Wiggle Room

Although geographically constrained by the ocean, the far west of Cornwall has a great deal of "wiggle room" - opportunities to use a bicycle as a means to strengthen my connection to my home, with the added drama of winter weather.

The far west of Cornwall is something of a geographically constrained area; bounded by the ocean on all sides but one Penwith is only about 14km/9 miles wide at its widest point, and yet over the past few months I found myself consistently heading west when on two wheels despite the apparently limited scope for roaming. When the weather is stormy and wet I find it a more interesting place to ride than the greater breadth of possible rides to the northeast, with the sense of wildness providing a much-needed balm to the angst of 2020.  While many of the trails across the Penwith moors are so deep in slop as to be unrideable at present, there are fewer visitors at the coast, thus opening up some winter alternatives that during the summer months I find are best avoided.

back in March I had considered the months to come as representing a golden opportunity to do lots of jobs on the house, expand my professional skills, and so on. In the end however, as a means to stave off a slide backwards into depression, I just went riding.

Probably being somewhat introverted and used to time alone has made the last few months easier I suspect. It wouldn’t be reasonable to describe the past 12 months as anything other than messed up, however from a purely local cycling point of view it has been far more rewarding than I expected; of course I’m lucky to be where I am, but the absence of options, and desire, to travel farther afield, not to mention an increased imperative to find solace in the places close to home seems to have further strengthened my connection to this place, and fundamentally changed many of my habits around riding a bike here (many of which were shaped during a time when racing and training were drivers in my domestic cycling life). Despite the geographical constraints, west Cornwall has a terrific amount of “wiggle room”; whereas once many rides might  have looked like reasonably rational loops and figure-eights on the map, these days I tend to scribble wildly all over that same map – exploring dead ends, joining scraps of trail with a hike and a carry, taking time out to connect with places on a deeper level. Very much a silver lining to what has, in general, been a somewhat topsy-turvy time.  Without my bicycle I do not know how I would have coped; certainly my social interaction has withered to such a level that without a bike I suspect I would be classed as something of a hermit. Hopefully next year will bring some fresh opportunities to relearn some social skills. It also occurred to me that  back in March I had considered the months to come as representing a golden opportunity to do lots of jobs on the house, expand my professional skills, and so on. In the end however, as a means to stave off a slide backwards into depression, I just went riding.

This is certainly the last entry for this year, so I’ll use it to wish you a peaceful Christmas, and, emphatically, better times in the new year. Hopefully the challenges of 2020 have not left you too battered and bruised. It’s been a real help through the year to have somewhere to share stuff, and the small interaction with you, the readers, has been most welcome. Engagement seems to be dropping however, understandably as this covid situation drags on, so I wonder whether I should take a little pause from these pages too, until there is something genuinely new, or the start of a new journey or something, instead of just more of the same.

Until such time arrives, here are some snaps.

A bright day in early November.
It was the last day before the start of 4 week lockdown …
.. so as my folks were walking on the coast path near Lands End that day, I headed west with a packed lunch to say hello before things shut down again. Being out of season I took the coast path; it was quiet.
This is Nanjizal, a beautiful spot that I tend to avoid for half the year, except when passing by in a sea kayak.
That day there were many Portuguese Men O’War stranded amongst the boulders.
My Big Fat Dummy cargo bike continues to be fundamental to trying to maintain a sustainable way of life. This year I used a car for just 454 miles (all of those for carrying a sea kayak), while on a bicycle, so far, I covered 6371 miles.
This wiggle in the road is close to home, and I cycle it multiple times each week. I’ve always liked its aesthetic but in all the years of riding it, either the light hasn’t been right, or I haven’t had a camera. This time both were present.
Lanyon Quoit is probably the best known of the ancient monuments in west Cornwall. It isn’t on a trail however, rather it’s accessed by hopping over the hedge from the road that passes by. Despite that, from time to time, I just like to go and put my hands on the granite. It’s also a super spot just to sit for a moment, when there’s nobody around. I imagine there is a Tripadvisor review somewhere complaining about the lack of a cafe and giftshop.
Another ancient monument. In the Cornish language “scrifa” means “writing”, and “mên” is “stone”, so Mên Scryfa, high on the Penwith moors, literally is “stone with writing”. The name refers to the inscription on the back.. on which I rambled on about in a post back in the spring. The inscription, which reads RIALOBRANI CVNOVALI FILI, is hard to make out under the layers of lichen (and is on the shadow side in this pic), but for some reason I’m captivated by it, “Royal Raven, son of the famous leader”; it adds so much to the sense of place when I’m stomping around this wild and desolate area.
Another kind of Cornish monument, this one high on the moor near Ding Dong, close to last light on what had been a particularly wild and stormy day, up to my shins in sloppy mud.
Wave watching at Kenidjack. Habitually this winter I’ve been packing a flask for tea, and a thick stack of sandwiches (and a down jacket) with a view to heading off for the day and finding an interesting spot to enjoy lunch, watch the birds, and generally poke around. They’re not enormously long rides, usually 90-120km with a variety of surfaces, but they easily fill a day. Similar to how it is when I’m on the road I find something very soothing about just riding a bike all day.
The “Tin Coast” is always better in winter. Being wet is often a given, and it’s usually windy, but look….
Having said that, this day the wind dropped to almost nothing, and the sun came out.
The whole stretch of coast is littered with mine workings, the most well known perhaps being the Crown Mines engine houses at Botallack.
So much more than beaches and icecream kiosks. I’m not sure of the extent to which many visitors appreciate the degree to which west Cornwall is an industrial landscape, steeped in history, and a place that exported its expertise worldwide.
St Michael’s Mount one stormy day.
Not shy of admitting I don’t mind it when everything tourism flavoured is closed for the winter.
My Cross Check pretty much tied with my fixed wheel AllDay for most ridden bike of 2020, with the Dummy not far behind. It’s just useful.
There are some beautiful stone walls around Morvah.
The Tin Coast again… it had been a cold, wet, and windy morning…
.. and then the sun came out briefly; it felt incredible.
So many ruins, so much heritage.
View of Cape Cornwall and the Brisons from above Kenidjack Valley
Sea kayaking also happened, although not loads – it’s been pretty stormy. Hoping to address that in 2021; next year feels like it might be a good idea to make a sea kayak journey again. Orange kayaks are the best; I was trying out a mate’s SKUK Quantum, while he tried to keep up in his Greenlander Pro.. it’s a notably nippy design, but not as quick as the Quantum, which requires even only the  slightest following sea to send it scurrying off towards the horizon.

20 thoughts on “Wiggle Room

  • Hi mate, another fantastic post, sad to read that you will be taking a break from posting. I find your writings and photography one of the best places on the web. I pop in here and always find a spark of joy, take care of yourself and I look forward to reading and viewing your fantastic take on the world around you in the future.

    • hey Stephen, that’s very kind of you, cheers! I may feel differently in the new year, I’m feeling emotionally quite drained at the moment..! In the meantime however, I hope you can have a peaceful Christmas and New Year, and thanks for reading, and taking the time to engage!

  • Ah lovely stuff Mike!

    We were only talking about Cornwall yesterday, and when we’d return.

    I was great to spend the afternoon with you prospecting some trails :-)

    Have a great christmas!

    • hey Mike, cheers, and that was a good ride. There’s so much good stuff to show you down here, you have to come back soon. Also,, have a good christmas :-)

  • I always enjoy your posts. Sometimes I find an uplifting reflection of my own outlook – the benefits of cycling and the downsides of a car-dominated society to name but two – and sometimes I get an insight into things that are outside of my experience, such as sea kayaking or what it’s like to actually live in an area millions of people treat (or mis–treat) as a holiday playground. I can understand your need for a break, but I’ll look forward to reading more when you feel inclined to post again.

    • hey Matt, thanks for the lovely feedback, and for taking the time! Hopefully the new year will bring some fresh motivation. I hope you and yours are enjoying some seasonal respite in the meantime.

  • I enjoy the words and pictures of every one of your posts – please continue if you feel inclined to do so. Whilst engagement may be dropping I suspect most of us are still reading and appreciating (more so than ever), it’s just that we’re all feeling a bit, well, ‘meh’ as the Americans would say.

    • hey Mike, thanks for writing.. ! re “meh”, yes I understand…! I was feeling very that too.. such a strange time. Just switching off completely last week did help rather.
      I hope you’re keeping well?

      • Yes thankyou Mike, just longing for a day which doens’t feel like GroundHog day. The evenings are getting lighter which helps, and on Saturday I even managed to get out for a bike ride in the sun instead of the rain.

        • hy Mike, thanks for taking the time :-) Agree re Groundhg Day, it feels like the 287th of March (2020). The evenings are noticeably lighter, really noticed it over the last few days with clear skies. Hurrah!

    • hey Jan, cheers, and happy new year to you too! The bike miles might have been somewhat single-minded of me, for a year in which I didn’t even cross the border out of Cornwall…!

      • It is quite a lot. I didn’t even do half of it. But I did work at home, otherwise it would have been more. I have actually not crossed the border of the Dutch province I live in. It has been a strangely quiet year.

        • it was an odd year in so many respects. My motivation collapsed between Christmas and New Year, the endless mud, rain, and gales got to me so I pulled out my hiking boots instead and just went walking locally. I’m back on my bike again now.

  • Thanks for such great photographs & thoughts. Living on Dartmoor I’m envious of having the sea and all its moods and the variety of the washed up flotsam so close at hand. Despite living fairly close we rarely make it down that far. We did camp for 3 days in August, usually we pack up and head to the remoter parts of the West of Ireland in summer and yes I was totally shocked at how busy Cornwall was in summer. So I can see the attraction of long cycles in the emptier winter. Plus the light is so much better! I’ve made an extra effort to keep cycling this winter with the lockdowns adding to the dark winter trapped feeling, and it’s been great, I’ve seen Dartmoor corners on hidden bridleways and paths I never knew existed.

    – a bit of a mundane question to end with, but curious about what mudguards you have on the cross check? And are those Knards? your (excellent) cross check review had Riddlers on then I think. Sorry, with winter and my bridleway explorations I’ve become unhealthily obsessed with tyres and guards!

    ps keep up the posts if you can, I only discovered your site recently but it’s really good stuff.

    • hey, cheers for writing, and a great comment. It’s funny, I feel envious sometimes of friends with easy access to Dartmoor..! all that open space, Cornwall felt very claustrophic during 2020 simply because of the sheer numbers of visitors, just didn’t want to go out anywhere. Oh well, swings and roundabouts and all that!
      I tend to put Knards on the Cross Check during the muddy season for the extra grip over the Riddlers. The Knards aren’t what I would call outstanding in mud but they’re a heck of a lot better than the Riddlers while still being reasonably fast rolling on asphalt. Thy don’t seem to be a particularly ‘fashionable’ choice but I like them.. they seem really very hard wearing .. and the 27tpi version is particularly good value (with tough sidewalls). The mudguards are SKS Bluemels in a 53mm width. They’re pretty ugly, and while I did consider some Velo Orange aluminium guards I have in the past trashed alu guards when a stick has got caught in a muddy tyre, jammed between guard and wheel, and caused the guard to fold/buckle (and start to tear at the mounting) so for use on trails I figure I’ll put up with the SKS ones. The 53mm + 41c knards seems to have enough clearance to survive a reasonable amount of sticky mud without clogging.

      cheers for the lovely feedback too!
      Enjoy the riding!

  • Thanks for that Mike. That makes sense. I tried to get a pair of Knards last week and had them on order but the shop then said they’d made an error and was sold out, as all other suppliers seem to be too, cycling very popular right now. And yes they were great value dammit! Managed to order a pair of 40c WTB Nanos, also cheap enough, so will give them a go. Dartmoor has been pretty busy since March, I’m amazed that even on wet winter days most of the laybys have cars in them, but it’s still big enough that you can cycle the remote lanes & paths and not meet many people. I’m still hopeful that by the later part of this year we can all venture further afield. There is a small pier in West Kerry that I’ve been dreaming of leaping from into the cold Atlantic as I’ve done for years and years every summer and now feel bereft because I missed it last year. That simple image has become ridiculously important to hold on to. Not much in the crazy world right now and all it’s serious problems, but just a quiet dream of mine that signifies a return to some normality.

    • hey, oh yeah Nanos probably very similar, a friend uses them from time to time.
      Cars everywhere these days… people seem unable to do anything at all without first getting into a car… ;-)
      That pier image sounds pretty good. I’m still skating around in my head trying to figure out what this year ‘could be’ if that makes sense. My auto-response to crowds tends to be to withdraw and just do nothing, it could become a long term problem if I’m not careful….

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