The West Kernow Way – Bike-Packing along Cornwalls Lost and Forgotten Ways

Heading up on to Bodmin Moor on our way to the start of the West Kernow Way

The West Kernow Way, (Kernow being Cornish for Cornwall) officially starts at Penzance and heads out in a figure-of-eight to the most south westerly point of the UK mainland at Lands End, then loops back down to the most southerly at Lizard Point. It then goes north right across the Cornish peninsula to the historic mining heartland of Redruth before heading south again to finish at the iconic island of St Michael’s Mount and Marazion.

The route itself is about 236 km and has about 3999 m of ascent. It is a real mixture of quiet lanes, cycle paths and bridleways that vary from smooth grass to loose rock or narrow singletrack sheep trails over moors. Being Cornwall the climbs tend to be very steep.

It took us two days to cycle down and we stopped overnight at a very empty campsite near Blisland on Bodmin Moor where we had a field to ourselves. The second day heading into Cornwall gave our legs a good warm up for what was to come. But we eventually made it to the Tehidy Campsite near Scorrier where we will pick up the West Kernow Way.

Our campsite at South Penquite Farm, Bodmin was delightfully empty.
The Blisland Arms was only a half hour walk (down!) from the campsite and did good food.
After dropping steeply down from Bodmin Moor we had an easy cycle along the Camel Trail Cycle track
It wasn’t long before we were climbing again, with wonderful views in the sunshine.
A buzzard
Then we arrived at the West Kernow Way near Scorrier. This is not the official start but the nearest point for us.
We started on a nice easy track, it would be more challenging tomorrow!
After camping overnight at Illogen we rolled down the old tram road to Porthreath
Although we were camping, to save weight we had not brought food and cooking equipment with us, so we stopped here at Porthreath beach for breakfast of bacon butties from the Porthreath Bakery Cafe.
There was a very steep climb up from Porthreath, and right at the bottom Bernie had a major mechanical on his bike that nearly stopped this trip in its tracks. Luckily he was able to do a temporary repair that we hoped would hold until we got home.
We had a fairly easy morning along gravel tracks past a series of mines, engine houses and chimneys. Well, there might have been the odd steep bit. We were following the Flat Lode Trail and I was just thinking how easy it was when we missed another turning.
One of the many tin mines and chimneys we passed.
The missed turning was heading up to the top here, to Carn Brea, so marked the end of the easy cycling.
The first haul of the day heading up to Carn Brae
Halfway up to Carn Brae
Riding again but only just. Still heading up.
Finally made it to the top of Carn Brae
Definitely needed to stop for a break after that climb. We are sitting at the base of the monument to Lord Bassett, mine owner, at the top of Carn Brae. You can see this for miles.
After spending and hour looking around Edwards Mine (fascinating tour) we headed off on a variety of tracks from wide open lanes like this, to boggy, overgrown single track as we went over Hood Hill.
Here we are cycling down a rocky streambed through a beautiful wood. Glad of our wider tyres!
There was the odd bit of getting lost, although from the tyre tracks we weren’t the only ones.
Bernie headed confidently around this boggy field, I wasn’t so sure.
The track lead into this hedge. Not right but we managed to get through onto a lane we could see on the other side.
Still don’t think we were on the right track, but an interesting adventure, as we headed through an overgrown wood.
Eventually we were back on track and about to head down towards Marazion
St Michael’s Mount, Marazion, at the end of the day. All looks lovely but everywhere was fully booked. Although the campsite squeezed us in as they never turn cyclists and walkers away, getting something to eat was harder. Eventually, at the end of the evening we found a restaurant that would take us.
Last night, after the trouble finding food, we had booked ourselves in for breakfast at the Godolphin Arms, and sat eating our way hungrily through their breakfast menu while sitting on their balcony overlooking St Michael’s Mount. Finally full, we set off towards Lands End, and as the seafront trail was closed for maintenance, this meant cycling along the beach to Penzance.
The picturesque Mousehole harbour at the start of a really steep climb that just keeps on giving!
We stopped off to visit the Museum of Communications at Porthcurno where the first transatlantic cable came ashore. Unfortunately, with all the Covid shutdowns we found we needed to book ahead and couldn’t get in the museum itself.
Then we were at Sennen Cove, simply stunning, especially compared to the horror that is Lands End. We only continued to Lands End just so that we had been, but I won’t bother with a photograph as it is so grim and touristy.
We were now on the coastal path for a bit, heading up to Cape Cornwall. It was steep but the views were amazing and well worth the effort. It was very hot but there was a gently breeze that was great, and Cape Cornwall Golf Club had a very welcome cafe.
Cape Cornwall
Cape Cornwall
Tin mine chimney on Cape Cornwall
We camped at Truthwall near St Just. The kind people in the campervan made us cups of tea when we arrived and again in the morning before we set off hoping to find breakfast somewhere.
Our luck with the lovely weather had ended. Here the mist was rolling in that later turned to rain with strong winds. This is the Tinners Way and you can just make out more mines right on the edge of the cliffs. The seams from the mines often went out a couple of miles under the sea and in stormy weather the miners could hear the stones rolling on the seabed.
On the Tinners Way near St Just
As this is a figure of 8 trail we started heading inland again, across the boggiest part of the trail, so it was a shame it was raining. The tracks here varied from single track to the occasional 4WD track.
Even in the foggy gloom the heather and gorse were lovely.
A deserted farmhouse on the moor
A standing stone in the mist. There is quite a bit of ancient history up here, but we couldn’t find it in these conditions.
Stopping for a snack in the rain.
The going got a bit trickier as we went over the moor, not only all the boulders and lots of deep ruts and boggy bits. I found it easier to push.
We were fairly hungry after just having a snack for breakfast so were delighted to find that there was a Community Shop in Nancledra that was actually open. It was full of wonderful homemade pies and cakes, vegetables and eggs. Luckily we had some cash as we had to leave the money in an honesty box.
The trouble with buying food when you are hungry is you always buy too much. Eating our lunch in the rain outside Nancledra Hall
Having had a soggy evening camping on the beach near Hayle it was just a wet when we set off the next day.
The sun trying to lift as we head toward Loe.
Dropping steeply down to Loe Bar
It was a hard push over the soft sand on Loe Bar. Then back up over the next headland and through a busy golf course. I was glad of our helmets although we didn’t get hit by anything. The occasional golfer waved, at least I like to think they were waving!
The clouds lifted during the day and the views improved.
Mullion Harbour. We were cycling over a series of headlands, each time dropping down then steeply back up to the next.
The National Trust Land on the Lizard Peninsula
Kynance Cove. The people here with the tents are filming for Game of Thrones
Lizard Point and Lighthouse
At Lizard Point, the most Southerly point in Britain
The pretty little Cadgwith Cove which has a seriously steep exit even by Cornish standards. Finding somewhere to camp on the Lizard was tricky. We had seen three campsites on the map in Kuggar, but in reality one was private, one didn’t look open and the third was a bit weird. We stayed in the weird one, Namparra Campsite. Compared to the rest of Cornwall the Lizard was really empty.
It had rained heavily overnight but leaving early the next morning the clouds had gone and the sun was rising as we headed steeply down to the beach. I am going to have to find a new adjective to describe the hills as I keep using the word steep, and the hills today were more than that. I think unbelievable would do.
The first beach of the two we crossed today.
Coverack Harbour
We were delighted to find Coverack Village Stores open as we had done two beaches and two headlands before breakfast, and our supper last night had been a bit minimal so we were starving. Five minutes later with coffee in hand and Danish pastries in our bellies we felt much better until we saw the hill we were leaving by.
There are two routes around this section. The long way round via Gweek or the short cut via the ferry from Helford. Well, my legs were tired
Getting the bikes on the little ferry. He somehow managed to get 3 more passengers on. Five minutes later we were pushing up the shingles at Helford Passage. Another mammoth hill left me gasping and my legs felt done for the day.
There was quite a bit of off road after the ferry and it was steep, muddy and slippery. But somehow my legs got me to Constantine where we had hoped to buy lunch. We shared the one remaining grim sandwich the Spar had left and some dry scones. Slightly refuelled we squelched and slid our way along some more tracks before reaching these beautiful beech woodlands.
We had made it around the West Kernow Way. We arrived at a campsite in St Day. They were closing down for the the year, so after telling us to site down in a comfy chair the kind owner made us cups of tea and let us camp for free. I think we must have looked as exhausted as we felt.
Then it was back on roads for our cycle home, which was a bit of a shock after all the quiet green lanes. We stopped off here in St Columb for lunch.
Back into South Penquite Farm Campsite on Bodmin with these lovely views.
A quiet evening writing up my blog.
Moonrise over the tent on Bodmin

The history in Cornwall is fascinating. Its relatively warm climate, fertile land and rich seas on all sides made it one of the first areas to be settled by humans in the UK in the middle Stone Age (Mesolithic). It was Cornwall’s crucial part in ending the Stone Age that brought it to prominence. Rich deposits of the tin needed to turn decorative copper into bronze of a high enough quality for sharp tools, armour and weapons put it on the map for traders as far away as the eastern Mediterranean. It’s mentioned by Greek historian Herodotus around 500 BC.

It didn’t do so well from Saxon times onwards as it was so remote but the development of the first steam engines to pump water out of the mines meant that Cornwall hit the big time again. Not only did its minerals, such as China Clay used in porcelain, become very important, but the knowledge of its engineers and miners was sought after all over the world, such as South America, Russia and Australia. We have come across communities descended from Cornish miners in some very unexpected parts of the world. We could tell as they always took the pasty with them! They might call them empanada’s but I recognise a pasty when I see one. Being at the nearest point to America made it the ideal spot for communication experiments like the pioneering telegraph work at Porthcurno and Marconi’s radio towers at Poldhu. Even today 22 of the world’s fastest undersea fibre optic cables come ashore in Cornwall.

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