Updated: Dec 8, 2021
"The folk at Cycling UK have been at it again -
designing and mapping extraordinary routes in beautiful places"
As we'll be adding the sublime tour to Wild Cycles' 2022 programme we managed to sneak in a preview in November. Weather can be quite feisty on the western-most tip of the UK at this time of the year - but thankfully it was very cooperative, providing perfectly mild conditions for the 3 day recce (mild enough for shorts!).
Our recce'ing gang was a mixed bag of relatively fit roadies and gravelistas riding a variety of old-school and hi-tech rigs (see battery malfunction below) and were planning to cover approx. 50 miles/day.
West Cornwall's spectacular and rugged natural scenery ranges from its rugged cliffs plunging into the churning ocean, dreamy, sandy beaches, moody moorlands to idyllic rivers and sub-tropical gardens. Postcard-worthy villages and bustling fishing harbours complete a picture of breath-taking beauty which you'll soak up on this unforgettable and unmissable experience.
Based in the picture-perfect harbour town of Newlyn, our group of 5 rolled out on day 1 of the recce. Very soon it was nearly reduced to 4 - as the gradient ramped up out of Mousehole - one of the guys discovered that his brand new e-gear batteries were out of juice. And what's more - had forgotten to bring the charger. Oh the joys...!
Bravely soldiered on stuck in one gear for the rest of the day.
This unique coast-hugging tour is one-of-a-kind as the sights and highlights to be enjoyed on the highly scenic figure 8-shaped route are too plentiful to list and too beautiful to put into words. On a perfect blend of trails, gravel, lanes and tracks - for the best part - tracks the rugged Atlantic coastline, dipping down ludicrously steep gradients into perfectly formed horseshoe-shaped coves - up and across heart-stopping cliff paths providing far-reaching views of the surrounding ocean, bays and moorland.
The first 1/3rd of the West Kernow Way works its way around the West Cornish peninsula. We arrive at Land’s End late morning where we find an almost deserted complex of souvenir and pastie shops as well as the iconic sign post which marks the westernmost point on mainland England. From this spectacular landmark above wild and wave-battered cliffs you might be able to see the Scilly Isles on the horizon. The next stretch is no less spectacular as we head away from Land's End along a stretch of lovely rolling, undulating gravel which passes through the ruins of one of Cornwall's mining region and on to St Just where we stop to refuel on the obligatory pastie 'n coke. We saddle up for the home run which takes us up and over the spine of the peninsula. After the morning which was mostly on the coastline - the afternoon is very different as it cuts across moorland, high grass and deep ruts through a few pretty damp and muddy bogs!
We hit the peak and switch back onto lanes, dropping down to the coast again at Penzance for the last few miles' cruise along the recently-completed cycle-friendly promenade.
On Day 2 we ride out in a westerly direction and soon drop down and loops around one of the country's prettiest ports - Porthleven, climb back up to the cliffs above. As we crest the next cliff we're blown away by the spectacular stretch of golden beach below. The extraordinary Loe Bar is a natural sand bar which separates the sea from the largest natural freshwater lake in Cornwall - another spectacular feature of this ride. If you're paying attention - unlike us - there is a trail which follows the lake's perimeter is just about rideable. We made the mistake of heading straight for the shoreline and ended up having to wade through ankle-deep sand across the bar and back onto terra firma and up and over the next cliff.
As if we hadn't had enough spectacular coastal scenery to process by now - we rolled onto the Lizard peninsula which takes it to another dimension.
Pulling up above Kynance Cove we look down onto another jaw-dropping sight. The contrast between a stark white sandy beach and the dark red and green of the surrounding serpentine rock is breath-taking and stops us in our tracks. Quite a wrench to leave this spectacular scene the next few miles roll out along the edge of the Lizard - just sublime.
We stop off in Lizard village to refuel on the standard pastie 'n coke and then sweep down to the southern-most tip of mainland UK and on down a crazy steep slip-way which ends in sea! Riding back up takes some skill and sheer power to navigate the gradient and wooden beams used to hoist fishing boats up the slip way.
After Lizard we double back via Ruan Minor and dip into Kennack Beach and the stunning natural harbour at Coverack.
The final 1/3 of the route heads north across the spine of West Kernow in the direction of the north coast and Portreath - picking our way through remnants of Cornwall's mining legacy. We cut across moorland between 2 coasts via quiet lanes and mining trails - reaching Portreath (“sandy beach” in Cornish) on our final north coast stop-off before heading south again across the wild moors and bomb down in the direction of the south coast again. Here to greet us - in all its glory is the eye-wateringly beautiful Mount Bay at Marazion and the iconic St Michael’s Mount.
The monastery which dates back to c. 1000 is perched on top of a granite outcrop. It is accessible via a stone causeway at low tide - but as we arrive at high tide we have to contend our ourselves by admiring it from the shore. It’s fitting highlight which marks the end of the West Kernow Way.
Reflecting on the rides - the general feeling was that it was truly epic, featuring some of the most spectacular and beautiful coastal scenery in the world. The route is highly varied and as it closely hugs the highly textured coastline - has some challenging gradients to contend with - which are more than worth the effort considering the breath-taking views which await around almost every corner.
Thanks and credits:
Rik Allen - Sense of humour (very dry), exceptional technical, creative, supportive expertise and occasionally good navigational skills
Nick Butterworth - Unflappable, elegant and stylish showmanship and all round good entertainment value
Owen Addicott - Great company and conversationalist, gritty determination and co-do attitude
Jonathan Heard - Ultra-talented photographer, encourager with exceptional endurance and bike-handling skills