Checking out Surfing Country: Cornwall by GS and Thundercat

For reasons that I can’t fully explain this year I just didn’t fancy a bike trip over in mainland Europe. I wanted to just stick a few bits of kit on the bike and head out somewhere. No ferries, passports, green cards, copies of my logbook etc. Simple was the order of the day, just as biking should be. Again in the simple ethos of the trip it was just me and my old partner in crime Andy on this run. No trying to line up the availability of half a dozen mates. Even this can be a difficult task sometimes!

Destination Needed

So where to go? Scotland or Cornwall featured on the shortlist. Scotland is a long haul until you get to the good bits. So the land of King Arthur it was! The funny thing with Cornwall is that I don’t see it as natural pick as biker’s destination unlike Scotland. Possibly because the area is so associated with the surfing sub-culture and family beach holidays. Anyway destination selection made I booked a 2-bedroom cottage on the Devon/Cornwall border. A couple of weeks later we headed for the southwest meeting up with Andy on route. He was on his trusty BMW R1200GS while my weapon of choice for the week ahead was my venerable, but very capable Yamaha Thundercat.

No Need for Distractions

I find it therapeutic just to be on a bike and up to now I have resisted to the temptation of going ‘connected’ and listen to music, a sat nav or even take mobile calls while riding. The isolation is part of the pleasure for me, even when just humming down the M5. Now Cornwall isn’t exactly what could be called handy from the midlands so we broke up the journey with a visit to the excellent Jet Age aviation museum near Gloucester. This  is well worth the effort of a divert if you are in the area.

Parked up at the excellent Jet Age Museum: Bizarrely old friend flew over us in a Robinson R22 helicopter while we were parked up!

Great Accommodation is Key

Once down there we found our digs for the next few days pretty easily, a holiday cottage just outside Launceston. Again keeping it simple: No erecting tents in the pouring rain to the light of your bikes main beam! It proved to be a comfortable, well located and convenient base for the next 5 days. As I alluded to earlier and Cornwall is not natural bikers territory, but that doesn’t stop it being a fantastic part of the world to escape to for a few days. No work, no family to keep happy. Just me, my bike and an old mate in a similar frame of mind. Best of all the phone signal was generally crap too! In other words proper escapism!


The next few days saw us picking along the north coast. Here the views are stunning and (in an off peak week at least) the roads quiet. The pace was deliberately gentle, which is fine: You don’t have to ride everywhere with a rocket up your jacksy you know! Sometimes it pays to roll off the throttle and just wonder along and take in the peace and quiet. We made our way from the north to south coast. Checking out the lovely little villages that hug up against the cliffs and broad, sandy beaches. Places such as Boscastle that was famously devastated in floods about a decade ago. Visit there now and it seems hard to believe that the places was torn apart to such an extent.

Home of the Odd Place Name

Other noteworthy places included the home of the long running TV series ‘Doc Martin’; Port Isaac. The village is blessed with extremely tight and twisting streets and was very busy, so we didn’t linger. Pretty place though. Generally, the views are great and beaches open and attractive, creating a real draw for the surfing and water sports community. We, however just gently trickled along wending our way from village to village, checking out little tea rooms or pubs when refreshment was needed.

Places with wonderful names evocative of times past and redolent of old Cornwall, of smugglers and fishermen: Crackington Haven, Boscastle, Tintagel (great name, but actually slightly disappointing), High Cliff, Port Isaac, Port Quin, Polzeath, Rock, Wadebridge, and Padstow. The later is the home of the famous Rick Stein seafood restaurants and chippies.

Grass Up the Middle

In the great tradition of our ride outs Andy even lead us down some pretty remote lanes with grass growing up the middle. He excelled himself this time though and found a lane that required me to negotiate a ford on my longsuffering Thundercat! Cheers mate! I also threw one of my traditional strops! A bike trip isn’t a bike trip without at least one ‘Blue Sparkly Dress’ hissy fit moment from me.

Can’t beat a bit of paddling

Aston Martin DB7 in an ‘interesting’ colour scheme

We did mix a little quicker work with all this pottering. We discovered that while Cornwall  might be knee deep in VW Type 2 campers piloted by middle class surf dudes pretending to be poor, some of the inland roads do offer the scope for some spirited riding. The Thundercat was more in its natural environment here and the A39/395 and A30 are all enjoyable roads that still offer great views as well as good riding. Somehow Cornwall, despite its popularity has managed to retain a feel of isolation and getting away from it all, in off peak periods at least

Andy did consider tackling the slipway on his adventure bike, but couldn’t find that mode on its computer…

Good Old British Weather

Any biking trip in the UK irrespective of the time of year leaves you at the mercy of the weather  and sure enough we had days when clouds and rain were more prevalent than sunshine. This didn’t stop the fun however as the worst day we rode into Launceston to check out our nearest town and its rather magnificent Norman/medieval castle. The visitor centre was manned by an extremely talkative lady and Z650 owning guide. I must admit that talking air-cooled Zeds wasn’t what I had expected on entering the castle, but it was an entertaining diversion!

Charming Tea Rooms

The views from atop the castle keep were impressive. You could certainly see why it had been chosen as a key defensive position it so dominated the surrounding area. Well worth a visit if you are in the area. Launceston was also home to ‘The Red Chair Cafe’ where I enjoyed a cuppa and good natter with the owner about bikes: It turns out he has a Yamaha MT-09 Tracer and as soon as we went to sit down he presented us with a book about classic bikes while we drank our tea. One of the regulars (also into his bikes) brings them in for customers to look at! He was sat at the next table to us and we were soon nattering away about bikes. The interior of this smartly presented little cafe is also fitted out in the style of the Art Deco period and the chairs are of the ‘Mackintosh’ type. Great little place.


Salad Pasty Anyone?

By now the weather had improved so it was back on the bikes once we found them. We went back to the wrong bike park initially! Heading over Bodmin moor to check out the charming little port of Fowey, which is a lovely town and with great views over the River Fowey estuary and it was in this town we finally got our hands on a Cornish Pasty. Unbelievably they don’t do a salad pasty (now there’s a concept…). Sadly I was FORCED to have a traditional one. To make matters even worse they only had large ones left. The sacrifices I make…

A small ferry runs across the estuary and we decided to take it in order to go to Polperro. I last took this ferry back in 94 whilst riding my old Yamaha FZ750. I was in the area while visiting friends based at RAF St.Mawgan. Hard to believe it was so long ago. In the end we skirted Polperro as we enjoying the ride too much to stop. The Thundercat was running beautifully despite having sat under a cover in the garage for much of the last few months. Shame I don’t find the riding position as comfortable as I once did. The time for a ‘sensible’ bike looks to be upon me. Update: I subsequently bought one of these, but also kept the Tundercat too.

Rounded the Trip off Nicely

The final day in Cornwall saw us ride across the spectacular Bodmin Moor and head for the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth. A great ride despite being all main roads as the moor provides a suitably spectacular backdrop. The museum itself is excellent and manned, by knowledgeable and friendly staff. I particularly liked the Healey speedboat on display as you entered the museum, but the place was full of interesting exhibits and had a watch tower with a brilliant view of the harbour area.

Less Than You Might Think

A ride around the headland and a blast back over Bodmin saw us back at our digs for the final evening. Base for the week was a converted barn and it was most comfortable, and cost effective compared to B&B’s and even camping surprisingly. Off peak the area is surprisingly affordable: The price was £355 for 5 days for a well-appointed, 2 bedroom cottage. This is excellent even if the Range cooker had us baffled initially! The local town of Launceston was a good place to stock up on provisions and The White Hart pub served hearty food, including the biggest burger I have ever seen! I needed a good pint of ‘Proper Job’ ale to wash it down. It’s a hard life sometimes!

The Long Trundle Home

We wrapped up the South West run by plodding back up the M5. Once again we broke up the tedium of the journey. This time at the Bristol Aerospace museum, the star exhibit of which is the last Concorde to be built or flown. This is on display in a new state of the art hangar. Riding past the amazing Brunel designed Clifton Suspension bridge was also a personal highlight

So a great few days away and travelling by bike is always special somehow. The area may not be a bikers heaven like Northern Spain, or even Wales but the place does have an atmosphere and feel all of its own: The desolation of the moors, the beautiful beaches, the pretty little harbours and a bike is great way to get they and check out all the little nooks and crannies. One tip though: Don’t ride around the area flat out. Take in at a laid back pace, roll the throttle back and just enjoy your surroundings

Words and Pictures: Tony Donnelly