Riding the same old trails can be boring, especially if you’re an experienced rider.
Leaving your house, and tracking the same woodland, heath or hills can often start to pull the joy out of your rides – and who wants it to turn into just another form of exercise?
Well, there’s good news – Cycling UK have created at 350km circular route across Hampshire, Berkshire and Wiltshire – the new King Alfred’s Way.
We’ll take your through this exciting (and incredibly history-filled) cycle route, as well as showing you just how easy it is to get there by train.
Exploring King Alfred’s Way by train
What is King Alfred’s Way?
The King Alfred’s Way is a new 350km circular route developed by Cycling UK, taking you around spectacular Wessex, King Alfred’s Anglo-Saxon kingdom. Starting in Winchester, the route connects iconic monuments including Farnham Castle, Salisbury and Winchester Cathedrals, Stonehenge, Avebury stone circle and numerous Iron Age forts.
The route is ideal for both day trips over sections, or you can challenge yourself on a bikepacking trip to cover all 350km in a few days. It’s easily accessible from cities and towns across the route and routes run close to South Western Railway stations in a number of places, making it easy to get to by train.
You’ll also find the route is shared with parts of the Ridgeway and South Downs Way, meaning it’s easy to mix it in with another route if you want, and connections with the Thames Path and the North Downs Way offer a chance to make a longer escape.
Where does King Alfred’s Way go?
You’ll find some spectacular sights along King Alfred’s Way – from Frensham Common near Farnham to the ruins of Old Sarum – the original site of the city of Salisbury .
King Alfred’s Way is split handily into nine sections. You can cycle an entire section, or small parts of it – it’s all included in Cycling UK’s handy route guide.
It’s all been designed so that you don’t need technical mountain biking skills to cover it – just a decent level of fitness and a bit of experience in off-road cycling.
Section 1: Test Valley - Winchester to Salisbury
A 40km stretch with an amazingly rich landscape, and history that spans millennia. It’s a quiet, mixed surface ride and navigation is relatively easy once you get out of Winchester. You’ll find ancient churches and castles, Old Sarum fort, Danebury Hill fort, and cross Porton Down, as well as an optional diversion to visit Farley Mount.
Section 2: Stonehenge – Salisbury to Stonehenge
This is a short section of just 16km, but takes you back thousands of years as you close in on the iconic stone circle. Navigation is a bit more difficult in Salisbury as many of the junctions are close together, but becomes easier once you’ve left the city. There are two options to get to Stonehenge – an on-road option that comes with a crossing over a quieter part of the A303, or an off-road option that takes you to a busier part of the road (and potentially a longer wait to cross).
Section 3: Salisbury Plain – Stonehenge to Chirton
If you’re planning to ride this section it’s worth planning ahead – you’re going to be crossing Ministry of Defence training grounds. It’s perfect for a bit of tank and helicopter spotting though (just make sure you take care around crossings – tanks can approach at up to 40mph, and their visibility is limited at best). You’ll also spy the village of Imber – evacuated during WWII to make room for US Army training. It’s deep within a restricted area, but opens occasionally to the public.
Section 4: Vale of Pewsey – Chirton to Avebury
Another short section, but lovely and simple after crossing Salisbury Plain. Look forward to seeing Silbury Hill, the Avebury stone circle, and the West Kennet barrow.
Section 5: The Ridgeway – Avebury to Reading
This section of the route is largely downhill, and the longest section at 85km, taking you along the incredible views of the Ridgeway. You’ll spy chalk horses, huge hill forts, atmospheric Neolithic tombs and get to stop by the Thames to dip a toe in if you’re feeling brave. It also marks the halfway point when you head into Reading – an ideal place to stop and restock if you’re completing the whole circuit.
Section 6: The Last Line of Defence – Reading to Farnham
So named for crossing the GHQ “Line” – part of a WWII series of defences aimed at stopping German advances from the coast, this is a 53km trek through back lanes and byways, and along the Basingstoke Canal. Look for the spectacular Reading New Bridge, the Devil’s Highway, Silchester and Farnham Castle. You’ll also ride in near Aldershot on managed-access military land – so keep your wits about you.
Section 7: The Devil’s Punchbowl – Farnham to Hindhead
This section takes you across Frensham Common – an early start from Farnham gets you the opportunity to see some truly incredible sunrises. There’s a steep climb at the end as you arrive at the Devil’s Punchbowl and Hindhead Common, with a delightful National Trust Café as your reward for surviving the climb. A replica Atlantic Wall used to test explosives ahead of D-Day can be found at Hankley Common.
Part 8: Sussex Border – Hindhead to South Harting
32km of mostly-sheltered riding along the Sussex Border make this a particularly pleasant part of the route when it’s dry. You’ll join the Shipwrights Way between Liphook and Liss, but you can also stop in at Petersfield for supplies if needed (and avoid the climb to Rogate Common). Mountain bikers will enjoy a stop off at Rogate B1kepark – make sure you book in advance. Trails at B1kepark start at a Blue rating and go all the way to a professional level – not for the faint-hearted.
Part 9: South Downs Way – South Harting to Winchester
Another route with beautiful panoramic vistas, this last 50km takes you back into Winchester. It’s also some of the steepest riding on the route, with the climb up Butser Hill sure to test you. There are plenty of diversions for mountain bikers to test your skills too, and when the weather turns bad there are plenty of quiet side roads for detouring. You’ll see plenty of WWII history here, including Cheesefoot (pronounced “Chezzit”) Head’s three-sided amphitheatre where President Eisenhower spoke to assembled US troops before D-Day, and Droxford station, where the train carrying the War Cabinet waited in the event of danger – ready to be shunted into a steep embankment nearby.
What railway stations are on King Alfred’s Way?
There are lots of stations in easy reach of King Alfred’s Way, which means that starting and stopping along the route is easy too.
Sections one and two are easily served by Winchester and Salisbury, and Section five passes near to Swindon, through Goring & Streatley station and on to Reading. Section six runs near Hook and Winchfield villages, dropping you near Farnham town centre. Section eight takes you through Liss, but Liphook and Petersfield stations are also near the route.
Can I take my bike on the train to King Alfred’s Way?
Taking your bike on the train is easy – you don’t need to book a space on most of our trains, and there’s normally room for panniers and equipment too. It’s also free! Spaces are first-come-first-served, so you may need to wait for the next train if it’s already full, but we’ll always do our best to help you travel safely.
If you’re travelling to Salisbury, you’ll need to book a cycle reservation.