Tucked away in the far southwest corner of Britain, Cornwall is a place with its own unique cultural identity, not to mention its own language. It can feel somewhat separate from the rest of the country, not helped by the fact that it’s so difficult to get to, but still it draws millions of visitors every year. Hardly surprising, though.
With its spectacular coastline and huge maze of intertwining lanes that crisscross the countryside, as well as undulating terrain that includes plenty of short but steep climbs, the appeal to cyclists is obvious. It’s also the warmest part of Britain, with a relatively mild winter climate, so in many ways, the winter and early spring are the best times to visit, away from the height of the summer tourist season when it can all feel a bit crowded.
We headed to Wadebridge in the north of the county, hoping for a warm and scenic winter ride, on a route taking in the rugged coastline, the inland clay pits and the highest road in Cornwall. The town is just a few miles from Bodmin, not far off the main A30 expressway, and makes a good place to start, being close enough to the quieter roads and coastline. Matt Page relives the ride…
’While the Cornish weather is supposedly warmer than the rest of the country, today it was not playing ball, and it’s a damp, cold and drizzly morning when we arrive in Wadebridge to meet up with local riders Adam and Duncan.
Both race with Mid Cornwall CC and despite the less-than- perfect conditions, they’re keen to show us some of the highlights of the coastal roads where they train. After a little procrastination over a superb latte at the small but excellent Relish cafe, where the barista is a local cyclist, we finally came to a decision to HTFU and get going while there’s a brief weather window.
’Heading out of Wadebridge, the initial roads are not the quietest, although there is a cycle route called the Camel Trail that would make a good traffic-free option. As we head towards Padstow, the road is lined with hedges, giving just a few fleeting glances of the sea, but after climbing out of Padstow, the coastal road really starts to deliver.
The tarmac constantly undulates, dipping and diving through the valleys with the sea popping into view to our right. In the summer, this road would undoubtedly be rammed, but on this late November day, it is relatively quiet. The dip into Porthcothan Bay, which looks like it would be a beautiful beach in the summer, is deserted and unsurprisingly so- even the hardy surfers are staying away today.
As we continue along the coastline we catch sight of Bedruthan Beach and the famous Bedruthan Steps. According to legend, these huge granite rocks are the stepping stones of the giant Bedruthan and notorious for shipwrecks.
The place names are a reminder of the area’s Celtic history, with names like that, I decide it’s best to get locals Adam and Duncan to pronounce them before I attempt to say them out loud myself (it’s pronounced Bed-roo-van, by the way).
’Continuing south, we pass through the next picture-perfect village, Morgan Porth complete with traditional seaside shops. The climb out is steep at first, up around the tight switchback, but levels off a bit as it gains height. With not even a tiny flat section in sight, we drop down the steep and fast road into Watergate Bay, perhaps the most scenic part of the whole route.
A fast, twisting descent down into the bay, past the posh hotel and restaurants before the switchback hairpin climb out the other side, where the view to our right and slightly behind us is incredible. Soon after, we pass the site of the famous Boardmasters festival, although it takes our local experts to point it out as there is nothing to show of it during the winter.
As we pass through Porth, on the outskirts of Newquay, the surroundings all start to become much more urban. Newquay itself is a useful place to stop and refuel before the second half, which will take us into more remote terrain.
’The road out of Newquay is perhaps the busiest of the route, with a fair bit of traffic even during the winter. A tough drag takes us up past a holiday village as we head inland and start to gain more height as we leave the coast behind. We pass the airport with its 1.7-mile runway-recent testing ground of the Bloodhound SSC land-speed record vehicle where it hit 200mph with ease. As we climb up, into a biting cold northerly wind, the thought of hitting just a tenth of that would be nice.
’Soon after passing the airport, we turn off onto quieter roads, heading south and then east and towards the clay pits. The busier roads are now replaced with quiet lanes and pleasant views as we keep climbing, albeit gradually through the villages of St Dennis and then Nanpean. From here we start a popular local hill-climb route, although one that Adam points out is a bit odd, because it goes “up a bit, down a bit and then back up again!”.
’The first part of the climb is a little shock to the legs after quite a bit of gradual climbing, pitching up to just above 10% although averaging a more manageable 6% for 1.4km. Nearing the top, the views open up and are fantastic, even with the misty drizzle that continues to fall across the big quarries around us.
As we ride on, heading onto that “down a bit” section, it is a fast, straight downhill before we turn to head north, directly into the biting wind once again and climb what is affectionately known locally as Bitch Hill. We soon learn why.
’This “back up again” section is steeper again, averaging 7% and going above 15% at times. The Strava KOM holder, pro rider Chris Opie, need not fear as we plod up well behind his impressive time. A gentle section follows, climbing just a little takes us to what Adam tells us is the highest road in Cornwalfjust above the village of Roche. It isn’t marked and does not exactly feel like a summit, so we’ll take Adam’s word for this!
’The downhill would normally be a fast and fun descent no doubt, but today the weather just isn’t wanting to let loose as a hail storm starts to batter us, making progress slow and painful as we struggle to keep our eyes open with what feels like a barrage of stinging needles pounding into us. If there is ever a good real-world definition of “Type 2 fun” (the type that is only fun when you remember it later) then today is most definitely it, as we all manage to keep smiling somehow.
‘After passing Roche the road crosses the A30 and starts to climb up again, before turning right and onto smaller, twisty and fun roads. No matter what the weather is throwing, this is a fun section to ride as the roads dip and dive throughout.
Passing through the hamlet of Rosenannon there is one final climb, with 3km of lanes to dump whatever energy reserves you have left, or in our case to keep us all warm before the final and very enjoyable drop back into Wadebridge.
‘What better way to warm back up than with another latte at Relish and a chance to chat about the ride. It is one that will certainly be remembered. The stunning scenery, fantastic roads and in our case, filthy weather which made it all the more fun now that we have managed to warm back up. Just one final stop, a Cornish pasty.
- Starting from Wadebridge head southwest on the A39, before turning right onto the A339 after 4km, and the continue until the T-junction, take the turn right signposted for Padstow. Continue through the town, climbing out and onto the B3276, towards Newquay.
- Continue on this road, heading South along the coastline as it dips in and out of villages and bays along the way. Arriving in Porth, turn right to head into Newquay Town Centre -or left to miss the out and back section into the town.
- Head out of the town on the A3059, climbing up past the holiday park and past the outskirts of the airport. At the 50km mark, turn right onto an unclassified road, signposted Blackacre and continue towards Coldish, going under the A30 dual carriageway and off towards St Dennis.
- Continue through Nanpean and through the clay pits area to Roche and onwards, heading North over the A30. Turn onto an unclassified road towards St Wenn and soon after left towards Rosenannon and Wadebridge. Continue on minor roads back to Wadebridge.