Going by train is Raileasy.

That six-hour drive each way (that’s if you’re going from London. From the North I dread to think) isn’t always the world’s most pleasant experience, particularly with a clan of bored brats (I mean, little angels) / aggravating, motion sick whingers (I mean, your husband or wife) / deranged and restless dogs (… or husband or wife) in tow.

Factor in hiking petrol prices, and you’ve got a pretty expensive feat on your hands. Plus, when you get all the way to your holiday spot, there’s the cost of pay and display, the hassle of finding parking in the first place – it’s not always straightforward. Especially if you’re trying to park on a hill in Newquay; if you’re not firm with that handbrake it can quickly turn into a case of straight backwards and crashing into a corner shop.

Going by train has some serious pros – one being that it takes half the time of driving. The quickest way would be to fly, though unless there’s a pretty deal going on Easyjet you may as well have spent that money on petrol and had your car at your disposal while you’re holidaying if you’re thinking in terms of saving pennies. That, however, is another positive to the ol’ railway – you can save an epic amount of cash. By booking as far in advance as possible with raileasy.co.uk, thetrainline.com or redspottedhanky.com your tickets are discounted by up to 80%. Bung in a rail card on top of that (Young Persons 16-25, Senior Citizen and Family) and you can save tons. If you qualify for a rail card but don’t have one, sign up anyway as you can use it to save on fares within Cornwall too. And, in fact, anywhere you go all year. So get on it, and treat yourself to a bottle in your first Boutique Retreat night with the savings.

Getting around: Just the ticket.

Ok, so Cornwall’s bus and train services can occasionally be a bit erratic, but if you’re on the ball you’ll be fine. Those of you already hyperventilating at the thought of having no access to the tube or a night bus should especially take heed, or else risk a bit of a culture shock.

Keep the Traveline number in your phone/pocket/sock at all times as it’s incredibly helpful. By the time one particular Cornwall visit of mine had come to an end, the poor pestered guy working on Traveline knew my mum’s maiden name, my star sign and my favourite shade of blue, but I found my way home. So call 0871 200 2233 to get you out of any bus timetable related shtuck, or avoid it in advance by planning a journey at www.cornwallpublictransport.info. Trust me, it’ll save a whole lot of hair horrors from waiting in the rain when the weather isn’t being too kind. At the risk of receiving a couple of OCD jibes from your mates, the more meticulous visitor may even wish to schedule an itinerary.

This info is particularly handy as buses and trains can catch you off-guard. They do not run all day, arrival times are not always the same minute past the hour, and trains – particularly those not on the Truro line – may do strange things like only appear every two hours (beware if you’re visiting Newquay), which will no doubt make your average commuter sick to the stomach at the very thought.

Happy Hint: If you’re going in or out of Redruth and need a bit of a caffeine boost, the lady in the station snack bar make a damn fine latte. Seriously, she could give Starbucks a run for their money.

It’s worth remembering that although the main Cornish bus providers are First Devon and Cornwall and Western Greyhound – cheeky green saucepots that they are – you can find odd little random routes served by alternative companies. One memorable example of this was discovering a Williams bus that ran at perfect times from Redruth, through the steep cliffs from Wheal Rose to Porthleven and dropped me in the centre of St Agnes. The route took me through some breathtaking scenery looking down over tiny Porthleven Bay. So engrossed was I in the sights that twenty minutes passed before I realised that the one other passenger on the bus was a man casually leaning on a sharp and shiny looking new hoe, which can make a lady travelling on her lonesome a little uneasy, and has certainly never happened on the no. 12 from Regent Street to Peckham.

Beware the bus driver: The Cornish folk are the friendliest people I have ever had the fortune to meet, but one way to get on the wrong side of your bus driver is to present him or her with a £10 note for a 90p bus fare. Carry cash with you all the time, and try and make sure it’s the jingly kind!

Car hire: Getting to the wheelie difficult places:

There will be places that just have to be reached by car in the South West no matter how pernickety you are with your planning. If you fancy a wander around Port Isaac and aren’t going from Camelford or Wadebridge for instance, expect a three-and-a-half hour journey each way. Yeah. I thought that might put a spanner in the works.

For the purse-pinching tourist reluctant to fork out for taxis (no matter how genial the drivers can be, they’re not going to help fund a single pint of your Cornish Rattler binge) the option of grabbing yourself a hire car for a day or two is a good alternative.

Personally, I was happy with the service I received from M Y Motors, Redruth (though anyone who has read my Port Isaac review is going to be well aware of the obstacles the average car hire virgin might be about to face – at least you got a pre-warning!). They were pleasant to deal with and charged a mere £25 per day – that’s a 24 hours so you keep the car overnight – for a smooth running silver Ford Mondeo (but if you really cannot live without a satnav, check the lighter slot out before you drive off). Don’t forget to factor in petrol costs too!

Of course, you may be going nowhere near Redruth, in which case check Yell.com for an extensive list of places to hire your Cornish cruiser from.

Steer clear (literally) of:
Country lanes near farms with tractors in the vicinity. Those bad boys aren’t too generous with their road space.

Strange routes that the satnav tries to make you take. If it seems illogical, do not drive it.

Driving through town centers. In Cornwall, it seems many of them were barely built for people, let alone cars.

Public paths: Follow the trail… On y’er bike:

Make a mission out of your journey on purpose!
Cornwall has many renowned scenic trails and public routes that’ll take you from A to B without any travel cost, and with the added benefit of working on those thighs of steel and taking on a whole lot of wholesome sea air.

The Camel Trail from Padstow to Bodmin (18 miles), Polzeath to Rock trail (2 1/2 miles) and the Falmouth to Porthleven trail (14 miles) are just a handful of popular trails that’ll take you meandering down lanes and across moors to your final destination. A better option for longer trails might be to go by bike (you’re never far from a hire shop in Cornwall), and if you wind up at the Porthleven end of the trail and need to crash at the sumptuously funky Blue Bar to recover, then so be it. You may not be enticing many unsuspecting young surfers though -I’ve heard the sweaty look isn’t exactly “in” right now.

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  1. ali

    I went 5 years in Cornwall without a car and had an intimate relationship with the 88. 89 and 90 buses! Ahhh the 5.55am from Falmouth to Truro, the Newquay “flyer”. Happy days. Needed a car to get to Godders for a sunrise surf though, but luckliy other people had them!

    If coming from London City Aiport – Newquay is a goer. Reasonable car hire on arrival too (or a chicken chaser bus. Why the hell not?)

    May 30, 2011 @ 10:28 am

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