Thursday, April 20, 2006
A Cornish Cycle
I’m suffering from culture shock today. I spent the last 8 days either in or getting to and from Cornwall. It was my first trip so far south in the British Isles and it was wonderful. As I sat on the train going south last Wednesday I felt slightly disappointed that the countryside still looked ever so British. I suppose I have been spoilt because I normally travel 5 hours to some exotic destination rather than within my own country. My travelling companion was John, who after a month of trying to buy a bicycle, then borrowing one from his brother and suffering a rather nasty mishap, only got his brand new and sparkly Marin (nick named Maid Marion) 18h before the train departed!
We met up at New Street station and descended into the bowels of the sub-platform level so that we could get our bikes on to the platform without lugging them the stairs. Then up onto the Virgin train and its intriguing bike hanging system. We nervously sat in the seats closest to the bikes and kept checking they were still there, by the time we came back on the train we were a little more blasé and J had his light nicked – by a fellow cyclist! At Exeter we changed for a local train and watched the landscape sway by. Near Exeter it seemed quite flat but soon the hills rolled into view. Paul, cyclist extraordinaire, had mentioned that Cornwall was rather hilly. J looked on with a slightly worried expression – he’d only clocked up about 6h in the saddle ever, never mind on his new steed! At St. Austell the sun was shining and we struggled out of the train with our heavily laden bikes. Changing into padded shorts seemed a safe option for the 4miles to Pentewan but getting out of St. Austell seemed like hard work (one car actually grazing the side of J’s leg) and we were eventually stopped by a policeman for cycling the wrong way down a one way pedestrianized area. I asked the way for ‘Pent-e-wan’ to which he laughed and said ‘Pen-tew-an’ and pointed us in the right direction. Thus eventually we found the blissful cycle route down to the seaside and our camping spot for the night. We bowled along beside a little stream and I was delighted to see Lysichitons growing in the mire! We set up camp in the campground under the shelter of some trees which we discovered later were the nesting grounds for some very noisy rooks! Then skiddaddled down to the beach for a spot of shell and seaglass collecting. Dinner was a magnificent chicken kiev affair with crème de menthe and chocolate steamed sponge for pud in the Ship Inn.
The morning dawned grey and we stuffed ourselves full of porridge, though stopped at the wee onsite shop for chocolate spread filled baguettes before heading off to the hills. These arrived very quickly in the shape of Heligan woods and as I came to the top I looked back and saw J pushing his bike up the hill, cursing the Cornish countryside! But we were rewarded with a great cycle path, which seemed the norm for much of the national cycleways we followed (nos. 3 and 32), that was downhill all the way into Mevagissy and we stopped for a quick picture and jelly sweetie before tackling the next of the many hills we covered that first day. I was rather proud of myself to get up the first chevroned hill but sadly pushed up the next double chevroned number. We stopped again in Caerhays, just up from the beach with the view of the rhododendrons in flower around the castle. It was the first day of opening for the wee café and we had fine sausage rolls before a wander on the beach, hunting in the rock pools for sea anemones and in the caves for smugglers. Back on the bikes we peddled on quiet roads towards Truro. I had hoped that we could catch a ferry across the Tresillian river but we found a notice saying it wasn’t working due to a re-fit. The sign was held up by rather rusty pins but looking underneath there was a note saying they wouldn’t take bikes anyway, so we didn’t even risk the down hill stretch and took a 4 mile diversion to get into Truro. We were very tired and fairly grumpy by the time we got there. But luckily we found a Co-op still open and bought lots of bananas, I had been worried that Cornwall was going to be a banana free county, which would have been a disaster as bananas are a bicyclists best friend! We also bought lots of other stuff, the lady at the checkout was worried about putting anything more on or bikes but I assured her that we would eat most of it there and then but still managed to strap and significant amount more to my already bulging pannier rack. The last 4 miles to our campsite in Shortlanesend seemed a hard slog and J collapsed on to the ground before we got the tent up and was happy not to be astride his rather uncomfortable saddle. I whipped up a three course dinner with packets of food that just needed water adding and some boiling – chicken noodle soup, cheese and ham pasta and finally bananas and custard. That certainly did the trick! Then hot showers and to bed!
The following morning we creaked out of the tent and after fuelling on porridge once more made our way towards Newquay. But the weather wasn’t smiling on us and the leaden grey skies eventually started to emit a fine mist that wasn’t drenching but was certainly wet. J seemed to enjoy it as he said it kept him cool. As we came up a hill past Trerice J shouted don’t stop – and felt very proud for getting up the hill, only to be faced by another as we rounded the corner, to which he said words to the effect that he was getting off to push! Not feeling particularly excited about seeing the sights of Newquay we stopped on the curb outside a school to catch our breath and eat a banana and some more sweeties before plowing onwards. Coming through St Columb Major we popped into a pub for a sarnie but they had stopped serving so just got 4 bags of crisps and several pints of orange squash to keep us going. The weather remained unpleasant and we could only just make out the sails of the nearest windmill on the wind farm near St Eval even though it was only 100m away. But as luck would have it as we came down an unused track, brilliant for cyclists, outside Padstow the sun came out. The tent went up and we walked into Padstow for a well earned fish and chip supper, which we ate to the strains of a singing guitarist. This was followed by delicious blackcurrant and clotted cream icecream – though the extra clotted cream was a bit much on the top! I was amazed by the numbers of people pottering about this town – I had expected folk but I had not estimated this many. The rowing club was heading out for a potter on the water too – and drew a big crowd as they launched.
After another well earned night’s rest we pottered back in to Padstow and had morning bacon, leek and cheese pasties for 2nd breakfast on the harbour front. The sun shone brightly as we walked down to the beach and along as far as we could go. Ten, flopped on the sand, we watched two guys in buggies flying kites zoom up and down the sand. As the sun went behind some clouds we wandered back, picked up the ingredients for a salad and headed once more for the tent. A wonderful day off from the cycling. In the morning we took the camel trail down to Wadebridge and then to Bodmin. It was Easter Sunday and to celebrate we had Easter porridge – porridge with a crème egg stirred in – what luxury!! The cycle path was brilliant – all paved and not a hill in sight, but everyone seemed to have decided to hire bikes and J was happy to (pretend to) joust them out of the way as we pottered along. Past Wadebridge we came across the Camel Valley Vineyard and decided to go in for a try of the wine. The Bacchus Dry was magnificent – full of passionfruity flavours, and ever so pale. Back on the bikes the going had become tough – even though it was still flat – must have been the wine addling the muscles, rather than the brain for once. Bodmin was only a stones throw away but it took us an age to find the campsite up a steep hill. Dinner that night was courtesy of Nivals, which seemed to be the only place open and serving food. We had a massive plate of onion rings, mushrooms, garlic bread and chicken satays to share before launching into pastas too! Almost too full to move we dragged ourselves back to the campsite past a little ruined chapel and its beautiful trailing purple flowers in the graveyard of a bigger church.
Once more a good night’s sleep left us ready to tackle the day ahead - the last of the major cycling back towards St Austell. This was a truly brilliant day and I really enjoyed coming past a Tor and then through a secluded forest – very ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’. Then past the Eden Project and to our campsite, which had a magnificent view over Par sands. Round our feet lots of chickens clucked and scratched in the grass, much to my amusement. We unloaded the bikes and cycled down to the beach where we both flopped on to the sand and actually caught the sun some what.
The following day we were up ready to take the bikes to Eden, where we got in for £4 less just for turning up on them!! J purchased a hat to prevent the sun from doing more damage and then we pottered through the gardens. By 11 we were starving and had jacket spuds and Danish pastries before heading into the humid biome. Wow it was hot and humid – it was just like being back in Brunei or walking into a sauna! I knew lots of the plants already and enjoyed our rather sweaty stroll. Then out and into the temperate biome – much more tolerable but the plants weren’t nearly as exciting. Ice creams were called for as I was flagging somewhat and then into the noisy Core before heading to the shop and out again. After taking the bikes back to the campsite we wandered down to Par and the Four Lords Inn for magnificent sausage and mash for tea!
So all that remained was for us to get back on the train yesterday and make out way home. I was pottering quietly up the Stratford Road thinking how easy the cycling was when a moron in a car came racing down the wrong side of the road towards me with his full beam on. Scared out of my tree I stopped with nowhere else to go and shouted what did he think he was doing?! Luckily he stopped too and wound his window down and then spat at me. Aghast I cycled round the now stationary vehicle and continued home rather shaken. And so I spent the evening questioning my choice to live in a big city. After a week of blissful cycling and low impact holidaying it has all come as rather a shock to the system to be back at home once more. Our total mileage must be around 120miles.