The Loe, Lizard, Goonhilly and Gweek - Go West, Young(ish) Man, Go West - CycleBlaze

March 5, 2022

The Loe, Lizard, Goonhilly and Gweek

Cornish placenames continue to deliver

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Another week where it seems years of history were compressed into days. Germany has found its strength; Georgia and Moldova apply to join the EU; and the question I ask myself every day is not how much longer can Kyiv stand, but - how many more days does Putin have? 

On a more personal level, everything is now officially completed and we own our wonderful new (or rather, old - it was built some time before 1800) house.

A truly gorgeous Saturday was promised, with a full day of sunshine and unusual mild north winds. What with all the excitement, I hadn't planned anything in great detail. The Lizard - the stubby peninsular which is the southernmost point in the UK - had been on my list for a while though, and it seemed a good opportunity to go for it. The Lizard is a sparsely populated, a little remote and rather wide, and its interior consists of an extent of empty moorland called Goonhilly Down - famous for its listening station.

Sadly, my camera is still buggered, so I don't have any photos. Sorry, it really was spectacular, but you'll have to just take my word for it. I've included some stock photos so you get the idea.

First I wanted to cross down to the south coast, to the local centre of Helston. Helston is a small town with a big cattle market, and is famous hereabouts for something called the Furry Dance, a May festival where people dress up as vegetables and sing to welcome the spring:

Hal-an-tow, jolly rumble, O
For we are up as soon as any day, O
And for to fetch the Summer home, 
The Summer and the May, O
For Summer is a-come, O,
And Winter is a-gone, O

The Furry Dance (from timetravel-britain.com)
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Rich FrasierWait a minute. The dress up like vegetables? And sing that song? Oh my. Proof positive that England is a place apart. I love it!!
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10 months ago
Jon AylingTo Rich FrasierHaha, they do indeed! We'll be there singing along in May. Apparently this tradition is genuinely old (some of them, like Morris dancing, were re-invented in Victorian times). Lots of Spring-worshiping fertility dances in English villages!
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10 months ago

Ever wonder where the idea for the Wicker Man came from?

I took my usual route to St Erth, and then pulled up a steep hill to cut into the dense network of lanes to the south. After some idyllic cruising with the wind behind me, I elected to take an off-road detour rather than the road to Townsend. This was a hardly used track, which eventually lead me down to an ancient crossing of a tributary of the river Hayle - a sign indicated it was Gypsy Bridge, but the bridge had long-gone, and I had to wade the water. The remainder of the off-road section was great though, well surfaced as it followed the Hayle river toward Godolphin.

Godolphin is a locally significant manor house and crossroads. I cruised past the grounds, before picking up the very hilly road towards Helston. In one of the barely-used lanes I spotted a penknife someone had dropped - I pocketed it. Helston is a lot hillier than I'd previously suspected when visiting by car, and I got some good speed up on the main road into town.

From Helston I could immediately pick up some of the fantastic cycleways through the Penrose Estate. This is another big manorial estate, this one owned by the National Trust and open access. The bridleways go, unusually, all the way to the cliff edges and even along the beach. I followed them around the big, steep and wooded sided, natural lagoon of the Loe. The paths were crowded with people walking and children learning to cycle, so I took it slow.

My aim was the Loe Bar - a weird landform consisting of a bar of sand separating the lagoon from the sea. What stops it being washed away is something of a puzzle, to me at least. The Loe is the strongly connected in local folklaw with King Arthur, being reputably the water into which his sword, Excaliber, was cast.

Loe Bar (image from National Trust)
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East beyond the Loe bar is the end of Mounts Bay and the start of The Lizard peninsular. A bridleway actually crosses the bar, though I couldn't ride the whole way as it was too sandy. At the end, a track took me back up onto the cliffs, a long climb. I passed some lady ramblers, who agreed with me that this one was a bit of a challenge.

At the top, I picked up the lane that heads south along the west coast of the peninsular. This is a fantastic road. Not only are the views are amazing, but it is effectively a dead-end for traffic, so was quiet. I spun through Gunwalloe and then got a blistering descent down to Church cove. 

Gunwalloe Cove. It really did look like this today.
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Traffic can't get through, but bikes can - there's a bridleway up through the golf course. You do have to take care to avoid golf balls though, as golfers drive over part of it. It was very narrow and sandy, and I paused half way for a snack and sit up on the high banks, leaving the bike in the lane. I wasn't overjoyed then to hear and engine, and see a maintenance 4x4 belonging to the golf club come down. Well, no problem, I jumped down and lifted the bike onto the bank while the driver patiently waited, as otherwise there would've been no space. Then I leaped up and he gave me a wave and drove on. But disaster! My mirror had fallen off, and I watched is dismay as he unknowingly drove straight over it. I saw it go straight under one wide tyre, and assumed it was a goner. 

But what do you know? I jumped down and picked it up, and not a mark on it. Incredible. 

I finished the climb up the track, and a jolly golfer wished me "well done" at the top. From here I'd join one of the Lizard's few drivable roads, so I had a little more traffic with me as I descended down to (beautiful) Poldhu beach and the grinding 12% climb on the other side of it. The drivers seemed very nervous, and were courteous almost to a fault - I stopped a couple of times to let people past after they patiently followed me at a distance for 5 minutes.

I now turned inland towards Mullion, the only real town of any size on the peninsular. There I was pleased to find an open shop - the first I'd found on the whole ride - to buy some lunch, which I'd failed to bring. I then got caught in the comedy one-way system and rode around the town twice behind a bus. It was St. Piran's day - St. Piran is the patron saint of Cornwall, and is said to have brought Christianity to the pagan land, sailing from Ireland in the 6th century on a millstone - with his first converts being a fox, a badger and a boar. Unlike some of these saints, he likely was a real historical figure (called Kieran in Irish) and there's even an oratory with 1,500 year-old skeletons dedicated to him near Perranporth. 

St. Piran's flag is the familiar black and white cross, representing the metallic tin emerging from the ore, and was flying from nearly every building in Mullion. Outside the church was a collection for Ukraine. A heartening sight all round.

St Piran's Day being celebrated in Truro this year. From cornwalllive.com
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From Mullion I was going to take the road right inland, and then attempt to access, and cross, the expanse of Goonhilly Downs. This included a tempting, but also somewhat sketchy, 5km long unmarked bridleway right across the moor. I would emerge right by the Goonhilly Downs Earth Station, an enormous telecommunication complex that was once the biggest satellite earth station in the world, and now plays an important role in the transatlantic data cables that make landfall in Cornwall.

Goonhilly Down Earth Station (by Hamish Fenton)
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Getting to the down wasn't totally easy. I found a bridleway sign, pointing directly into a farmer's barnyard. The huge gates were not actually locked, but it took me about 5 minutes of working on them (unscrewing a chain, untying a rope, etc) before I could get in. All this was by a busy road, but I just looked casual - the nice thing is we have an (ancient) right of access here, and naturally nobody questioned what I was doing.

So access itself was fine. Physically travelling on the track was another matter, however. It quickly degenerated into what was clearly the farmer's dumping ground, combined with a massive cattle wallow. After about 30 minutes of pushing through foot-deep mud, past abandoned tractors, caravans, and (at one point) an old stationary exercise bike, being scratched by brambles, I finally pulled my bike through a (signed!) gate and onto the moorland itself.

This was better - I could actually ride, and the mud was clean and peaty rather than suspiciously manure-y. But it was still very slow going. I actually enjoyed the pootling along at 4kph, with the sun slowly going down, my shadows getting longer, the only Goon in a ten-mile radius silly enough to be out on the down. It was silent apart from the distant thrum of the wind turbines, and the big dishes of the earth station looked eerie and abandoned, and barely seemed to get bigger as I laboured towards them. But man it was slow. It took me another hour to cross the 4km. By the time I got to the earth station I was exhausted, and had to lug the bike over several kissing gates (I'm ashamed to say I may have called them pissing gates out loud. Not that there was anyone around to hear me).

My original plan was to head to the railhead at Falmouth. Either way, to leave the Lizard I would need to go via Gweek, as the peninsular is otherwise bisected by the deep Helford estuary no ferry runs this time of year. Gweek is famous for its seal sanctuary, the target of many childhood days out.

I turned on my lights as I'd now have to ride on the main road crossing the Downs, which is straight, flat and fast. Compared to before I was speeding along now, and even though I was heading north the wind seemed to have dropped. After Garras the road became narrower and spectacularly descended into the sunken gorge that effectively makes up the Helford estuary, as the last of the light faded.

Gweek is lowest crossing point, and I figured that to go on would involve a whole load of climbing. Combined with the need to change trains twice and my general exhaustion, I thought it best to bail here and, erm, call on Caroline again to rescue me. I sat in the tiny bus shelter, and actually ate my lunch which I hadn't had a chance to touch. I was kept company by an untouched packet of fudge, that someone had left there. 

It got really cold, much colder than I'm used to in Cornwall, as all the day's heat evaporated into the clear night sky. 40 minutes later I saw Caroline's car and flagged it down by shining my bike light. We're dab hands at getting the Shift disassembled now, and soon we had it in the back and could return home to chips, a fire, and champagne. That's the way to live.

Best place name spotted: Goonhusband.

Today's ride: 50 km (31 miles)
Total: 352 km (219 miles)

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Gregory GarceauI'm enjoying your interesting dispatches from Cornwall, and those are definitely some great place names. I'm hoping to see you showcase of one of my favorite foods on earth--the Cornish Pasty.
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10 months ago
Jon AylingTo Gregory GarceauThanks Greg! I'm hoping the place names make up for the lack of photos (trying to get my camera repaired this week). Pasties are fantastic and now make up about 40% of our diet. We visited one local shop enough now they've started giving us vouchers for free ones.
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10 months ago
Gregory GarceauDon't worry about the lack of pictures. I like words better.

I'm very impressed that you've embraced the Cornish pasty culture. Pasties are very rare in the U.S. and I'd estimate 95% of the population has never even heard of such a thing. I'm a little embarrassed to toot my own horn, but I have a little cooking blog and in one of my posts I explained my personal relationship to pasties.
I also made a batch of my own. Here it is should you be interested:
https://chefgcooks.blogspot.com/2021/03/the-magnificent-pasty-upper-michigans.html
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10 months ago