The beautiful town of Helston is one of the best cycling hubs in Cornwall. We show you our pick of routes and cycle-friendly places
Sitting a bit further from attractions like Land’s End, you’d be forgiven for missing Helston off a Cornish trip. You’d be making a massive mistake though. This pretty historic town is the centre of a fantastically varied and beautiful local riding landscape. It’s also the gateway to the breathtaking cycling of the Lizard Peninsula.
Helston is rare for a historically significant Cornish town in that it doesn’t sit directly on the coast but at the head of the unique Helston Loe. This beautiful wood-bordered inland lagoon was formed when the Loe Bar sands blocked the mouth of the River Cober, and our routes take in both sides of this idyllic riding area as well as across the Loe Bar itself if you don’t mind a short push.
While Helston itself might be landlocked, our three rides still make the most of the stunning coastal landscape around it. Whether that’s the busy, picture-perfect harbour of Porthleven just to the north, the rugged beauty of the rock lined beaches of Church Cove and Poldhu Cove or a trip across the busy boating life of the Helford Estuary in a tiny foot ferry.
History is never far away either: prehistoric cliff top burial mounds, long abandoned settlements and earthworks, medieval manor houses, tiny fishing hamlets and thatched cottages mix with modern sites like the Royal Navy’s helicopter training base at Culdrose or the space scanning dishes of Goonhilly Earth Station.
Wildlife lovers will be overloaded with options too. Watch the seabirds wheel and dive as you cruise above the cliffs of Porthleven and Halzephron. Visit the seal sanctuary at Gweek, and detour through the many local nature reserves. Or just soak in the beautiful birdsong and rich scents of the flower-filled lane banks and wooded stream valleys that are such a signature of west Cornwall.
Country pubs, cafes, tea rooms and quiet but always welcoming villages such as Mullion and Helston mean you won’t be short of places to rest and refresh. That’s a good job too, as while Helston doesn’t mean ‘Hills Town’ that would be a fair description of some of the stiff gradients in the area. Take your time and winch or walk your way up and we promise you the freewheeling descents, panoramic views and idyllic isolation they open up are well worth the effort.
We’ve designed all the routes so they interconnect for longer combined options, and Helston also sits on the new West Kernow Way long distance route. That means you can follow this amazing on and off-road adventure all the way south round the Lizard with its beautiful beaches and harbours and hauntingly ancient inland byways.
Mullion coves (18 miles)
This 28km loop takes you winding along the western edge of the Loe on broad well-surfaced tracks before you cross the Loe Bar itself. You head down south along the coast on a mix of on and off-road surfaces rising and falling past several stunning coves before you get to the busy village of Mullion. Then it’s a loop back inland on super quiet rolling lanes before taking an off-road loop around the back of Culdrose airbase and down through historic Helston.
Gweek, Mawnan and Constantine (23 miles)
This 38km loop takes you east from Helston, climbing up through the town before dropping into Helston’s nominated harbour at Gweek, and then on a tour of the beautiful wood shaded creeks and tiny cottage hamlets of the Helford River as it broadens towards the sea.
You’ve got the option to cross the river itself at Helford on a tiny foot ferry before looping south to join the West Kernow Way long-distance bike route back to Gweek. As the ferry is seasonal, the core route stays on dry land, heading north to the beautiful village of Mawnan Smith and then returning west across rolling hills and wooded valleys through Constantine towards Trenear. You’ll then glide down quiet ridgeline lanes back into Helston.
Porthleven and The Loe (9 miles)
It might be less than 14km long, but if you do the full loop the climb up and over Gipsy Lane means you’ll still earn your harbourside cream tea/pasty/fish and chips in beautiful Porthleven. Alternatively you can reverse the route, taking the meandering flat trail down alongside The Loe and then up and over the cliff trail into Porthleven, to save the big climb over the tops until you’re fuelled.
The third option is the easy one, just to do the Loe section in both directions. Whichever you choose, it’s a mini adventure packed with Cornish character in terms of coastal and inland scenery, traffic-free lanes and tracks, historic interest and foodie treats with the chance of a proper leg challenge too. Not bad for just over 8 miles – a fine example of how fantastic the Helston area is for cycling.
Helston is 12 miles (14km) east of Penzance but 1.5 miles (2.4km) south which makes it the most southerly town in the UK. The name dates from Saxon times but given the tin mining wealth in the area there was almost certainly a prehistoric and Romano British presence here. Its status was confirmed when it was granted a ‘stannary’ - tin weighing and taxation centre - charter by King John in 1201. It seems this was when the Loe finally sealed Helston off from the sea and Gweek became the main local harbour, but that’s not certain.
The site of the short-lived castle is now under a bowling green but there are several streets of historic houses, several churches and monuments to local heroes Humphry Grylls who saved a local mine from ruin, ‘Ruby Robert’ the world’s first world boxing champion at three different weights and Henry Trengrouse who invented a rescue rocket for launching safety lines for ships. Helston is also home to the famous Cornish ‘flora day’ and ‘furry dance’, a (probably) pagan spring celebration on 8 May every year. Our rides start and finish in the pretty Coronation Park bordering the National Trust owned Penrose Amenity Area which connects to the calm beauty of the Loe.
Helston is best reached by road, coming down the A30, A39 through Truro towards Falmouth and then into town on the A394. Parking just across the road from the Coronation Park start/finish point is excellent value at £2.40 per day.
Unfortunately the Helston Heritage Railway is only just over a mile long and not joined to the main railway network so the nearest mainline stations are at Camborne and Falmouth.
More cycling experiences in Kent, Cornwall and Norfolk
Helston is just one of our highlighted locations that's perfect for cycling. Here's Cycling UK's full set of cycle-friendly hubs, with accredited facilities and promoted routes
Cornwall: Bodmin; Helston; Penzance and Marazion
Kent: Canterbury; Dover; Lenham and Hollingborne; Otford; Wye
Norfolk: Cromer; Diss; Fakenham; Hunstanton; Swaffham; Thetford; Wroxham and Hoveton
If you fancy a challenge, try our 230km bikepacking route exploring the rugged landscapes and fascinating heritage of west Cornwall.
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