Cycling vacations in Cornwall

For Cornish folk, tourism is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s a lucrative industry that’s thrived where others, such as fishing and tin mining, have decreased; on the other hand, it’s a real pain in the pasties. Roads leading to beaches and seaside towns come to a standstill in high season; young people struggle to buy a first home due to vacation rental properties pushing prices up; and a huge increase in tourist-related rubbish is left behind on beaches and beauty spots every spring and summer – over 600 abandoned polystyrene body boards were collected by BeachCare from just three beaches in August 2016.

One way that you can visit Cornwall that will benefit local communities is to cycle. The great advantage of being on a bike – other than that it’s a healthy form of exercise and doesn’t damage the environment – is that if you reach an already overcrowded area you can just pedal past. In this way, you can discover lots of smaller coastal areas but without the crowds associated with Newquay, Polzeath and St Ives.
Gordon Steer, the UK manager for our self guided cycling experts World Expeditions, describes the many advantages of exploring Cornwall by bike: “When you’re cycling you can visit smaller out-of-the-way places where tourists are less inclined to stop. Our self guided tours don’t run to a schedule or a timetable; they’re totally flexible. If you see a sign for local farm produce or cream teas then go for it. It’s a very personal experience and very much about discovery and enabling cyclists to explore.”

Self guided cycling vacations in Cornwall are a great way to ensure your stay makes a positive impact on the local community. Accommodation is often chosen because it’s locally owned, so you know your hard-earned vacation funds will be going into the local economy rather than overseas to a multinational hotel chain. Also, route notes will include points of interest and places to eat out that aren’t always in the guidebooks.

However, as Gordon mentions, it’s often cyclists on self guided tours that are the most up-to-date source of recommendations: “Things change all the time and it’s great to hear our cyclists telling us all about the little tea shops and village bakeries that they’ve found for themselves. We do, of course, provide detailed route notes which highlight lots of local recommendations and points of interest; however, it’s always nice to know a few more first-hand suggestions so we can keep up-to-date and help out local businesses.”

What does a self guided cycling vacation in Cornwall entail?

Self guided cycling in Cornwall really showcases the county’s variety of inland and coastal scenery, as well as inviting you to stay overnight in places like Padstow, Perranporth, Porthcurno and Porthleven. This provides ample opportunities to take your time to get to know the landscape in the saddle as well as being able to enjoy an afternoon to explore a town or village on foot. You can also visit popular spots like Newquay and St Ives outside of summer, or opt for alternative inland routes to avoid the crowds.

“Our self guided cycling trips are put together by our UK team. Every one of the routes will have been tried and tested, as well as the accommodation” explains Gordon. “As we mainly cater for very small groups – i.e. couples or groups of 4 – we don’t need to use big hotel chains. Our cyclists are encouraged to stay at small, locally owned guest houses and family-run B&Bs. Luggage is transferred by us whilst you ride. We also suggest local places to eat and are always eager to hear about which places people have found for themselves.”

Cyclists have complete freedom to explore and get to know the area, guided by local recommendations: “Most of our cyclists will eat out every day; they don’t want to spend half their time cooking in a self-contained cottage or something like that. Eating out in small, locally run places also benefits the local community and ensures that what you spend is kept within the micro economy rather than going elsewhere. The same goes for the B&Bs that we suggest our cyclists stay in. We choose independently owned accommodation with plenty of charm and character. And guest house hosts always know all the walking and cycling routes in the local area, as well as the best cafés and places to eat out.”

Is it going to be tough cycling in Cornwall?

Gradients in Cornwall range from flat riverside stretches, such as the 28km-long Camel Trail that runs along the estuary from Padstow to Bodmin Moor, to more undulating routes, including cycling to the ports and smugglers’ coves on the Roseland Peninsula. It’s a real mix of landscapes, but you’ll never be far away from an inland village or seaside fishing community along the coast. Daily distances won’t go over 50km – but bear in mind the hills and coastal winds, as these can also inform how tough the ride will be.

The best advice is to make sure the distances and gradients that you tackle are achievable. Be honest with yourself and try to tailor in plenty of time to relax and stop at village bakeries and teahouses for the obligatory daily dose of scones and pasties. Cornish ice cream and the cider aren’t bad either, so you’ll want to make sure you don’t miss out on refreshment stops simply because you’ve bitten off more cycling than you can chew.

For anyone looking to give their legs a rest whilst on vacation but who still wants to explore, there is an alternative: “In some areas, it can be slightly hillier than you might imagine. E-bikes are a great way to take the effort out of cycling and we work with a great locally-owned bike hire company in Cornwall” explains Gordon.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about England cycling or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Best time to cycle in Cornwall

Cornwall can get really crowded in the summer months of July and August. If you’re cycling in summer then choosing an inland route, rather than one that takes you along the busy roads leading to beaches, is always a great option. For example, the route between Padstow and Newquay can be very busy in summer, whereas the inland alternative that takes you via St Columb Major is far quieter. Basically, cycling outside of spring and summer school vacations is going to give you a far more peaceful perspective of Cornwall. Autumn will already be getting wet and wild, but the advantage of this time of year is that all the ‘grockles’ (vacationmakers) will have packed up by then. And there’s no bad weather that a hot Cornish pasty won’t cure – so make sure to leave space in your saddle bags. The winter months from November to March can be pretty bleak and cycling on some of the high cliff tops can be quite dangerous.
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: S N Pattenden] [Intro: Vidar Nordli-Mathisen] [What does it entail?: shirokazan] [Best time to go cycling in Cornwall: Maxpax]