Mount Edgcumbe Country Park is not just located in South East Cornwall, it is South East Cornwall. Well, ten miles of it’s spectacular coastline at any rate! Once part of the Edgcumbe family estate, the 865 acres that became the Country Park were purchased for public enjoyment in 1971 and have been managed ever since by a joint committee from Plymouth City and Cornwall County Councils.
This is where I started my working life as a trainee forester in the late 1980s, before heading off to agricultural college. The Country Park holds treasured memories for me, as it does for the many thousands of Plymouthians, Cornish and visitors from further afield who regularly visit and have come to love this amazing place.
Quite simply, Mount Edgcumbe is stunningly beautiful and steeped in history. The entire park is a designated area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) and comprises formal gardens, landscaped parkland, woodland and open countryside offering stunning coastal views. The outer reaches include Penlee Point and Rame Head, truly wild and rugged coastline fit to grace any Du Marrier novel or authentic Cornish film location.
In recent years Mount Edgcumbe has really upped its game in terms of facilities and activities to enable a whole host of new visitor experiences. Once frowned upon, cycling in the Park is now welcomed with the freedom to explore all but the formal gardens.
Although credit is due to the Park and Joint Committee for implementing such changes, huge praise is due to Edge Cycles who operate from the Barrow Centre at Mount Edgcumbe. Edge Cycles established the mountain bike trails within the Park and provide a range of services including cycle hire, guided tours and coaching for the more challenging routes.
Crucially, their website includes an excellent colour coded trails map showing the available routes, their levels of difficulty and the no go area. It is by far the best resource to get your bearings and fully understand where you can cycle, what to expect and those areas where cycling shares tracks with other recreation interests.
It is permissible to take your own cycle, but for first timers a little advance planning is advisable to negate any confusion over routes and avoid being bamboozled by the plethora of signage presented on the Park’s roads and entry routes.
Adam Bowden of Edge Cycles tells me,“We would ask any and all cyclists planning on using the trails to pop in and see us before they set off. Not least because we check the trails daily and have risk assessments in place so we can give good advice on the latest conditions”.
It’s also worth noting Adam and his team facilitate mountain bike and enduro races on certain dates throughout the year meaning the trails are restricted to competitor use only. Following Edge Cycles on facebook keeps you up to date with events, latest news and accessibility.
I recently took our kids (aged 10 and 12) on a trip around some of the easier green routes with a slight excursion onto one of the mid-level blue routes. They used their mountain bikes whilst I rode my trusty hybrid with suspension forks.
Cycling the easier trails is a great way to cover ground more quickly and see a good amount of the main park, especially if your visit is restricted by limited time or you have children more enthusiastic about cycling than they are walking! There are plenty of places to stop and take in the scenery or discover a little more about the history of the park.
Setting off from the main car park at Dry Walk, towards the rear of Mount Edgcumbe House, took us through the National Camellia Collection before continuing through the valley overlooking the amphitheatre to the deer park.
A herd of fallow deer were once kept here in keeping with the landowning fashion of the day. However, the fences came down during WWII, the deer escaped and successfully established a flourishing wild herd which still frequents the Park. Keep your eyes peeled, you may just get a glimpse of these beautiful creatures!
Entering the deer park at this point also means you are on the folly slope with its spectacular views of Plymouth Sound, the Tamar Valley and Dartmoor in the background. Mistakenly thought by some to be an old building, the folly was constructed this way in 1747 to enhance the landscape with a purpose built romantic “ruin”.
We followed the way markers up the folly slope and thereafter in a clockwise direction around the deer park enjoying more beautiful countryside before passing by the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Julien at Maker. The Church’s extraordinary history, including the vaults, artefacts and stunning stained glass windows commemorating late members of the Edgcumbe family, is well worth discovering.
Be reassured, all the trails extending across grassland have had ground reinforcement mesh laid, essential given the tendency of the heavy clay soil to become extremely slippery when waterlogged. It was a great confidence booster for the kids whose previous cycling had mainly been on tarmac surfaces, it also means the trails are accessible all year round.
A couple of laps of the deer park later, we returned to the car park with the kids enthusing about the next visit to explore more of the tracks spanning the upper and lower park.
However, if you’re after something more adventurous, the red (most challenging) bike trails are for you. Whilst my bike coped just fine with the route we took, Adam advises that the red trails are most definitely for mountain bikes with my trusty hybrid no longer suitable.
Despite the red trails holding up well throughout the year, they have been designed to present some technical challenges for riders and wend their way through the woods on hilly terrain in the upper park.
So, if you’re looking for an outdoor workout or are getting into mountain biking and want to be tested, these are well worth a look. Likewise, if the kids’ confidence continues to grow and they want to give mountain biking a try, an Edge Cycles guided tour or coaching session may be just the ticket.
Edge Cycles have two coaches who can take up to eight unaccompanied children each or, for larger groups, higher numbers can be accommodated so long as the adults responsible for the children are present and accompany the group throughout the session.
A Country Park Not A Theme Park
It’s fair to say that everyone can be accommodated at Mount Edgcumbe. No bike? No problem! A variety of bikes can be hired including battery assisted cycles for anyone wanting a bit of help with the hills! Long distance cyclists can start from here and explore the entire Rame Peninsula by discovering routes at the Edge Cycles shop.
Meanwhile non-cycling family members will find plenty to occupy them whilst the cyclists take off for a ride. Mount Edgcumbe has a wide appeal and offers something for everyone. Moreover, for all the improvements in facilities, it has managed to remain a country park (rather than become a theme park) and it’s still a very beautiful one at that.
For general information about the park visit the Mount Edgcumbe website.
*Essential* First time cyclists planning a trip should visit the Edge Cycles website to access the very best information about cycling in Mount Edgcumbe.
The Edge Cycles facebook page keeps you up to date with news and events including planned races when the trails will be restricted to competitors only but spectators are welcome.
From Plymouth why not catch the Cremyll (pedestrian) Ferry from Stonehouse?
For motorists the main car park at Dry Walk can be found at grid reference 450,526 on the Ordnance Survey Explorer 108 map. For sat nav users, Mount Edgcumbe House has a post code of PL10 1HZ with the car park a short distance from the house. As you enter the Park grounds simply follow the signs for car parking.