Thursday, 2 May 2013

NCN3 - Truro, Cornwall

I love Cornwall. It is a simply gorgeous county with stunning scenery and friendly people. Cornwall is home to the Camel Trail, and has many more traffic-free cycling routes.

There is a downside to Cornwall (aside from the roads that don't skirt hills, but instead perform a full frontal attack, up-and-over, every time) and that is that it isn't all that cyclist-friendly. Oh sure, riding routes like the Camel Trail can be bliss, despite the fact that it isn't a sealed surface and is at least in terms of surface quality vastly inferior to Devon's Tarka Trail, Granite Way and Drake's Trail.

There's a more crucial difference though - it seems most people who use the leisure routes in Cornwall tend to drive there, and this considerably negates the positives of these trails. It is rather intimidating to cycle on Cornish rural roads and even rural lanes often carry vehicles travelling at speed. This simply means that it becomes so much more important that the cycle trails are good, traffic-free routes to places that people need or want to go.

I'm not saying Devon as a county is better, but at least in West Devon, the cycle paths tend to be more connected and as such becomes routes to a destination, rather than a destination in itself. There's nothing wrong with turning a cycle path into a tourist attraction - in North Devon they're doing that rather well with the Tarka Trail - but it must serve a purpose beyond simply being a tourist attraction.

Recently I found myself in Truro with a bit of time on my hands, having just missed the train I was planning on taking. Truro, in case you didn't know, is the county capital of Cornwall and has a magnificent cathedral. I don't claim to be a world-expert on Truro, but I like what I've seen of the city during my fairly regular visits. Add native Cornish friendliness to all its other charming features and you're on to a winner!

When I travel to Truro by train, I typically take my bicycle along and so I decided to put the time I had to good use and go for a bike ride. Having spotted National Cycle Network Route NR 3 (NCN3) signs, I decided to follow it out of the city, along Newnam Road, which runs alongside the river. After some time, the NCN3 signs directed me up Gas Hill, which leads to some type of industrial yard. Just before, the cycle path veers off to the left along a traffic-free section that I can at best describe as less than impressive.

No, actually I'll correct that: that section of path is pathetic. But don't take my word for it - see for yourself:

This photo was taken looking back at where I came from, at the intersection with Lighterage Hill. As you can see, the traffic-free path was segregated, with the cyclists' section on the left. Yes, they actually do expect cyclists to ride along a path that is debris-strewn and practically completely blocked.

Further along things don't improve at all. The path follows an old dismantled railway, so the gradients are very mild, but the surface is appalling. Obviously some heavy machinery drove through while it was muddy and left huge ridges in it's wake. The surface is unsealed and strewn with broken glass in places. Some cutting back of vegetation must've taken place not all that long before I rode through, as the path was littered with broken bits of stick. Needless to say it was an environment just begging to get a puncture in, and it was no surprise when I got a puncture.

Cornwall County Council has a LONG was still to go to develop decent cycle infrastructure and I'll certainly avoid that part of NCN3 in future. Unless you ride a mountain bike with puncture-resistant tyre, I suggest you avoid it, too.