Postcard from Newquay

This article was published in 2009, in Newsletter 86.

Simon and Katrina took their folding bikes by train to meet their car-bound relatives for a family holiday in Cornwall.

Surf capital of the UK, Newquay has made only a token effort to accommodate bicycles around the semi-pedestrianised streets of its busy central area. A contraflow cycle lane leads away from the main drag through a bus station and uphill into a residential area. That disorienting diversion reconnects through back streets with a descent to the beach. This makes for a hilly and rather lengthy bypass to the one-way street through the main shopping area.

There’s no exception for cycles on the other one-way street leading out of the centre, and so whichever way you want to get into town you are forced into steep climbs. A converted tramway makes an unsigned but useful, short and flat alternative, but then dumps you onto the one-way forcing a dismount before you can continue. The convenience of cycling has been effectively killed. We saw very few cyclists – one carrying a surfboard and the occasional road-bike cyclist.

We had ambitions for cycling the national cycle network (NCN) to Truro, but our experience of 7 miles of NCN route 32 out towards Indian Queens, though pleasant in parts, put us off. Fighting the congestion out of Newquay we eventually connected with the very quiet country lanes through switchback farmland to the out-of-town holiday development where the other half of our family group were staying. Reaching their resort required riding the A392 along one of the most unpleasant half miles we’ve ever cycled. That road is wide in places but verges disappear where the road suddenly narrows and high hedges or walls confine the two lanes of fast and impatient traffic.

Anxious to prove our commitment to avoiding a car-dependent lifestyle we were reluctant to accept the offers of lifts to and from Newquay. So the next day we tried getting to our family’s resort by bus. As a consequence of being an hour late it was overcrowded and we were forced to sit behind two drunken men, both dirty from a day’s work, lecherous, flatulent and stinking of rotten vegetables.

The late buses back to Newquay were empty and punctual, but we depended on a lift to the bus stop because the alternative was a suicidal half-mile walk along the same treacherous A392.

At the end of the Victorian era the railway created the resort town of Newquay and the imposing cliffside hotels flourished. Over a hundred years later the lively beaches are still the main draw, but families now stay several miles inland at the out-of-town resorts or campsites and shop in the out-of-town supermarkets. Although there are direct trains to and from Paddington, ours were only about a third full. The reports of holiday congestion on the motorways convinced one car-load of our group to start their return journey at 2:30 in the morning.

The convoluted one-way system, the terrain and town planning have combined to almost eliminate cycling in Newquay. An obvious and relatively cheap first step that could encourage more use of bikes to get around would be to create exceptions for cyclists in all the one-way streets.

Simon Nuttall