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Bikepacking the rugged wild west of Cornwall — West Kernow Way

Jordan Gibbons / Pannier

Bikepacking the rugged wild west of Cornwall — West Kernow Way

Bike Touring Collection by Katherine Moore

6

Tours

20:07 h

167 mi

10,700 ft

Clifftop gravel tracks, sandy hidden coves, remote inland moor and picturesque harbour towns: the West Kernow Way spans around 150 miles (240 km) of prime Cornish riding. Expect plentiful doubletrack, rural bridleways, quiet lanes and even a little hike-a-bike on this incredibly varied tour of the very hilly far reaches of the South West.

The figure of eight circuit was put together by British cycling charity, CyclingUK, and follows on from the resounding success of the King Alfred’s Way (komoot.com/collection/1025015) launched the previous year. The two main sites that it includes in West Cornwall are Land’s End and Lizard Point: otherwise it mostly sticks to lesser known tracks and trails, avoiding some of the larger honeypot towns like St Ives and Falmouth.

For me, the highlights of the West Kernow Way included the rocky coastal bridleways around Cape Cornwall, a refreshing sea dip at Kennack Sands, the delicious local mussels and Cornish pasties, spectacular moorland trails on the Lizard Peninsula and wrapping up our ride with a swim at the wonderful Jubilee Pool lido in Penzance.

Here, I’ve split the full route into five stages. You can choose to ride these a day at a time, or combine them to complete the route in fewer days. I rode it in three, long days, but I’d suggest erring on the side of caution when it comes to trying to squeeze it into a really short time frame: the steep hills are really quite hard-going at times and you’ll want to leave plenty of time to explore the gorgeous coastal villages, eat pasties, sample the cream teas, dip in the sea… you get the idea. To plan your own schedule, check out the full route here: komoot.com/tour/448676537

There is no ‘best bike’ for this route as a lot will depend on personal preference, though I’d say either a gravel bike or hardtail MTB would be a good choice. It’s certainly not a route for skinny tyres, with plenty of rocky trails, so I’d suggest a minimum of 40mm tyres. Gearing is also really important: as anyone who’s ridden in Cornwall before will know, the hills can be very steep!

I’d recommend the shoulder seasons for the best time of year to take on this route, as the county is less likely to be busy with peak holiday season, which might make exploring and finding accommodation and places to eat a bit easier. In the spring, you can enjoy an abundance of colour on the Cornish coastline with many unique wildflower species, and in autumn the return of migratory birds for the winter as well as gorgeous red, yellow and brown hues through the woodland sections.

Travel to the West Kernow Way is really easy, thanks to the start and finish in Penzance, which is the last stop on the main train line from London. There are also a number of cycling-friendly accommodation options in the town, so you can travel down in advance of your trip and overnight in comfort, or enjoy a little luxury once you’re done before heading home!

For the lastest route information and to support the work of CyclingUK, visit: cyclinguk.org/route/west-kernow-way-gpx-and-map

On The Map

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Do it yourself

Ready to get going? Create and customize your own version of this adventure using the full Tour below as a template.

West Kernow Way official route (around Helford Passage option)

154 mi

9,900 ft

9,900 ft

Last updated: July 13, 2022

Tours & Highlights

  • Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors

    Stage 1: Penzance to St. Just — West Kernow Way

    Difficult
    03:24
    27.4 mi
    8.0 mph
    1,875 ft
    1,475 ft
    Expert gravel ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    Setting out on the very first stage of the West Kernow Way, the route takes in Land’s End and the furthest south-west reaches of the mainland, predominantly following the coastline to span Penzance to St Just.

    

    It’s an easy warm up as you take in the English Channel views from the wide, paved promenade

    by Katherine Moore

    View
  • Difficult
    03:58
    30.8 mi
    7.7 mph
    1,975 ft
    2,375 ft
    Expert gravel ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may be unpaved and difficult to ride.

    The second stage of the West Kernow Way rounds off the western loop of the route and heads inland, back to the south coast at Porthleven, approaching the Lizard Peninsula.

    

    Start by leaving St. Just to rejoin the northern coastline, on a brilliant network of byways and bridleways that hug the cliffs to

    by Katherine Moore

    View
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  • Difficult
    03:40
    32.3 mi
    8.8 mph
    1,725 ft
    1,725 ft
    Expert bike ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    Taking in the Lizard Peninsula with a stage full of marvellous coastal views, this could be one of the best segments of the West Kernow Way. It’s a bit of a rude start out of Porthleven with a pretty steep ramp of tarmac, but you’ll soon join the brilliant bridleway along the clifftops with views of

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Difficult
    04:10
    33.8 mi
    8.1 mph
    2,725 ft
    2,375 ft
    Expert bike ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    After a day following the coastline around the Lizard, now you head inland northwards on this penultimate stage, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less hilly!

    

    Start with the stiff climb out of Coverack heading north, following a series of tight, twisting lanes towards Manaccan. Here you can either follow

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Difficult
    04:13
    36.9 mi
    8.7 mph
    1,850 ft
    2,200 ft
    Expert bike ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    Follow the Cornish coast-to-coast cycle route to start this final stage of the West Kernow Way, heading west to the north coast at Portreath on cycle lanes and small roads.

    

    After the steep climb inland out of the village, head south to Mary’s Well, around the outskirts of Illogan and over the dual carriageway

    by Katherine Moore

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  • Intermediate
    00:41
    5.79 mi
    8.4 mph
    550 ft
    500 ft
    Intermediate bike ride. Good fitness required. Mostly paved surfaces. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Rather than take the diversion around the Helford Estuary, you can shorten your route with this handy water taxi option.

    

    Take the ferry from Helford village to Helford Passage, a short trip that's great for foot passengers and bikes only.

    

    There's something about travelling by ferry that really makes a

    by Katherine Moore

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Questions and Comments

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    6
  • Distance
    167 mi
  • Duration
    20:07 h
  • Elevation
    10,700 ft

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