Staycations are all the rage. Fish and chips, sandy beaches and cups of tea make holidaying in Great Britain a wonderful alternative to jetting off to the “Costa Lotta”. It also means you can cram everything you’ll need for a week away in your car’s boot without having to worry about weight limits or crammed airports.
But what if your family car isn’t fuelled by the smelly stuff from petrol station forecourts, but instead needs a plug to top it up – is it still possible to drive off to the coast and not worry about running out of charge? Well, that’s exactly what I’m about to find out.
Sweeping along the A35 towards the sunshine coast, nothing but the wind rushing around the car’s windscreen can be heard. Well that and the surfboard occasionally tapping on the roof bars and a two-year-old chattering away in the back. The joys of a family holiday.
I’m taking a 200-mile trip from Southampton to Tregonetha in Cornwall in a Tesla Model S. Attempting a journey like this in an electric car would have been nearly impossible before the current generation of EVs became available. Ranges have doubled on the latest electric offerings from Nissan and Renault, but Tesla has always boosted a real-world usable range.
Now with more than 300 miles at your disposal in a 100D like this, the idea of range anxiety seems almost ridiculous.
This journey would have been a lot harder logistically a few years ago too. Tesla’s Supercharger network was still in its infancy and didn’t stretch into the West Country. Now, though, things are starting to improve. That said, there’s still no Supercharger near our base in Gosport. Despite the cities of Southampton and Portsmouth nearby, the closest is on the A34, and the only others in Exeter and Dover. That meant careful planning was required for this trip.
Of course, Superchargers aren’t for daily use, and any electric car owner with half a brain will have a home charging point. It became clear during my week-long Tesla loan, though, that home charging is only really an option for people who can park on a driveway or in a garage. If I wanted to charge a Tesla at my terraced house, I’d have been forced to trail a cable out of a window and across the pavement, which isn’t practical. Anyone living in a flat would have no chance.
It was this very charging issue that drew me to the destination for my trip – the Old Barn at Tregonetha – a site that claims to be the first self-catering cottage in the UK to have a Tesla charging point. Located in the far reaches of Cornwall, owner Stephen Chigwell installed the “destination charging point” after a visitor with a Model S was forced to charge it with an extension lead through the window. His misfortune would prove to be our saviour.
With the holiday home’s address set in the satellite navigation, the Tesla told me I didn’t have enough charge to get there. One of the nifty features of the Model S is that when you plan your route it’ll work out how much charge will remain when you arrive and whether you can do a round trip. It also plans in charging stops along the way. It’s a feature I found so useful that I ended up using the sat nav even when I knew where I was going.
There were five of us on board for this trip: My partner and I, two friends and their two-year-old daughter. Despite the fact we were only going away for a couple of nights, the car was packed to the brim.
The weight of four-and-a-half people and their luggage did have an affect on performance – and with it, the predicted range. What had been an accurate calculation the day before was now far wide of the mark and as I approached Exeter, there was a worrying lack of charge left. Certainly not enough to stave off dreaded range anxiety creeping in.
In the end, I need not have worried. I made it to Dart Farm, a large farm shop selling local produce on the outskirts of the city where three Tesla Superchargers are located. It made a welcome change to a dirty, smelly service station and we snacked on Fairtrade coffee and cakes while the Model S topped up.
The car had told me it needed at least 20 minutes of charge to get to the destination, but as we weren’t in a hurry I left it plugged in for an hour – more than enough to fully top up its cells.
Beach weather today. As much as you can hope for in England anyway. pic.twitter.com/FOEnIqwyhU
— Rebecca Chaplin (@believebecca) July 10, 2017
Back on the road, we soon hit the holiday jams. As frustrating as this was, it did give me time to get used to the regenerative braking. At first it feels unnatural as every time you let off the accelerator, the car brakes for you. However, you soon find yourself using just one pedal, touching the brake only when you really need to. In traffic, it’s a dream, and I quickly gained back a couple of miles of charge.
Tregonetha is located between Bodmin and Newquay and if you’re looking for peace and tranquility to match your silent EV motoring, then this is it. The Old Barn cottage not only benefits from outstanding views of the coast and that all important Tesla charging point, but it’s got impressive green credentials too.
Not a bad spot for a Cornish getaway! It's definitely time for a BBQ. pic.twitter.com/3Wohns74Xm
— Rebecca Chaplin (@believebecca) July 10, 2017
It’s an “eco cottage’ that’s been designed to use as little energy as possible with solar panels on the roof, economical underfloor heating and LED lights throughout. In fact, the biggest draw on the power in this house would be when I plugged the electric car in.
While in relatively compact Cornwall, charging wasn’t too much of a concern. That said, after the previous day’s low battery episode, I’d become a little anxious about getting stuck. Luckily helpful phone app “Zap Map” eased my concerns by revealing plenty of locations between my holiday home and Land’s End, should I have wished to top up.
— Rebecca Chaplin (@believebecca) July 9, 2017
We spent the day chasing the surf and enjoying the beautiful coastline, even stopping to grab a few pictures on the stunning Polzeath beach.
I found it quite ironic that our photographer’s diesel car was the one that ran out of fuel first and even more satisfying to discover that locating a petrol station is just as hard as finding a charging point in Cornwall.
Our return journey was a simple one. I stopped again at the wonderful farm shop to top the batteries up completely, but it’s something I could have done without.
Although my short break took a little more planning than jumping in a conventionally fuelled car and hitting the holiday trail would have, it was pleasing to discover it’s not as troublesome as some might fear.
While it’s clear there’s still a lot of work to be done to get the charging infrastructure ready for mass electric car adoption, we’re definitely heading in the right direction. So much so, staycations in electric cars might just be the holidays of the future we can all look forward to.
By Rebecca Chaplin
Tesla Model S 100D
Engine: Electric motors
Max speed (limited): 155mph
0-60mph: 4.2 seconds
Emissions (g/km): 0