Cornwall by Car – A Guide to Driving Safely

Driving on holiday in Cornwall can be vastly different if you’re used to driving in towns and cities. We have written this essential guide to help you drive safely on your Cornish holiday. First time visitors often find Cornwall’s lesser roads a challenge.  Follow our advice and you’ll be better prepared to plan your road trips, drive according to the road conditions and when facing a vehicle coming toward you on a single track road.

Firstly, there are no motorways in Cornwall. Different driving skills are needed when you drive off the beaten track or are faced with narrow steep country lanes. Many are surprised it can take around 2 hours to drive from one end of Cornwall to the other. Cornwall’s major route is the A30 – a fast road made up largely of dual carriageway, travelling along the central backbone of Cornwall all the way to Penzance, with A roads spurring off to serve the north and south coast. South East Cornwall is largely served by the A38 and A390.

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    1. When to stay on 'A' roads
    Roadmap showing Cornwall A road network
    The 'A' road network in Cornwall

    If you’re trying to see several of Cornwall’s top attractions on a short break or on a touring holiday, then getting lost on back roads might result in a good story to share later with friends. However, it’s often better to stay on the A roads to get to your destination in the quickest time and avoid spending too much time in the car.

    Touring by car is certainly the best way to reach the hidden gems and lesser-known beaches. The rewards of getting lost in the rugged Cornish landscape do outweigh the stressful encounters you may occasionally have on single track roads.

    2. Should you trust your sat nav?

    Sat nav and Google maps often recommend the shortest route ‘as the crow flies’. In Cornwall, this might take you on roads with exceptionally steep gradients or on back lanes with grass growing up the middle and high dry-stone hedges either side. The base of these old Cornish hedges, so typical of the Cornish countryside, are made of unforgiving solid stone, deceptively hidden from view by masses of grass and wildflowers.

    If you’re a confident driver, the rewards are plentiful when you explore little used Cornish country lanes. You can more easily stop at will to spot wildlife, admire flora and fauna, take a walk or admire a view.

    3. When to honk your horn
    The winding lanes with high Cornish hedgerows can make it almost impossible to see oncoming cars. Keep in a low gear, proceed with caution and use your horn as you approach blind bends.
    4. Practice reversing skills
    As greenery often makes Cornish lanes seem narrower than they really are, there is usually more room than you think for cars to pass. However, any misjudged manoeuvre risks damaging your paintwork – an important consideration if you have a large or particularly high value vehicle. If in doubt, stick to the main roads and/or brush up on your reversing skills.
    5. Remember the last passing place
    If you find yourself facing an oncoming car, it helps to always note the last passing place as one or other of you will need to reverse. On single track roads, the highway code advises to give way to vehicles coming uphill.
    6. Take a paper road atlas
    When in doubt, and when sat nav and google seem to be getting you further into trouble, it helps to have a good old fashioned paper map or road atlas in the car.
    7. Download 'What three words' app
    If the worst happens and you find yourself stuck needing roadside recovery or the emergency services, it helps to know exactly where you are. Download the What Three Words app to your mobile phone before your holiday and you’ll always be able to let someone know your precise location.
    8. Take a day off from driving
    If you book accommodation with easy access to public transport, you can always plan days out without the car. If there’s only one driver in your party, this can give them a much-needed break and a chance to admire the views they frequently miss out on. Despite our idyllic rural setting 3 minutes from Looe, at Polraen Country House Hotel in the Looe Valley, we’re lucky to have onsite parking, and bus and the Looe Valley Line train service operating seven days a week.
    Single track Railway in Looe Valley from Sandplace Bridge

    East and West by car from Polraen

    You’ll quickly get used to driving in Cornwall, especially if you take heed of our advice. But to reassure you if you’re staying at Polraen Country House Hotel at Sandplace near Looe, it’s a direct route from our free onsite car park via the A387 to reach the A38. In less than 10 minutes, you’ll be on the A38, travelling east to fantastic beaches at Whitsand, the Rame Peninsula and Devon or heading west, perhaps to the Eden Project or deeper into Cornwall. You can always drive safely avoiding the back lanes.
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    RoadB3254 joining road A387 at Sandplace from Polraen car park

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    Telephone Gill & Martin
    UK: 01503 263956
    International: 00 44 1503 263956

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