Cycling the West Kernow Way
The best long-distance cycle route in the UK
The West Kernow Way is an exciting, challenging and incredibly beautiful new cycle route around Cornwall. For hardened pros or slightly wobbly intermediates, this is one of the best cycle routes in the UK to tackle. It’s also the perfect opportunity to dodge the tourist throng and discover parts of Cornwall that are still wonderfully secret. If you’re looking for an adventure, I would highly recommend heading out to take on the West Kernow Way…
What is the West Kernow Way?
The West Kernow Way is a new 230km, mixed terrain cycle route around the west of Cornwall. It was formally opened in September 2021 by British cycling charity, Cycling UK. The official route begins in Penzance and loops in a large figure of eight formation; brushing the north, south and west coasts of Cornwall before finishing in Marazion.
How much experience do you need?
Don’t get me wrong, I do love a bike ride. But my bike rides tend to be short and gentle given that I’m always cycling with the kids. That said, my sister Becks and I decided that we wanted a new challenge. Something just for us; an adventure to look forward to and train for. When we heard about the West Kernow Way, we thought this was just right. Yes, it’s a long way but the figure of eight formation means that you can easily split the ride across two weekends making it far more manageable for those with less experience.
When to cycle the West Kernow Way
Although you can cycle the West Kernow Way at any time of year, I would very much say that Becks and I are ‘fair weather cyclists.’ In winter, the off-road trails and moors are likely to be very wet and muddy making cycling harder. We chose to complete the route across two Spring weekends, one in May and one in June. Spring is a lovely time of year in Cornwall; the weather is kinder (usually sunny and warm), the verges are a haze of wildflowers and buzzing insects, the coastline is alive with seals, dolphins and sea-birds, and the area is quieter before the summer season gets into full swing.
As we set off on our adventure, we both admitted that our ‘training schedule’ had gone slightly amiss/totally out the window but, splitting the route across 4 days meant that we could take a gentler pace and enjoy our surroundings more.
What to see along the West Kernow Way
Indeed, for us it was never about racing the clock, or covering as much distance as possible. We both love Cornwall and wanted to take the time to enjoy it. Yes, we were out on a long-distance bike ride but that doesn’t mean there can’t be time for swimming, seal-watching, eating and drinking wine….
The route is a wonderful mix of well-known Cornish sights like Lands End, Porthcurno and the Levant mine, and quieter but equally as beautiful areas such as Goon Gumpass, Loe Bar and Portreath.
In fact, I loved cycling around Redruth’s miners trails so much that I’m heading back there with the kids over half term for more cycling adventures.
What’s the terrain like on the West Kernow Way?
There’s a real mix of terrain, as well as landscapes along the cycle route. You may spend a morning passing crumbling engine houses and tin mines on a lose-rock bridleway and the afternoon cruising along country lanes through sleepy fishing villages with hidden coves to explore. The grassy tracks crossing the moors might prove tricky in wet weather, whilst occasional steep downhills on the miner’s trails can also pose a challenge. But on the whole, the cycling is fun with nothing too taxing for anyone with relatively decent cycling skills. I’m pretty useless at off-roading but enjoyed the challenge, and if it ever got too hard, I just hopped off and walked for a small section.
An utter highlight for me was when my sister, a far more accomplished off-roader than me, fell head first into a deep, murky puddle that smelt distinctly farmyard. Though she injured herself quite badly, she rallied like a trooper and carried on. Plus, it gave me a really, really good laugh.
Aside from cycling skills, a good level of fitness is definitely recommended. Cornwall is notoriously hilly and we certainly felt the leg-burn on a few brutal ascents. But with plenty of stops to ‘admire the view’ and have a snack, all hills were achievable and made you appreciate the flat bits.
Where to stay?
The West Kernow Way is a bike packing route and there are plenty of campsites to stay in along the way, if you can carry your kit. We cycled directly past the fantastic Treen Farm Campsite, or there are YHA hostels at Coverack and Lands End.
For Becks and I, we thought it only polite to try-out Cornish hospitality with an overnight stay at the Harbour Inn, Porthleven. Good food, good wine, and a lovely view of the twinkling lights over the Harbour. Dreamy.
What bike do I need for the West Kernow Way?
I chatted to Cycling UK before our departure about which bike would be best for the mixed terrain and long distances. They told me that the most important thing is to have a bike that you find comfortable.
My lightweight GIANT mountain bike proved a worthy companion, especially on the off-road sections, though mountain bikes can be a little slower on the roads. A gravel bike with 35mm or wider all-terrain tyres is the optimum choice in dry weather whilst a Hybrid would suffice for the majority of the trail, but perhaps make some of the off-roading more challenging.
An e-bike would certainly be a help on the hills and for those uncertain about their fitness levels, but the battery life and its weight would be a disadvantage.
West Kernow Way: the joy of adventure
For me, this was the perfect adventure. Something challenging both physically and mentally but 100% achievable and rewarding. We spent our days cruising through Cornish sunshine, admiring the incredible landscape, having the occasional dip in the sea and generally stopping for coffee, food, wine and wee stops…. We talked and laughed a lot.
The main thing we both noticed was that the minute we set off, all those daily thoughts, worries, deliberations and general chaos of mind disappeared. There was no worrying about the school run, work, chores, money, world issues, doom and gloom etc etc. No, our minds were clear to enjoy the ride and the freedom of adventure….
Find out more about the West Kernow Way
Find out more about the West Kernow Way, including the route at the Cycling UK website. You can also buy a guide with further information. There’s a useful facebook group with updates on the route too.
I will also have a piece featured on the West Kernow Way in the February edition of Countryfile Magazine.
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