James Oxley returns home for a spectacular ride along the coast and through the countryside of magnificent Cornwall.
I’m one of those lucky people who get to call Cornwall home. So, when the opportunity arose to plot the latest TomTom Discovery Route through my home county, I immediately set about listing my favourite roads to ride and places to visit.
I wanted to provide a motorcycle route in Cornwall the opportunity to explore beyond the usual tourist routes, while understanding that world famous locations, such as Land’s End and St Michael’s Mount, are must-see attractions for those travelling to Cornwall for the first time.
The resulting 208-mile route takes in some of the best roads and most spectacular scenery Cornwall has to offer, plus a few hidden gems I’ve discovered over the years. It’s doable in a day, but it would also make for a great journey split over two days, giving you more time to soak up the laidback lifestyle that Cornwall is famous for.
Spooky goings on
The route begins on Bodmin Moor at the Jamaica Inn, infamous for its links to Cornwall’s smuggling past and spooky goings on. From here we travel south along narrow moorland lanes following the path of the River Fowey to the magical Golitha Falls, a series of cascades and waterfalls set in the heart of a forest where legend and history merge.
We then head west along meandering roads until we meet the ocean at the popular tourist resort of Padstow. Our route snakes its way along the spectacular north coast of Cornwall, climbing and falling with the coastline, before turning inland at Newquay, the UK’s surf capital.
We ride along some fantastically twisting lanes to the picturesque Roseland Peninsula on the south coast of Cornwall. From here we catch the chain ferry across the River Fal and ride on to St Michaels’s Mount, a rocky island crowned by a medieval church and castle.
The end of the road
A few miles down the road we reach the south western tip of the UK at Land’s End. Once the obligatory photo is taken, we ride north along one of the UK’s best motorcycling roads, the B3306, before hugging the north coast of Cornwall all the way back up to Newquay. You’ll no doubt want to stop plenty of times along this section as the scenery alternates between breath-taking and mind-blowing.
At Newquay, we say goodbye to the Atlantic Ocean and ride inland, following more country roads to Bodmin and the end of this fantastic motorcycle route in Cornwall.
For those of you wondering why the popular A39 Atlantic Highway features only momentarily in this route, I purposefully avoided it. This is because we’ve already featured the road in previous issues of ABR magazine (issue 33), but also because it tops so many lists of best roads to ride/drive in the South West already. I wanted to show you something a little different.
1. Jamaica Inn
The River Tamar may mark the border between Devon and Cornwall, but for me, it is the sign for the Jamaica Inn that tells me I am home. Nestled in the heart of Bodmin Moor, this historic coaching house sits next to the A30, the closest thing Cornwall has to a motorway.
With this in mind, it makes good sense to begin our TomTom Discovery Route here, in the hamlet of Bolventor. If you’re travelling to Cornwall after work on a Friday, stay over at the Jamaica Inn, enjoy dinner and a couple of drinks, and ready yourself for a spectacular ride.
The Inn, which was the inspiration for Daphne du Maurier’s famous novel, Jamaica Inn, has been welcoming travellers for almost 300 years and is famous for its smuggling past. Those smugglers would hide contraband brought ashore from boats off the Cornwall and Devon coasts.
The Jamaica Inn is also said to be haunted. Spooky sounds of footsteps, horses’ hooves and coach wheels have all been heard when nothing is to be seen. There have also been reports of sightings of a man in a tricorne hat and cloak who walks through walls. Sleep well.
2. Golitha Falls
From the Jamaica Inn, we strike out onto Bodmin Moor following the path of the River Fowey southwards. A few miles down the road you turn right to Golitha Falls. Leave your bike in the free carpark and follow the path through this mystical forest. You’ll walk alongside calm waters of the River Fowey for about 10 minutes until you hear the sound of faster flowing water.
Golitha Falls is a series of cascades and waterfalls flowing downhill, rather than one large waterfall. It’s an impressive sight and, despite being such a beautiful location, has a murky past. Doniert, King of Cornwall, died here in 875 and is reputed to have drowned. Even though the details of his death have been lost to history, legend has it he was murdered in Golitha Falls.
3. Bodmin Jail
We soon arrive in the historic town of Bodmin and head towards its most famous landmark, Bodmin Jail. Built in 1779, the jail was the location for 55 executions, the last held in 1909. The grand building no longer houses prisoners but is instead a popular tourist attraction, which includes an execution pit restored to its full working order.
If you have the time, the jail is certainly worth a look around, particularly to see the squalid conditions the prisoners were housed in. If you missed out on seeing a ghost at the Jamaica Inn, you may have more luck here. Bodmin Jail is supposedly one of the most haunted locations in the UK.
Padstow has become a hugely popular tourist resort thanks in part to celebrity chef Rick Stein. His restaurants draw people from across the UK to this picturesque little fishing port. But you don’t have to be a foodie to enjoy Padstow. Park up your bike and take a stroll around the bustling harbour lined with old fishermen’s cottages.
5. Fistral Beach, Newquay
The ride from Padstow to Newquay takes you along the spectacular north coast of Cornwall, steeply rising and falling into spectacular bays such as Mawgan Porth and Watergate Bay. The road features plenty of tight twists and turns, as well as a couple of steep switchbacks.
Newquay is the surf capital of the UK, so our route takes us to the epicentre of all things surfing, the spectacular Fistral Beach. I’d highly recommend parking up and drinking a coffee on the Beach Bar terrace overlooking the ocean. There’s something incredibly relaxing about perching at such a beautiful spot and watching surfers riding waves rolling in from the Atlantic Ocean
6. St Mawes Castle, The Roseland
From Newquay, we cut across country from the north to the south coast of Cornwall. Along the way you’ll ride a series of country lanes, dotted with picturesque villages that reveal there’s more to Cornwall than simply a stunning coastline. Before arriving at St Mawes, we travel through the Roseland, a remote and unspoilt area of woods, cliffs and beaches.
Sit back and relax as you cruise along the meandering A3078 before arriving at the small fishing village of St Mawes. Ride along the harbour and to St Mawes Castle. This is one of the best preserved of Henry VIII’s coastal artillery fortresses. Look across the water and you’ll see Pendennis Castle at Falmouth.
These two structures were built to protect England from attack by France and Spain.
7. St Michael’s Mount
Leaving the Roseland, our route takes on the King Harry Chain Ferry across the Fal River. The ferry was established in 1888 and is one of only five chain ferries still operating in England. It departs every 20 minutes, seven days a week.
About 25 miles further along our route is one of the most photographed landmarks in Cornwall. St Michael’s Mount is a rocky island nestled in Mounts Bay opposite the town of Marazion. Atop sits a medieval church and castle which have become a hugely popular tourist attraction.
At low tide you can walk along the causeway which stretches from the mainland to the island. However, stay for any length of time and the fast-flowing tide will swiftly cut you off, meaning a boat ride back to your bike is in order.
There was a time when the sleepy little beach town of Porthcurno was one of the most important communication centres in the world. A string of underwater telecommunications cables stretch across the globe from Porthcurno’s white sandy beach to as far afield as America and India.
These days, the town is better known as a tourist destination, boasting one of the best beaches in Cornwall. Think translucent, turquoise waters and white sandy beaches more reminiscent of an island in the Mediterranean than the English seaside.
It’s a bit of a walk down to the beach from the car park in village but well worth it if you fancy a paddle in the water.
It’s also worth stopping off at the Telegraph Museum Porthcurno, where you can learn about the fascinating history of the people and technology that made this small town so famous.
9. Land’s End
No tour of Cornwall would be complete without a stop at Land’s End, the most westerly point in England. The area is a popular tourist attraction which means you’ll have to pay to park before exploring what’s on offer. However, we’ve still got plenty of riding to do, so I’d recommend taking the obligatory photo at the tip of Cornwall before riding on.
10. St Just to St Ives – B3306
We’ve already travelled along some superb motorcycling roads during this Discovery Route, but from here on the riding gets even better. The 13-mile stretch of the B3306 between St Just and St Ives is one of the finest coastal roads in Britain.
It snakes along the stunning Cornish coastline with plenty of sweeping bends, tight turns and short straights to get the adrenalin pumping. You’ll pass by echoes of Cornwall’s past protruding from the landscape in the form of ruined tin mines, but the real star of this ride is the panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean to your left.
I make the pilgrimage down to the B3306 a couple of times every year. I love every moment of riding this stunning road at the edge of the world. I just wish it had a more poetic name to match its magnificence. I think I’ll call it the Edge of the World Highway from now on.
11. Hell’s Mouth
In my mind, we’ve saved the best till last on this ride. Riding the spectacular north coast of Cornwall reminds me a little of the time I spent exploring California’s Pacific Coast Highway. Twisting single-lane roads mimic the dramatic undulations of the coastline as it rises and falls over soaring cliff tops and steep valleys.
One such dramatic spot is Hell’s Mouth, just past Gwithian. Its towering cliff face stands almost 100m tall above the beach below. It’s a treacherous yet beautiful spot and typical of the magnificent north coast of Cornwall.
Across the road is the Hell’s Mouth Café, the perfect spot to get a coffee to warm you up after a bracing walk along the cliff path.
12. Wheal Coates, St Agnes
I’ve probably ridden the coast road from Gwithian to St Agnes, and then onto Perranporth and Newquay, more than any other stretch of road. It’s where I find my peace, especially on a summer evening when the world is drenched in the golden hues of a setting sun.
From Hell’s Mouth, our route cruises along the Gwithian Heritage Coast before dropping steeply into the sleepy beach town of Portreath. We then ride inland to skirt RAF Portreath, before rejoining the coast at Porthtowan and on to St Agnes.
As you enter the town, be sure to turn left onto Beacon Road and ride towards the sea. A mile along the road, pull into the National Trust car park and take a walk to the Wheal Coates disused tin mine. Its location, clinging to the edge of a towering cliff face overlooking the ocean, is spectacular. It’s the perfect spot to sit and marvel at panoramic views of the glorious Cornish coastline.
Our Discovery Route then takes you through Newquay and on to Bodmin which marks the end of our ride. I rode this route on the Triumph Tiger 800 XCx adventure bike. However, the entire ride is on tarmac and can be ridden on any bike.
Tell us you favourite roads
If you ride this Cornwall TomTom Discovery Route, please do post your photos in the comments section below, and let us know of any roads not included that we should ride next time we’re in the South West.
Stick the following waypoints into your SatNav to follow as near as damnit the ABR and TomTom Cornwall Discovery Route. Where necessary, we’ve included in brackets the full address of a location as you may have a struggle finding it by just its name on a SatNav. NB. The route below is also available to download as a gpx. file so that you can stick it straight into your device. Simply head to www.bit.ly/ABRcornwall54 where your download will be waiting for you.
- Jamaica Inn, Bolventor
- Golitha Falls (Draynes Bridge, Liskeard, Draynes, Liskeard, PL14 6RX)
- Bodmin Jail (Berrycoombe Road, Bodmin, PL31 2NR)
- Porthcothan Beach
- Fistral Beach, Newquay
- St Mawes Castle
- Land’s End
- St Just
- St Ives
- Hell’s Mouth (B3301, Gwithian, TR27 5EG)
- Beacon Road, St Agnes
- Trevithick Downs
- Old Coach Road, Lanivet
Total: 208 miles