The most challenging of the six National Cycle Network routes, the 45 miles of the Number 3 Coast and Clay trail offers the most varied and scenic ride of them all. This trail links up the towns of Bodmin, St Austell and Truro and offers a contrast of landscapes from rolling fields to wooded valleys, sheltered coves, quaint fishing villages, historic market towns to unique views of the landscape created by the china clay industry.
Leaving Bodmin, the trail starts off on some busy minor roads until a short off-road section winds through small woodland and onto a designated pedestrian/ cyclist crossing over the A30. Shortly after, the trail takes in the National Trust property and garden of Lanhydrock house. This grand estate, set in a beautiful landscape of gardens, parkland and woods, which overlooks the River Fowey, is worthy of a stop-off.
Further south, the trail continues along quiet country lanes and through the very peaceful wetlands and heath of the Breney Common Nature Reserve before it reaches the small village of Luxulyan. Soon after, the trail reaches Luxulyan Valley with its steep boulder-strewn slopes alongside the fast-flowing River Par. The wooded terrain here was once an important resource for making charcoal for the tin smelting industry.
After a short ride further south, the trail takes a sharp turn right, heading west towards St Blazey and the popular Eden Project. The route along here offers a ‘Gateway to the Eden Project’, where cyclists are very welcome and well catered for. Heading away from here, the trail carries on south west, bypassing the busy A390 access road into St Austell. Entering St Austell, the trail takes in the train station and carries on into the town centre. Busy roads and crossings make this the most dangerous section of the trail, where extra care needs to be taken.
Leaving the busy town, the trail heads south along an off-road section and enters the quiet valley of Pentewan. This 3 mile, traffic free and level section known as the Pentewan Valley trail rides along sluice ponds, the ancient oak woodland of King’s Wood and alongside the River St Austell. After Pentewan, the trail takes in a steep and fairly grueling climb. Before reaching Mevagissey, a stop-off is a must at the Gardens of Heligan, which is well signposted off the trail. A welcome downhill section then follows and brings you into the pretty harbour town of Mevagissey.
The next part of the trail includes some steep hills, however alternative routes have been included to partially by-pass these.
Heading inland, the route continues through the villages of Gorran Churchtown and Boswinger, eventually ending up at the small, sheltered Porthluney Cove at Caerhays Castle. Known for being home to the magnificent National Magnolia collection, the estate marks a good stop-off point.
Heading inland again after a steep climb, the next village the trail passes is St Michael Caerhays. Along from here, quiet minor roads alongside rolling farmland eventually bring you back onto the coast at the very picturesque village of Portloe. Another steep climb from here and the trail passes the charming village of Veryan and back onto the coast at the golden sands of Pendower beach, which includes a short off-road section over a small footbridge.
From here, the trail leaves the coast and heads through the small village of Philleigh and ends up at the Fal Estuary and the King Harry Ferry crossing.
After disembarking, the trail continues up a steep minor road and takes in the National Trust property and estate of Trelissick, after which the trail veers north onto an off-road, steep downhill section and eventually reaches the suburbs of Truro. Minor roads then take you on the last section into the cathedral city where the National Cycle Network’s Engine House trail can be picked up.
The steepest gradients on this trail vary between 1 in 7 to 1 in 5 and steeper, though these steep sections mostly occur south of St Austell. The route is well signposted except when it reaches bigger towns, particularly St Austell, where signage becomes sparse. It is around the towns where busy road crossing are present and care needs to be taken. Care should also be taken on narrow, winding roads.
This trail offers a good opportunity to explore other parts of the Cycle Network.