The Agile on the Beach 2014 conference is fast approaching and there is every sign that it will, again, be sold out. Which means, in the days and weeks before the conference I’m going to have several people asking me for my advice on how to get to Falmouth. So here is some advice on getting to Falmouth and the conference, not everything you could know, but the main points I tell people when they ask. (If you want a quick summary skip to the end.)
Firstly even some English people are stumped when they stop and consider how to get to Falmouth. Its in Cornwall, its not as far west as it could be (thats Penzance) but it is part of the country that many people have never been to. And if you are coming from outside the UK its even more likely that you need to stop and think.
So the first piece of advice is: plan in advance. Don’t leave it to a few days before hand. You probably need a day just to get the Falmouth.
And that leads to the second piece of advice: if you can plan to extend your stay it is well worth it. The conference is Thursday and Friday, if you can plan to stay longer. I know speakers and attendees who have brought their significant other with them, or arranged for the significant person to arrive on the Friday.
Falmouth is a great little town to spend a day or two in. Better still St Ives is close by, I have been known to go all the way to St Ives just for an exhibition at The Tate gallery there. Then there is the rest of Cornwall to explore. And, if you look carefully there are great places to eat.
Lets start with the most common case…
Falmouth by car
You can drive from London to Falmouth, its about 300 miles and five hours driving - before you take any breaks. Personally I don’t recommend it. I’ve done it a couple of times and its not my idea of fun. Especially once you leave the M5, the A30 seems to go on and on and on… If you do drive allow plenty of time and plan on a couple of breaks.
Also, you are likely to be charged for car parking at the conference itself. The conference is held at Falmouth University and despite lots of talks with the University people they refuse to remove the car parking fee. As I recall this was £3 a day but I might be wrong. Hopefully they will relent but there you go.
Flying - from London or elsewhere
You can also fly. Actually you fly to Newquay (NQY) airport from where you need to get the 25 miles or so to Falmouth. You are probably looking at a taxi which adds to the cost. Also adding to the cost is the third-world like £5 “Airport Improvement Taxi” which you need to pay on departure.
I don’t like NQY. Of all the airports I’ve been to I find the security staff the most intrusive. I know they have a job to do. I know they have to screen you. I know there are bad people in the world. But… of all the airports in the world I find the security here to be the biggest infringers of my personal space.
I once saw the security staff send once send a lady back to the checkin desk because she had a boarding pass issued by a code-share partner of the airline. The demanded a genuine FlyBe boarding pass and not a self-printed BA boarding pass. Maybe this is common but I’ve never seen it elsewhere.
Anyhow nobody flies for fun these days so maybe I’m being an grumpy old man.
If you want to fly you probably want FlyBe from Gatwick, although FlyBe also have daily flights from Manchester. FlyBe also have some flights from other places but these don’t happen everyday. At the time of writing EasyJet also list a flight from Liverpool and have operated from Southend before now but again its not everyday.
If you are travelling internationally you may well be getting on a plane anyhow. Although Lufthansa has an occasional flight to Newquary you are probably going to have to connect somewhere. Gatwick is the obvious place but Manchester is just as good an option.
One thing to be aware of: if you are flying into Heathrow and need to get from there to Falmouth I recommend you switch to trains. Transferring between Heathrow and Gatwick is better avoided. On the other hand, getting from Heathrow to Paddington and picking up a train is really easy.
One minute please, I’ll talk about trains in a moment.
Another option is Exeter airport - Exeter also has an airport with some flights to Amsterdam and other locations in the UK and Europe. Since Amsterdam is a hub this is a viable option for anyone coming from further a field.
From Exeter airport you could continue by train. I’m not sure how you get from the airport to Exeter train station, bus or taxi is my guess.
Last year some Dutch speakers flew to Exeter and hired a car to drive the second leg.
Personally I always take the train. I live in London so this means getting to London Paddington and picking up a train to Penzance. But you don’t ride all the way, a few stops before Penzance is Truro where you need to change.
Paddington to Truro is about 4.5 hours, then change for Falmouth at Truro for a little train but get off at Penryn station (Penryn live departure boards), from there it is a short walk up the hill to the University campus.
I always take the train. Once I’m on the train at Paddington I can work, read, sleep, what ever I like. Unlike the plane where you are queuing to get through security, queuing for coffee, queuing to get on the plan, squeeze in flight for 40 minutes, queuing to get off the plane you sit on the train.
If you are coming from somewhere else in the country you can pick up the Cross Country train that also goes to Penzance or pick up the train from Paddington at Reading.
If you’ve never done the journey before pay special attention to the Dawlish section after you leave Exeter, the scenery is beautiful - and yes it has been rebuilt after last winter.
My big piece of advice here is: book your train tickets in advance. If you leave it until the last minute you could end up paying £300 for Second Class. If you book in advance you can get First Class for as little as £100. The extra’s in First Class aren’t up to much but you do get free water, tea and coffee (compared to first class on East Coast Mainline or Virgin West Coast the FGW First Class is poor).
Note also: FGW don’t have wifi onboard yet and 3G reception is poor after Exeter. The further west you go the weaker it is.
Some of the First Great Western trains have a “Travelling Chef” who does a good bacon sandwich. But, determining which trains have travelling Chef’s is hard, FGW’s website makes you work hard. Second: sometimes the Chef doesn’t turn up. I’ve planned on a bacon butty before now only to find the Chef didn’t turn up for work that day.
Next advice: going home look at the sleeper - especially if you live in London. You leave Cornwall about 10pm and get to Paddington about 5am the next morning. I’ve done it for the last three year - although I’m probably not doing it this year. Again FGW don’t make the sleeper that easy to find or book (no Cross Country this time).
The sleeper isn’t really that much more expensive - I think it cost me £100 last year - and it is fun. You don’t sleep all the way but you will sleep. Its an experience.
A warning: The same trains which have the sleeper cars have regular cars where you can sit -airline style - and try and sleep. If you don’t explicitly book the sleeper you have a seat not a bed.
There you go, that is pretty much the advice I give to anyone who asks: How do I get to Agile on the Beach?
- Avoid driving
- Only fly if you are coming from international (or Scotland) and then try to connection somewhere other than Heathrow
- Take the train if you possibly can
- Book early and pay the extra for first class
- Think about getting the sleeper back