You come to Cornwall for the history, for the scenery, for the quaint little fishing villages and are then flummoxed by the god-awful roads. Fear not we have some solutions.
First off, we completely understand that you have just spent what felt like 15 hours on the road. We understand that your journey planner said it would only take four hours. We understand your disappointment when you thought that Bristol was in the South West and you must be nearly there. We know you are surprised to discover just HOW much more road there is after Exeter. I’m afraid that if you have only just passed Exeter you are still not there yet. Why not stop for a bit, cry, bang your head against a brick wall, regroup and prepare for the roadworks at Temple. Pack valium for the children.
So yes, we totally and utterly understand that you are tired and exhausted. We do the journey all the time, we all know how awful the A30 and the M5 are, look at it this way, you have joined the club, you are that little bit more local than you were yesterday. In years to come, you can laugh and roll your eyes in horror when someone mentions driving to Cornwall.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, you have arrived in a frizzled heap and then you have to contend with our road infrastructure. Here’s what we recommend when you get to your destination and get out of your car. Park it wherever has been recommended and do not return to it for 24 hours. Honestly, I can’t stress this enough. We are not unaware of or unsympathetic to, your herculean efforts to get here and the fact that you want to make the most of every minute but a tired and grumpy you is not the best person to bring to the party. Relax where you are, chill, go for a wander, look at the stars, listen to the waves, soak in the bath, read a book. Make that the most of every minute. Rest, unwind, recharge. You are here, it is beautiful. Sleep.
When you feel fully re-charged you may attempt to get back in your car but please remember city-like driving won’t cut it here. Not one bit.
Driving in towns and the countryside – Problems
Are you ready for roads whose hedges tower over you, tall enough to block out the sun, zig-zagging ever deeper down the hill, ever tighter until you have to pull in your wing mirrors, what will you do if you meet a car? Or a horse? Or a cyclist? Chris Bonnington? Meeting a flock of sheep, cows, deer, rabbits is all quite likely. Slow down.
In summer our population explodes. Our roads are built to just about cope with a population of around 500,000. In August there are roughly twice as many people staying in the county. This represents a couple of issues. The first most obvious one is space. Our roads just aren’t up to that sort of volume. The second problem is that a very large number of drivers on the road aren’t used to driving on our roads, are baffled by the Cornish planners’ obsession with mini roundabouts (we loathe them too), and don’t know the width of their own car. Some of them are pulling caravans. I know, what fun!
First things first, re-calibrate your sat nav. Most sat navs are set for the most direct route. Turn that mother off right now. Sat navs have no comprehension of how bad Cornish lanes can get. We quite like our roads, our country lanes are extremely pretty, their high narrow hedgerows are full of flowers and wildlife and granite. Our village lanes are so narrow that you can lean out the window and into the bakery. (A small exaggeration but only just)
Secondly, decide if you know how to reverse; reversing is more than leaving your driveway backwards or doing a three point turn on a nice wide road with lots of visibility. If you can’t reverse and I can’t stress this enough, consider whether it is worth risking driving in Cornwall. Also, as an aside, learn how to reverse.
Driving through coastal villages. Problems. (Solution below)
By and large, coastal villages are the worst. They have evolved over centuries and are cramped and winding. They have never been bombed and rebuilt, they have never been gentrified, they have never been modernised, when you wander through the streets of Mevagissey, Fowey, Looe, St Ives etc you are heading back in time, a long way back, and one thing those fishing communities didn’t bear in mind were cars. And yet cars now drive through them. Some lanes are just too narrow but despite this, some drivers still attempt them in the notion that if they exist, then they can be used. They exist because a horse and cart used them, are you a horse and cart? No. Then don’t try them. If someone in the street waves at you and tells you that you can’t get through, listen to them, don’t ignore them. What are you thinking? No one is pulling your leg. It isn’t a Cornish tradition to send motorists the wrong way. We are genuinely trying to help. Are you concerned that you have come so far that you don’t think you can reverse out? Honestly, going forward is not going to improve the situation.
Lots of roads in Cornish villages are two-way despite being barely one car wide. This is because a one-way system would require a detour of over five miles. Trust me, where we are able to, we install one way systems, if we haven’t it’s because the solution is worse than the problem. Honestly, we don’t need you to point it out to us. Muttering darkly that traffic lights might help doesn’t cut any mustard because again, trust me, if they would help, we would have done it.
Equally if a local tells you that you won’t be able to turn right in your high sided van accept their wisdom and reverse. Or you could decide that you know how to drive your van, you know its dimensions and you know what you are doing. Ten minutes later having gouged your van, the shop walls, attracted a crowd who are all helpfully shouting instructions at you, you can now choose to reverse, although of course now you have six cars behind you and the entire village is stuck in a gridlock.
You drive along a street only to discover there’s a car parked in the middle of the road. There are a few options, if it’s a side street like Jetty Street, just reverse back out and take a different route, if it’s a main street like Chapel Street, then just wait. Or you could lean on your horn like a bad tempered fool. I’ve known people that have heard that imperious noise and promptly switched the kettle on. It helps if you put yourself in their shoes. Why have they left their car in such a staggeringly inconvenient location? Generally, it’s deliveries or pick-ups, dropping the children off, loading up a sick pet, unpacking the shopping. These are our homes and shops, this is the only way we have to get to our front doors, trust me it’s far more frustrating for us to live with on a daily basis than it is for you who have been here for a whole minute and are unlikely to ever be stuck here again. Your leaning on the horn, gesticulating wildly or even shouting at us (this actually happens a lot) will not make us go any faster. So chill your boots, if you see no sign of life after a minute or so, give a little toot, someone will appear from somewhere with a little wave. If it’s a side street the car/van could be there for a while, if their boot is open it’s a clear sign they are staying for a while. Reverse. Just do it. Or get into a slanging match with a tradesman who isn’t moving and has told you the alternative way to get out of the village. Passersby may be entertained by the exchange but you won’t be and your passengers will be mortified and the rest of the day will be foul. Just reverse.
Indeed you may find that it is you having to stop all the traffic as you unload. Don’t worry, we all have to do it. No one is going to shout at you and if they do they won’t be local. Just unload, smile, give that wonderful British what a nightmare grimace to the cars behind and then drive off as soon as you can.
Oncoming traffic on a road one car wide. This is a complete pain and also a regular occurrence on Fore Street in Mevagissey. The best and quickest way to deal with this is to reverse and give way. Failure to do so promptly means that lots of cars stack up behind you. This does not now give you the upper hand (ha! I can’t reverse now, he’ll have to back up) because he also has lots of cars backing up behind him. This results in all the little lanes in the village backing up.
Sadly you may find yourself in a position where you genuinely can’t reverse because of the traffic behind you or that they only have 10 yards to reverse whereas you have half a mile. These situations are desperately trying. I have seen many occasions where the person who can’t reverse gets out of their car to explain the problem to the person that won’t reverse. Often the person that won’t reverse hands the keys over to the other person who then reverses their car for them. Trust me, lots of us have done it.
Sitting in your car refusing to move, refusing help and refusing instructions helps no one. And again, leaves you feeling angry and miserable.
BUT THERE IS A SOLUTION 🙂
All these villages have large car parks on the outskirts. Park here. And by outskirts, I don’t mean you’ll need to catch a bus in, a three-minute walk and you can go skinny dipping. Why not, it will amuse the fishermen. You can park your car in the large, flat, wide, roomy carparks and then wander into the village in a happy and relaxed manner. You can watch the boats bobbing around, pop in and out of the shops and look at wonder at the chap that refuses to reverse his car 10 yards and snarl up the entire village. In Mevagissey, we are lucky to have two large long stay car parks, Willow Carpark, or Sunny Corner. All the other villages have similar arrangments, although we are blessed in the fact that ours are at sea level, not half way up a hillside. By the way, even if the large carpark is on a hill and you don’t fancy the walk uphill, don’t take the risk. Unless it’s massively out of season and raining, don’t risk it.
So there we are; switch off your sat nav, learn to reverse, make use of car parks on the edge of the villages and never ever lean on your horn. Oh and don’t park on sand.
Happy Driving 🙂
(This post was originally written for www.visitmevagissey.co.uk)
All posts are written by Liz Hurley, author of SCRIBBLES FROM THE EDGE and LOSING IT IN CORNWALL These two books are collections of her columns, written for the Cornish Guardian. They available from Amazon as e-books or paperbacks as well as from Hurley Books.