A motorcycle parked in front of a tent on a pleasant green campsite

Home Travel StoriesCornwall In Winter 2017

What Did I Learn?

By Ren Withnell

As I stated at the start of my trip I was curious about what Cornwall would be like in winter. I had a notion and was given to expect that I would find the whole peninsula all but deserted. After all Cornwall is a tourist destination and without the tourists in winter what else is there for the local people to do? Other than creating pasties and surfboards there's no industry or commerce to speak of.

There is a grain of truth in the previous statement but only a grain.

Talking to a some of the locals they do confirm a fair portion of the jobs in the area are seasonal. To portray the whole county as being nothing but a large holiday camp that closes in September would be ridiculous however. There is industry, business of all kinds and everything you'd expect to keep the indigenous population fed, watered and entertained just like any other county.

A local convenience store open in PerranporthPeople still gotta eat so the convenience store is open.

Despite this I sense a subtle hint of resentment about how many jobs are seasonal. Of course Cornwall welcomes the tourists' money and they'd be foolish not to. That said this kind of work means those workers can't get a mortgage and have to rely on family or the state to see them through the winter. Any work is better than no work but seasonal work is far from ideal.

The "second home" problem is very real indeed. Don't go thinking the Cornish are just a bunch of griping gits and they ought to be thankful their properties have increased in value. That's just fine if you are already established with a year round career and place to live but how can your children manage to get a foot on the property ladder? Where are the people required to keep shops and hairdressers open when all the second home owners return to London in winter? All the young folks are forced to move elsewhere in search of work and somewhere to live. The wealthy second home owners may one day find there's no-one left to cook their meals and keep their beaches clean.  

Houses on the steep hillside around the village or PortreathHow many of these home are occupied in winter I wonder.

During the summer months many roads and towns are very busy. It's not uncommon to find traffic jams, difficultly in finding parking spaces, streets filled with holiday makers and crowded beaches. There are hidden spots where peace can be found if you're lucky and prepared to explore off the beaten track, I'm sure the locals will know where these special places are.

It is definitely quieter in winter although not deserted. Car parks still have cars on them it's just now there are spaces too. Roads flow with a steady stream of traffic rather than grinding to a halt. The towns and villages are filled with life as many other towns and villages are its just that they no longer feel overwhelmed. In winter it feels natural and normal being here as opposed to being cramped. I do notice some but not all shops, café's and other tourists based businesses are firmly closed. Perranporth for example has the Co-op and newsagents open yet a café and a surf shop are shut. I guess this is obvious and to be expected. The Watering Hole beach bar is open which does surprise me.

An almost empty car park at Charlestown near St AustellQuiet car parks with spaces is a good thing...
The cafe at Hell's Mouth, firmly closed during the winter...but the people who work at this cafe aren't working today.

Having had my brief guided tour I can see there is still a lot of Cornwall left for me to explore. It's all too easy to say I've had a few holidays here and decide I know the place well, I don't, I hope I can return to discover and learn more. There are some beautiful coastal vistas and intriguing little villages as well as the omnipresent fabulous beaches. Devon impressed me too, I've often seen Devon as that place you ride through to get to Cornwall which now seems is grossly unfair. Exmoor is far wilder and remote feeling than its size suggests which makes me wonder if Dartmoor also needs a dose of looking at. Lynmouth is a new favourite so I shall have to return.

A steep valley falls down to a tiny hamlet nestled by the coast of DevonYes, there is much more to Devon than I first thought.

I have also come to realise that my camping gear is not up to the task of keeping me warm and comfortable in sub-zero conditions. Motorcycling is already hard enough when the rain is cold and the nights bring a hard frost. Camping even in summer is rarely luxurious. Combining the two makes travelling as I have during this trip an onerous task. This has provided the challenge that I was seeking, perhaps much more than I wanted or required. Next year I hope to be better prepared so I can at least look forward to a good night's sleep and the chance for my body to warm up and recover.

A thick layer of hard frost upon Ren's motorcycle seatIf I'm to park my backside here I at least want a warm night's sleep.

I'm glad I made the effort. I have learned a little more, I have met some great people and I am re-invigorated to explore my own country ever more. Thank you Cornwall, and a kindly nod to Devon too.

Why Oh Why Oh Why? Ren explains why he thinks it's a good idea to travel to a UK holiday destination in winter. Kind of like asking a madman why he's mad really.
Eating The Elephant It's the first two days of Ren's brief jolly to Cornwall in January. Motorways, could anything interesting possibly happen?
My Guided Tour The winter sun is out in Cornwall and Ren gets a brief yet perfect guided tour of one area. What more could he ask for?
Familiar Faces, Familiar Places It's the fourth day of the Cornwall expedition. After hypothermia comes sunshine and the chance to catch up with an old friend.
Devonian Delights It's another cold cold morning as Ren starts the journey back home. He's expecting a rather dull ride today but there's a few surprises in the countryside.
Meeting Ian Before Ren returns home to end his Cornish expedition he meets a certain Mr Ian Soady.
What Did I Learn? After returning home from his Cornish adventure Ren is asking himself what he has leared and was it all worth the effort?

Reader's Comments

Latchy said :-
Well done Ren, I have done a lowly 40 or 50 miles since I sorned my other bike, how many miles did you do on this trip?

30/01/2017 23:11:34 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
925 miles over 6 riding days. More than enough really, worth the effort though.
30/01/2017 23:14:54 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
Maybe it's time for electrically heated clothing (although probably not on the 125). People I know who regularly ride distances in winter swear by it.

31/01/2017 10:51:51 UTC
Borsuk said :-
You can get the stuff with its own built in battery. I'm using 4 layers on my body and 2 on my legs under my lines bike jacket and trousers. Other than my right hand finger tips and toes getting bit nippy after 4 hours of riding everything else was warm and toasty.
31/01/2017 12:01:25 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
While the riding is cold it is something I have learned to cope with and learned how to dress for. What really spoiled the trip was my tent sleeping arrangements. I'm afraid, having done some research, that I might have to actually spend some pennies on some considerably better kit. I need a decent sleeping bad and a decent mattress.

As with many camping things the ratings are a guide based on absolute best circumstances rather than harsh reality.
31/01/2017 13:07:45 UTC
Rod said :-
I just found your site about two weeks ago, and have just read about your trip to Cornwall in January 2017. I have also been very cold when winter camping, but on a site in the Yorkshire Dales a few years ago I was just getting ready for bed when I saw two little girls coming from the toilet block with their hot water bottles. The light bulb went on, and I have used hot water bottles since then when camping in cold weather. I will fill two bottles when I go to bed and in really cold weather I will wake about half way through the night feeling cold (not freezing) and will empty the water from one bottle into my camping kettle and reheat on the stove. This will keep me warm until the morning. I know this seems like a lot of messing about, but it is better than freezing all night, and you have had a good nights sleep, so you are safer riding the next day.
11/12/2017 22:46:56 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
You might have learned I am incredibly tight Rod. As such I rarely have the heating on at home. I live in a mid terrace and despite the recent cold snap my neighbour's heating keeps the worst off.

However getting warm in bed used to be an issue. It would take ages before the bed warmed up and I could sleep soundly. I now have an electric blanket, my one treat, my one expense. Now it takes 15 minutes to warm the bed and I sleep perfectly.

I am wondering if the hot water bottle works in the same way, allowing you to get the warmth going rather than trying (and failing) to do it purely with body heat. If I'm going to be awake shivering then I might as well get up, light the stove and refill the bottle anyways.

I have heard other campers talk of the same, Rod you have persuaded me. Thanks.
12/12/2017 06:32:55 UTC

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