Saturday, August 3, 2013

Riding Across England in One Day: Penzance to Newquay

Monday 3 June, 2013
LEJOG or JOGLE – Count your blessings – Riding across England – A tragedy on the A30 – Untangling the back roads – Sorry, you're not invited – Newquay – Smugglers Arms


Why are you going south to north? You'll be going uphill!”


We got that a lot and had to patiently explain that we were going north because the predominant winds are from the south-west, that we hoped they would be so strong that I would only have to sit up very straight in the saddle, spread my arms and whoosh up through Britain, maybe pedalling a bit up the hills but only up the steepest ones.

Question: so why is the wind blowing from the east, i,e, from dead ahead, this morning as I ride through the streets of Penzance?

Answer: Because the wind doesn't read the forecast, and, what's more, it's threatening to get stronger and blow from ahead for the next week, so get used to the idea! 

Count your blessings!

Hey! Don't whine. Count your blessings. You have a whole day of riding through some of England's most seductive countryside, the sun is warming and the view, as I pedal along the esplanade, is sublime: on my right the English Channel glinting silver, ahead the cone of St Michael's Mount, a yawl at anchor in its lee, and beyond, the sweep of Mount's Bay.

A pity about the condition of the walking/cycling track along this glorious foreshore. The surface was rocky and uneven: where there were pavers they were unfilled: I bounced and clattered like a rodeo rider.

Peter Rivett had told us that some locals don't like cyclists, don't want them cluttering the roads . Some locals take their car 100 metres down the road to buy a paper, some even boast about driving close and intimidating cyclists, so of course, they are reluctant to support moves to provide facilities for riders – like signage, smooth riding surfaces, bike stands. A missed opportunity! Cornwall is a truly beautiful place and cycling could be a great boon to the economy.

Even the police have a poor attitude to cyclists, according to a recent report by CTC, a national cycling charity: members claim that Cornwall and Devon police don't attend crashes involving cyclists as they assume that it is always the cyclists' fault.

I climb up through the village of Marazion, stopping where cars can't (tehe), to take photos of St Michael's Mount – 360 metres offshore and accessible on foot but only in the bottom half of the tide. Is it really true that up until 1099, the Mount was 6 miles inland and that in November of that year, became an island when a tsunami inundated the surrounding woodlands?

Saint Michael's Mount, Cornwall, with Marazion to the right
 and the larger town of Penzance on the distant shore.
Riding across England

From Marazion, I headed inland, leaving the south coast to climb the central hills onto the northern coast. Yes, I did ride across England but it's only 25 kms in a straight line at this point . I thought I had better make this clear in case you thought I was talking myself up a bit. It wouldn't be the first time.

The rolling  countryside of Cornwall: every inch lush green and cultivated with care and skill.

Here's a summary of the ride in the morning: always up and down on a two lane road bordered by hedges, glimpses of richly green pastures, regular small villages, a nagging wind in the exposed sections ( the road's, not mine).

I had to push up some of the climbs and welcomed this chance to rest my backside and my back. However, I had to be always wary of vehicles approaching round the steep, uphill, blind corners and was always glad when I could see the road ahead and behind.

The downhills were just as steep. I had to perch my backside at the back of the saddle, pull hard on the brakes and pray. Smoke poured from the brake blocks and the smell of burning rubber made cattle rear up, their eyes flicking wide with fear. Well, not quite but I am certain that the worst hills of Cornwall and Devon are steeper than any I rode up or down on my ride through New Zealand.

I especially loved the swoop into Redruth for two reasons.
  1. At the top of the hill I could see both the northern and southern coasts of England. Yes, wow!
  2. I didn't have to face a big climb out of Redruth as it had hills only on one side.

A Tragedy on the A30

Through Redruth I crossed under the howling A30. I took little notice at the time, just feeling glad I was on a quieter track but on this same road a month later, two Scottish LEJOGGERS (Tony Wallace and Andrew McMenigall), on the first day of their ride to raise money for cancer research, were killed, hit by a truck, they and their bikes scattered across the highway, according to one newspaper report. The truck driver was arrested and charged with suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving.

The accident occurred at the top left of the picture. The truck may have been
turning off  to the left and hit the cyclists who were continuing straight on. 

Untangling the back roads

Next time, I'll certainly take a GPS.

Britain's back roads might be quieter, mostly safer, more scenic but they can be a maze, an unsignposted web. Sorry, there are some signposts, but they are modest in size and often hidden behind foliage. I often wished I had brought pruning shears with me.

After Redruth I was on back roads: I read the guide with care and wrote on my hand the names of the villages I had to pass through....Mawla, Blackwater, Trevellas, then prowled along in search of a sign, any sign that I was on the right track. Mawla, the name suddenly became so vital and I sobbed with relief ( almost) when I saw “Mawla” on a grubby, lopsided board.

Trevellas was easy. Two young guys on mountain bikes saw my flag and stopped.

I been to Melbourne 21 times!” said with excitement by the one with the thin face. NB. He had the broadest accent which I will not try to put into script.

Got several relations out there. 21 times and I'm only 25. Going there for a wedding later this year.”

I told them where I was from and what I was doing. The Melbourne-goer interrupted.

Man, I just love your accent!” and they both gave me a fist bump. And, they could tell me exactly where Trevellas was!

Sorry, you're not invited

Around lunchtime I rolled into Perranporth ( very touristy, bland-new holiday homes,windbreaks on the beach) swarming with tourists. I followed a back alley, through a carpark, reached a garden with tables, stopped and unpacked my banana, apple and Cornish pastie. People – sunburned, sipping expensive drinks, were looking, and their looks were at best sideways, at worst suspicious. A waiter came over.

Sir, this is actually a private bar garden for the hotel. You are welcome to finish your lunch but this is not a public area.”

He was very nice, everything considered. He could have been much more blunt to a large guy wearing a fluro yellow jacket on a grubby bicycle eating a scratch lunch and taking up valuable private space.


Self portrait, taken on a slope on the road
  between Perranporth and Newquay.

 The last 10 kms into Newquay were..... testing. We were back on the coast, now a succession of high cliffs between villages in vallies at sea level. More climbs and swoops, though I could never say I wasn't warned. The wind continued to blow with determination in my face. Oh, and I would like some roading engineer to explain this: a signpost indicated: Newquay – 5 miles. A long way further on, and I swear this is true, a signpost indicated: Newquay – 6 miles. And yes, I definitely was going in the right direction.

1430 – sunny Newquay, the surfing capital of Britain, streets teeming with holiday makers.

Excuse me. Where is the main shopping area?” David had texted me the address of the B and B and I wanted to find the Tourist Centre.

Just nip along here. It's a one way but it's ok for cyclists.”

I nipped along, swerved round several cars who, inexplicably, seemed resentful that I was riding the opposite way to them down a one way street...... and was walked to the Tourist Centre by a most thoughtful local.

“ I just wanna make sure you get there.” 

Ten minutes later I met David and we were welcomed to the Chynoweth B and B by owners Peter and Allison, imports to Newquay from the north but in love with the place and vowing to stay.

Smugglers Arms

That night we drove back down the coast to the Smugglers Arms Hotel, sat in the early evening sun drinking warm English beer and ate our first pub meal of the trip: steak pie with crusty pastry and served with mixed vegetables. Truly satisfying.

The weather

Fine, clear skies, warm. Wind moderate from the north east, in my face.

Statistics (kms)

Distance today
4h 50m

Newquay in the early evening, Tolcarne Beach in the foreground. Newquay, about the same size as Penzance (c20,000), has been a major tourist centre for decades and is truly regarded as the surfing capital of the UK.

Map of Cornwall. Lands End is at the extreme left tip of England.

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