Cornwall bikepacking gravel tour
The West Kernow Way, or rather the route to the extreme west of England, well known as Cornwall, an unmissable destination for local and non-local tourism, especially in the summer. The official route starts from Penzance, where the railway ends, and goes through breathtaking inlets, cliffs, villages, mining sites, marshes, woodlands and deserted paths.
You pedal creating a shape of eight and head towards the most south-western point of the earth, where the Land’s end, to go up towards St. Ives, descend south towards the Lizard peninsula, cross in a long coast-to-coast from Coverack to Portreath on the other side, to close the tour passing through the historic mining heartland of Redruth before heading south again to finish at the iconic island of St Michael’s Mount just before Penzance.
In this case, it wasn’t a tour designed to cover extreme distances in one day. But a suitable tour for a cold and wet season, with stages of an average of 60km which always leads to a village where even in the low season you can find somewhere to sleep and have a decent warm dinner.
Weather and travel-kit
If we have to talk about the weather, I think that even if the beginning of March is not exactly the most suitable season to venture into this area, I was able to appreciate the landscapes in the calm and silence of the off-season, to experience what the residents live along long winters. From light rain to showers, from light wind to strong gusts, muddy roads, and a few moments of blue sky, we got a bit of everything.
Since the weather is very unpredictable, certainly in the coldest months it is advisable to bring several layers to adapt to the temperatures which can vary from 2 to 13 degrees. Do not forget rainproof clothing at home and if you have a pair of gore-tex winter shoes, they are highly recommended.
Ideally, you would ride this tour on a lightweight hardtail mountain bike suitable for the technical off-road sections, especially if the weather is likely to be against you like it has been for us. However, even if I found myself pushing my gravel bike through a few long sections, I really enjoyed the experience. The single tracks along the lost ways of the West Kernow are pretty tough, slippery and muddy, sometimes rocky under the running water, but most of the tracks are suitable for a gravel bike. I’d definitely recommend to chose bike packing versus bike touring, easier to carry on your shoulder when you need to and more agile on this kind of terrain.
For the Cornwall way, it is possible to download the official track from the website, fantastic to have a drafted route to start planning a tour and so I used it and with my beloved Garmin navigating through was pretty easy. However, sometimes you must be prepared to invent new routes by simply following the directions.
- Day one: from Penzance to St. Ives ( 72,8 km + 1240m): The day started from Penance along the coast, following it through cycle paths to arrive with a small detour to the inevitable Land’s End, an unmissable attraction with its breathtaking views from the cliffs. The route continued towards St. Just and then headed to Botallack shafts’ mine area which travelled through time, from there the path followed some of the lost ways of the West Kernow, lost in marshy land and then with a diversion on the way up to our first destination St. Ives, a popular resort known for its surf beaches.
- Day two: from St. Ives to Coverack ( 70,1 km + 1010m) : To leave St. Ives the route starts uphill and runs fast between roads and dirt roads up to Porthleven, the most southerly port in Great Britain. From there up to the coast, a wide gravel path towards Loe Bar and down to the beach before going up again, a breathtaking route in Chyvarloe park, which in this season, through the Lizard Heritage Coast becomes very technical and marshy. Under pouring rain, we emerged from the mud to reach our destination, Coverack, a small but very characteristic fishing village.
- Day three: from Coverack to Portreath ( 56,7 km + 1230m) : For a moment the weather seems to grace us, we left Coverack with the sun, a riot of colours. The day’s track is a true coast-to-coast from the English Channel to the Bristol Channel. The road plunges between daffodils, woods and steep ups and downs. Crossing the village of Gweek and Stithians when wind and rain slipped in, even if the original track descended into the Stithians Reservoir, we decided to avoid getting bogged down again and continue to Redruth Mine via the disused Hayle railway. A beautiful route that took us to our destination on the cliff of Portreath, a fishing port on the north coast of Cornwall.
- Day four: from Portreath to Penzance ( 46 km + 62m) : On the fourth day, our train to London was going to leave at about 2 pm, we had to limit distance and time. We left Portreath in a sunny and breezy morning, first stop at Carn Brea Castle, a gravel climb on a hill from which you can check out all the surrounding valleys. We went down and among the hills, we arrived in another area full of mine shafts, the South Wheal Frances Mine, a large area with several structures still pretty intact, a museum that unfortunately, we don’t have time to visit. We continued through the hills towards the sea to arrive again on the coast right in front of Saint Michael’s Mount, protected from the tide and silhouetted against the light of the day. The journey thus concludes via the cycle path along the coast to Penzance station.
- Land’s End Signpost: introduced in 1957 to take souvenir pictures and send them all around the world, it marks the western point of Great Britain.
- Botallack mine: Located on the north coast of Penwith between the town of St Just and the village of Pendeen, Botallack Mine now lies in ruins. Enhancing the landscape of meadow-covered cliffs and sweeping sea views, it is absolutely astonishing.
- Lizard peninsula and Loe Bar: The route from Porthleven through Chyvarloe park to the Lizard peninsula is breathtaking. A technical off-road stretch, with unforgettable views.
- The Paris Hotel in Coverack: Not only the small fishing village of Coverack is extraordinary, but overnight at the Paris Hotel is the real experience. Very simple accommodations, good food, and a unique view from the breakfast room.
- Redruth Mining District: Linked through the old railway track, is the classic Cornish Mining landscape with the highest concentration of historic mining sites anywhere in the world.
- Portreath: A small resort with a very narrow harbour, popular for surfers and bodyboarders, there are several shops, and cafés in the village and spectacular cliffs on the north.
- South Wheal Frances Mines: A large group of impressive buildings connect to the extensive King Edward Mines territory, with an educational museum to learn more about life in the old days.
- St Michael’s Mount: Rocky island is crowned by a medieval church and castle, at high tide you can take a boat trip from the mainland but if you can wait for the low tide you can walk across the ancient cobbled causeway, as pilgrims have done for centuries.
TOTAL BUDGET ALL-INCLUSIVE: £460,00
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