Driving the 240 miles from London to Plymouth via the M4, M5 route usually takes about 4.5 hours – but that’s on a good day.
Holiday traffic, roadworks and accidents can all conspire against you to make your journey time far longer. If you’re in no great rush, you may want to take the more direct and scenic route along the M3, A303 and A30.
Congestion and delays are inevitable along this latter route which connects London with Land’s End. But it’s a pretty trip, taking you right past Stonehenge and other places of interest including the Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton.
The good news is that once you get to Plymouth, there’s very little congestion considering this is the 15th biggest city in the UK. Parking and driving in the city centre is relatively stress free and major traffic jams are rare, even at the height of the holiday season. The only occasions when you’re likely to get caught up in serious hold-ups are when there are lane closures or diversions to gas or major road works.
A revamp of the city centre’s ‘West End’ means you can now park right outside the shops and the very delightful indoor City Market (formerly known as the Pannier Market and still called that by many of the locals). Parking is restricted to an hour though so head for one of the city centre carparks if you’re planning a longer stay.
Plymouth is a very compact city and it’s easy enough to get around the city centre either on foot or by bus. But if you plan to explore the surrounding countryside then a car is your best bet.
Exeter is an easy 45 mile drive to the east of the city along the section of the A38 known as the Devon Expressway – so named because it’s a fast A road (mainly dual carriageway) linking Plymouth with the M5.
The 70-mile journey to Penzance at the western tip of Cornwall will take you about two hours in average traffic but considerably more during busy holiday periods.
The trip over to Newquay has been much faster and more enjoyable since massive improvements to the A30 between Bodmin and Indian Queens. It’s possible these days to drive from Plymouth to the surfing capital of Europe in just over an hour.
The main route into Cornwall is via the Tamar toll bridge – you only pay on the crossing into Devon (£1.50 for a car) and the fee is reduced for regular users who sign up to the electronic tagging system.
Commuters and day trippers wanting to explore the Rame Peninsula use the car ferry connecting Devonport, to the west of Plymouth city centre, and the South East Cornwall town of Torpoint. The toll is the same as the bridge and only applies on the crossing to Plymouth.
When the narrow stretch of the A38 between the Tamar Bridge and the Trerulefoot roundabout in Cornwall seizes up due to heavy holiday traffic or accidents you can save yourself a lot of time by using the Torpoint ferry instead of the bridge.
With the freedom of a car you’ll be able to explore the wilds of Dartmoor, crossing the cattle grids to find ponies and sheep wandering freely often in the middle or beside the road. Heed the “Take Moor Care” warning signs because animals are often killed or injured by speeding drivers.
Driving along the impossibly narrow lanes of the Cornish countryside in springtime is sheer heaven – the hedgerows are a riot of colour from spring flowers including primroses, violets and red campion. Some of these lanes are best avoided by nervous drivers as passing places can be few and far between so your journey may involve a fair bit of reversing.