Cycling the Camel Trail

In Cornwall there’s a well known cycle route called the Camel Trail. (I’d never heard it before but then my general knowledge is akin to that of a goldfish). If you find yourself in that part of the world, exploring small villages, eating Cornish pasties or surfing, then it’s worthy of a visit.

The total trail is 17 miles long and nearly completely traffic free. It follows the route of an old disused railway line, which provides a scenic backdrop and best of all it is flat, so there’s no hill climbing.

On a recent visit to Cornwall where my friend had convinced me to go surfing despite the fact most of the UK was covered under snow, I decided to ride with her from Wadebridge to Padstow and back.

Cycling along the Camel Trail from Wadebridge

We hired a bike for £11 and with our Hybrids set off on the route. 

handlebars

You can find a map of the route on the Sustrans website but you don’t really need one. Simply make your way to the part of the route you want to explore and you’ll soon find signs sending you the right way.

It’s really enjoyable when a route is completely easy to follow and you don’t need to keep looking up directions and stopping.

route

The disused railway that the route follows once carried china clay, as my friend enthusiastically explained. Now it’s visited by over 400,000 people every year and brings significant revenue to the local area. I commended her on her encyclopaedic like knowledge of the Camel Trail.

bridge

The bridge before the town of Padstow is a particularly impressive sight along the way, which lead me to get arty and use the black and white mode of my camera!

fish-and-chips

The grand finale of the route was a nice big meal in Padstow. There are plenty of pubs and fish and chip shops to choose from.

It was a particularly cold day when we visited with the temperature gauge hovering around 3 degrees. Fortunately we’d packed a few useful bits of gear that got us through. My friend had a pair of Nike gloves from JD Sports beneath her mittens, a big jacket and quite a few layers beneath.

I had my cycling gloves, a warm jacket and even a pair of men’s leggings beneath my jeans. Despite all of that it was still pretty cold so we decided to camp out in a pub for a while to gain our willpower to head back out!

The route back was more of a rush to get back to the warm car! (Shock horror I’m a cyclist who can also drive a car).

I particularly enjoyed the flimsy locks we were provided with from the bike shop. Clearly that kind of thing wouldn’t stand a chance in London!

There are plenty of excellent little routes like this in the UK and I’d love to explore more of them (This time with even more warm gear). If you’ve got any suggestions for great routes you’d recommend, please leave a comment below!

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14 Responses to Cycling the Camel Trail

  1. WilliamNB 08/02/2013 at 3:21 pm #

    If you thought the Camel Trail was nice then you simply HAVE to do the Tarka Trail in North Devon. A significant part of the Devon Coast to Coast route (NCN27) from Ilfracombe to Plymouth, the Tarka Trail is simply gorgeous. From the Braunton through Barnstaple & Bideford, past Great Torrington all the way to Meeth in mid-Devon is traffic-free almost entirely along a disused railway line.

    If you’re there for cycling, get off the Tarka Trail before Meeth, at Petrockstowe and follow very quiet country lanes through Hatherleigh to Okehampton. From Okehampton you can pick up the Granite Way, which again follows a disused railway practically to Lydford, from where you can cycle along minor roads to Tavistock. The Granite Way passes over Meldon Viaduct, built by Brunel and which offers spectacular views.

    From Tavistock, hop on to Drake’s Trail for a traffic-free path all the way to Plymouth. Drake’s Trail includes the newly built and rather gorgeous Gem Bridge, spanning the Walkham Valley, as well as a few tunnels, and follows a disused railway into Plymouth.

  2. Elsie Rhor 08/02/2013 at 4:56 pm #

    There’s a similarly flat route that runs from York to Selby that runs along a disussed railway line. Best done Selby to York so that you can have a decent pint. Only bad bit is the part that travels alongside a sewage plant for 15mins.

    • GrahamL 10/02/2013 at 10:43 pm #

      The Selby to York trail is a particular favourite of mine and my daughter’s as we have completed this trail several times, including this weekend !! Mostly cycle trail with great scenery, crossing York racecourse and finishing in a fantastic cycle friendly city. If you want to go a little further then you can go from York to Beningbrough Hall a National Trust property and a great cafe stop.

  3. Adam Edwards 08/02/2013 at 9:34 pm #

    Closer to London: Get the train to Hatfield and follow NCN61 past the fab Mill Green water mill (1600s tech working using water every Sunday 2-5) through WGC (model of how green cities should be) and then down the Cole Green Way to Hertford where Serendipity is the cafe to stop at. The ride on to Ware along the river is lovely, taking you right past the start of the New River (with board to explain why its neither thing) and then you can get the train back to London from Ware.

    A very child friendly route (apart from lugging their bikes over the footbridge at Hatfield station!) with activties at the mill, animals to spot off the Cole Green Way, milkshakes made from chocolate bars (Toblerone milk shake anyone) at Serendipity and a super playground at Hartham Common, Hertford. And boats and locks and birds on the river. About 13 miles, 80% on off road cycle paths and once on the Cole Green Way, helpfully down hill most of the way.

  4. David Robinson 09/02/2013 at 12:51 pm #

    Another good weekend trip. Come to Totnes Devon by car or train. Cycle along country roads down to the Overbecks Youth Hostel in Salcombe. Stay overnight but try to get the front room bedroom. Wakeup in the morning and admire the magnificent view across the Estuary from your bed. Spend an hour in Salcombe, hire a boat to explore the river. Take your bikes on the ferry to the other side. Follow the coast and back up eventually to Totnes. I used to do this trip every September with the CTC and my sons. It never rained. It was my favourite ride

  5. VeNT 09/02/2013 at 7:40 pm #

    Guessing you didn’t man up and start at Wenford Bridge then ;)
    you can actually start much further out, there’s a few routes that link onto the main camel trail.
    should have said you where going to Cornwall, there’s also a lovely off road route from St Austell to Mevagissey which is _mostly_ flat too.

  6. glee 10/02/2013 at 9:44 pm #

    Downs Link. Guildford to Brighton-ish on disused railway line. One way then easy train journey back, or the epic 100 mile out and back with the sea as the perfect half-way cleanser…

    • Monty 11/02/2013 at 10:36 pm #

      I second the Downs Link. Did it last August on a hybrid. Fun but a bit bone-shakingly tiring by the end. My friends on mountain bikes seemed much more comfortable. London to Guildford and Shoreham back to East Croydon both very easy and convenient. Recommended.

  7. GrahamL 10/02/2013 at 10:54 pm #

    If you fancy a day out in Derbyshire then you must try the Manifold Trail and the Tissington Trail. Both are former rail tacks so relatively flat and there is much to see along the way. Manifold Trail has tunnels to travel through and fantastic views from bridges and viaducts and is not very long to cycle.

    Tissington Trail is longer and has great countryside to view and a slight detour to Tissington village/estate is a must. Cycled on both several times.

    • Monty 11/02/2013 at 10:44 pm #

      Still in derbyshire, there is also the Monsal trail from Bakewell. That has some great tunnels and awesome views (Monsal Head in particular). Very family friendly. Tiny on road section. The rest on former railway track. I did it with two kids in a trailer (trailer hired from Bakewell; kids my own) and it wasn’t too difficult. Great cafe maybe 3 or 4 miles from Bakewell – name escapes me but its an old station on the former line.

      We’re actually making ‘the big move out of London’ to Derbyshire and the presence of all these cycle routes, plus the road cycling opportunities have had a big impact on choice of location (for me; my wife seemed more interested in schools and houses…)

    • GrahamL 15/02/2013 at 11:04 pm #

      Whoops . . . I meant the Monsal Trail not Manifold regarding the tunnels and viaduct. However the Manifold Trail is still another one to visit.

  8. Nick T 11/02/2013 at 10:33 pm #

    I agree about the Tarka trail.We cycled the leg from Bideford all the way to the end at the Village of Meeth (17 miles) during the spring 2012.Once there we went to the pub called the Bull and Dragon and had a great lunch and chat with the locals. we even ended up buying some home made sausages from a local farmer in the bar and then cycled back through Bideford and onto beautiful Instow. We went to the Instow Arms for a fantastic cream tea and then caught the tiny 8 man ferry boat across the river estuary ( they helped us on with our bikes) to Appledore. Magical day followed by the shortish ride to my uncles in Northam for the night as we were down there on a weekend break from Leicestershire. Also try the excellent delicatessen at Instow called ‘Johns.’ The opposite direction of the trail from Bideford to Braunton is more level and doesn’t go through woodland but has lovely views out to sea. Can’t recommend it enough.

  9. Andreas 12/02/2013 at 8:37 pm #

    Thanks for all the tips guys – look forward to exploring more of the UK! There’s so much out there to discover :)

  10. wandsworth 15/02/2013 at 3:46 pm #

    Back on the Camel Trail … I agree that it’s a really great place to cycle. Obviously, if you go in the holiday sseason, you’ll find hundreds of other peeps that have the same idea, so if you can go out of season you might want to do that. But it’s nice at any time so don’t be put off.

    Wadebridge to Padstow is just part of it, and it is the flatter part, that has some lovely views of the estuary. Twitchers should bring binoculars are there’s some great bird life on the estuary. The other part is Wadebridge to Bodmin, which is a bit hillier, though still very manageable.

    There are plenty of nice places to stop off on the trail. My favourite is Camel Valley Vineyard, which is signposted from the trail. Camel Valley is one of Englan’d best-known vineyards, making really excellent (and award-winning) wines. You can do a tour there, or just have a couple of glasses on their terrace. Obviously not too many, if you have to get back on your bike! There’s also a nice little tea shop/cafe a bit further up from Camel Valley, near the tiny railway station, which has a nice garden and decent teas and drinks.

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