Experience Cornwall by bike
Experience Cornwall by bike
Escape the tourist hotspots and seek out the back lanes, mining tracks and disused railway lines to join the dots between the many fascinating places that reveal the history and culture of the region.
Yes, Cornwall’s hills can be challenging, but with so much interest and beauty packed into a relatively small area, you don’t need to go far to have an incredible experience. Amazing foodie stops as well as traditional pasties and cream teas to help keep you going are never far away either.
As part of the European Regional Development Fund EXPERIENCE project, Cycling UK is working with Cornwall Council to develop cycle hubs in Mount's Bay (Penzance and Marazion) and Helston with promoted routes which showcase the varied riding in the area. We’re supporting businesses to become accredited Cycle Friendly Places, so you know you’ll have great options for places to eat and stay.
Penzance and Marazion
The largest town in west Cornwall with loads of places to eat, stay and visit, historic Penzance is a fantastic base for exploring the incredible scenery and sights of the south west tip of England by bike.
Penzance sits in the centre of a huge sweeping bay with the iconic St Michaels Mount to the east and the beautiful fishing village of Mousehole to the west, and our EXPERIENCE hub routes take in both these historical and photogenic highlights as well as Land’s End, Sennen Cove and Marazion. While roaring seas smashing against jagged rocks and perfect beaches hidden in secret coves make up the postcard parade, it’s the hidden heart of Cornwall’s western tip that makes this such a wonderful riding area. A maze of remarkably quiet, wildflower-covered lanes weave, dive and climb through a bewitching landscape of prehistoric spiritual and burial sites, past ancient churches and medieval farms, though tiny villages with the towering remains of Cornwall’s mining past lining the horizon.
With so little traffic on the back lanes our three routes are primarily road based, but we have added optional off-road sections to access the wild and mysterious heart of ‘Kernow’ for more adventurous riders. If you really enjoy riding round Penzance, it also forms the start of the West Kernow Way, a 150 mile gravel route through the stunning scenery and fascinating stories of western Cornwall from Land’s End to the Lizard and then north to Redruth and Portreath.
It’s only fair to warn you that Cornwall’s hills can be challenging. However, with so much interest and beauty packed into a tiny area, you don’t need to go far to have an incredible experience. Amazing foodie stops as well as traditional pasties and cream teas to help keep you going are never far away either.
While the area was being visited by tin traders from the Mesolithic era and it’s mentioned by Herodotus in 500 BC, Penzance and neighbouring Newlyn were actually overshadowed by Mousehole and Marazion until the mid-medieval period.
Gaining a Royal market started a rise to fortune that survived being burned by the Spaniards during the Armada, and by the time the Great Western Railway reached the town it was the most important in the area.
The railway brought holiday visitors to admire its beauty and rushed away the flowers and fish that thrive in the area’s warmer climate and waters.
Those same attractions - as well as eclectic architecture, subtropical gardens, the beautiful art deco open air Jubilee Pool and a super relaxed and welcoming character - are seeing visitor numbers rising again now too. That can make the main roads in and out busy at times, but even in high summer the back roads are delightfully deserted.
All the routes start beside Penzance railway station.
Cornwall’s artery road the A30 runs all the way to Penzance making navigation easy if you’re driving.
This is the longest of the Penzance routes at 48km and takes you out past the picture-perfect fishing village of Mousehole to the very end of England at Land’s End before looping back along a rollercoaster of deserted back lanes. It’s loaded with interest from the joy of the Merry Maidens stone circle to the tragic drama of the Penlee lifeboat station, as well as stunning views from the idyllically pastoral interior to rugged rocky peninsulars.
This West Cornwall route is only short at 23km, but loops out to the ancient village and natural spring shrine of Carn Euny is certainly not short on fascination, mystery and fabulous riding that makes the most of the unique Kernow landscape. While the first climb out of Newlyn is a steep one, once you’re up the rest of the gradients are a lot more gentle. Even the section of off-road to access Carn Euny is safe for any bike with care or short enough to walk if you don’t want to risk skinny road tyres.
This is where the riding gets wild on the moors of the West Cornwall interior. You get there by riding up a beautiful road valley, with optional detours to two of Cornwall’s most amazing and memorable sites: Ding Dong mine - which is a UNESCO World Heritage site of huge tin mining and prehistoric significance - and Trencrom Hill castle.
Sitting a bit further from attractions like Land’s End, you’d be forgiven for missing Helston off a Cornish trip. You’d be making a massive mistake though. This pretty historic town is the centre of a fantastically varied and beautiful local riding landscape. It’s also the gateway to the breathtaking cycling of the Lizard Peninsula.
Helston is rare for a historically significant Cornish town in that it doesn’t sit directly on the coast but at the head of the unique Helston Loe. This beautiful wood-bordered inland lagoon was formed when the Loe Bar sands blocked the mouth of the River Cober, and our routes take in both sides of this idyllic riding area as well as across the Loe Bar itself if you don’t mind a short push.
While Helston itself might be landlocked, our three rides still make the most of the stunning coastal landscape around it. Whether that’s the busy, picture-perfect harbour of Porthleven just to the north, the rugged beauty of the rock lined beaches of Church Cove and Poldhu Cove or a trip across the busy boating life of the Helford Estuary in a tiny foot ferry.
History is never far away either: prehistoric cliff top burial mounds, long abandoned settlements and earthworks, medieval manor houses, tiny fishing hamlets and thatched cottages mix with modern sites like the Royal Navy’s helicopter training base at Culdrose or the space scanning dishes of Goonhilly Earth Station.
Wildlife lovers will be overloaded with options too. Watch the seabirds wheel and dive as you cruise above the cliffs of Porthleven and Halzephron. Visit the seal sanctuary at Gweek, and detour through the many local nature reserves. Or just soak in the beautiful birdsong and rich scents of the flower-filled lane banks and wooded stream valleys that are such a signature of west Cornwall.
Country pubs, cafes, tea rooms and quiet but always welcoming villages such as Mullion and Helston mean you won’t be short of places to rest and refresh. That’s a good job too, as while Helston doesn’t mean ‘Hills Town’ that would be a fair description of some of the stiff gradients in the area. Take your time and winch or walk your way up and we promise you the freewheeling descents, panoramic views and idyllic isolation they open up are well worth the effort.
We’ve designed all the routes so they interconnect for longer combined options, and Helston also sits on the new West Kernow Way long distance route. That means you can follow this amazing on and off-road adventure all the way south round the Lizard with its beautiful beaches and harbours and hauntingly ancient inland byways.
Helston is 12 miles (14km) east of Penzance but 1.5 miles (2.4km) south which makes it the most southerly town in the UK. The name dates from Saxon times but given the tin mining wealth in the area there was almost certainly a prehistoric and Romano British presence here. Its status was confirmed when it was granted a ‘stannary’ - tin weighing and taxation centre - charter by King John in 1201. It seems this was when the Loe finally sealed Helston off from the sea and Gweek became the main local harbour, but that’s not certain.
The site of the short-lived castle is now under a bowling green but there are several streets of historic houses, several churches and monuments to local heroes Humphry Grylls who saved a local mine from ruin, ‘Ruby Robert’ the world’s first world boxing champion at three different weights and Henry Trengrouse who invented a rescue rocket for launching safety lines for ships. Helston is also home to the famous Cornish ‘flora day’ and ‘furry dance’, a (probably) pagan spring celebration on 8 May every year. Our rides start and finish in the pretty Coronation Park bordering the National Trust owned Penrose Amenity Area which connects to the calm beauty of the Loe.
Helston is best reached by road, coming down the A30, A39 through Truro towards Falmouth and then into town on the A394. Parking just across the road from the Coronation Park start/finish point is excellent value at £2.40 per day.
Unfortunately the Helston Heritage Railway is only just over a mile long and not joined to the main railway network so the nearest mainline stations are at Camborne and Falmouth.
This 28km loop takes you winding along the western edge of the Loe on broad well-surfaced tracks before you cross the Loe Bar itself. You head down south along the coast on a mix of on and off-road surfaces rising and falling past several stunning coves before you get to the busy village of Mullion. Then it’s a loop back inland on super quiet rolling lanes before taking an off-road loop around the back of Culdrose airbase and down through historic Helston.
This 38km loop takes you east from Helston, climbing up through the town before dropping into Helston’s nominated harbour at Gweek, and then on a tour of the beautiful wood shaded creeks and tiny cottage hamlets of the Helford River as it broadens towards the sea.
You’ve got the option to cross the river itself at Helford on a tiny foot ferry before looping south to join the West Kernow Way long-distance bike route back to Gweek. As the ferry is seasonal, the core route stays on dry land, heading north to the beautiful village of Mawnan Smith and then returning west across rolling hills and wooded valleys through Constantine towards Trenear. You’ll then glide down quiet ridgeline lanes back into Helston.
It might be less than 14km long, but if you do the full loop the climb up and over Gipsy Lane means you’ll still earn your harbourside cream tea/pasty/fish and chips in beautiful Porthleven. Alternatively you can reverse the route, taking the meandering flat trail down alongside The Loe and then up and over the cliff trail into Porthleven, to save the big climb over the tops until you’re fuelled.
The third option is the easy one, just to do the Loe section in both directions. Whichever you choose, it’s a mini adventure packed with Cornish character in terms of coastal and inland scenery, traffic-free lanes and tracks, historic interest and foodie treats with the chance of a proper leg challenge too. Not bad for just over 8 miles – a fine example of how fantastic the Helston area is for cycling.
Explore the routes
Discover Penzance and Marazion
The West Kernow Way
If you fancy a challenge, try our 230km bikepacking route exploring the rugged landscapes and fascinating heritage of west Cornwall.
Does your hospitality or accommodation business go the extra mile to welcome cyclists?
EXPERIENCE is a €23.3 million project co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF, €16 million) through the Interreg VA France (Channel) England Programme 2014-2020, boosting visitor numbers in six pilot regions across England and France. This project will harness the experiential tourism trend to extend the season (October – March), generating 20 million new off-season visitors spending €1 billion across the Channel region by June 2023.