Day 2 - Polperro to Hayle - Home from Home - CycleBlaze

October 2, 2022

Day 2 - Polperro to Hayle

Country roads take me home. But first, over a hundred hills

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I slept pretty well - my dodgy back was a problem with camping a week or so earlier in the Scilly Isles, but seemed to have improved. I woke up around 7 to some pretty heavy drumming of rain on the flysheet - the tent was as always performing like a champion and not a drop had come in, but it didn't really encourage me to get up and get going.

Given my exhaustion and soaking of the day before, I resolved that if it promised to keep raining into the day I would bail and call Caroline for an "evac". For now I was happy to doze for almost another couple of hours, after which the rain seemed to let up a bit and I thought I should take a peek at least.

I made my way back to the wash block and collected my (now dried out) clothes. To my amazement the day was really starting to brighten, and even more unexpectedly quite a number of other campers were about, coming up from the other field. I actually thought I was alone in the whole campsite, so nice to know I'm not the only massochist out there camping in October.

I made some coffee and had breakfast perched on the wooden balustrade next to the sinks, and had some friendly chats with campers as they came to wash up, including a couple of people I was surprised to hear also had done some long-distance cycling. There was also a big map of the region pinned to the wall of the washblock, and I took advantage of this to scope out my route. All seemed good - it was essentially due west from here, via the county "city" of Truro - but stupidly I hadn't taken into account the massive and uncrossable Fowey (pronounced "Foy") estuary which blocked my path. I was sure there were ferries, but didn't know (i) if they were running out of season and (ii) if they'd take bikes. I had no intention of riding the 30 mile+ detour to the lowest bridge at Lostwithiel, so figured I'd just aim for the town at the mouth of the river (also called Fowey) and assume there'd be a way across.

By now it was basically bright sunshine, and I really couldn't justify not continuing. So down came the tent (which had even dried) and off I set west towards the Fowey (I'd already paid in advance for the camping).

This first bit of riding looked really promising. The constant valley climbs were gone, and I spun along a high ridge in the sunshine. I soon picked up signs for not one, but two, ferries, and after some dithering decided to go for the car one from Bodinick - as I was pretty certain it'd be running and would surely take bikes. A rather brisk descent and bendy took me down to the ferry terminal, and I freewheeled right onto the waiting ferry deck. Payed the ferryman a couple of quid and 5 minutes later I'd crossed the river and was right in Fowey.

Fowey harbour (Image: Wikipedia)
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I was now out of the charming, but rather forgotten corner of south-east Cornwall - Fowey is one of the most upmarket destinations in the county. I even felt a bit out of place, wheeling my bike (I was, er, told off for riding it the wrong way down the one way street - genuine mistake!) through the extremely narrow streets dressed in rather damp and dull clothes. The town was still full of affluent holidaymakers and I cast around a bit before finding a decent pasty shop, which was what I was after. Then up and out of town to cover the short distance to the rather odd conurbations of Par-St. Blazey-St. Austell.

In contrast to Fowey, this area remains quite workaday and even industrial, surrounding the enormous china clay extraction pits that dominate the scenery of this part of Cornwall. The enormous conical spoil heaps are sometimes known as the "St. Austell Alps", and St Austell itself is a big town by Cornish standards, actually bigger than the "city" of Truro. The area is well-known for the Eden Project, an impressive set of gardens covered by geodesic domes which has been built near Par in one of the old open-cast pits.

One of the strange artificial china clay spoil heap peaks near St. Austell (photo: Independent)
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It's also a complicated road and rail junction, which is notorious for getting snarled up with traffic on summer days. I had plotted an off-road route through part of it - after a very stiff climb out of Fowey I descended to Par and had a rather complicated time negotiating the level crossings and and road junctions. Finally I managed to end up on a cycleway following the Par canal north, but I think I went awry at one point as I had to squeeze through a footpath that came out on someone's drive. No matter, I soon emerged in St. Blazey, where the thought of the pasty in my pannier had already driven me to distraction and I had to sit and eat it, while I watched cars slowly pass by on the main road.

Map showing how vast the china clay extraction works are still around St. Austell (OpenStreetMap)
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From St Blazey there was a good back road that would take me into the suburbs of St Austell - I intended to completely cross the town as while large by Cornish standards, it's still an easy cycle. St Austell is amazingly hilly for a sprawling town, and I found the 3km of suburbs quite a pull. Then it was a hair-raising descent, racing the traffic to the main road, which I repeatedly tried to avoid and got pulled back onto. I had to follow this for a while, but traffic was very kind and I arrived at Trewoon without mishap, albeit quite puffed out.

I was now in central Cornwall. From here I could pick up a really beautiful minor country road that would take me exactly west for over 20km, entirely avoiding (indeed many miles from) any classified road, past Grampound and all the way to St. Clements woods north of Truro. I'd scoped these out and they promised to provide a cool off-road way to enter the city. Once out of Truro, I'd truly be back in West Cornwall and on the home stretch.

And the road really was a delight, in terms of quietness and scenery. Typically there was no sound other than the popping of acorns under my wheels - the road was inch deep with them in places - and, unfortunately, my laboured breathing - as the hills continued one after the other without let-up. I was back to the country of stream valleys running north-south which I was directly crossing: I quickly established a pattern of climbing to 120m, riding a few hundred meters, then skidding down a steep and bendy descent back to 20m for the next valley bottom. The road was sufficiently blind and perilous that I could never pick up speed, so it was an immediate climb afterwards of typically exactly 100m. Rinse and repeat. 

I make seven of these rapid climb-descents in the 20km before St. Erme. The day was positively warm now (18C, my thermometer tells me) and they were really starting to wear me down. None of the hills were particularly big, and the grades were generally fairly sane (no more 19% nonsense), but the inability to get into a good rhythm - not to mention the dreaded predictability every time I crossed a stream of "oh no, another 100m climb" - and I was fairly knackered by the time I was done.

It was a very pretty ride though. Even Street View does it some justice.
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I had covered some serious ground though. All these valleys carry streams that are tributaries of the huge Falmouth estuary, called Carrick Roads, that divides central Cornwall from The Lizard (which is firmly West Cornish). The Fal, the Tressilian and the Trevella all flow south from here. Finally, after reaching the village of St. Erme - the first place of any size I'd passed through in this surprisingly empty bit of the Cornish interior - I crossed the main Truro road A39 and picked up the St. Erme river that would take me south through St. Clements woods, a big Forestry Commission wood north of Truro.

I wasn't actually 100% certain I could cycle here - but there were broad clear paths and nothing indicating you couldn't, so I certainly wasn't going to fret. In the event it was a delightful ride through the woods on pretty descent surfaces, though I was a bit too tired out to appreciate it fully. As I left the woods near Idless and picked up the minor road south into Truro, following the river Allen, I passed quite a number of cyclists and other locals performing recreation in the nature reserve - and realised it was already getting on for late afternoon.

I needed to get a wiggle on. Fortunately, navigation - and topography - should be easier for the West Cornwall stretch, as now I would be joining an official Sustrans route (number 3) that I could follow through fairly familiar territory all the way to Hayle. Crossing Truro was easy - it is counted as a city because it has a cathedral, and hence was the ecclesiastical centre of the county, but it's very compact. Then I followed the cycle signs south-west to cut, heading for the Carnon valley at Bissoe and Twelveheads which are on the mineral tramways. These are rail-trails along the routes that used to serve the extensively mined country, and provide a fairly easy way to cut through.

Truro cathedral and "cityscape". It's really not a huge place (wiki).
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From Twelveheads - so called because this was where all the vast (and rather mysterious) underground waterways built to serve the mines (adits) all drained into Carnon river - my last big challenge began. This was to climb right up over to the top of the mining country above Redruth - at 200m this would be the highest point of this day. As I was really flagging very badly I elected not to follow the fascinating (but now dusky) off-road track through Wheal Maid, which follows the highly polluted tailing pools of the copper mines, but took the more basic country road around United Down. 

But there was no avoiding the climb up through St. Day. I made it without too much trouble, though it was now getting properly dark - I could see the monument of Carn Brea against the sunset to the west and the lights on the North Coast - my destination! - from the summit.

Often get great sunsets looking west past the monument and folly on Carn Brea. Photo: Marcus Jose
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Then the usual quick descent down into Redruth town, where I stopped and picked up some snacks to see me the last few miles. It really was getting quite late, and I was perhaps a touch optimistic when I called Caroline and told her I'd be back in an hour and a bit! While the next stretch through the "conurbation" of Pool and Cambourne was straightforward, after this I was back on country roads ... and my main light (the one I can actually see by, rather than so drivers can see me) went out.

There was hardly a surprise as I'd been running it for several hours both days (it's a very old rechargeable model that was only designed to have a couple of hours of life anyway) - but I really couldn't ride down pitch black country roads without some sort of light. I came up with the (erm) ingenious scheme of jamming my camping torch between my shifter cables, which mostly held it in place and meant I could see where the heck I was going.

With this innovation (and several instances of dropping the torch) I made slowish progress back through Baripper and Gwinear, which are pretty familiar villages on the home stretch to Hayle. Fortunately it was mostly downhill all the way to the North Coast, as my legs didn't really have much climbing left in them - but I did have a bit of a hairy descent down from Angarrack into Hayle town, which terminated with my torch getting flung from its attachment point some distance into the road. It was alright though!

It was fully two hours since I'd left Redruth, and after 9pm, so I was very glad to slowly pedal the last kilometer or so home along the harbour pools. A big meal and several bottles of beer and I was then ready for a long sleep!

Cycling Time: 9hr 9min
Calories Burnt: 2,645 (active)

Distance: 94.6 km
Climb: 1,639 m

Today's ride: 95 km (59 miles)
Total: 203 km (126 miles)

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