King Alfred's Way by Guy Kesterven

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King Alfred's Way 350km trail around historic Wessex – a circular off-road adventure through 10,000 years of history

Author: Guy Kesteven


First published in the United Kingdom in 2020 by Cycling UK, Parklands, Railton Road, Guildford GU2 9JX King Alfred’s Way: 350km trail around historic Wessex – a circular off-road adventure through 10,000 years of history © 2020 Cycling UK Text © 2020 Cycling UK Photographs for full list of copyright see p.121 Route researched by Kieran Foster, Cycling UK Route guide written by Guy Kesteven Edited by Sophie Gordon, Cherry Allan and Keir Gallagher Design by Roger Morgan www.morgan-creative.co.uk Maps produced by Kieran Foster Map data by Ordnance Survey © Crown copyright 2020 OS 100045061

With thanks to: Sarah Wright, Ridgeway National Trail manager, for feedback and suggestions Peter Morris, North Downs Way National Trail manager Alister Linton-Crook, South Downs Cycling Officer Nick MacFarlane, Farnham Park ranger, for a tour of the park to discuss route options James Nevitt, Senior Access and Recreation Adviser for Ministry of Defence land Local Access Forums and British Horse Society groups for providing feedback on the route Local volunteers for test-riding sections of the route and providing comments Numerous staff at government departments, AONBs, National Parks and Rights of Way departments along the route for their advice and support

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording or any other information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.

Printed and bound in the UK Dedicated to the memory of Fern Foster, who left us too soon


Introduction

Welcome

Cycling UK has been shouting about the joys and benefits of cycling in the countryside for 140 years. The machines might be different today, but the sense of adventure remains the same. From winning the rights to use the Royal Parks in 1885, to gaining the right to cycle on bridleways in 1968, and then successfully campaigning for the right of responsible access in Scotland in 2003 and for wider access to the outdoors in Wales in 2017, Cycling UK has always led the way in promoting off-road access for cycling. The coronavirus outbreak in 2020 has highlighted to all of us how much we value being able to get outdoors and connect with nature. For us at Cycling UK, it’s shown the importance of having a network of safe off-road routes to ride straight from your doorstep. It is now over seventy years since the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, which led to the creation of National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and provisions for people to explore them using public rights of way and National Trails. The vision for these ‘long-distance trails’ was set out in a 1947 report by Arthur Hobhouse as “continuous routes which will enable walkers and riders to travel the length and breadth of the Parks, moving as little as possible on the motor roads”. However, of the fifteen National Trails in England and Wales, only the Pennine Bridleway and South Downs Way have always been rideable end-to-end. In 2018, Cycling UK added to their number with the introduction of our riders’ route for the North Downs Way. In 2019, we went one step further with the launch of the Great North Trail, which connects existing long-distance trails into an 800-mile adventure route from the Peak District to the north coast of Scotland. We want to recapture the dream from seventy years ago that the Cyclists’ Touring Club would no doubt expect from Cycling UK in its modernised incarnation, that the National Trails should truly be for everyone and we’ll continue to campaign until they are. King Alfred’s Way is a key link in this growing chain. I hope you enjoy discovering it. Matt Mallinder Director of Influence and Engagement, Cycling UK

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Cycling UK

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Contents Introduction .............................................................................. 7 Guide to historical time periods .............................. 12 The 'Digtionary' ................................................................. 14 Part One – Test Valley ..................................................... 16 Part Two – Stonehenge ................................................. 26 Part Three – Salisbury Plain ........................................ 36 Part Four – Vale of Pewsey .......................................... 44 Part Five – The Ridgeway ............................................. 50 Part Six – The Last Line of Defence ........................... 60 Part Seven – The Devil's Punch Bowl ..................... 68 Part Eight – Sussex Border .......................................... 76 Part Nine – South Downs Way ................................... 82 Places and facilities ........................................................ 92 Suggested itineraries .................................................... 94 Route map ............................................................................. 95 King Alfred's Way – Image credits ........................... 97 Afterword..................................................................................... 98 About the author..................................................................... 99

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Cycling UK

Immerse yourself in 10,000 years of history by riding this 350km loop around historic Wessex, the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Alfred the Great.

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Introduction

King Alfred's Way

The route starts and ends in Winchester where Alfred is buried, and connects iconic monuments including Stonehenge, Avebury stone circle, Iron Age hill forts, Farnham Castle, and Winchester and Salisbury Cathedrals. The trail is ideal for gravel bikes and could be ridden over a few days as a bikepacking trip (see our suggested stopover points at the back of the guide). It’s also easily accessible for point-to-point day rides by train, passing through Reading, Winchester and Salisbury. However, despite being so close to towns and cities in the south of England, you’ll feel like you’ve escaped from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Think white horses on chalk hillsides and wide-open views across rolling waves of countryside. King Alfred’s Way also forms a key link with other long-distance routes, as it connects four National Trails: the South Downs Way, Cycling UK’s North Downs Way riders’ route, the rideable half of the Ridgeway, and the Thames Path.

Format of this guide We have split the route into nine short sections which felt like natural breaks in terms of the landscape and history along the trail. Each chapter gives you a feel for the experience of riding that section, and describes the historical and archaeological highlights along the way. To help you plan your trip, towards the back of the guide we’ve suggested some overnight stops for a four-, three- or two-night trip. There is also a cumulative distance table, showing facilities in each town and village. The route is fully mapped on 1:50 000 Ordnance Survey maps at the end of the guide (printed version only, not available in online version). There are a few places where the trail splits and you can choose to take an alternative route – these are shown on the maps. So wherever your adventure takes you, we hope you enjoy the route. 7


Cycling UK

Bike and kit

Terrain King Alfred’s Way has been designed to be suitable for people with a decent level of fitness and some experience of off-road riding, rather than requiring technical mountain biking skills. The route uses a mixture of gravel tracks, woodland and heathland trails, grassy field edge bridleways, canal towpaths and quiet lanes. There are some steep climbs and descents to watch out for and good stamina is required, but overall the route would be given a blue difficulty grading (‘moderate’, suitable for people with some experience of off-road cycling, with some loose surfaces, ruts and tree roots). As an off-road route, riding conditions, levels of challenge and likely speed can vary significantly depending on current and preceding weather. Chalk surfaces are particularly slippery when wet and there are extended sections of deep ruts on the Ridgeway and Salisbury Plain trails which can be awkward to ride. The trick is to relax and look ahead rather than fixating on your front wheel. There are occasional short and steep or long technical climbs that will defeat most riders, so be prepared to push and wear shoes that allow that. The Surrey Hills heathland has several sandy sections which can also present problems. Lowering tyre pressure and trying to keep as straight as possible will help. 8

King Alfred’s Way is mainly an off-road route with significant amounts of steep climbing and challenging descents so it needs an appropriate bike. A conventional touring bike will probably survive if you ride carefully, but a gravel bike or hybrid with 35mm or wider tyres and low ratio gears will be a more confident and comfortable choice. A cross country/trail style mountain bike certainly isn’t overkill either, and would be the preferred option during the wetter, muddier seasons. If you are thinking of taking an e-bike, there are extended sections of the route where you will be away from convenient


Introduction charging points, so plan/ration battery use accordingly. There are no points where you have to physically lift the bike though. In terms of what you carry, that obviously depends on how long you plan on taking to ride the loop and whether you’re carrying camping gear or hopping between hotels with just a spare pair of shorts. Expect the unexpected in terms of weather so always take a decent jacket and a warm underlayer in case mechanical incidents and meteorological evil combine forces. Panniers, bikepacking bags or a backpack all have their pros and cons, but low-slung panniers may get caught occasionally on the more rutted sections. Make sure any

racks or accessories are bolted on tightly, and spare bolts aren’t a bad idea. Flint is notoriously hard on tyres too (it was used to make spears after all), so take spare tubes and a tyre repair kit even if you’re running a tubeless system. You’ll obviously need a reliable pump to go with them and a comprehensive multi tool with a spare chain link.

Whatever bike and equipment you use, make sure it’s in good working order and be realistic about the range and condition of the engine (you) too.

Navigation The route is not signposted, but much of it follows clearly waymarked trails such as the Ridgeway, South Downs Way, Shipwrights Way and Cycle Surrey Hills routes. Other parts of the route place far greater emphasis on your own navigation to stay on track, so with so many sites of interest to look out for, scenic vistas to enjoy and fun sections of trail to get slightly carried away on, don’t forget to keep a keen eye on your route. A handlebar-mounted

GPS unit is certainly a big help, but we strongly suggest taking a map with the route marked on as a dead battery back-up. The route is fully mapped on 1:50 000 Ordnance Survey maps at the back of this guide. Reading the relevant section of this route guide the night before or over breakfast will help with familiarity and means you won’t miss any highlights. 9


Cycling UK

Safety While our route planners have done an amazing job of avoiding built up areas and spiriting you away into a sense of isolated wilderness wherever possible, you can be reassured that you’re rarely more than 5km from habitation or help of some form. Mobile phone coverage is reliable throughout most of the route too.

In terms of on-trail support, the South Downs Way has regular tap points as well as tool stations and you’ll never be that far away from a shop, pub, café or bike shop from Reading all the way round to Winchester. You’ll need to be reasonably self-sufficient for Salisbury Plain and the Ridgeway though.

That doesn’t mean you should be reckless though, so always ride within your limits and the limits of your equipment and if in doubt dismount – whether that’s on an off-road descent or at one of the few busy road crossings. If you’re riding solo we’d also suggest using a ‘beacon’ tracking phone app for safety.

For peace of mind while you’re out riding, you might like to consider joining Cycling UK. Not only does membership include third-party insurance, discounts and advice, but it also helps support the charity create more routes like King Alfred’s Way.

The route passes through some areas of land owned by the Ministry of Defence where there may be military training exercises going on, so make sure you pay attention to any warning signs, stick to the main route rather than wandering off and don’t touch any ‘interesting’ objects lying around. Salisbury Plain is a live firing range with very real dangers, so you should never cut across it if the red flags are flying. Even when the flags are down, you need to be vigilant for 75-tonne Challenger tanks travelling at up to 60km/h with very limited crew vision as well as other, even faster vehicles.

Top tips for a great ride • Ride Responsibly Show respect for all other users, and take care of the environment. • Leave No Trace Practice low-impact cycling to protect trails and avoid wet and muddy trails. Keep to the line of existing trails, avoid skidding and take your litter home. • Control Your Bike Stay focused, check your speed, and think about other people. • Avoid Disturbing Animals Farm, pet and wild animals are startled by sudden noise, be considerate. • Always Plan Ahead Know your bike, your equipment, your ability and the area, and be prepared for the weather conditions. • Always Give Way Let people know you are there. Pass wide and slow, particularly with horse-riders and approach with caution on blind corners and descents. Remember – Be Nice, Say Hi!

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Introduction

Who was King Alfred the Great? Alfred the Great was born in 848 in Wantage as the youngest of four sons of King Aethelwulf of Wessex. He first appears in historical records fighting alongside his brother King Aethelred against Ivar the Boneless in Mercia (the modern Midlands). When Aethelred died in 871, Alfred became king, but the next seven years didn’t go well for him and he ended up hiding from repeatedly victorious Viking forces in a fort in the Somerset marshes at Athelney. This was where the infamous ‘burnt cakes’ incident allegedly took place as Alfred was too pre-occupied to watch them for his peasant host. His baking failures were forgiven when he rallied the Saxon army and defeated the Vikings comprehensively at the battle of Eddington and then besieged them at Chippenham. This was enough to get the Vikings to retreat north to the ‘Danelaw’ and give Alfred control of all of Wessex and much of Mercia which made him feel Great. He reorganised the Saxon army and how it was mobilised, and expanded the size of the navy. He also created 33 fortified

towns or ‘burhs’ throughout the Saxon kingdom – many of which our route passes through or near – to act as strongholds. Alfred’s rule was most significant not for military achievements, but for his focus on justice and education. He learned Latin and began to translate Latin books into Anglo-Saxon English in 887, to make them more accessible to people. He remained mostly in control of southern England until his death in 899 when he was buried at the old minster in Winchester. The bronze statue that marks the finish of the King Alfred’s Way route was created in 1899 to commemorate 1,000 years since his passing and there are statues of him in Pewsey and Wantage too. With the Herepath at Avebury and significant battles at Englefield, Ashdown, Basing, Meretun, Reading, Wilton, Eddington and Farnham all within the area, King Alfred was the obvious figurehead for our route.

Statue of King Alfred in his birthplace of Wantage 11


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Guide to historical time periods Some places you’ll be riding through have a human record dating back 10,000 years, but what do the different time periods mean and how do they compare with what was happening in the rest of the world? Date

Name

What’s happening

KAW sites

World events

Hunter gatherers follow the retreat of the Ice Age north into the UK using temporary camps. Tools using tiny flint blades (microliths).

Ogbourne St George, Frensham Common, post hole remains at Stonehenge.

Jericho emerges as a settlement. Ploughing starts in Mesopotamia (Iraq).

4000Neolithic Advanced flint and 1800 BC (New Stone stone tools cultivation Age). of crops and permanent settlement starts in UK. Henges, earthworks and long barrows appear.

Larkhill cursus, Figsbury Ring, Stonehenge, Woodhenge, Durrington Walls, Wayland's Smithy, long barrows.

Egyptian Old Kingdom pyramids. Minoan, Cycladic Greek, Indus Valley and Mayan cultures. First evidence of writing.

1800800 BC

Bronze Age Wessex culture and subsequent waves of society changes/ invasions coming from Europe. Barrows and very early hill forts.

Round and pond barrows, Uffington White Horse and Liddington Castle.

Mycenaean Greece, Egyptian New Kingdom. David becomes second king of Israel in 1000 BC.

800-50 BC

Iron Age

Large amounts of hill forts. Evidence of regular tribal warfare and European trading.

Old Sarum, Uffington, Liddington, Bagbury, Caesar’s Camp and other hill forts.

Rise of Greek city states and Persian Empire. Socrates and Confucious start thinking hard. Han dynasty starts in China.

50 BC410 AD

Roman

The Roman Empire conquers most of Europe.

Straight roads, Silchester.

Romans, all over Europe and the Middle East.

9000Mesolithic 4000 BC

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Introduction

Date

Name

What’s happening

KAW sites

World events

410800 AD

PostRoman

Some hill forts re-occupied, historical records of regular European and Celtic invasions and trading.

Old Sarum

All sorts of people gallop around Europe – Vandals, Goths, Visigoths, Angles, Saxons, Moors etc. Charlemagne gets it together as King of the Franks in the late 700s.

800Saxon/ 1066 AD Viking

Constant conflict between Scandinavian invaders and British Saxons from 793.

Old Sarum, Herepath at Avebury, early churches.

Vikings causing trouble all over Europe and Russia.

1066 AD Norman

Vikings from France beat Harold at Hastings and build castles everywhere to control the country.

Old Sarum and Farnham Castle. Waverley Abbey, more churches.

Early crusades into Italy, Spain, the Middle East and Africa.

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Cycling UK

The ‘Digtionary’ Archaeological terms explained With so much archaeology on the route, we thought a basic guide of different ancient lumps and bumps you will see would be useful. Avenue and cursus

Causewayed enclosure

A line of stones and sometimes banks and ditches (cursus monuments) leading to or from another monument such as the henges at Avebury and Stonehenge. In some cases – such as the Larkhill cursus – they predate the henges though, and they’re generally later than earlier Neolithic long barrows. They can vary in length from 100 metres to 10 kilometres and from 20-150 metres wide.

These Neolithic sites pre-date henges and are often on high ground, like Windmill Hill at Avebury. Regular ‘causeways’ across the banks and ditches suggest they were not defensive sites and they seem to have been used occasionally rather than permanently. The ditches appear to have been re-dug regularly with each phase containing human and animal bones and pottery.

Earthwork Long but non-continuous bank and ditch alignments often along the tops or sides of hills. They generally date from the Bronze and Iron Ages and are presumed to be boundary markers.

Barrow Barrows (also known as tumuli) are normally raised burial mounds in a rectangular (long barrow) or round shape, but pond barrows which are a circular depression also exist. Long barrows like Wayland's Smithy near Swindon are generally Neolithic and often contain chambers or ‘mortuary houses’ inside for multiple burials. Round and pond barrows typically date from the Bronze Age (but some are Roman, Saxon and Viking) and in the south of England they normally contain cremation burials. Barrows can be individual or grouped in cemeteries and tend to occupy high ground where they can be seen easily. 14

Henge While Stonehenge, Woodhenge, Avebury and other sites have standing stones or post circles within them, henges are actually the circular bank and ditch monuments around the outside. The fact that the bank is normally outside the ditch (Stonehenge is a rare exception) shows they’re not defensive sites and they’re often aligned on significant celestial dates such as the midsummer or midwinter solstice.


Introduction

Hill fort Hill forts start to appear on high ground in the late Bronze Age but explode in numbers during the Iron Age. Some are quite small with a single ditch and bank, whereas others have multiple massive banks and ditches as well as complex entrance arrangements. Traces of wooden palisades on top of the banks are common, and some like Barbury Castle fort (just north of Marlborough) were further reinforced with stone. Most excavations show multiple roundhouses inside and some forts like Old Sarum became sites for Roman settlements or were re-occupied in the post-Roman period.

"The route starts and ends in Winchester where Alfred is buried, and connects iconic monuments including Stonehenge, Avebury stone circle, Iron Age hill forts, Farnham Castle, and Winchester and Salisbury Cathedrals."

Keep The keep is the central defensive building of a medieval castle as seen at Old Sarum and Farnham.

Motte and bailey The classic Norman castle puts a timber or stone keep stronghold on top of a motte or mound. This is then surrounded by a larger bailey protected by a ditch and bank/ramparts. Again, Old Sarum and Farnham are great examples. 15



Test Valley PART ONE


Cycling UK

Part 1 – Test Valley

150m

Winchester to Salisbury Distance: 40km

100m 50m 0m 0km

Ascent: 468m

20km

40km

150m 100m 50m 0m

Highlights

Be aware0km

• An amazingly rich range of landscape history from ancient to modern.

• The off-road climb onto Broughton 200m Down (OS grid ref: SU 295 325) is steep100m and can be tricky in bad weather. 0m It’s worth it though.

• Joining two historic English cities. • Quiet, mixed surface riding with relatively simple navigation. • Setting the scene for the full route. • Sheltered tree tunnel riding. • Optional extra woodland detour at the start at Farley Mount.

Navigation You’ll need to keep your wits about you following the twists and turns out of Winchester itself, but after that the route is relatively simple as long as you check your map/GPS regularly. A rich network of quiet roads will soon get you back on track if you do lose your way. 18

5km

10km

• The Roman from 0kmroad descent 10km 20km Middle Winterslow will definitely 300m need caution in the wet too.

200m • Occasional short, steep climbs and 100m fast, loose, and narrow descents 0m in other places. 0km 5km 10km

• Crossing the busy A30 outside Salisbury needs care.

20km 16km

33km

15km

300m

• The sections of trail before and 200m after the A30 can be overgrown 100m in summer. 0m 0km

200m 100m 0m

20km

40km

60km

86km


Part 1: Test Valley

Area introduction and route summary The first section of King Alfred’s Way is short but sets the scene perfectly for the whole route. Starting at the Westgate outside Winchester Castle, in the historic heart of the city, it rolls out into quiet suburbs which soon open up into a timeless rural landscape of singletrack roads and ancient tracks. You’ll climb and descend gradually past prehistoric barrows and earthworks, through medieval farms as castles and ancient churches gaze down from the high ground. There are plenty of opportunities to wander off the main route into the woodlands and hidden valleys of Farley Mount or add an early pub or shop stop into your meanderings. After criss-crossing the rich fishing heritage and history of the beautiful Test Valley, one of the first stiff climbs on the route takes you up onto Broughton Down. A short detour to the butterfly- and orchid-loaded

nature reserve at the summit will repay your efforts with incredible views of the ride done and the ride to come. You’ve also earned a long descent afterwards.

From here, the Roman road guides you on an undulating ride through quiet farmland, diverting briefly to avoid a main road and offer a brief glimpse of some chilling wartime history on the horizon, before arriving at the 2,500-year-old ramparts of Old Sarum fort on the edge of the thriving city of Salisbury.

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Cycling UK

Winchester The county town of Hampshire has been an important settlement since the Iron Age, when three separate hill forts sat on surrounding high ground. A larger central ‘oppidum’ (fortified Celtic settlement) was formed on the banks of the River Itchen just before the area was overrun by Gaulish invaders from modern-day France, and then the Romans. It continued to be a major seat of power through the Anglo-Saxon, Viking, Norman Medieval and later periods, with many stunning buildings and monuments throughout the town as well as the castle, cathedral, and several museums.

Winchester Castle The foundations of Winchester Castle sit on a Roman fort built in AD 70 to control the local – mainly Gaulish – Celtic population of Venta Belgarum. The ramparts had survived well enough to be the obvious base for William the Conqueror to build one of his first Norman castles and a seat of government there in 1067. A central stone stronghold (keep) was added by Henry II to protect the royal treasury and the Domesday Book which were kept there. Having been born in the castle, Henry III added the formidable great hall where ‘King Arthur’s Round Table’ is now displayed. Dated to the 13th century, and with the names of the knights only added for Henry VIII’s benefit (King Arthur’s portrait is modelled on a young Henry), it’s about 700 years too late to be Arthur’s actual table, but it’s still an iconic symbol of English myth and power. Thankfully, the table and hall survived Cromwell’s demolition of the castle after an English Civil War siege, and it’s been a legal and civic centre for the city since the 17th century. 20


Part 1: Test Valley

Winchester to King’s Somborne Fittingly for such a rich historical adventure, the King Alfred’s Way route starts at the historic Westgate next to the castle. If you’re wandering around Winchester beforehand, it’s north west of the cathedral and war memorial and north of the Peninsula Barracks and Royal Green Jackets Museum, or just follow the heritage signposts to the top of the High Street. From the mini-roundabout straight in front of you, take the exit that puts The Westgate pub, with its iconic curved frontage, on your left shoulder. After a short section of busy street, you turn left over the railway bridge and head gradually up through a maze of quiet Victorian

backstreets and leafy suburbs. A GPS will be useful here, but if you stay on track you’ll soon see the tall hedges lining the singletrack road are no longer hiding the outskirts of Winchester, but opening up to show the first views of the countryside. Don’t get too distracted though, as you soon dive off down a narrow singletrack entry on the left within a kilometre. We can only imagine the tales that this narrow tree-canopied drove road, with its tight shrubbery and wild flowers, has seen unfold over its millennia of use, and this is just the first sentence of the first paragraph of the epic story of the route.

Winchester Westgate Westgate is one of two surviving gates from Winchester’s medieval city walls. The earliest parts of it are Anglo-Saxon and it also has England’s earliest recorded gun ports for hand-held cannons. Unfortunately, you’re unlikely to get a medieval gunpowder salute as you set off, but the museum inside has an interesting display of exhibits and a Tudor painted ceiling that’s well worth a look.

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Cycling UK

Farley Mount diversion Farley Mount is a beautiful area of woodland walking and cycling trails on the northern slope of Pitt Down with big areas of broadleaf trees as well as open grazing with wild ponies. It can be accessed by a road or two bridleways from the King Alfred’s Way route south of Sparsholt. After exploring the woods, head for the car park to the south west and follow the track towards the Farley Mount monument, at the summit of one of the highest hills in Hampshire. This charming white spired folly is the resting place of ‘Beware Chalk Pit’ – a horse which managed to survive a fall into a 25 foot (7.5m) deep chalk pit, recovering well enough to win a race the next year and enter local folklore forever. The short bridleway past the Bronze Age barrows and through the woods on Ashley Down is a properly spirited gallop too. From there, you descend through Ashley on the road to rejoin the official route at King’s Somborne.

If you’re staying on track at Sparsholt, the official route carries on gently weaving through the trees as rough road turns to gently climbing ‘dual cabbageway’ double track. Then it’s back onto ‘real’ rural roads which ease you into a gentle roll down a wide valley between rich hedges. Bronze Age bowl and disc barrows hide their ancient secrets under the rolling grass meadows around Sparsholt and this tiny village is typical of many that you’ll pass. The name comes from “wood where spear shafts were made” and with the remains of a Roman villa lying in the adjacent fields, its roots stretch right back into time. You’re never far from villages like this all the way to Salisbury either, so even if you skip Sparsholt don’t worry about running out of supplies or chances of a warm welcome and pleasant rest. Just don’t stop at all of them or you’ll never get to Old Sarum, never mind all the way back round to Winchester. 22

Whether you divert north into Sparsholt or not, the route carries on through the historic brick and half-timbered buildings of Moor Court farm. With a vast canopy of sky above, the route is exposed to weather here. That means paying attention to what your front wheel is doing as the road starts to crumble before turning into double track. While you’ll skim along skittering grit to the tune of skylarks on a dry summer’s day, wheels will definitely turn slower in the wet, so factor that into your estimated speed and timetable as well. Grumbling legs will be pleased to find a firm footing is restored after a short steady climb up onto the ridge above Up Somborne. Then it’s an easy cruise along more singletrack road past the aptly named Chalkvale Farm, under the watchful eye of the castle remains and manor house of Ashley to the south, before rolling into King’s Somborne.


Part 1: Test Valley

King’s Somborne to Old Sarum Once situated deep inside the hunting park set up by 15th century political powerhouse and father of the house of Lancaster dynasty John of Gaunt, King’s Somborne is now noisily split by a relatively busy road that requires some care after coming off mile after mile of deserted backroads. The half-timbered, thatched roof Crown Inn provides suitably regal themed refreshment opposite the village green and, traffic aside, it’s a quintessentially English spot for a quick stop. John of Gaunt has also given his name to the pub in Horsebridge, just off the main road where a narrow stone bridge takes you over the broad and shallow River Test. From here, you cross multiple shallow tributaries and ponds that typify the Test Valley landscape and show why it has always been a draw for visitors, royal or otherwise. If you look up, you’ll realise it’s time for the route to have some sport with your legs in the shape of what one of our local advisors calls a ‘horrific climb’, pulling you up 80m onto Broughton Down. If it’s wet, both

Test Valley With the shallow, winding River Test cutting through the chalk lands of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, this area is well known for some of the best salmon and trout fishing in Britain. Since 1822, it’s been home to the exclusive Houghton Fishing Club and was described by Lord Crickhowell as an area that “should be treated as a great work of art or music.”

surface and slope are all working against you here, so be prepared to dig deep or just get off and take your time gazing up at the massive trees with their overhanging roots that border the sunken track. Thankfully, the chalk grassland nature reserve and cluster of tumuli just a few metres off the route at the brow of the hill are a perfect place to sit and recover among the many rare insects and butterflies that live here. You’ll be able to see northwards right across the Test Valley to Danebury hill fort in the distance.

Danebury hill fort Danebury is one of the most intensively excavated hill forts in the UK and the archaeological evidence from those digs forms the backbone of our knowledge of these iconic structures. Growing from a single ditch with wood-faced ramparts and a gatehouse, in around 500 BC the fortifications were increased in size as its importance – or the amount of disturbance in the local area – grew. By 400 BC the ditch was 6m deep and 12m wide, with a 10m rampart and flint wall towering above. Not only would that have made

it a serious stronghold, but it would have projected the power status of the occupants right across the Test Valley. It’s notable that other local forts were abandoned around this time, while Danebury developed more complicated entrance earthworks and then a whole extra ditch and rampart ring. The amount of buildings also increased to form a small self-contained settlement of around 200-350 people. Multiple gate-burning incidents, as well as burial pits containing bodies with combat wounds, prove these defences

weren’t just for show either. Despite its size and obvious importance, like most surviving forts Danebury was largely abandoned by 100 BC, and there’s no evidence it played any part in the Roman invasion.

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Cycling UK Your efforts on the climb are now repaid in full, with a relaxed roll down westwards, overlooking rich farmland and old woods. The mixed gravel surface turns to dirt double track alongside Noad’s Copse which can make things trickier in winter. From Middle Winterslow the chalky clay-rutted byway of Monarch’s Way doesn’t seem that regal now. The long, sunken, slope-sided descent it turns into definitely deserves respect and caution even in the dry. The almost dead straight alignment gives away its origins as a Roman road but it’s certainly not dead flat as you winch your way past Firsdown. Don’t get totally fixated on your front wheel though, as the views of Salisbury and the Neolithic and Iron Age site of Figsbury Ring are beautiful. More recent and more sinister history hangs over the chemical and biological weapons research centre at Porton Down on the horizon to the north too. Busy traffic is more of a concern as the modern world comes at you with a noisy rush at the A30. It’s only a quick scuttle across before you’re back into a tight tunnel of undergrowth again, diving down

Porton Down Porton Down research camp was hurriedly created in WWI to develop protective equipment against the horrors of poison gas warfare as well as develop the UK’s own weapons. Thankfully, neither its research nor products (including anthrax and other biological weapons) were used in either of the World Wars but it was very busy during the Cold War, playing catch up on research and development of the nerve agents created but never deployed by Nazi Germany. It was the birthplace of VX nerve gas and CS crowd control gases, and is still one of the most secretive and heavily protected military sites in the UK. 24

under the railway. From here, you turn left off the Monarch’s Way, briefly following the line of the River Bourne (more of a stream) south before rejoining the Roman road alignment for the last couple of kilometres past Old Sarum Airfield. With just under 40 kilometres and a reasonable amount of climbing now in your legs, Salisbury itself, just to the south, is an obvious break and/or stopover point if you’re not pushing the pace. Either way, be sure to pedal up the entrance road between the huge grassy ramparts of Old Sarum as you’ll soon appreciate the sheer scale of this very significant Iron Age and Early Medieval site once you’re inside. You can visit the remains of the Norman castle in the centre, which is free if you have English Heritage membership, or you can buy a ticket on the gate. Even if you don’t go inside, if you sit on the grass outside the keep, you’ll be on the first piece of an intricate archaeological jigsaw that’s about to surround you as you continue onwards through the World Heritage site of Stonehenge and Avebury.


Part 1: Test Valley

Old Sarum Airfield If you fancy swapping your handlebars for a joystick for a while, Boscombe Down Aviation Collection has a varied display of aircraft cockpits as well as complete planes to look around. Having been the centre for RAF Army Co-Operation training, the old operations centre and map room are now the offices of Wessex Archaeology, so don’t be surprised if you see Phil from Time Team wandering about. the Roman settlement of Sorviodunum, with three major roads meeting at the east gate. As the town outside its walls grew, it became the site of a Romano/British temple and the continued importance of Salisbury meant it was home to a mint at the end of the Anglo-Saxon area.

Old Sarum You won’t find many places with more of a concentrated compilation of history than Old Sarum. Starting as a large multi-ring hill fort in the Iron Age (400 BC) it became

It was the obvious site for a Normal castle as soon as they invaded, and a cathedral was then built inside the ramparts with several expansions of both castle and cathedral in the next century. Things had got very cramped by the start of the 1200s though, and when the cathedral moved into town the importance of the castle declined too. It was empty and stripped for stone by 1500.

Salisbury While there is evidence of settlements in the Iron Age, Roman and Saxon periods, Salisbury as we know it is relatively recent. The grid pattern town was rapidly built around the relocated cathedral as Old Sarum was abandoned, and it became a city in 1227 and the largest in Wiltshire

by the 1300s. The Parliament of England met at New Sarum three times in the 1300s and a city wall was built from the cathedral and wall remains of Old Sarum in the same period. It’s been an important city for the region ever since.

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Stonehenge PART TWO


Cycling UK

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• The richest prehistoric landscape in the world.

• The first treelined singletrack descent 300m can get slippery when wet into Salterton 200m and it ends in a farmyard so be ready 100m on the brakes.

• Going the furthest back in time in the shortest distance. • Stones. Big mysterious ancient ones. In a circle. • Solstice rides.

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0km 20km 40km so60km 86km It’s only a super short section but there are lots of closely spaced junctions, have your map/GPS close at hand. The route splits at the village of Lake too (OS grid ref: SU 133 390). You can carry on riding road to the A303 at Amesbury and approach Stonehenge from 200m the east or take a quieter but slower off-road route over Normanton Down and roll into 100m Stonehenge from the south. 0m

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Part 2: Stonehenge

While it’s most easily recognisable by its iconic ring of stacked sarsen stones dating from around 2500 BC, the first phase of Stonehenge began in 8000 BC when megalithic people dug four large pits as footings for large pine posts on a possibly east-west alignment...

Area introduction and route summary We’ve split this section into a very short standalone piece because we know a lot of you will rightly be excited about riding to Stonehenge. The sheer intensity of archaeology and things to take in mean it’s not a route to rush, especially if you take the optional pedal and push route from Lake. In terms of sensible overnight stopping points, you’ll want to roll on past the stones to Tilshead, but that name doesn’t mean much compared to Stonehenge or Salisbury Plain so that’s what we’ve stuck with for the section breaks. Plus, after Stonehenge you swap druids and tourists for tanks and artillery; and that’s a whole other conversation about red flags. Beneath your wheels, it’s straight onto a stone and grass double track from Old Sarum over into the pretty little Avon Valley, then a twisty tarmac riverside lane and gravel track to Lake. From here to Stonehenge, it’s either more winding road and bridleway via Amesbury or grassy double track, footpath push and farm lane.

Obviously, that can be sticky/slippy in wet weather, but it’s definitely the more tranquil option for transporting you right back into the incredibly rich prehistoric landscape that whispers from every hump and lump in the surrounding fields. The road route is faster and takes you to the edge of Amesbury which has accommodation options before the long push over Salisbury Plain as well as convenient restaurants at the road services. Either way, crossing the A303 is a definite caution point until proposed alterations are made, and don’t necessarily expect tranquillity when you get to the tourist hotspot of Stonehenge either. Don’t worry though, you’ll have plenty of quality ‘alone time’ with the area’s ancestors over the next 100km or so, so dive into the selfie scrum and then leave the crowds behind as you head north to Salisbury Plain. 29


Cycling UK

Old Sarum to Lake Roll out of Old Sarum and you’re on grassy, gravelly double track heading up and down hill (spare a glance back for a good view of Old Sarum) before rumbling along field boundary singletrack enjoying the views north until you drop down into the valley. Go steady here as the combination of tree canopy and/or weather can make this descent quite technical. It also ends in a farmyard, so drop your speed before you emerge. From here, it’s quiet road heading north following the meandering River Avon towards Ogbury, the large prehistoric hilltop enclosure above Great Durnford. You head off-road again just as you get into Great Durnford, turning left to cross over the river where an old mill sits as it splits around a small island. It’s a decent singletrack climb up to join the back road right next to a round barrow, and this is the point where you can really feel the world around you start to hum with archaeology. There’s more recent history too, as the beautiful flint chequerwork of the 16th century Lake House that you can glimpse behind thick shrubs and trees is now the home of musician Sting and his wife, who run an organic farm from there. As you drop back down into Lake past a beautiful half-timbered longhouse, the tiny ‘sentry box’ bus stop and old red phone box mark the point where the route splits.

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Part 2: Stonehenge

Lake to Stonehenge (on road option, safe crossing of the A303) Unfortunately, the off-road option that we’ll detail later involves a dismount and difficult road crossing. That means for now the official route continues along the minor road from Lake. Continue straight on out of the village past the long, low thatched cottage and follow the tree-lined road along the valley. After around two miles you will curve round onto a T junction. Turning left takes you onto the A303 towards Stonehenge – don’t go this way. Instead, turn right towards Amesbury crossing the river into town before turning left towards the Countess roundabout and using the subway underneath it. This route also handily passes a Travelodge and fast food outlet (more facilities are also available at the Solstice Park road services on the other side of the town and there’s a bike shop too).The entrance to the subway is a bit tricky to spot as it’s from the pavement on the right hand side of the road, so it’s probably safer to dismount and use the crossings to get to it. After the subway, you can follow a section of byway, part of which is a disused small-gauge railway line used by the military in WWI, which then heads up towards the garrison town of Larkhill – passing between two of the recently discovered Durrington pit sites. If you’re

taking your time, you can detour here to see Woodhenge (OS grid ref: SU 151 433) and Durrington Walls (OS grid ref: SU 151 437), two more ancient sites located nearby, before looping back south on the byway across the cursus monument to visit Stonehenge up close. It’s worth noting that while you can walk your bike around the edge of the Stonehenge fence you’ll need a ticket to get into the site itself, and these are only available at the visitor centre a few kilometres to the west, not at the henge.

Alternative route Lake to Stonehenge (off-road option with difficult road crossing) The off-road route turns left at the sentry/ phone box to contour into a small valley heading eastwards and the archaeometer jumps into life immediately – those lumps on the hillside just below the first piece of road are the remains of an abandoned medieval village. As you swing north again onto farm track, the slopes off to your left are loaded with prehistoric barrow groups and long ditch and bank earthworks that we still don’t know the cattle drive, chieftain boundary or cult reasoning behind. 31


Cycling UK As you reach the top of the rise, the barrows are so thickly concentrated that they actually overlap and different shapes and groups show this was a high-status burial ground for over 1,000 years. You’d be forgiven for overlooking the grassy mounds all around you though, as from here you’re also looking straight down the track to the legendary site of Stonehenge itself. That’s not the track you’re taking though – unfortunately, this ancient byway stops at the busy A303 main road, with no direct way of crossing. Instead you will need to dismount for a short section across an intersecting permissive path on National Trust land. Negotiations over upgrading this to permit cycle use are ongoing, but a decision has been delayed by the (at the time of writing, currently ongoing) coronavirus emergency, so for the moment you’ll have to push your bike along the short footpath. Once dismounted, and past the gate, you’re heading west for about 400 metres in order to join with a parallel byway, where you can then

Normanton Down barrows There are a lot of them, with a single Neolithic long barrow and over 40 Bronze Age round barrows. The largest ‘Bush Barrow’ was nearly 50 metres across with decorative gold plate ‘lozenges’, three bronze daggers, a bronze axe and stone mace head buried with its male occupant. These artefacts date the barrow to around 1800 BC but other finds show this was clearly a high-status burial area for over 1,000 years. 32

remount and continue towards the main road slightly further along for a direct crossing of the A303 onto another wide byway towards Stonehenge. We should warn everyone about the crossing here – it’s a busy stretch of fast road, and at peak times it may be a bit of a wait for a safe crossing. Be particularly aware of the possibility that drivers will be distracted, looking at the stones, and not paying attention for anyone crossing. There are plans to build a tunnel for this section of the A303 past Stonehenge, so at some point in the future this scar across the landscape of the World Heritage Site may disappear from view, with the current tarmac carriageway turned into a more natural-looking non-motorised user route. (Further along the route you’ll see how a similar tunnel scheme at Hindhead/Devil’s Punchbowl successfully reclaimed the landscape and transformed people’s ability to connect with nature.) However, for now we are stuck with a difficult crossing of a busy road, so please do take care.


Part 2: Stonehenge

King Alfred’s Way has been designed to be suitable for people with a decent level of fitness and some experience of off-road riding, rather than requiring technical mountain biking skills. The route uses a mixture of gravel tracks, woodland and heathland trails, grassy field edge bridleways, canal towpaths and quiet lanes.

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Cycling UK

Stonehenge While it’s most easily recognisable by its iconic ring of stacked sarsen stones dating from around 2500 BC, the first phase of Stonehenge began in 8000 BC when megalithic people dug four large pits as footings for large pine posts on a possibly east-west alignment. Around 3100 BC, a 100m-wide circular bank and ditch appeared on the site, with earlier artefacts buried in the ditch and 56 large holes within the bank. These may have held large posts for a palisade, or the first Welsh bluestones brought to the site. Cremated and crushed human remains found in the bottom of the holes certainly suggest something heavy was used as a grave marker. More posts, cremation burials and potential buildings were added over the next couple of centuries and then Stonehenge as we know it started to take shape. First with bluestones somehow transported 150 miles from South Wales and then with even bigger more locally sourced sarsen stones which were used to form the first of the signature stone ring and lintel arrangements around 2500 BC.

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Not only did the transport and stacking of these stones show long-distance communication and organisation of a significant workforce, but the stones were all carved so they dovetail together properly and even shaped to correct the perspective that would otherwise make them look tapered. While the stones were re-arranged several times, they always followed an alignment with the summer solstice sunrise and the winter solstice sunset. Isotope analysis of skeletons found on site show people from Wales, France, Germany and the Mediterranean area as well as more local individuals. In other words, if you’re thinking this wasn’t a really advanced and widespread culture with some very clever thinking going on, think again! What we don’t know – and may never know – is what the site was actually for, although a place of worship and/or healing are the most popular theories among archaeologists.


Part 2: Stonehenge

Stonehenge visitor centre The visitor centre and car park are 2.5km from Stonehenge itself, but here you’ll come across a museum with finds from the site and a virtual tour as well as five recreation Neolithic roundhouses with resident volunteers to tell you about life 4,500 years ago. There’s also a café, a gift shop and

a shuttle bus to the stones themselves. As well as being able to walk round the perimeter of the monument, you can also book a ‘Stonehenge Experience’ which lets you wander around the stones (but not touch them) at dusk or dawn when the site is otherwise shut.

Woodhenge Just 70m from Durrington Walls and well inside the newly found outer ring of Durrington pits, Woodhenge was just thought to be the outer ditch and bank remains of a large ploughed-out barrow. Aerial photography showed dark patches that turned out to be the post holes for six slightly ovalised rings aligned on the

winter and summer solstice. Apart from deeper holes in the third ring suggesting larger, taller posts and dating evidence contemporary with Stonehenge and Durrington, little else is known about the site. The holes are now marked with concrete posts and it’s worth a quick diversion from the route if you have time.

Durrington Walls and pits Durrington Walls is the site of a Neolithic village containing up to 100 houses, making it the largest known settlement in Europe at the time. The village was arranged around a wood-posted henge and a stone avenue that were aligned with the midwinter and midsummer solstice. Archaeological remains show that the village was occupied for at least part of each year and there is evidence of regular feasting. The henge part was built several centuries later with a massive 5.5m-deep ditch and a bank several metres high and 30m across. With a similar timescale to both Stonehenge

and Woodhenge, that was already enough to make Durrington Walls a very significant site. However, in summer 2020 archaeologists scientifically surveying the wider area confirmed that huge 10m-wide, 5m-deep pits that had previously been passed off as natural pond depressions were dug in the same Neolithic period. Joining the dots formed by over 20 of these pits (at least another ten are assumed to exist but covered by modern buildings) created a 2km circle with Durrington right at its centre and, referencing the earlier Larkhill causewayed enclosure, make this the largest Neolithic monument in Europe. 35



Salisbury Plain PART THREE


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Highlights • Never ending skies and views. • Splendid isolation. • Incredible prehistory. • Easy, mostly flat riding. • Tank and helicopter spotting. • Diversions to deserted villages with holes in. • Lots of different route/surface options.

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We can’t emphasise this enough. Salisbury Plain is genuinely a war zone and has been for over a 300m century. Yes, it’s a ‘pretend’ war 200mshells and rockets being fired zone, but the 100m live or lying forgotten are very real. When red flags are0mflying that means a Ministry 0km 20km 40km 60km of Defence exercise is in progress and 86km you should NEVER ride past a red-flagged stop point. They are there for a deadly 200m serious reason. 100m

Be aware • Very large, fast, heavy, almost blind green things appearing from anywhere at any time. • Things that might go bang lying about on the ground. • People dropping out of the sky near Orcheston. • The exposed nature of the Plain means little shelter from wind and weather. On a sunny day with a southerly tailwind that’s bliss, but wet and windy conditions from the north will make it a test of character and clothing choice.

Navigation While the open landscape makes visibility excellent (in good weather at least), the similarity of the routes and multiple options in places (particularly around Tilshead) can make navigating tricky. The consequences of getting lost are potentially more serious too, so please pay attention to your map and/or GPS. 38

It’s potentially dangerous even when the 0m flags aren’t flying too as it’s still an active 0km 20km 40km 53km military training area. You’re sharing it with 75-tonne Challenger tanks travelling at up 300m to 60km/h with very limited crew vision 200m as well as other, even faster vehicles. 100m

It’s surprising0mhow hard the sound of vehicles is to locate in0km the rolling landscape 10km 20km too 27km and how quickly they can appear seemingly out of nowhere. That means you need 300m vigilant for vehicles and to be extremely where they200m might appear from at all times. The route skirts 100m around the edge of the firing range areas, so provided you stick to it rather 0m than straying onto tank roads, you shouldn’t 0km 10km 20km 32km find your way blocked by red flags. If you stop for a puncture or a picnic, make sure you do 200msafe and out of the way. Don’t it somewhere go wandering off into restricted areas with 100m your flask and sandwiches though, and 0m definitely don’t kick or pick up anything 0km 20km 40km 50km ‘interesting’ you might find either. You can check MoD firing times on Salisbury Plain on the UK Government website: www.gov.uk/government/publications/ salisbury-plain-training-area-spta-firing-times


Part 3: Salisbury Plain

When red flags are flying that means a Ministry of Defence exercise is in progress and you should NEVER ride past a red-flagged stop point. They are there for a deadly serious reason.

Area introduction and route summary The Salisbury Plain area is a unique blend of modern military landscape and truly ancient landscape and the two work incredibly well together. That’s because while the army do blow some things up, the things they don’t are left utterly untouched and wild. So, if there’s not a tank going past you or a helicopter overhead, the Plain is a magical area of solitude, endless skies and the memories of ancient ancestors. While there is some rise and fall in the landscape and some sections of singletrack and deeply rutted double track, the riding is mostly well-surfaced and gently rolling. That makes it easy to skim through at speed, but it’s also very easy to just sit and spend an hour listening to the skylarks and grass-whispered stories of past worlds that have played out here.

There are also several diversion options depending on whether the red flags are flying or the remarkable village of Imber is open for visitors. You will eventually climb onto the White Horse Trail at the northern edge, but the reward is incredible views back across the Plain or over the Vale of Pewsey, before you drop off this truly otherworldly plateau and into the warm welcome of traditional English villages.

Stonehenge to Tilshead From Stonehenge, the route rolls north along a well-surfaced track over the mysterious cursus monument that predates the circle by 1,000 years. The military town of Larkhill wouldn’t win any beauty contests, but it’s useful for supplies and takeaway food options before you head out onto the Plain where refuelling options are few and far between. 39


Cycling UK

You follow the north side of the road as it turns left again at the Bustard junction (OS grid ref: SU 091 461) but you’re running alongside one of the main tank roads for a while here, so be prepared for something very heavy and loud thundering up behind you surprisingly fast.

Stonehenge Cursus At 3km long and 100-150m wide, this Neolithic (New Stone Age) cursus is one of the largest and earliest in the UK. The irregular side ditches and banks create a solstice alignment and radiocarbon dating of finds puts it several hundred years earlier than the first phases of Stonehenge. Its purpose is unknown though with religious, territorial and cattle-herding usage all potentially possible.

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Ancient monuments are never far away for the next few legs of your journey. You leave Larkhill westwards past several barrows before sidestepping onto the bridleway alongside the road. You can stay alongside the road as you turn north at Rollestone Camp, but be aware of the large hardstanding section which can be used for anything from helicopter landings, tank refuelling, parking or other army activities that particular day demands. You follow the north side of the road as it turns left again at the Bustard junction (OS grid ref: SU 091 461) but you’re running alongside one of the main tank roads for a while here, so be prepared for something very heavy and loud thundering up behind you surprisingly fast. Make sure you don’t miss the singletrack turn off south to Orcheston at the red flag gate in any clouds of dust that get kicked up. You stay threading across the countryside on narrow trails for a while too, with high singing skylarks in summer and all sorts of furry residents scurrying and hopping into the rich grassland as you or a tank approaches.


Part 3: Salisbury Plain

While there are no shops in Orcheston, Shrewton just a kilometre to the south has pubs and local shops and there’s a pub in Tilshead which you’ll come to after crossing the A360 and looping north on bridleways. These double track sections have very deep ruts that need some careful navigating though, and the more open sections of tank road can be very heavygoing in wet conditions too. You can short-cut this section by heading straight to Tilshead from the Bustard around Westdown Camp if the red flags aren’t flying. It’s definitely worth taking the off-road loop if you can though, as you’re still deep in the prehistoric fabric of the land here, especially as you ride right past the Neolithic ‘White Barrow’ and several Bronze Age linear earthworks just south of Tilshead. If you continue a few hundred meters west on the trail from Orcheston towards the woods on the skyline, you can get a glimpse of the purpose-built army training village of Copehill Down (OS grid ref: SU 017 453), complete with burnt-out cars and other decorative touches.

This was also the area used for filming the movie 1917 and the ridge is the designated drop zone for parachute training, so keep checking above you as well as trying to stay straight in the ruts. 41


Cycling UK

Imber From 967 when it was first mentioned by the Saxons until 1943, Imber was a pretty, but isolated village hidden away in a valley in the middle of Salisbury Plain. It had a stream down the middle, thatched cottages, a church and chapel, a pub and a shop. The Ministry of Defence had been buying up surrounding land and properties since the 19th century. That came to a head on November 1st 1943 when the 150 residents were told they had 47 days to leave their homes so that the US Army could use the village for combat training, but they could return after six months. That never happened though, and the area has been retained for training ever since. The 12th century church of St Giles is open once a year and the village is occasionally open to the general public.

Imber Range Perimeter Path This 50km route is a collaboration between Cycling UK, the Ministry of Defence, Wiltshire Council and the British Horse Society turning the previous walking route into an off-road multi-user trail around the western end of Salisbury Plain. It includes the mock German village of Copehill Down, Iron Age hill forts 42

at Battlesbury and Scratchbury Hills and views from above the Westbury White Horse. It shares some of the King Alfred’s Way route between Tilshead and Gore Cross Farm, but riding conditions are more mixed and potentially challenging so a mountain bike is advised in winter.


Part 3: Salisbury Plain

Tilshead to Chirton Unless you want to pop into the pub or grab a vending machine coffee or other supplies from the petrol station, you actually skirt round the edge of Tilshead. More barrows and earthworks dot the landscape as you head north up a wide-open valley along the Imber Range Perimeter Path just east of the tree-lined A360. Again, this section can get really gloopy after prolonged bad weather, but while you could shift across onto the road to get more speed, be aware that it is the north-south link across the Plain and likely to be busy.

butterflies. If you pause and look straight ahead before you drop down though, you can see Alton Barnes White Horse on the hillside to the north. We’ve stopped this section here as it’s an obvious geographical break, but also because West Lavington, Market Lavington and Urchfont have good shops and facilities for refuelling or an overnight stop before the climb up and over to Avebury.

Whichever way you get there, you’ll be glad you’re onto a faster footing as you turn onto old military roads at Gore Cross Farm and climb up White Horse Trail onto the spine of the Wessex Ridgeway. From here, the track is gravelly tank road but you’ve got fantastic views over the Vale of Pewsey to the north with West Lavington and Market Lavington villages at your feet and Devizes in the distance. Look right and the Plain scrolls away over the Black Heath artillery ranges and impact bunker sites towards Stonehenge where you started this section. Keep your eyes peeled for the singletrack off the ridge and then hang on as it fires you down a deeply rutted chute towards Chirton. Take particular care in summer as it’s likely to be heavily overgrown and the wildflower banks mean the trail is often frequented by sunbathing 43



Vale of Pewsey PART FOUR


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Part 4 – Vale of Pewsey

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Navigation After the myriad criss-cross trails of Salisbury Plain, this section will seem lovely and simple. It’s short too, just a simple up and over from Vale of Pewsey to Avebury. There are a few junctions where you’ll need to slow down and pay attention, but if you go straight across at most of them, you’ll be fine.

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Area introduction and route summary From the tranquil Vale of Pewsey, it’s a stiff climb up Tan Hill before a lovely roll down into Beckhampton and over the main road into Avebury. Not only can you walk amongst the stones and stand in the middle of this incredible ancient circle, but you’re also at the centre of an incredible archaeological landscape.


Part 4: Vale of Pewsey

Chirton to Avebury Make sure you enjoy the easy quiet road cruise across the valley through Patney and the pretty lemon-walled thatched roof houses of All Cannings, as things get more testing quite quickly. It starts with a pothole-dodging dance along the rough cobbled track to the old humped bridge over the Kennet and Avon Canal. Then it’s your legs that will be trying to find a rhythm on the long, stiff climb up Tan Hill. Keep your head up to the horizon as you ascend though, so you don’t miss the prehistoric barrows and linear earthworks that still stare southwards over 5,000 years of history. Your effort heading up is rewarded with a fantastic long roll down into Beckhampton. After navigating the rude awakening of the busy A4 roundabout, it’s time to delve into another archaeological epicentre. It’s a mark of the splendid isolation of the Downs that the jagged grey monoliths of the Adam and Eve Long Stones, which

stand proudly in the field ahead, pull you back in time as you turn off the A road. Then you follow quiet back roads through Avebury Trusloe under the ancient gaze of the Neolithic enclosure site of Windmill Hill to the north. A quick section of smooth shared path over the freshly sprung River Kennet takes you into Avebury itself where brick villas and thatched cottages line the narrow road into the very centre of Avebury’s henge and stone circle monument. You can also take a bridleway a kilometre south from Avebury to visit the mysterious conical mound of Silbury Hill (OS grid ref: SU 100 685). 47


Cycling UK

Silbury Hill Silbury Hill is a massive 160m-wide, 30m-high Neolithic/Early Bronze Age (2750-2350 BC) mound. It was built from over half a million tons of local limestone and imported boulders over several distinct phases of construction, and the limestone facing would have been visible over huge distances. We don’t know its purpose, but the construction period coincides with the building of the Avebury henge and avenues, and two large oval enclosures at West Kennet.

West Kennet One of the earliest parts of the incredible prehistoric jigsaw of the Avebury area, West Kennet barrow (OS grid ref: SU 105 677) is a Neolithic chambered tomb dating from around 3650 BC. Excavations have shown this mausoleum contained the remains of up to 50 people before its different chambers were blocked and the tomb was sealed. More barrows and other earthworks appeared close by 1,000-1,500 years later when Silbury Hill and the Avebury complex were being built just a couple of kilometres away. 48


Part 4: Vale of Pewsey

Avebury While it doesn’t have the globally iconic recognition of Stonehenge, Avebury is arguably a much more important site at the centre of a long-running timeline of prehistoric monuments, and is the largest stone circle in the world. It forms part of the World Heritage Site along with Stonehenge and surrounding monuments. The Great Henge still survives as a massive bank and ditch with four causewayed entrances. The bank is still four or five metres high, but once towered 17m above a 9m-deep ditch on the inside. The bank and ditch have four entrances, the southernmost aligning with the Avenue to the Sanctuary. Within the Great Henge are three stone circles. An outer circuit of around 100 stones and then two inner circles arranged in the north and south sections, each with a large centre point stone – known as the Great Obelisk and the Cove or Devil’s

Brandirons respectively. The exact timeline of the various ditch and bank phases and what appeared when is unknown, but all the stones are spaced around 11m apart and the site was active from 2850 BC to 2200 BC. Unfortunately, many of the stones were buried and destroyed by the Christian church during the Middle Ages, so much of what we know is based on records and maps made by John Aubrey and William Stukeley. Thankfully, the site was bought in the 1930s by ‘marmalade millionaire’ Alexander Keiller, who cleared away modern buildings and re-erected many of the stones to create its current appearance. The local Avebury museum just to the west of the site also bears his name.

Avebury Sanctuary Nowadays, the Sanctuary (OS grid ref: SU 118 680) is just a small circular area with a ring of concrete pads marking the positions of large posts which were later replaced with large stones. Around 3000 BC though, it was clearly an extremely important site. Starting as a single small hut in a clearing it became a much larger building, eventually growing to a 40m

diameter stone and post circle that linked directly onto West Kennet Avenue. With no written word to help us decipher its mysteries, the Sanctuary’s purpose remains unknown, but archaeological excavations in the 1930s uncovered feasting remains as well as significant numbers of scattered human remains.

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The Ridgeway PART FIVE


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Part 5 – The Ridgeway

Avebury to Reading Distance: 86km

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Highlights • Following ancient paths with incredible views. • Iconic chalk horses. • Massive hill forts. • Famously atmospheric Neolithic tombs. • Fake sheep and deceptively English place names. • Dipping your toe in the Thames. • Halfway round restock and relax at Reading.

Navigation Another relatively simple section of route-following, with just a few track and road junctions where you’ll need to double-check directions. You’re mostly following the well-defined and distinctive black fingerpost-marked Ridgeway route all the way from Avebury to Goring, so it shouldn’t be too taxing. As long as you go the right way out of Goring, the back way into Reading won’t challenge your inner Magellan too much either. 52

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• The climb before Coombe Park (OS grid ref: SU 627 780) suddenly ramps up steeply with steps across a gravel surface so expect to push if you’re not a powerhouse rider.


Part 5: The Ridgeway

Area introduction and route summary Rolling out of prehistoric Avebury you’re straight into early medieval history, following the line of the Saxon Herepath onto the Marlborough Downs. Here you join the Ridgeway National Trail. This well-defined and signposted ancient chalk track will guide you along the ridge of the escarpment, offering incredible views north across the vale or south into the Berkshire and Wiltshire Downs as you pass barrows and hill forts from before recorded time. Swindon and Wantage sit at the foot of the Downs perfectly positioned for resupply or an overnight stop, but otherwise this

ancient track takes you to the furthest north point of the route at Uffington with its famous white horse carved into the hillside. You’ll be on the Ridgeway for a while yet too, but the latter part of this section marks a definite transition from the ancient isolation of the Ridgeway into a more recent and busier world. Once you drop off the tops to Goring, English tranquillity and Thameside grandeur are very much the order of the day, and you’ll be within a few hundred metres of the centre of Reading before you realise it.

Avebury to Ogbourne St George Once you’ve had your fill of ancient energy, or just had a sandwich among the stones, you head out across the far bank of Avebury henge and directly onto a section of truly timeless track. Variously known as the Wessex Ridgeway/Herepath or Green Street, this farm road rapidly turns to 'dual cabbageway' and then grassy double track. While the speed of actual progress along the winding singletrack sections here is weather and skill dependent, it’s certainly very easy to transport yourself back in time on a track that medieval merchants, Viking and Saxon armies, Celtic war parties and Stone Age drovers have all doubtless used. Don’t expect the flocks of sheep on Fyfield Down to move out of your way as you

approach, as these ‘Grey Wethers’ are actually a large scatter of naturally occurring sarsen stones and a likely source for much of the area’s ancient architecture. 53


Cycling UK As you continue north on wider, faster, gravel tracks, you’ll pass the Winterbourne Down White Horse, but you’ll need to divert down the hill slightly to actually see it. As you roll down off the high point, there’s no way you’ll miss Barbury Castle. This dramatic double bank and ditch Iron Age hill fort dominates the skyline, and winching up the steep hill to the western gate gap is a solid bit of climbing. There aren’t many cycle routes that take you right through the centre of an Iron Age hill fort though, and from the massive ramparts you can see to the Cotswolds and River Severn on a clear day. Excavations have shown the footings for over 40 huts inside and the ramparts were reinforced with sarsen stone facing and a wooden palisade on top. It’s proposed as the site of the

Battle of Beran Byrig where early Saxon leaders Cynric and Ceawlin defeated the Romano-British in the 6th century. With these warring chieftains long gone, the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty forms a serenely tranquil and relaxing section of your journey as you carry on along the Ridgeway on broad grass tracks alongside immaculate gallops. Make sure you don’t get carried away and miss the left turn onto Smeathe’s Ridge to descend into Ogbourne St George on a long and gently contouring track. If you’re feeling peckish or sleepy, then this is a good point for a quick diversion south to Ogbourne St George, or a few miles further down the Og valley on the NCN 482 old railway path route to Marlborough.

Herepath Herepaths – “paths of the armed host” in Anglo-Saxon – appeared in English history in the 9th century as King Alfred connected his strongholds to try and defend against Viking invaders. Given that they often used obvious ridgelines for speed and safety, many of them followed existing prehistoric and Roman trackways. You’ll certainly be making good use of them on this section of the route and hopefully the Vikings won’t be causing trouble these days.

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Part 5: The Ridgeway

Ogbourne St George to Uffington Castle Fed, watered or just bathed in quintessential Englishness, it’s time to wind gradually back up onto the Downs and head north again on double track to Liddington Castle south of Swindon. Dating from the 7th century BC, this is one of the earliest hill forts in Britain, with stunning views to the north making its positioning obvious and a quick detour to the brow of the hill well worth it. From there, it’s a fast but straight double track down to the Swindon road, then a dog-leg quickly over the M4. Don’t worry, not actually across it – there’s a bridge. Back onto back roads at Fox Hill, the route turns to track, climbing gradually up to overlook Hinton Parva, Bishopstone, Ashbury and Compton Beauchamp. This whole section from Swindon to Wantage

offers potential pub or overnight stops fairly close by whenever your legs have had enough of pedalling, or your chosen daily mileage is done. Wantage makes a particularly fitting stopover as the birthplace of King Alfred around the year 849, with another statue of him to tick off before you reach the one back in Winchester. Otherwise, it’s a gently contouring canter past the evocative stone frontage and burial mound of Wayland's Smithy, and along to Uffington Castle where the breathtaking white horse has been galloping across the Downs for thousands of years. You will need to drop down the hill from the Ridgeway to see it though, so don’t miss the cue markers.

Ogbourne St George Judging from the archaeology, the perfect river valley location of Ogbourne St George has been occupied since the Mesolithic period (well before Avebury and Stonehenge). There are traces of activity all the way through the rest of prehistory as well as Celtic and Roman times (the dead straight road northwards is a giveaway there), right up to when ‘Occa’s Burn’ gets its Saxon language roots. It was a pretty big deal in Norman times with 71 buildings listed in the Domesday Book, and since then its position

on the natural corridor between Swindon to the north and Marlborough a few miles to the south has put it on turnpike road and railway arteries. Its architecture is a textbook timeline of English building, while the address of the manor house was even used for headed letters between an imaginary ‘Pam’ and her loose-tongued love interest ‘Major Martin’ as part of the WWII Operation Mincemeat deception strategy because “no German could resist the ‘Englishness’ of such an address.”

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Wayland's Smithy This haunting chambered Neolithic long barrow with its three massive entrance stones was first used for a group of 14 burials between 3590 and 3550 BC. The far larger barrow that you can still visit

today was built around a century later and has been a centre of folklore and mystery ever since. The name itself comes from the legend that it was the workshop of Wayland, the Saxon god of metalworking.

Uffington Castle to Goring Uffington’s horse might be prehistoric, but this part of the Downs continues to be horse-mad, with gallops and stables everywhere as you head east along the Ridgeway past Segsbury Castle. The rough track continues to where you cross the A338 to Wantage then back onto broken road towards Scutchamer’s Knob, an early Iron Age barrow that became the largest Anglo-Saxon moot point (meeting place) in the UK. You’re also following the remains of Grim’s Ditch – an intermittent Iron Age earthwork that runs for several kilometres along the north face of the Downs. The huge amounts of modern gallops continue to surround your Ridgeway ride all the way along to Thurle Down, where 56

you finally drop off your own high horse and towards Goring. Don’t rush your descent though, as the rolling hills and micro valleys here are beautiful. In fact, Lardon Chase, The Holies and Lough Down are all National Trust owned with protected SSSI status as superb examples of the chalk grassland and woodland that are such a signature of the Downs. Remains from the Iron, Bronze and Neolithic ages prove this area has been attracting people for thousands of years since the Thames cut through to the coast here, creating the famous Goring Gap landform. Be careful on the last, fast section of off-road too. The descent has several large water bars that create very effective launch ramps if you hit them too quickly.


Part 5: The Ridgeway

Uffington Castle and Uffington White Horse Cut 1m deep into the hillside in the Bronze Age or early Iron Age (1300-500 BC), the 110m long, stylised horse figure of Uffington is one of the most iconic symbols of Celtic prehistory. Aerial photography points to a larger, more realistic horse underneath the current effigy that’s gradually morphed from centuries of landslip and at least two centuries of ‘scouring festivals’ where locals cleaned up the hillside every seven years before a large celebratory feast in the fort above. This instantly recognisable piece of hillside art has inspired other white horses

of various dates in the UK, and there are even replicas in Australia and Georgia, USA, but none can match the history and mystery of the original. Uffington Castle sits just above the horse and is one of the largest Iron Age hill forts in the UK. The large double bank and ditch defences were originally faced with sarsen stones to make them even more formidable. The interior of the fort contains the remains of several large roundhouse buildings though, meaning this was a proper settlement not just a sanctuary.

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Goring to Reading As if this wasn’t ‘green and pleasant lands’ enough, your first meeting with the Thames couldn’t be more English if it tried. Rolling down into Streatley and Goring, with their fascinating series of locks and weirs across the Thames plus riverside cafés, you’ll find the perfect place to stop for refreshment. There’s also a YHA youth hostel and a train station on the Oxford to London line if you want to stay overnight or come back to complete the ride another time. If you’re still pressing on, you now leave the Ridgeway and head south past the station and onto a narrow, up and down section of the Thames Path through woodland opposite Beale Park Wildlife Park. Be ready to use your lowest gears, traction control skills and then your brakes as you climb steeply up the last section of wood and then plummet into the next valley before contouring through Coombe Park, once the site of a beautiful Victorian

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house but sold a few years ago in a near derelict state for a mere £10 million. Assuming you don’t have the loose change to put in a bid yourself, press on to Whitchurch-on-Thames. This is another beautiful English village complete with a Norman-based church. From here, it’s just a short stretch of quiet back road to the beautiful manor house and mill of Mapledurham Hall.

Once you drop off the tops to Goring, English tranquillity and Thameside grandeur are very much the order of the day, and you’ll be within a few hundred metres of the centre of Reading before you realise it.


Part 5: The Ridgeway

Mapledurham Hall Dating from the 12th century (if not before) Mapledurham Hall and estate are an oasis of period charm and calm on the banks of the Thames. With a working water mill supplying flour for the cakes and scones of the tearoom, beautifully preserved church, farm buildings and farm workers’ cottages, it’s regularly used as a location for film and TV dramas as well as weddings. Check the regular programme of events from tractor rallies to fairs and dog shows, and book in for a guided tour too if you have time.

in the south of England (and bigger than many cities), Reading has a full range of facilities, shopping and accommodation options. At 175km in, it’s halfway round the complete King Alfred’s Way route too, so that makes it a perfect stopover point if you’ve split your journey into even numbers of days.

From Mapledurham, tree- and hedge-lined concrete-surfaced bridlepaths continue to the edge of Reading (be careful of the big barrier log to keep cars out) before continuing down the equally arboreal avenue of the Warren through the Thameside suburb of Caversham, towards the centre of Reading itself. As one of the larger towns

Reading

St Peter’s Church Caversham

Sitting on the meeting of the Kennet and Avon Canal and the River Thames and on the main road and rail routes to London, Reading has been a big deal since at least the 8th century. By the medieval period it was the 10th richest town in England. A siege during the English Civil War caused significant damage, but iron working, railways and brewing saw it become a major centre again. It’s now a very vibrant and economically successful town with a large university and one of the UK’s biggest annual music festivals. In other words, you shouldn’t have trouble finding somewhere to stay and/or buy supplies for the next stage of your journey.

While it looks tranquil now, the St Peter’s church you see today was rebuilt after it was destroyed by Parliamentarian artillery fire in the English Civil War. The fact that the Royalists besieging Reading had stuck a cannon on top of the tower could probably be seen as reasonable provocation, though. 59



The Last Line of Defence PART SIX


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• Roman and WWII history. • A quiet maze of back lanes and byways. • Heathland nature reserves. • Sandy singletrack. • Winding canal paths.

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Navigation After the simplicity of following the Ridgeway for miles, we have to be honest and say this is where the hard work starts to stay on track. Our route designers have done an amazing job of threading through some major population centres while keeping things as tranquil and motor traffic-free as possible. That inevitably means a lot of twists and turns though, particularly on the cycle paths heading south out of Reading. On the plus side, the low levels of traffic at most junctions mean stopping to check the next step isn’t such an issue. In busier built-up sections, however, a bit of pre-planning will make things a lot easier. 62

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Part 6: The last Line of Defence

Area introduction and route summary From the busy town centre of Reading, this section of the route threads itself cunningly through cycle paths, forest tracks and forgotten back roads. The first part is mostly traffic-free as you shadow main roads southwards to the Roman road at Riseley. There’s an option to divert to the Roman town at Silchester with its impressively well-preserved defences here too. Heading south again, you’ll run into the more recent defences of the WWII GHQ line as you hop from copse to heathland nature reserve to canal towpath on a maze of back roads and bridleways. There’s another scenic diversion to the hill fort at Caesar’s Camp before you roll into Farnham along quiet bridleways to complete the section.

Reading New Bridge There is some great architecture associated with cycle paths in the UK, but Reading’s New Bridge is definitely one of the classiest constructions you can cycle over. This single 68m span suspension bridge is supported by 14 pairs of cables radiating like spokes from the 39m tall mast. Ride over at night and you’ll be illuminated by embedded LED lights, while a hot day will add 6cm to your journey due to expansion of the shallow, curving steel deck.

Reading to Riseley Despite a population of quarter of a million and a thriving commercial centre, the ride through Reading is surprisingly quiet and traffic-free. There’s a very short section of main road and a set of traffic lights just after the church, but you jink off onto riverside bike paths through Christchurch Meadows a couple of hundred meters afterwards. Then you’re on a roll over the Thames on the spectacular ‘New Bridge.’ From here, you follow the south bank of the Thames through King’s Meadow, which is another great place for a picnic if the weather is on your side. Arriving opposite Reading Marina you continue over a ramped footbridge to double back around and under the mainline railway to London. 63


Cycling UK Impressively cycle-friendly planning means it’s mainly traffic-free towards the town centre alongside the canal and then on cycleways and overpasses all the way out of town following the A33. You’ll be following signs for National Cycle Network routes 5, 4, and then 23 towards Madejski stadium until you are close to the big wind turbine, and then through Green Park Business Park. Then it’s over the M4 and into the open countryside before aligning with the A33 again. The entrance to this sneaky path is quite hard to spot, so be ready to turn as soon as you’ve crossed over the traffic lights to access the tree-lined byway running audibly parallel to the main road.

Devil's Highway Essentially the Roman equivalent of the M3 and M4 motorways, this road dates from 47-48AD and connected London to Staines and Silchester. It then splits into three, heading to Old Sarum (Salisbury), Gloucester and Bath. Despite being a serious piece of engineering (between 7.5-8.7m wide at the London end), it seems to have fallen out of use quickly after the Roman era, with other local roads taking up traffic instead. Its traditional name of the Devil’s Highway isn’t the most enticing marketing though.

You split away from the main road at Swallowfield, criss-crossing it again to get to Riseley where you join the east-west line of the ‘Devil’s Highway’ Roman road. The King Alfred’s Way route heads east towards London, but Romanists might want to divert the other way for 9km or so to Silchester (OS grid ref: SU 639 624).

Silchester While most Roman roads and towns ended up becoming the bases for modern highways and towns/cities, it seems that the locals of Hampshire and Berkshire had a real problem with using Roman leftovers. As well as abandoning the ‘Devil’s Highway’ not long after the last legionaries’ sandals had marched along it, the Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum was left to fall into ruin almost immediately. That’s even more surprising because it was the existing capital of the Gallic Atrebates tribe before the Romans rocked up. The almost complete lack of superimposed building makes it a fantastic site for archaeologists though, and it’s been the site of summer excavations by the University of Reading since the 1990s. The circuit of the city walls, around 40 hectares of gridded 64

street plan and a small amphitheatre outside the east gate are all still well-preserved too, and it’s well worth a detour from the route if you have time.


Part 6: The last Line of Defence

Riseley to Farnham The route then takes you on quiet and narrow gravel track and single-lane roads north of Wellington Country Park to Thatcher’s Ford, where you can have a paddle to cool hot feet or hot-foot it south along the winding tree-lined back lane to Bramshill Plantation, where you sidestep onto the forest road for a couple of kilometres. At this point, you’ll struggle to believe how close you are to London, but its location also made this area another focal point for military activity during the World Wars. Hazeley Heath is now a peaceful RSPB nature reserve home to some very special wildlife, such as nightjars, tree pipits, woodlarks and silver-studded blue butterflies. Amongst the low trees and twisting sandy singletrack, you’ll also find remains of tank testing areas used

for assessing captured enemy vehicles. The pyramid-shaped concrete blocks on the edge of the road on the far side of the railway bridge near Hook are ‘Dragons’ teeth’, designed to damage the tracks or expose the thinner underside armour of attacking tanks. Keen eyes will spot other bollards and block stones, often repurposed as gate markers or garden edging too. Odiham Common is studded with defensive remains such as anti-tank ditches, concrete obstacles and ‘pillbox’ gun emplacements reinforcing the natural barrier of the Basingstoke Canal. Our route splits once again here – the direct route takes some minor roads towards Church Crookham, but there’s an even quieter, more sedate option following the Basingstoke Canal. 65


Cycling UK

GHQ Line The GHQ ‘Line’ actually comprises a series of different strings of defences hurriedly built after the British Army escaped from France in 1940. These hastily created interconnecting lines of tank traps, ditches, pillbox gun emplacements and roadblocks stretched from Essex to the Bristol Channel. They were designed as a last line of defence for London and central England if the Germans managed to push inland from a secure beachhead on the coast. As it turned out, the RAF fighter squadrons and the English Channel proved enough of a barrier, but a lot of the fortifications and remains still survive buried under 80 years of undergrowth.

Our route splits once again here – the direct route takes some minor roads towards Church Crookham, but there’s an even quieter, more sedate option following the Basingstoke Canal.

Basingstoke Canal option To access this delightful diversion, continue on the B3016 rather than turning across Odiham Common. Take the narrow track off to the left side as the road rises to meet the A287. Navigate the underpass and rise up into the car park and picnic area alongside the canal. From here, turn left along the permissive towpath. This can be narrow in places, overgrown in summer and is heavily used by walkers and fishermen at weekends – so please use common sense and courtesy on the winding path as you follow the canal looping round under Barley Mow bridge, then south to Chequers Bridge where pillbox twitchers will be getting very excited again. GHQ line archaeology is perhaps at its most intense around Ridding’s Copse and Seymour Farm which were designated Battle Headquarters in 1940 when the Battle of Britain invasion danger was at its most serious, and it still sits on the edge of Ministry of Defence land. 66

It’s certainly not all modern history here, though. A section of permissive route, installed by the MoD to allow bridleway users to avoid a busy roundabout, offers you the chance of a quick detour to the north west – bringing you up to the large Bronze/Iron Age hill fort known as Caesar’s Camp (OS grid ref: SU 835 501) with spectacular views over Aldershot, Swinley Forest MTB trails and Farnborough airfield. Access byelaws for this area of land are under review at the time of publishing, but if you’re able to ride over to Caesar’s Camp, it’s well worth the diversion. You may have a bit of a wait to cross the busy A287, but in sharp contrast, the narrow, tree-lined bridleway south to Farnham feels remarkably ancient and remote for such a densely populated area, as you glide downhill from gravel to road alongside picturesque, tile-fronted villas and terraces before arriving right opposite Farnham Castle.


Part 6: The last Line of Defence

Swinley MTB Trails If you feel like raising your pulse and testing your skills, Swinley Forest just south of Bracknell (OS grid ref: SU 877 661) offers 24km of green, blue and red rated, all-weather mountain bike routes. There’s a café, bike shop and bike hire centre on site too, and the forest itself is a wildlife Special Protection Area with populations of rare nesting birds.

Caesar's Camp This late Bronze Age/Iron Age castle sits on a natural defensive promontory halfway between Farnham and Aldershot, and is ringed with multiple ditches and banks to create formidable fortifications. Recent military and quarrying activity have chewed up some of the defences, but it’s still worth a detour off the route, particularly if you fancy enjoying some great views of the surrounding countryside.

Farnham Castle Farnham Castle is a classic ‘shell keep’ motte and bailey castle with a well-preserved central wall and causeway, and a palace hall built into the outer ring. It was built and occupied as an admin base and staging post by the politically powerful bishops of Winchester and Guildford who continued to use it until 1956. It also served as a centre for camouflage research in WWII. It’s recently been revamped as a beautiful wedding and conference venue, but guided tours are still available. 67



The Devil’s Punch Bowl PART SEVEN


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Highlights • Surprising solitude in a busy landscape. • Monastic history. • Wild heathlands and woods. • Mythical hot pot hot spots. • WWII secrets. • Legendary hell hounds, angry gods, highwaymen and buried roads.

Navigation Again, our route designers have done an amazing job of threading through some major population centres while keeping things as tranquil and traffic-free as possible. That inevitably means a lot of twists and turns on sandy heathland trails where there are multiple options, along with many back road junctions and dodges too. On the plus side, the low levels of motor traffic at most junctions mean stopping to check the next step isn’t such an issue. For busier built-up sections, a bit of pre-planning will make things a lot easier, though. Frensham and Thursley Commons are also worth taking steadily to stay on track, as there are numerous unsigned sidetracks, and it’ll help avoid running any of the rare wildlife over. The last run-in from Thursley to Hindhead is lovely and simple though, with the hill itself acting as unmissable point to aim for. 70

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Be aware • Farnham is relatively busy compared to the rest of the route and things start to get hilly just to the south. It really ramps up at Frensham Ponds, where you start to get into the Surrey Hills and soft sand under your tyres can really slow you down. • It’s also an area of dense population, so while the roads and tracks you’ll use minimise motor traffic, you’re likely to meet a lot of other trails users such as walkers, runners and horse riders, so always be ready to stop, be nice and say ‘hi’. • The section over Hankley Common is military ‘managed access’ training land too, so watch out for camouflaged company and obviously heed signage at entry points. • The climb up to the Devil’s Punchbowl/ Hindhead Common is a loose, rocky challenge and the top of the hill is busy with family visitors and other trail users, so be sensible with your speed however much you want a brew at the National Trust café.


Part 7: The Devil's Punch Bowl

Area introduction and route summary Our route planners are rightfully proud of the way this section joins the dots of history and beautiful heathland with a web of back roads and bridleways. The ducking and weaving through this busy area, plus a lot of soft sandy sections, means you’ll be working a bit harder up and over

increasingly significant hills. Technical trails mean you won’t necessarily be going fast on the descents either, but the effort is well worth it for the views and sense of space. From Farnham, you quickly vanish into forgotten lanes, popping up through a posh estate before dropping down to the UK’s first Cistercian monastery at Waverley Abbey. Then you’re switching from narrow lanes to woodland and heathland tracks through nature reserves, with an optional diversion to the gorgeous village of Tilford. The loop round Frensham and Hankley Commons can be bypassed if it’s too wet and slow going, but you’d be missing out on one of the highlights of the whole route in terms of wildlife and views. Once you’re through the pretty village of Thursley, it’s time to winch up the long, increasingly challenging climb to Hindhead Common. The views from the top and promise of coffee and cake are absolutely worth the effort though. 71


Cycling UK

Farnham to Tilford Reeds From Farnham Castle, you follow the open grassland of Farnham Park all the way along its perimeter on a permissive shared path before sneaking round the hospital, under the A31, past the popular Shepherd & Flock pub and then ducking along a well-surfaced bridleway. After little significant rise and fall for a long time, your legs will get a rude awakening as we divert left to climb through Moor Park estate, with its modern mansions hidden away in vast gardens on this most sought-after area. The original Moor Park House was where Charles Darwin wrote some of his revolutionary, evolutionary ‘Origin of Species’ book and Jonathan Swift – author of Gulliver’s Travels – was secretary to Sir William Temple who owned the house. Unfortunately, the direct route here is recorded as footpath rather than bridleway, despite significant evidence suggesting it is in fact an old carriage road – but when the manor house was sold by the council some decades ago, they didn’t secure the access rights. An application for upgrade has recently been submitted, which, if successful, should allow the route to access this old carriage drive and pass by ‘Mother Ludlam’s Cave’ with its natural spring, stream and a rich place in local folklore. Your reward for the climb up is a good run down Camp Hill where you can cross the river to visit the remains of the original English Cistercian settlement at Waverley Abbey (also featured in the film ‘28 Days Later’), or turn sharp left onto more wooded gravel track through Sheephatch Copse. It’s a bit of a squeeze over Tilford Mill Bridge and along the narrow hedge-lined lane, then you’re off-road again through the woodland and gravel paths of Farnham Heath Nature Reserve. If you’re thirsty or just want to see a particularly pretty English village, 72

Waverley Abbey Sitting quietly on the banks of the River Wey, the remaining 13th-century vaulted dining hall and other buildings are now an oasis of calm and contemplation. The arrival of twelve Cistercian monks and an Abbot in 1128 marked a massive moment in the creation of the monastic church revolution across Britain. The Abbey continued to be an increasingly important centre for the wool trade, pilgrims, travellers and an infirmary for the sick until Henry VIII set up the Church of England and dissolved and demolished many monasteries, including Waverley.

the kilometre detour to Tilford is well worth the short time it takes. With its village-green cricket pitch, ancient oak tree, old inn, half-timbered buildings and narrow bridge over the shallow River Wey, it’s a tick box of yeomanry quaintness, and there’s a well-stocked village shop too.


Part 7: The Devil's Punch Bowl

Tilford Reeds to Frensham Common Back on track, you’re following the direction of the River Wey through Tankersford Common and you’ll curve round past Pierrepont Home Farm with its artisan cheesemakers to cross the river at the wooden footbridge. The bridge was being re-decked when we rode the route in July 2020, so paddle-phobes should detour

through Millbridge, but if you don’t mind wet feet we can happily report the ford is only axle deep in summer, though rocky enough to make riding across awkward. Whether your feet are dripping or dry, the breathtaking landscape and views of Frensham Common will soon grab all your attention.

Frensham Common The large ponds and ridgeline views of Frensham Common have been a focus for the local population for thousands of years, as the alignment of barrows still visible today shows. In fact, the archaeological record stretches right back to Mesolithic pit dwellings dated to around 6000 BC, as well as Neolithic stone axe heads and hundreds of Bronze Age arrowheads. Further settlement evidence exists for the Iron Age and post-Roman period too, with the Saxons defeating a Viking raiding party here in 893 AD.

broken when a giant cauldron was borrowed but not returned on time and left in the vestry of Frensham church. Interestingly, there’s another cauldron story relating to Mother Ludlam’s Cave where the giant pot ends up at Tilford church after being borrowed from a monk, but whether it’s the same cauldron or the area was some kind of mythical hot pot hot spot is unclear.

Local folklore also talks of a great stone on the ridge which may have been a monolith or remains of a barrow. Knocking on that stone would allow you to borrow whatever you wished for a year, after which it must be returned. Unfortunately, the charm was 73


Cycling UK Neither Frensham nor Tilford churches have a cauldron anymore, and there’s no trace of the stone either, so you’re out of luck if you need to borrow a GPS, map or compass for the rather complicated dance the route takes for the next few kilometres. The tracks around Kettlebury Hill and Thursley Common are a lovely place to get lost in your thoughts anyway. A timeless oasis

of heathland, sandy tracks, bogs and ponds where lizards and dragonfly flourish and even ospreys visit occasionally. Steep hills and deep sand are a challenge in the dry so, if the going is getting wet and heavy, it’s worth knowing that both these heathland adventures can be bypassed easily on relatively quiet roads too, but we definitely recommend visiting at least one if you can.

Frensham Common to Hindhead South of Thursley, the rolling Surrey Hills definitely pick up pitch towards Beacon Hill and, as narrow tarmac lane gives way to rough track, you’ll be dropping gears as quickly as you drop speed. Take your time, though, as the beautiful tree-lined track up onto the top of Hindhead Commons is to be savoured not suffered.

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With epic views from the skyscrapers of distant London right over the rest of southern England, the Devil’s Punch Bowl is an area soaked in history of all ages too. It’s certainly a fantastic place to stop and catch your breath while having a bit of an explore before dropping down into Hindhead, where this section ends. It’s worth popping to the trigpoint at Gibbet Hill too for some more spectacular views.


Part 7: The Devil's Punch Bowl

Hankley Common Atlantic Wall Pretty much every wood or piece of common in this area has some sort of concrete relics from WWII, but Hankley Common was a particularly interesting top-secret site. The main feature is a 100m long, reinforced concrete replica of the German ‘Atlantic Wall’ defences from Normandy. This was built by Canadian engineers in 1943 for the testing of explosives and assault techniques, but the area was also used to develop the specially modified ditch-crossing, flamethrowing, mine-clearing and demolition ‘Funny’ tanks of the 79th Armoured Division. In recent years, it has been used as a landing area for paratrooper training, and it also remarkably doubled for the Scottish Highlands during the filming of the James Bond film ‘Skyfall’.

The Devil’s Punch Bowl Even the name is steeped in legend – supposedly, the Devil would torment Thor, the God of Thunder, by jumping from hill to hill while Thor tried to strike him with his lightning bolt (there’s even a place called ‘The Devil’s Jumps’ near Frensham Common), until one day the Devil scooped up a fistful of earth and hurled it at Thor, creating the punch bowl shape. It was one of the first areas bought up for preservation by the National Trust in 1906. Hindhead Common – not Dartmoor – was apparently the original inspiration for the setting of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’, but most of the dogs we met on our recce were friendly enough. The wildness of the Common and its position on the London to Portsmouth road made it a notorious haunt of highwaymen and Gibbet Hill marks the spot where three men were hung for the murder of a sailor in the area. You won’t find a gibbet there anymore as it was replaced by a replica Celtic cross by politician and lawyer Sir William Erle in 1851. More recently, the whole hill was tunnelled in 2011 to hide the A3 underneath, restoring the sense of natural tranquility you can experience now. 75



Sussex Border PART EIGHT


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• Quiet back roads. • Heath and woodland. • Bikepark MTBing. • Mostly sheltered riding. • Convenient supplies. • Easily accessible from London.

• The road out of Hindhead is a main road onto and off the A3 which can carry high volumes of traffic especially during early morning and evening, so stick to the shared-use cycle track along the pavement on one side.

Navigation A lot of ducking and diving on road and off make this a potentially taxing section to navigate. On the bright side, the sheer amount of potential routes mean you generally won’t stray far off and it’ll be easy to get back on track. Spotting the signs for the Shipwrights Way between Liphook and Liss and the Sussex Border Path from Hill Brow to South Harting will make things easier. 78

• Woolmer Forest and Longmoor Common are military ‘managed access’ training land with potential hazards so be careful not to stray into the wrong areas and heed any warning signs. • Some of the heath and forest sections can be hard going when it’s wet and sticky too, so either detour around them or make allowances in your schedule.


Part 8: Sussex Border

Area introduction and route summary This short transitional section is another masterpiece of dodging main roads and population centres. It links Hindhead Common to the start of the South Downs Way with a mix of quiet back roads and a surprising amount of off-road trails through quiet woods, heathland and nature reserves. Add a fairly constant rise and fall topography and that does mean the official route can be slower going than you might expect, especially in wet conditions. There are plenty of short cut/diversion options if you find yourself getting bogged down or behind schedule. Apart from a few tumuli and a brief track along an old Roman road, this is probably the lightest section in terms of archaeological interest, but the scenery, quiet trails and largely sheltered nature make it a relaxing section of the route to take your time over. Several towns – including Petersfield – make it easy to stock up on supplies or find somewhere to stay before you join the South Downs Way.

Hindhead to South Harting Leaving Hindhead you’re on the busy A333 for a few hundred metres, but from the A3 junction you escape onto a parallel low-traffic lane to Bramshott Chase, where you disappear into the trees, descend

westwards on zig-zag bridleways and back roads through Bramshott itself, then loop round to Cornford where you climb over the eastern edge of the Woolmer Forest training area.

The Shipwrights Way This cycling, walking and horse riding route runs for 50 miles, from Alice Holt Forest over the South Downs to the historical harbour in Portsmouth. King Alfred’s Way follows the section from Liphook to Liss. If you want to avoid the climb and sandy off-road sections of Rogate Common and call in for supplies at Petersfield, then the Shipwrights Way will take you there directly. You could even continue along it to Queen Elizabeth’s Country Park and pick up the King Alfred’s Way route again there. 79


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...the scenery, quiet trails and largely sheltered nature make it a relaxing section of the route to take your time over. A bridge carries you back south over the A3, where you double back off the road into the almost tree-hidden entrance to the Liphook spur of the Shipwrights Way. From here, it’s more bridleway and rough back road flanked with tall shrubbery and trees that almost form a complete tunnel in summer and keep you sheltered from sun or rain – this is England after all. The track then climbs through the woodland of Longmoor Common, before you drop down a sandy descent to Langley. Make sure you take the left split through the gate at the bottom of the descent rather than rolling round to the right, though. Nipping over the railway, you take back roads west and then back under the railway – did we say there was a lot of ducking and diving on this section? – past scenic lakes 80

before looping round through Liss Forest and onto the route of the old military railway. This is now a broad, oak-lined track through a nature reserve straight into the bustling village of Liss, near the handy mainline railway station. If you plan an overnight in Petersfield, then carry on along the Shipwrights way – otherwise you’ll fork left here past the housing estate, leading you to a gravel lane and then a long, broad climb onto Hill Brow. Crossing the B2070, the previous climb rewards you with an excellent off-road descent and then climb out of Rogate Common. This whole area is rich with potential off-road loops through the forest if you want to explore, while the excellent Rogate B1kepark is on the north face of the forest if you really fancy letting rip.


Part 8: Sussex Border

Rogate B1kepark With trails starting at a Blue rating and escalating up to Black/Pro level and a regular haunt of some of the UK’s top downhill professionals, Rogate is definitely not for have-a-go heroes on hybrids. You’ll have to pre-book a day pass to ride the trails at www.b1ke.com. If you do fancy stepping up your game though, coaching and hire bikes are available on site.

From Rogate Common, you follow the Sussex Border Path south down singletrack and then farm track. Crossing the A272, be careful to follow the small lane to the side for 200 metres, rather than the main road. Then head south over the old stone bridge across the Rother valley to Quebec – a tiny part of the hamlet of West Harting – named after Canadian soldiers stationed there in World War II. From here, you’re rolling towards to the remains of Torberry Hill fort, and then staring at the climb up to meet the South Downs Way and the final section of the route. 81



South Downs Way PART NINE


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Part 9 – South Downs Way

South Harting to Winchester Distance: 50km

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Highlights

Be aware

• Beautiful panoramic vistas. • Easy waymarked navigation. • Ridgelines and rolling hills. • Incredibly rich history from prehistory to D-Day. • Mountain biking diversions. • Final furlongs into Winchester. • SSSI nature reserves.

• While you duck under the A3 at Queen Elizabeth Country Park, you physically cross both the A32 and the A272 (twice) so be careful there. • The South Downs Way contains the steepest climbing and descending of the whole route and the grassy climb up Butser Hill is a beast. • The descent from Wether Down has a couple of small drops and can be slippery when wet, and the drop off Old Winchester Hill is very steep. • The farm tracks and bridleways that form a lot of this section can obviously be affected by bad weather too, but there are generally quiet road alternatives very close by if you literally get bogged down.

Navigation With most of the route following the waymarked South Downs Way along the ridgelines, the navigation of this section is easier than previous ones. There are still plenty of twists and turns to keep track of, but the network of lanes and tracks also makes it easy to get back on course if you do stray a bit off-piste. 84


Part 9: South Downs Way

Area introduction and route summary Starting from Torberry Hill fort, this final section of the route climbs up onto the ridgeline of the South Downs Way to traverse to Queen Elizabeth Country Park. After dipping under the A3, you stay high on the Downs on a mix of bridleways and back roads to the transmitter at Wether Down. From here, the route is definitely a challenge, dropping in and out of small – but sometimes steep – valleys past Old Winchester Hill fort and Beacon Hill. You then head north east on farm tracks to Gander Down where you’ll get the first view of the Winchester finish line. You’re not quite there yet though, as you swing south west along the scarp past the natural amphitheatre of Cheesefoot Head. Rolling down Fawley Down, you cross the Roman road alignment and then roll out some of the last kilometres of your pilgrimage on the aptly named Pilgrims’ Trail. The last rises and falls take you to

Twyford Down and then it’s a slingshot round the slopes of St Catherine’s Hill, before rolling into Winchester through its historic riverside area and finishing your very English adventure in the ancient heart of the city.

South Harting to Queen Elizabeth Country Park You start this final leg heading south with Torberry Hill fort (OS grid ref: SU 779 203) and other prehistoric earthworks looking out over the valley on your left-hand side. Then it’s a dog-leg from one tiny back road to another and up the seriously stiff, wooded gully of Hemner Hill. Summiting past the transmitter mast, you turn right at the crossroads onto the South Downs Way. From here, it’s a mix of decent gravel track and rough singletrack road rippling westwards before you turn south and climb into Queen Elizabeth Forest. The official route takes the relatively direct but still leg-provoking soft gully climb and long, curving bridleway descent to the Queen Elizabeth Country Park (QECP) visitor centre. More advanced or fresh-legged riders might want to add in a lap or two of the blue (6km) and red (7km) graded forest cycle trails.

The visitor centre has an excellent café – The Beechwood Kitchen – and also stocks essential cycling supplies if you’re running short. 85


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Butser Ancient Farm If you want a fantastic sense of how life was thousands of years ago in the many Iron Age settlements you’ll pass on this route, then it’s well worth diverting south a few kilometres from QECP to Butser Ancient Farm (OS grid ref: SU 720 165). This site was set up as an archaeological experiment in the 1970s as a cluster of Iron Age roundhouses occupied by volunteers, who lived with as much prehistoric accuracy as they could with ancient animal species and crops. The experiment has since been expanded with Mesolithic, Neolithic and Romano-British dwellings, often based at sites you’ll have passed en route such as Durrington Walls, Danebury hill fort and Sparsholt. The farm also has regular activity days letting visitors experience past life adventures as Celtic warriors, Roman legionaries or prehistoric farmers and craftspeople. It’s definitely worth the diversion to bring the landscape you’ve ridden through (or are about to) into vivid, insightful life. butserancientfarm.co.uk

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Part 9: South Downs Way

Queen Elizabeth Country Park to Cheesefoot Head After you’ve got stocked up and/or stoked up at QECP, the route ducks under the roaring A3 and then you’re staring up at the grass wall of Butser Hill from a beautiful bowl meadow. Determined riders will clear the climb but whether you pedal or push, a quick detour through the nature reserve to the summit near the mast will give incredible views north over the landscape you’ve been riding through for the past day or so. As this is one of the highest points in Hampshire, you can see the sea and the Isle of Wight to the south on a clear day too. A short section of rough road leads to narrow lanes and then singletrack trail along the ridge. You’ll need to pop into the nature reserve to your right to get the potentially incredible views over the Meon Valley’s rolling green grassland and ancient woods at this point, but you’ll soon be dropping into it yourself. The first drop off Wether Down is probably the most fun or frightening of the whole route, with a mixture of potentially slippery sloped chalk sides, loose rock and a couple of root drops that meant we’d almost give it a red rating. It’s manageable on a gravel, touring or hybrid bike if you’re careful, though. Arriving relatively intact at the bottom of the main descent, you drop further down towards the yurts and shepherds’ huts of the Meon Springs glamping site. The off-road climb up the far side of the valley is more likely to hurt than yurt, but the nature reserve at the top is a great place to rest if you can’t quite crawl the extra 500 metres to Old Winchester Hill fort.

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Old Winchester Hill This prominent lump on the eastern edge of the Meon Valley is a national nature reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest, thanks to its rare butterfly population. The top of this steep-sided promontory has the clear remains of an Iron Age hill fort as well as Bronze Age barrows inside and outside the big perimeter bank and ditch. That didn’t stop the army using it for testing mortars in World War II though, and some parts of the hill are still fenced off due to the danger of unexploded mortar bombs.

Taking care not to ride over rare butterflies or unexploded WWII mortar bombs, you’ll also have to be cautious on the seriously steep chalk singletrack plunge off the ridge. The rest of the roll down past corn fields is fantastic, though, and finishes at the repurposed Meon Valley railway line to Exton. While it’s now just a pleasant tree-lined track, this small branch line played a significant part in world history in the early summer of 1944. Turning off the railway path through Exton, you’ll be glad our route takes the road up and over Beacon Hill rather than following the South Downs Way up the steep field, but it’s still a fair old pull to the top. As you drop down the far side, don’t miss the gravel track that splits off to the left towards Lomer Farm, the last remnants of the medieval village of the same name. Prehistoric tumuli and earthworks shoulder the route as it rises and falls towards the A272, where fast-rolling gravel gives way to more temperamental grassy field edges over Gander Down which can be a trudge in winter and a bag-loosening rattle when baked hard in summer. Make sure you’re the far side of the hedge alongside the solar panels too, as there’s no easy way to cross over further down when the field ends. It’s good track again by the time you turn left through the farmyard into 88

Temple Valley, and then climb gradually up the broad gravel track past the picture-perfect Keeper’s Cottage towards Cheesefoot Head.

Droxford and the D-Day train By the early summer of 1944 the whole south of England was covered in camps and supply depots in readiness for D-Day – the attack on German-held northern France and the first step of the liberation of Europe. Four days before the troops hit the beaches of Normandy, a secret train rolled down the line to Droxford where it stopped at the station, ready to be shunted into a steep embankment-protected side track in the event of danger. That’s because the passenger list included British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, US President Dwight Eisenhower, French leader Charles de Gaulle, Canadian President William Lyon McKenzie King and South African leader Jan Smuts as well as members of the combined war cabinet. The train was used as a base for the leaders to head out on morale-boosting visits to their respective troops, as well as for last-minute planning meetings. The line was also vital in the build-up and continued restocking of supplies before and during the invasion period, but the only evidence you’ll find now is a small plaque on the old station at Droxford which is now a private house.


Part 9: South Downs Way

Cheesefoot Head Pronounced ‘Chezzit Head’ and also known as Matterley Bowl, this three-sided amphitheatre is seemingly a totally natural feature despite looking so remarkably regular that you’d think it was man-made. The only definite man-made features are the vague remains of three Bronze Age barrows on the south-west ridge of the site. That’s not to say the ‘bowl’ doesn’t have historical significance though, as it was where President Eisenhower spoke

to assembled US troops just before the D-Day landings in Normandy. It’s since been used for official and unofficial music festivals, and its prominent position almost certainly means it’s been a gathering place for thousands of years. While you get some idea of the size of the bowl from the trail, its true scope is best seen by descending a hundred metres down the main road, but be careful as it’s a busy and very fast-moving road.

Cheesefoot Head to Winchester Suitably stirred by the history humming from this incredible landscape, we break away from the signed South Downs Way route here, and a narrow gravel path takes you to the A272 and then across to the gentle roll off Fawley Down to cross the line of the old Roman road at Morestead. It’s a sign of just how rich this area is, that even in the final furlong there’s a choice of historic routes from various ages to take into Winchester. We think the gently rising gravel track of the Pilgrims’ Trail is the best way to finish, though. The quiet, grassland-bordered track is perfect for relaxing the pace of the final furlong, and letting your thoughts drift back over what’s hopefully been an amazing journey. While it seems so tranquil now – as is often the case on this route – conflict is never far away. Whether that’s the prehistoric fort 89


Cycling UK

atop St Catherine’s Hill or the very recent ‘Battle of Twyford Down’, where protesters threw themselves in the path of contractors gouging through the ancient hill to create a corridor for the new alignment of the M3 motorway, this has always been a place worth fighting for. The short sections of singletrack either side of the bridge over the motorway are also the last bits of mildly technical riding on the route, so make sure you enjoy them.

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The full spectrum of history is packed into the last couple of kilometres into Winchester too. While the Plague Pits dry valley running down between the tall walls of Catherine’s Hill and Twyford Down to the River Itchen clearly evokes a very dark part of history, it’s now a nature reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest full of rare orchids and butterflies. That makes it the perfect place to sit and take quiet stock of your recent adventures before saddling up one last time.


Part 9: South Downs Way

St Catherine's Hill Marking the westernmost point of the South Downs, this small but proud bit of chalk geology could hardly sum up the landscape you’ve ridden through better. With the ramparts of an Iron Age hill fort around its crown and a 12th-century chapel in the small copse at the centre, it’s clearly been a focal point for millennia.

Wolvesey Castle Winchester’s bishops were some of the most powerful people in Britain for several centuries and that made their castle and palace one of the most important sites in the country too. Aethelwold I was the first bishop to move out of the nearby cathedral to reflect his increasingly public, political role. During the Norman period, the hall at Wolvesey was established and kicked off a rapid period of expansion as the power and estate of the bishops grew. The hall was fortified to create the ‘castle’ in the 1140s, and it continued to be a centre of English church and political power for the next 600 years until the bishops shifted their headquarters to Farnham Castle, closer to London.

The Itchen Way follows the old railway up into the old wharf area of Winchester, where you can still see the old warehouses and restored City Mill opposite the bishop’s palace of Wolvesey Castle. Then it’s one last left turn into the medieval, Georgian and Victorian gothic architectural carnival of the High Street where a five-metre-tall statue of King Alfred himself waits to greet you too. A suitably eclectic, evocative and very English finish line for a truly amazing journey through time. 91


Cycling UK

Places and facilities For places that are a slight detour from the King Alfred’s Way route, the distance and ascent shown relate to the closest point on the route. Distance from Distance Ascent start (km) between (km) (m) Winchester 0 Sparsholt 5 5 103 King's Somborne 13 8 37 Houghton 17 4 16 Broughton 21 4 64 Middle Winterslow 29 8 231 Salisbury (Old Sarum) 40 11 35 Amesbury 52 12 188 Stonehenge/Larkhill 56 4 60 Shrewton (1.5km off route) 62 6 65 Orcheston 66 4 3 Tilshead 74 12 74 West Lavington 81 7 128 Market Lavington 83 2 22 All Cannings 96 13 83 Avebury 107 11 118 Ogbourne St George 118 11 196 Marlborough (5km off route) 120 2 25 Swindon (5km off route) 130 10 155 Ashbury 135 5 77 Uffington (5km off route) 138 3 26 Wantage (5km off route) 149 11 159 Compton (2km off route) 162 13 68 Goring 172 10 117 Pangbourne 177 5 59 Reading 189 13 78 Riseley 205 16 107 Hartley Wintney (2km off route) 216 11 63 Fleet (2km off route) 230 14 109 Farnham 241 11 144 Tilford (1km off route) 250 9 131 Frensham Great Pond (1km off route) 255 5 50 Hindhead 268 13 284 Haslemere (3km off route) 271 3 1 Liphook (1km off route) 281 10 521 Liss 289 8 68 Petersfield (5km off route) 298 9 152 South Harting (1km off route) 300 2 21 East Meon (2km off route) 316 16 462 Exton 326 10 115 Winchester 350 24 472 92

B&B/ Hotel

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Part 10: Useful information and maps

Campsite

Pub/ CafĂŠ restaurant

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Suggested itineraries Whether you want long challenging days or prefer to go at a more leisurely pace, these are our suggested overnight stopping points to help you plan your trip. Five nights ~ 50km per day

Distance from start (km)

Four nights ~ 75km per day

Distance from start (km)

Amesbury

50

Market Lavington

75

Avebury

100

150

Goring/ Reading

160 180

Wantage/ Court Hill Hostel Farnham

150

Farnham

230

300

Petersfield

280

Wetherdown Lodge Eco Hostel/ East Meon

Three nights ~ 90km per day

Distance from start (km)

Two nights ~ 115km per day

Distance from start (km)

Avebury

100

Ogbourne St George

115

Reading

180

Farnham

230

Hindhead/ Liss/ Petersfield

260 270 280

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King Alfred's Way – Image credits Front cover image and p.4 image by Pannier.cc/ David Sear. Contents page All images by Robert Spanring/Cycling UK. Introduction and guide to historical time periods All images by Pannier.cc/David Sear except: p.6 by Robert Spanring/Cycling UK; p.8 signposts by Katherine Moore. The ‘Digtionary’ P.14, barrow image by Alamy and Stonehenge by Craig Easton/VisitBritain; p.15, Farnham Castle by Neil Harvey (CC BY-ND 2.0) and other images by Robert Spanring/Cycling UK. Part 1 P.20, Winchester Castle by Heather Cowper (CC BY 2.0); p.22, Farley Mount by Jim Champion (CC BY-SA 2.0); p.23, Danebury hill fort by iStock; p.25, Old Sarum by Alexey Fedorenko/ Shutterstock, Salisbury Cathedral interior by Jack Pease (CC BY 2.0) and exterior by Pedro Szekely (CC BY-SA 2.0). Part 2 All images by Robert Spanring/Cycling UK except: p.28, Stonehenge by Richard Allen/VisitBritain, p.30, bottom image by Pannier.cc/David Sear; p.32, top image by Pannier.cc/David Sear and Normanton Down barrows by Alamy; p.35, Woodhenge by Allouphoto/Shutterstock. Part 3 All images by Pannier.cc/David Sear except: p.40, small image by Robert Spanring/Cycling UK; p.39, Salisbury Plain landscape by Sarah Ward (CC BY 2.0) and Copehill Down village by Scott Wylie (CC BY 2.0); p.42, Imber village by Stewart Black (CC BY 2.0) and bottom image by Sophie Gordon/Cycling UK; p.43, Alton Barnes white horse by Gail Johnson/Shutterstock. Part 4 All images by Robert Spanring/Cycling UK except: Title page by Pannier.cc/David Sear, p.47, small image by Pannier.cc/David Sear; p.48, West Kennet long barrow by travellight/Shutterstock Part 5 All images by Pannier.cc/David Sear except: p.54, both images by Robert Spanring/Cycling UK;

p.56, Wayland’s Smithy by David Smith (CC BY 2.0); p.57, Uffington white horse by Dave Price (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) and Uffington Castle by Giles Watson (CC BY-SA 2.0); p.59, Mapledurham mill by Bob Jenkins (CC BY 2.0), St Peter’s Church by iStock, Reading by Nelo Hotsuma (CC BY 2.0). Part 6 All images by Robert Spanring/Cycling UK except: p.62, main image by Pannier.cc/David Sear; p.63, main image by Sam Jones/Cycling UK, Reading New Bridge by iStock; p.64, Silchester by Tristram Biggs (CC BY-ND 2.0); p.65, pillbox by Pannier.cc/ David Sear and canal by Adam Burton/VisitBritain; p.67, top image by Joolze Dymond/Cycling UK and Farnham Castle by Neil Harvey (CC BY-ND 2.0). Part 7 All images by Pannier.cc/David Sear except: p.72, Waverley Abbey ruins by Neil Harvey (CC BY-ND 2.0) and bottom image by Katherine Moore; p.75, Hankley Common Atlantic Wall by Simon Burchell (CC BY-SA 4.0). Part 8 All images by Pannier.cc/David Sear except: p.79, both images by Katherine Moore; p.81, group shots by Robert Spanring/Cycling UK, solo rider by Katherine Moore, Rogate B1kepark courtesy of Rogate B1kepark. Part 9 All images by Robert Spanring/Cycling UK except: p.84, main image by Pannier.cc/David Sear; p.86, main image by Pannier.cc/David Sear and Butser Ancient Farm by Leimenide (CC BY 2.0); p.88, Old Winchester Hill by Andrew Pickett/VisitBritain; p.89, Cheesefoot Head by Neil Howard (CC BY-NC 2.0); p.91, Wolvesey Castle by Tony Hisgett (CC BY 2.0). Places and facilities All images by Pannier.cc/David Sear. Suggested itineraries Pannier.cc/David Sear. Opposite Robert Spanring/Cycling UK. About the author Image by Guy Kesteven.

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Cycling UK

Afterword

Cycling UK’s vision is of a network of off-road recreational cycling, walking and horse-riding routes across the length and breadth of Great Britain, through amazing places and wild landscapes. We are working to identify alternative sections for the parts of National Trails which can’t be cycled to form a rideable route. We’ve already done this for the North Downs Way (cyclinguk.org/northdownsway), are working similarly with the Ridgeway and are continuing to develop new connecting routes like King Alfred’s Way to link existing National Trails. Find out more at cyclinguk.org/offroadcampaigns As the national cycling charity, Cycling UK’s mission is to enable millions more people to cycle. Our members and supporters are the foundation of everything we do, helping to fund our campaigning work and support our projects to get more people cycling. Your purchase of the King Alfred’s Way guide is helping us in our work, but it’s our members who allow us to carry on campaigning every day. By becoming a Cycling UK member, you can help us continue our off-road campaigning to open up the countryside for cycling and create new routes for everyone to explore, while also enjoying exclusive discounts from cycle shops and outdoor retailers, free legal advice, insurance and more. Find out more at cyclinguk.org/join

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About the author Guy Kesteven has been exploring historic England by bike ever since his mum used to stick him in his child seat along with the groceries for trips into York. A qualified and time-served archaeologist, he’s stayed amongst mud on a daily basis as a professional bike tester for leading global websites and magazines. He also has his own YouTube channel GuyKesTV where you can find a rough guide to King Alfred’s Way filmed during the creation of this guidebook.


"Sewing together a real patchwork of different landscapes from chalk downs to rolling crop fields and leafy forest, the King Alfred’s Way showcases some of the finest off-road riding in the South-East. Linking well-established routes including the South Downs Way and the Ridgeway with some lesser-discovered trails in between is a cracking idea, and in fact for me it was some of these hidden gems that proved to be the most captivating." Katherine Moore, Unpaved Podcast

"King Alfred's Way is a real fun, challenging but accessible mixed-terrain ride through the ancient Heart of England – a bikepacking route for everyone. Expect flint-furrowed tracks, grain-field gravel, remote ridgeways, barrows and byways, quintessential English villages, inns, and vast downlands that somehow echo the comfort of a countryside in which man has always been at home..." Stefan Amato, Pannier.cc

Facebook and Twitter Find us on: T: 01483 238301 www.cyclinguk.org Cycling UK, Parklands, Railton Road, Guildford, Surrey GU2 9JX Cycling UK is a trading name of Cyclists’ Touring Club (CTC) a company limited by guarantee, registered in England no: 25185. Registered as a charity in England and Wales charity no: 1147607 and in Scotland charity no: sco42541. Registered office: Parklands, Railton Road, Guildford, Surrey GU2 9JX.

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