Gravel Culture: Kernow Calling
Gravel Union On
22 September 2021
Kernow is the name of the ancient Celtic Kingdom at the very south-western tip of England, nowadays better known as Cornwall. The West Kernow Way is a newly devised and largely off-road bikepacking route that takes you deep into Kernow’s ancient history, archaeological sites, old tin-mining settlements and fishing communities. The figure of eight route promises a unique blend of lost ways, abandoned mining tracks, windswept beaches, clifftop gravel and remote moorlands and packs a challenging 4,000 metres of climbing into 236 kilometres.
Aled - The West Kernow Way was a route lots of my buddies had heard of but no one had ridden. Did it exist or was it just another Kernow legend like pixies and mermaids? Evidence of ancient times dating back thousands of years B.C. can be found everywhere you look on this route, but there’s one thing you won’t see much of yet. Gravel bikes. This place is definitely still a few years B.G. (Before Gravel) and promises a whole new kingdom to explore.
Cycling UK want to change all that and have delved deep into historical maps in search of ‘ancient gravel’ promising a ‘challenging route’ that they recommend tackling over 3-4 days reconnecting ancient rights of way, lost trails and abandoned mining tracks to create a route to for those who like their Vitamin G with a side helping of Vitamin Sea. 150 miles/236kms over two days should be fine I confidently announced to Jo (my long-suffering wife).
As you head west down on the A30 you start to see more and more Kernow flags and realise this place offers something very different to the crowded holiday spots most people associate with Cornwall. This is West Kernow. Rugged and wild. There are very few easy miles here. You will earn every single pasty and post ride beer you can find and then some.
You don’t see many gravel bikes in these parts for good reason. Mountain bikes win hands down on the rough stuff (of which there is plenty). Whatever bike you bring will have you wishing for something else at some point on the route but for me the simplicity of my gravel bike, with plenty of rubber fitted, will eat up the dirty miles and repay you with bigger smiles!
Jo - More to offer than a spa weekend Aled said - wild swimming in secret coves, tales of myths and legends, fresh fish from idyllic fishing ports, amazing sunsets and stunning riding. Maybe bikepacking was worth a try? I have successfully avoided ‘proper’ bikepacking so far, despite my sister being an all-round mountain biking legend and Aled frequently dragging me off on hairbrained cycling adventures. I prefer my gravel decorative, my bike light and my overnight accommodation to have sides! But there was mention of Poldark, so I packed my smallest clothes and ordered myself a luxury sleeping bag (Sea to Summit really know what they are up to!). There is something special about being out there, and this promised to be all that, so off we went!
Aled - On our first day we aimed for 100km, but we didn’t start riding until almost midday. As the sun began setting my optimism about making Portleven started to wane. After our first bit of hike-a-bike combined with Jo taking a few tumbles on the legendary Tinners Way section we were rapidly running out of time (and daylight). The next few hours were pretty rough and tough, but the sunset and scenery was so amazing it somehow kept us going all the way into the old fishing port of Portleven with its fishing boats and twinkling festoon lights. What a sight for sore eyes. It was late and we were broken. Worse than that, all the restaurants had finished serving and we had nothing other than Haribo to eat. Dinner consisted of a few packets of crisps and a couple of Cornish pale ales. But what a day. What a place. And that first beer I pulled out of my jersey pocket having carried it all day never tasted better.
Next day we were woken early by the sound of seagulls. We had another 136km to go. I’ll save that story another day, but I’ll say this - the West Kernow Way had plenty more surprises in store and created memories that will last a lifetime.
Words & Photographs: Aled & Jo Bath. Aled is one of the co-founders of outdoor company Stohk (rhymes with stoke!) that is starting life making great beer to be enjoyed after an epic day outdoors on the trails.
Stohk XPA (extra pale ale) is cold-brewed in small batches to be the perfect apres-adventure quencher and is available now at stohk.co. You can follow the adventures of Stohk here - @stohkoffical and track more of Aled & Jo’s adventures here - @stohkaled.
Thanks to: Cycling UK, Apidura, The Overland & Condor Cycles.