West Country: Alex Wade thought he knew this county well. Then he followed a new cycle route and uncovered even more of its beauty

The plan was simple enough. I would meet Lanyon Rowe, the man behind Cornish Cycle Tours, at Wadebridge in north Cornwall, pick up one of his fleet of Dawes touring bikes and some route notes, and cycle due south to the pretty seaside village of Mevagissey on the south coast.

At 32 miles, that'd do nicely for day one, while day two would be a breeze by comparison: a short hop of a few miles south-west to Portloe, a tiny village on the Roseland Peninsula with a working slip for four or five fishing boats.

The purpose, too, was straightforward. As I had been largely out of action owing to a nasty operation on my neck several months before, a weekend sampling part of the South Coast tour, one of the company's latest self-guided and supported cycle routes, would be just the thing to test how well my return to fitness was progressing.

With that in mind, rather than the conviction that I'd be discovering the unknown – I live in Cornwall and know the county well – I arrived in Wadebridge on a Friday evening, checked into the comfortable Molesworth Arms in the town centre and met up with Lanyon and a writer called Tony, who would be joining me for the ride.

The next morning, after a suitably hearty breakfast, we set off on the first stretch of our journey along the Camel Trail, which was one of the landscapes that was famously a favourite of the late poet laureate John Betjeman.

The sun burst brightly through scattered clouds, illuminating the woods and marshland surrounding the River Camel. It was easy to see why the tranquil scenery around the trail – which starts in Padstow and ends at Poley's Bridge on the edge of Bodmin Moor – was so beloved by the poet. Likewise to understand its popularity with families: it is flat and wholly free of traffic.

At Nanstallon Halt, one of the area's old railway stations, just past the Camel Valley Vineyard, we stopped for a quick coffee at the Camel Trail Tea Gardens. "The stretch of the trail from Bodmin to Poley's Bridge is the best," advised the man who served us. Fine – but it wasn't on Lanyon's route. To take a detour to Poley's Bridge, or head south at Bodmin, on to Mevagissey?

Feeling pretty chipper after an easy first seven miles, we plumped for Poley's Bridge. It was beautiful, and quieter, too. Granite boulders created rapids in the brown waters of the river below the trail. With woods closing in on either side of the track we lost the sun. But no matter: the miles were, ever so slightly, beginning to bite, so some cooling shade was welcome – all the more so when, after five or six miles, it struck us that we would have to cycle back uphill to rejoin our route.

Over lunch at Bodmin Jail, we worked out that we'd just added 12 miles to our first day's cycling. But with the sun still shining we left Bodmin to pick up an exquisite route devised by Lanyon, one which combines the Sustrans national cycle network and minor, not to say unused, local roads. The one that dropped down from the edge of the A30 through Luxulyan Valley, taking in the impressive Treffry Viaduct, was a delight. Better still, we didn't meet a single car.

The route passed through the Eden Project, but we decided against a detour there, not least because by now Cornwall's hills were beginning to take their toll. But we were both in our element. I was happy, too, that my neck was holding up. We checked into the Valley House B&B in Mevagissey in good moods, improved further by possibly the best Thai food I've had in Cornwall, courtesy of Judes Restaurant on the harbour.

Sunday morning dawned; my limbs ached. But we only had a few miles' cycling ahead of us – and what a joy it was. Quiet country roads, many with views of the sea, took us past Caerhays Castle and its luxuriant foliage before bearing us to Portloe, one of a few Cornish villages I hadn't previously managed to visit.

There, eating a crab sandwich at the Lugger Hotel, a quiescent sea below us and amiability all around, it struck me that thanks to Lanyon I had a much better idea of Cornwall now. And with my neck passing its first serious test, I might even sign up for his North Cornwall tour.

Compact Facts

How to get there

Alex Wade tried a stretch of the South Coast tour by Cornish Cycle Tours (01637 880710; cornishcycletours.co.uk). The full length of the tour is 106 miles, and takes seven days. The trip costs from £580 per person, including route maps, luggage transfers, breakdown support and B&B accommodation. Bikes can be hired for this trip for £90.