West Kernow Way – September 2022

Time for a long overdue visit to Cornwall.

Since this route was published on the Cycling UK website, Martin, who rode the King Alfred Way with me, and I have planned to put a weekend aside to ride it.

At the early part of the year Martin put out a call to a group of riders that he and I have ridden with previously to see if they were interested. The final number was twelve riders, eleven on full suspension mountain bikes and some idiot on a gravel bike (me).

Martin arranged the hotels, and we all made our arrangements to rendezvous in Marazion on Thursday night for a meal at 20:30.

I took the opportunity to make it a week-long getaway and left on the Sunday morning for Hampshire. This was to visit a friend, Phil, who I met on my trip to Corsica back in 2011 but had not ridden with for some while. It’s crazy how fast time has flown by since our last meeting, but it was nice to catch up with him on a short off-road ride and then his family over lunch.

On Sunday evening I drove to Brockenhurst, where I would spend two nights. My original plan was to get a ride in the New Forest on Monday. However, after months of hot weather, blue skies and hosepipe bans, the forecast for the next seven days looked dismal.

Monday 5th

I therefore woke up Monday morning, quick weather check and realised I could probably get a nice walk in the forest, then head to the motor museum at Beaulieu in the afternoon. It was a good plan and worked out weather wise.

Then a nice walk in the sun around Lymington.

In the evening the heavens opened, and we had the biggest electrical storm I had seen in some time, quite spectacular.

Tuesday 6th – Wednesday 7th

I head out of the New Forest through to East Cornwall, Liskeard to be exact. I had a lovely loop planned for Wednesday, which should have been to the north of the town around the AONB, which would have been spectacular. However, by now the weather had really set in and driving in it was proving difficult enough, let alone trying to ride in it. I therefore had a tour around some of the places I used to visit as a child on holiday back in the 1960’s and 70’s. A bit disappointed if I’m honest.

The sky broke a little on Wednesday afternoon as I got close to Looe, so I parked up and had a wander round. It seems that the thing that was the main draw back in the day, the beauty of the small fishing village, has been overshadowed by a big car park and amusement arcade, which is such a shame, but I guess it’s “progress”.

Thursday 8th

I head to Marazion in driving rain and high winds, which doesn’t bode well for three days off-road on the bike, still I keep my fingers crossed, the forecast is starting to look better.

When I arrive at Marazion late afternoon, I park the car up in the long stay and buy a ticket through until Monday. It feels good to walk away from the car and know I won’t be driving it again until I set off home. I find driving such a struggle these days, always in traffic and trouble finding places to park. Being on the bike has such a feeling of freedom by comparison. The weather has now cleared up, so I walk down to Penzance along the front, pick up some lunch and start to chill out ready for the weekend.

By the time I get back and check in to the guest house I find out Queen Elizabeth has died, not a real surprise, but still very sad.

Friday 9th – WKW Day 1

There are three of the group staying in Marazion and we roll along the front towards Penzance, picking up more in Long Rock then the final group in Penzance. All along the front was wet and windy, but it seemed to be blowing from the northwest and behind it, blue sky, so fingers crossed.

From Penzance the route takes us southwest along the coast and when the sun comes out we feel the heat on our backs. The journey clings to the coast through Newlyn, Mousehole then heads cross country to Lamorna and Treen, mostly on the road.

At this point there is a bit of a split in the group, typical of a first day with a big group. Some people find their legs quickly, some take time to roll in, but I am not sure if those at the back have any navigation, so I drop back and roll with them down to Porthcurno, near the Minack Theatre. Such a beautiful, wild view from this coast and I wonder what it must be like to see a performance at that theatre, with your back to the sea.

We then back track to the main road and start to pick up our first real trail across to the northwest coast overlooking Sennen Cove. We are guided on to a trail which overlooks the cove with stunning views and takes us all the way to Lands Ends where we re-group with the rest of the gang. Everyone tops up with food, apart from me as it’s only 11:15 and I figured I could pick up food later.

From Lands End we head northwest mainly on the road, with a few small diversions through small woodland. It is on one of these that we lose David, who missed a turn and was heading for St Just, which is on-route and where we re-group again. At this point I tell those on the front that I will ride shotgun if I am not totally sure the group behind has navigation.

The next 30km is mainly off-road, with a lot of technical climbing, so there is a natural break in the group, and I hang back making sure we are all together. There are some sketchy sections during this stretch, from small gully single tracks, rocky descents and climbs to open moorland. What a stunning ride with great views of the coastline and abandoned mines.

The group at the rear has now grown to about six people, two of which have navigation, so I know they are safe, so as we head towards Amalveor on a long, quite technical climb, I make my own pace to the top as I do not have the low gear of my mountain bike companions, only having a 30×32 bottom gear. After the climb I drop down on to the road and wait a couple of minutes, then realise I have put a lot time in to the group behind, and as I had spotted the quicker group in the distance while I was climbing, I decide to try and bridge to that front group.

The bridging takes about 12km of flat-out effort, but I eventually find them at a junction behind some farm buildings checking the route. About 8km later we drop off a road section over a small bridge on the edge of the woods, where we double check the route. It appears we should be taking a right, but the only route right is a footpath and a definite hike-a-bike. We figure this must be wrong, so we follow the stream, through a caravan site, up a footpath and across a field until we re-join the route. A bit of a detour, but a bit of fun.

It’s now mid-afternoon and we have hit about 90km, and I we have not passed anywhere to pick up food, so I am still running on breakfast and my fluids. Luckily these are carb loaded, otherwise I would be on my knees. I am reliably informed though, that I am getting “hangry”, something some of my companions have experienced before and they know how to deal with it……ignore me 🙂

A series of cracking tracks with steep drops and climbs see us to within a few kilometres of Marazion and we end the day rolling into the cafe on the front at Long Rock. However, they have stopped serving food, so being Mr Grumpy, I excuse myself from the group and ride a further 5km to Penzance railway station where I feast on a dirty burger and two cans of “full fat” Coke…….bliss.

Total 102Km in 6h:30 and 1498m of climbing

I did apologise over dinner for being a grumpy git, but I learned my lesson for this trip…get food when you can.

Saturday 10th – WKW Day 2

Today we load up our overnight luggage because we are staying near Falmouth and will need a change of clothes, plus something to wear at dinner tonight.

When we meet up in the car park, we find out that Simon (Tommy) has damaged his knee yesterday and does not want to cause more damage, so has chosen to drive to Falmouth and take peoples luggage. It’s a real blow to lose him from the group, it’s always nice to finish a ride like this with all riders.

Being me, I decide not to unload my luggage, as the original plan was to be self-supporting. I think this ride is beginning to paint a picture of what a stubborn bugger I can be……sorry.

We know that this is going to be the longest day with the most climbing, so the mood has changed in the group, and we are more aware of everyone keeping up and sticking together.

It’s starts off gently, rolling up and down to Millpool where we turn left and into 8km of climbing then a steep descent into the lovely fishing village of Porthleven, followed by another small ramp then we drop onto the beach. It is not all rideable, but it is just so nice to be pushing the bike across the sand with the ocean rolling in at the side of you. This is what rides like this are all about.

After the beach we take a steep off-road trail taking us through to Mullion, where we expect to stop for our first coffee, but somehow, we by-pass the centre of town and remain on the trail heading south. The trail continues close to the coast only starting to turn inland as we head to Lizard, where we stop for lunch, me included, “lesson learned”. We found Coast Coffee Bar and Bistro in Lizard, and everyone had a good lunch to fuel the afternoons ride.

After lunch we are back on the road for a short while through Poltesco and Kuggar, then drop down to Kennack Sands. Now, we were aware that there had been issues with the next section but believed that there was a way through to Gwendreath. However, we took the trail up across the cliff edge and turned left on the trail. That’s when it all went sideways.

The trail had been blocked by a gate, four metres high, with barbed wire across the top. Someone’s not happy with cyclists on their land! We look to the right and there is a trail along the clifftop, which has a gnarly start, but how long could that last? Well, as it turned out it was 1.6km long, and 30 minutes of walking, carrying, climbing, and riding, until we found a rideable track again. By which time some saw it as an adventure, others were not so enamoured. I felt that it would be the most memorable part of the entire journey.

What’s not to love about that view?

About 2km later we reach a junction just above Penhallick and we decide to split in to two groups, the reasoning being that the lost time doing the hike-a-bike, and some felt they needed more time to get to the hotel.

The one consolation was that there were only a few trails from this point to the hotel, but as we were looping round the coast and the Helford River it means a lot of descents in to bays and river tributaries. As we know after every descent there is always a climb, most of which are short and steep.

Towards the end I see MTB’s climbing past me on 28×47 gears and I’m envying that cadence as mine drops below 50rpm. Even if I had wanted a 34 or 36 cassette, they are impossible to buy right now.

We stop for a final drink and some food in Gweek, after which there is only 16km to go, or there should be. However, there is a slight discussion about shortcuts, and we finish up adding distance and more climbs.

Despite the literal ups and downs this last part of the journey is stunning. Climbing out of Port Navas and looking down on the Helford River renewed my belief in the beauty of Cornwall.

Total 98Km in 6h:25 and 1520m of climbing

Sunday 11th – WKW Day 3

We woke an hour earlier than the last two days and we realised that the weather was not as nice as it had been. The reason for the early start was that most of the group were due to drive home after the ride this afternoon, 560km and probably over 6 hours, so an early finish was important. This might also mean that we split in to two groups at Lanner Hill. This would enable a group to cut 30km off the ride, in effect two hours.

The WKW crew

We stayed quite low down in Falmouth last night, so as the song goes “the only way is up”. Sure enough, all the way to Lanner Hill the road raised with a few short drops and only a few wide tracks in the way of off-road. We reached Lanner Hill 09:50 and everyone except Rupert and I decide to cut across and get an early finish.

Rupert and I say our goodbyes and head off, picking up the Mining Trail. The tracks are excellent from here, taking us to an old open cast mine site, with all the remains of a bygone industry. We follow the trail down into Twelveheads where we find a cafe just as it starts to rain.

Once refreshed we re-join the trail heading to the north coast. This trail joins a series of cool cycle paths that run along the Mining Trail all the way into Portreath on the north coast.

A quick photo at Portreath, then back on the road again riding through Nance Woods on well-marked trails, until we see an almost vertical stony climb. A quick look at the map and we by-pass what could have been a messy 30 minutes.

The cycle way takes us past the college in Cambourne back on the Mining Trail. This is some of the best trail work we have done all weekend, quick, scenic, and well signposted.

When we reach Troon, we find a McColl’s and stop to eat our sandwich and get a drink.

Just as we are setting off three guys on gravel bikes go past, heading down the WKW. About five minutes later we dive into Pendarves Woods, where there is a stream running through the trail and the three guys are there trying to manoeuvre around it. Rupert and I pile through the centre of the stream, while establishing with the guys that they are also doing the WKW, so we can expect to see them again, if we slow down.

This section was rapidly becoming the best bit of trail I have ridden in a long time. Flowing, rocky downhills, rocky climbs, and stunning scenery. After a short while I started to see one of the gravel bikes closing behind. We then take a turn and rush down a long gnarly descent where my 650×47 tyres come into their own and we never see those guys again. I am so impressed with this bike, effectively a rigid mountain bike with drop bars….love it, like mountain biking back in the early 2000’s. Very raw.

We continued from trail to trail, knowing that we were slowly heading to the coast, we even saw the sea at one point, before heading back inland. Suddenly, we take a turn through some trees and there it is, the bridge we had crossed on Friday night on our way back to Marazion. There were three choices now, one: we do the same as Friday (caravan site) two: we back-track and go around on the road, or three: we follow the route through the trees, hike-a-bike a bit and stay on track.

We went with option three, through the trees. We didn’t have to walk far and after yesterday’s coastal walk/bike, this was nothing. It brought us out exactly where we should be and we kept rolling, now on familiar tracks which were still lumpy, but we had got into a nice rhythm now, so the final part of the journey rolled by quickly.

We rolled into the car park at 15:30, about two hours after the other group. We made a beeline for the cafe, ordered some food and hot drinks.

Total 88Km in 5h:58 and 963m of climbing

Three great days, no injuries, no mechanicals, and only one puncture (tubeless and cured with sealant).

I used SIS Beta Fuel in two bottles 1.4 litres in total and was amazed how it kept me going when supplemented with Beta Fuel chews, especially on day 1. Very impressed.

It was great to catch up with old friends and make new ones, a fantastic bunch to do a trip like this, thanks guys.

Total distance 288km in 18h:53 and 3975m of climbing (15.25kph Av.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s