You don’t always need a months long trip in order to have an adventure, to explore new places, and enjoy spectacular scenery. All it really takes to enjoy a “micro-adventure” is an opportunity to get away from behind your desk, the desire to explore, and a lack of cellphone reception!
For the end of July, Amy and I were visiting with her family back in the UK, with a few days free we figured it would be nice to get out and see some more of the country. We ended up finding a motorcycle rental company not too far away and emailed to reserve a bike to take out for a few days and take a tour of the southern tip of England in Cornwall. This turned out to be an incredible way to visit the countryside (should there have been any doubt?) particularly during the high tourist season as it allowed us to get by a lot of the congestion from all the vacationing Europeans. It was also a relatively economical way to visit Cornwall as well, costing less than two plane or train tickets while giving us the freedom to travel around once we arrived.
Amy had some friends from her time living in Oxford that had now moved down to Cornwall where they were working and raising their newly expanded family. So our plan was to spend a total of 4 days with the motorcycle, spending one night at Amy’s friends’ place in St. Columb and then taking two days to explore the area, spending one night along the coast, one more night in St. Columb and then finally making our way back to the motorcycle rental place.
The guy who runs West Sussex Motorcycle Hire, Peter, was really great, a real local with a thick British accent who was very friendly and helpful with setting us up with the bike. We got ourselves a 650cc Susuki V-Strom for the trip as well as all the gear we needed including a GPS and mount, panniers, and a rear case. The bike held up really well during the trip and made for some incredible riding: great torque, comfortable running at 80+mph on the highway, and very well balanced for the twisty country roads.
Notice to American Drivers in the UK!
Driving on the “not-right” side of the road was easy enough to get used to, and is probably even easier on a bike since the motorcycle controls are all on the same side and work the same as well. What did cause some serious troubles however is how the gas pumps are marked in the UK. In the US, all diesel pumps are separate from the normal unleaded pumps and are marked with bright green. In England however it’s the complete opposite! Unleaded and diesel are all together at the same pump and unleaded is marked with bright green. By the end of the first day after about 6 hours of driving and at our second fill up of the day, without thinking I reflexively picked up the black gas gun and filled up. We didn’t find out until we were paying for the gas that we had filled up with diesel.
Luckily we never started the bike and so kept the engine clear of diesel fuel. Next door was a garage where we found someone to help us drain the tank before refilling. It took a few minutes of running the engine to clear out most of the diesel before we were ready to go again. Peter at the motorcycle rental place later told us that he had done the exact same thing but when visiting the US and had had another American rider renting from him who did the same as well. So at least I wasn’t the only one!
Itinerary for 4 Days Motorcycling Through Cornwall
Because of the flexibility of traveling by motorcycle, we managed to fit a lot in to our trip through Cornwall. Between suggestions from Amy’s friends that had done some trips in the area as well as Cornwall route suggestions from BestBikingRoads.com we managed to more or less fit in most of what we wanted to see. (Maps and more photos at end of post)
Places to Visit
After setting out from the motorcycle rental shop, Stonehenge was pretty much on the way to the northern coast of Cornwall where we were heading. There was a lot of congestion however as the 2 lane countrylane couldn’t really handle all the tourist traffic. You can pull off the side of the road for some pictures without entering the actual site itself (you can’t get right up to the stones anyway).
St. Ives is a famous port city and parish on the north side of Cornwall. It’s one of the largest tourist seaside towns in Cornwall though and so gets quite busy. It is still definitely worth a walk along the quaint, narrow streets. We walked down from the hill that overlooks the town where there’s a parking area and had a walk through the town down to the beach. Nice places to get a coffee or tea overlooking the beach.
We just had a short stop here, but it seemed to be a smaller and less crowded version of St. Ives. Definitely stop off here for some Fish and Chips plus a pasty from the world’s oldest Cornish Pastry Shop! Plus if you still have room left, get some ice cream made with fresh local Cornish cream.
Wouldn’t be a trip to Cornwall if you didn’t stop off at the “End of England”. You can visit the “First and Last Inn” and take photos of the amazing coastline. They also setup for fireworks every Tuesday during the summer months, but we unfortunately didn’t have time to stay for that.
This is an amazing, still functional theatre that is built right into a cliff-face overlooking the sea. It was built in the 1930s by Rowena Cade, a theatre lover who lived in the area in the early 20th century. 80,000 people a year still come to see shows performed in this atmospheric theatre.
St. Michael’s Mount
This is a beautiful castle that overlooks the sea, sitting entirely on it’s own on top of a small hill. We were running a little behind schedule when we drove past here but got a great view from the road. It was also starting to rain, which wasn’t so nice for riding but added to the mystique as you could still see the castle through the mist that was coming in off the sea.
Similar to Land’s End but less crowded, this is an old fishing village that sticks out into the sea with some fantastic scenic overlooks on top of seaside cliffs and hidden coves for swimming and camping.
St. Mawes Castle
An old castle that, as with most sites in Cornwall, overlooks the sea. It’s right on the road and so easily accessible. If you have time, you can continue down the road into town for a cup of tea or coffee right next to the beach.
Things to Do
The Atlantic Highway (A39)
A beautiful coastal road that will take you down into the heart of Cornwall. Really the whole area has amazing roads but this was a great approach which starts up in Barnstaple and then heads all the way down past Newquay.
Eat Lots of Food!
Agriculture is a big part of Cornwall life and the local food is a must while you’re in the area since almost all the ingredients are locally sourced. Cream tea (scones with fresh cream and a cup of tea), Fish and Chips, Pasties, local ales and lagers, ice cream made with cornish cream, and pretty much any dish with seafood!
Get Lost on the Smaller Roads
This obviously happened sort of by accident but I was glad it did. Leaving St. Ives I missed a turn and ended up on some of the smaller roads overlooking the hilly countryside. The roads here are already narrow but we went from roads that were 1 and a half cars in width to just wide enough for one car. Following the GPS which was trying to get us back on track, the riding was amazing, twisty and scenic. It was also pretty much the only time we had the road completely to ourselves.
Coastal Cornish Pub
We were recommended a pub overlooking the sea along the road after St. Ives. Unfortunately lunch stops serving in these small country areas after 2 or 2:30 and so we missed the actual meal time there. If you can make it though, you won’t be able to miss the bright yellow Gernard’s Head pub along the road between St. Ives and St. Just. Stop in for a pint or fish & chips if you have time!