Welcome to the Trip Diaries from Anglotopia’s Grand Adventure! You followed us on social media; you’ve seen the vlogs, now it’s time to get the full story of our journey driving from Land’s End to John O’Groats (this trip happened last September in case you’re not familiar). I should have written these long ago… but many things got in the way. Now, I’m ready to tell the full story!
As usual, our journey started at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport where we were due to catch a British Airways A380 flight to London. We arrived early, as we usually do. We like to give ourselves plenty of time to prepare. We’d already checked in and were not checking bags, but for some reason, our BA apps told us to check-in with the counter as we needed printed boarding passes (apparently O’Hare still doesn’t quite yet support ticketless boarding). We were offered a very affordable chance to upgrade to Business/Club World.
We took it.
It was worth every penny.
We got through security pretty quickly and headed for the British Airways lounge, where we would now get to chill as we waited for our flight. There was food there, but I still like to eat in the terminal. When my flight tracker app told me that the preceding flight was arriving, I popped out of the lounge to film the plane coming into the gate. I’ve seen the A380 before, but it’s still incredible to watch that big lumbering beast come into the gate area.
The fact that something so big can lift off the ground and soar into the air is still magic to me.
We boarded very quickly. British Airways, at that point, had been flying the A380 to Chicago for almost six months, so they’d worked out most of the kinks to boarding almost 500 passengers in the space of 45 minutes.
Our lie-flat club world seats were on the upper deck of the plane, so it was just the two of us next to each other, in the middle row. Check out our vlog at the bottom for what that looks like and what to expect. We were understandably very excited; we were finally setting off on a journey we’d been planning for over a year. But we were also ridiculously tired. The day you depart is always a stressful and long day.
So, by the time we were comfortable, we were exhausted. We decided to skip dinner service, as we’d both eaten in the terminal and just go to sleep. I can’t tell you about the rest of the flight – because shortly after take-off and getting comfortable, we both fell asleep. I only awoke once for the loo and slept the entire way to London. This was why we jumped at the chance for a cheap upgrade. The lie-flat bed turns the British Airways plane into a flying hotel.
We landed in London on a perfectly sunny and wonderful day. We arrived around 10 am and were able to taxi right to our gate. Though, because of the size of the plane, we parked at the C Gates of Terminal Five, which require a short transfer between terminals.
At immigration, because we were in business class, we were given ‘fast passes’ to a separate line which moved a lot faster. When the immigration officer asked us the purpose of our trip, and we told her we were driving from Land’s End to John O’Groats, she looked at us and in a deadpan manner said: “Why? On purpose?”
Someone has to!
She let us in the country anyway.
We didn’t check any bags, so we sailed right through customs and into the arrivals area of Terminal Five. You may remember from our trip planning posts last year (and most of you probably don’t), that we arranged to drive to Cornwall with our very good English friends, Jane and Simon (who own Updown Cottage, our favorite place to stay in Britain). Their family has a cottage in Cornwall, and they spend a lot of time there, so when we said we were doing this drive, they volunteered to show us around ‘their Cornwall.’
As they lived in Hertfordshire, they had to drive down, so it just made sense for all of us to ride to Cornwall together (we would pick up our rental car later on). This saved us an almost 5-hour drive while being jetlagged. We had a lot of anxiety about driving down – it was a very long drive, and we didn’t want to be the people that fell asleep on the way!
This journey was old hat to J&S, so they were well prepared. The car was fully fueled, they were packed, and they’d brought along a cooler with plenty of food and snacks for the drive down. This was a revelation as we were starving and they kept us well fed and watered the entire journey. We like to joke that J&S are our surrogate English family, and it was truly like going down to Cornwall for a holiday with our good friends.
I’m happy to report that nobody fell asleep on the journey down! We always have great conversations with J&S, plus the ample food and eventually cups of tea, we are proud that we didn’t fall asleep for the entire journey. It was a massive fun drive down, and I’m so glad that we didn’t do it by ourselves, jet-lagged. I know J&S are reading this, so I cannot thank them enough! We got to sit back and enjoy the beautiful scenery as we drove from Heathrow to Cornwall.
We had a few snafus on the way down. The biggest was that the M4 motorway was closed between Junctions 17 to 18 due to a diesel spillage. We had to divert off and then drive through the Wiltshire Cotswolds. I don’t know about you, but I much prefer my detours take me through the perfect English countryside. Driving through the Cotswolds is not a bad way to spend a Sunday! While we were surrounded by frustrated drivers trying to get around the closure, we were also surrounded by beautiful honey colored cottages and sleepy villages with traffic jams in them that weren’t meant to be there.
It was glorious. I also learned some trivia. When diesel is spilled on a road surface, there’s no way to just clean it up. The road apparently has to be completely resurfaced when that happens. So, it was going to be closed a while.
If you watch our drive video here, you can see that the sun slowly went away during our journey and by the time we reached Cornwall, we reached the romantic mist and the mire. We were coming to a place that’s very much a playground for the English. Many people have spent childhood holidays here so it’s a remarkably authentic place to visit and I highly recommend arriving by car. J&S told us that only fairly recently did they get the A Road dual carriageway. Used to be much more remote out this way and the journey took a lot longer and be a lot harder on passengers.
When we stopped at the brand new Cornwall Services, one of Britain’s remarkable rest stops I got the impression our hosts would have liked to have had it when they were children!
After five hours, we arrived at our final destination in Cornwall, the Polurrian Bay Hotel, perched on a seaside cliff. It was cloudy and gloomy and glorious. We checked into our hotel and got settled. As I began to go through my gear, I realized I left a key piece of equipment back home: the charger for my camera battery.
I was going to miss that.
Thanks to some help from J&S, we found a place online that had my specific charger and could ship it to us the next day (it was waiting for us at our hotel).
After freshening up and taking a moment to open our window and listen to the glorious sound of the sea on the cliffs below, we went to dinner. We had dinner at a quirky pizza parlor in the stable block of an old stately home. It was one of J&S’s little discoveries. The current ‘Lord’ of the estate is a young 18-year-old and likes pizza, so installed a brick pizza oven in an old barn. He’s created lovely little ad-hoc pizzeria in the middle of the Cornish countryside. The pizza was delicious. The weather in Cornwall was cool that night, and the wood-burning fire at the pizza place was very welcome.
After dinner, we hit the wall, and J&S kindly deposited back at our hotel. We retired early.
We laid on the bed in our hotel in Cornwall after a long and wonderful day of traveling to get here. The waves were hitting the shore on the cliffs outside, and it was the closest thing to paradise I’ve ever experienced. It started to rain and it gently hit the hotel window. This combined with the soft wind and the waves lapping outside was too much perfection for one person to enjoy. We fell asleep to the sounds outside and slept better than we had in months.
In the next edition, we’ll talk about our first full day exploring Cornwall!
You can also watch the Vlog we shot of this first day!