Cycling and camping on the Camel Trail

Cycling and camping on the Camel Trail

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We managed to tick off another box on the list of “Things to do to be a PP (perfect parent)” last year and took our two boys, Louis (6) and Hugo (3) camping. It was rapidly becoming clear that “Doing Cornwall” was also on the PP list, and although we deny all charges of trying to keep up with the Joneses, off we set to join the tourist throngs in Padstow, North Cornwall.

We took only the basics – a tiny four man tent, two ring cooker and army style camping beds for the boys, which were impossible to erect. We drank hot chocolate for breakfast, had cricket, rugby and football sessions with other families, and midnight feasts under the stars. But the best bit was the cycling.

People kept telling us to do The Camel Trail and I envisaged ghastly recreations of desert landscapes and sad old camels being dragged around sandy circuits to keep the tourists happy. Neither my school geography nor my holiday research had stretched as far as informing me that we were camping beside the River Camel. A whole new world awaited and, I am relieved to say, not a Cornish costumed Bedouin in sight.

We had none of the cycling gear, and can’t tick the box with “Must Have – bike carriers on the back of the Volvo”. It’s boring to be too perfect after all. So we hired some from the family-run firm at the bottom of the field. Hugo was particularly chuffed to be in one of those trailer bikes with his teddy bear tucked in beside him for the ride. Louis was overjoyed to have a tag-along bike which we attached intermittently to mine or his Dad’s bike. He was able to do the cycling on his own for long parts of the journey, as we freewheeled our way for long stretches, pushed along by our much fitter six year old.

The Camel Trail is a 17 mile traffic-free route along a disused railway track. It leaves the sandy bay of the Camel Estuary at Padstow and follows the river closely as far as Poley’s Bridge on Bodmin Moor. At the height of summer there were still stretches of empty track to enjoy. But even when it was busy, fellow cyclists greeted each other with a smile, sharing the excitement of this warm and inviting escape route from our normally busy lives.

We stopped for lunch at the Camel Trail tea garden, owned by a local family serving lunches and cream teas in their back garden. This is ethical tourism at its finest. Like the rest of Cornwall, the Camel Trail is a haven for small, locally owned businesses. They embrace the tourists’ needs without making sacrifices to the countryside they are so proud to be sharing. I don’t know why I expected franchises of Laura Ashley or Starbucks, but I salute the local communities who resist such temptations and receive so many tourists with such generosity of heart.

Another highlight was a late afternoon visit to the The Camel Valley vineyard. The wine-tasting offered the perfect remedy for weary unfit (adult) bodies after ten miles of cycling, and ten miles still to go. Their homemade apple juice did the trick for the kids, despite their begging to sample the wine too. Just to torture the wino-within even more, Hugo had to share his trailer with two bottles of Camel Valley sparkling wine, which we opened on Christmas Day in memory of good times.

As the sun dipped in the sky, we joined the race back to the bike hire shop as, like many others we had left it a bit tight. We all spurred each other on in teams and then collapsed at the other end, beaming with pride at having done it. Well, we didn’t do it all, I know, but good to leave some for next time. As if the day couldn’t get any better, we watched the sunset over the sandy bay at Padstow with a heap of Rick Stein’s famous fish and chips to devour. I have never tasted fish and chips like it and I realised that this wasn’t really perfect parenting at all. It was just, simply…perfect.
Other cycle routes
On my return I vowed to keep up this perfect parenting lark and look out more off-road cycle routes closer to home. There is an abundance of little-known routes around the UK, all developed, maintained and promoted by the award-winning Sustrans. I particularly recommend the hidden gem of the Crab and Winkle Way traversing another disused railway line between Whitstable to Canterbury. Whitstable is high on the PP list for Londoners, so you get a gold star if you do the cycle route as well!
For details of more ways to get around the UK by bike visit

Cycling in Cornwall and Devon: 25 Cycle Tours in and Around Cornwall and Devon (Cycling Guide S.)Cycling in Cornwall and Devon: 25 Cycle Tours in and Around Cornwall and Devon (Cycling Guide S.)- Buy it from Amazon

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