Heads up for you non- Cornish sorts (that includes me) Loe and Looe are pronounced differently, Loe is “low” and Looe is “loo.” Now onto the cycle ride.
Loe Pool stretches the definition of pool as it’s Cornwall’s largest freshwater lake covering around 50 hectares. It splits into two distinct sections, the body of water on the right is Carminowe Creek, the body on the left is The Loe. The pool ends just before the sea and a feature known as Loe Bar separates the lake from the sea. There are fierce undercurrents here, no doubt aided by The Loe and swimming is too dangerous. Several lives have been lost over the years and it just isn’t worth the risk.
I’ve been trying to do this one for a while. We walked it at Christmas but the eastern side was so flooded that we had to turn back, so it was a sense of foreboding that I unloaded my bike. I’d done lots of preliminary research and sure enough the National Trust website that runs the Penrose Estate clearly marks a cycle trail on the eastern side. That said, I couldn’t find any description of it. Lots of comments about how fabulous the trails to the west were, almost nothing about the east. I found one comment that said they had cycled the whole way around the lake and had enjoyed it.
It wasn’t much to go on.
I parked in the Fairground Car park in Helston and looked at all the ice on the ground. Beautiful blue skies above my head, shimmering death below my feet. Hmm. Challenged accepted.
I was dressed in jeans, jumper, gloves and woolly hat. Not my normal cycling fare but the temp was 1c and I was pretty confident that lycra wasn’t up to the job. I wasn’t interested in clothing that would wick the heat away from my body. I needed to hang onto every little bit of calorific burn. As usual, I didn’t look like I was some sort of performance athlete. No yellow jerseys for me. That’s a cycling thing in case you didn’t know. I didn’t either. I’m tempted to start wearing yellow jerseys simply for the hubris.
I started off and was surprised by how nice the path was. I was cycling on the lane that runs between the car park and the sewage works. I figured I may as well explore the side I didn’t know first. The nice path didn’t last long as I turned right and into a field. I checked my map. All three of them. And the sign post. Right, so this was more bridleway than cycle path but that was okay. Although the field was quite marshy, as it lay alongside the upper reaches of the pool. The grass was heavily rutted with deep cycle groves but now frozen and tricky to cycle along without getting literally stuck in a rut. However, the sun was already beginning to melt the mud. This brought a new set of problems as cycling on deep muddy grass is an arse. I skidded across the field and took a break. Happily, for a short while the trail turned to hard core, but then back into heavy mud.
So far I hadn’t seen another soul and also had managed to keep control of my bike. I felt quite impressed with myself. The trail was well marked and headed uphill into the woods. I got off and pushed; cycling up hill is hard enough at the best of times, doing it in mud is a non starter. The next section of the trail was beautiful, weaving in and out of the trees and navigating the odd fallen branch or bush. The track was narrow, muddy and full of tree roots ready to skid you off your bike. Again, I stayed on and the sense of achievement was fabulous. As I had been cycling along this route I was rewarded with more squirrels than I could shake a stick at. Honestly it was like a convention. When I stopped my bike to count them I could see at least ten. There were also tantalising views of the lake through the bare trees. The added bonus of being in a wood was that I had left the ice behind.
Just as I left the trees, I met a walker and asked her how the path ahead was. Given that last time I had been here it was flooded, I was concerned. According to her it was good, just one tricky section by the causeway. Thanking her I cycled on and wondered how she defined tricky.
I was now cycling along another grass field but this time the field was not waterlogged and the path was pretty solid. Even better, the views were spectacular as I could now see out to sea. The sun had got going and the ice had melted away. This is Cornwall, ice doesn’t tend to hang around. Life was good, the path was good and I headed towards the causeway.
The path before the causeway was pretty much a quagmire, the causeway itself was covered in ice. Definitely tricky. Using my bike as a counter balance, I pushed it through the mud watching as the tyres and derailer became clagged in mud and then cycled across the causeway. Don’t know why but I love causeways. We have lots in the broads in Norfolk. There’s something about just hoovering above the water but being out in the middle of it that feels very special. If I was pressed to name my favourite man made structure, and aren’t we all, I would have the causeway in my top two.
Anyway, cycling on, the path edged along the lake and I could see that this would occasionally cause problems, the mud was again heavy and when the lake flooded this path would be gone. In fact at one point I saw a diversion sign in case of flooding so it’s obviously a regular event. The mud turned to sand and suddenly I was out of Loe Bar, the spit of land that sits between the pool and the sea. It’s a really unusual feature and nice to spend a bit of time on. I pushed my bike through the coarse, gritty sand, the tyres now building up layers of gunk as I eventually got to the path on the other side of the bar, in search of some nice puddles.
This side of the pool is a totally different beast. The path was solid hard core and wide, two cars wide in some sections, although this path is purely motor free. These features also add to the other point of difference, people. I wouldn’t say that the path was heaving but it was certainly busier with large family groups out for a wander in the sunshine. I splashed through puddles and enjoyed an easy ride to the Penrose Stables café which was absolutely thronged with families. It was as though I had crashed into a playgroup. Given the solitude of the first section of the ride it was a bit too much for me. I used the loo but felt the queue for the café was more than I could bear, and pushed off again. Besides which, I wanted to explore the bath house that I had read about.
It was a small diversion but worth the visit, I was just disappointed to see the bath was empty of water but lined with litter and two of the broken windows. It was also locked but I could see everything through the windows.
Anyway, I was now on the home straight. This section of the path was now tarmacked, which made it extremely popular with everyone and it was now getting tricky to ride. The biggest obstacle was little children learning to ride or just enjoying the sheer thrill of speed without the corresponding fear of crashing. And dogs off their leads, springing out of the undergrowth. Much more challenging than the ice, mud and roots on the other side of the pool, but really just as nice. It was great to see so many families out having fun.
As I got back to the car park I realised that this ride wasn’t going to suit all riders, given its two very different profiles but I loved it and I bet that other will as well.
To read the details for this ride and other cycle tracks in Cornwall click below. Cycling In Cornwall is aimed at riders that want to avoid roads, the majority of routes in this guide are off road. Any sections of road are either short or very quiet.