The newest long distance bikepacking route in the UK (summer 2020), created by charity Cycling UK, the King Alfred’s Way is a 217 mile (350 km) loop around the south east of England, taking in not only some incredibly diverse landscapes, but also millennia of history.
Named after the King that united England and reigned the Kingdom of Wessex from the start and finish point in Winchester, this route meanders through Hampshire, Wiltshire, Berkshire and Surrey on some of the finest off-road trails in the area. It links the South Downs Way, the Ridgeway and the Thames Path National Trails, and also meets the start point of the North Downs Way in Farnham.
The King Alfred’s Way is the latest product of Cycling UK’s ambition to create a network of cycleable off-road trails across the UK, which also includes the Great North Trail (komoot.com/collection/904449).
From chalk grassland on the South Downs Way to leafy Surrey Forests, vast arable fields on the Salisbury Plain to quaint villages on the Thames, the King Alfred’s Way has it all. For the history buffs, there’s countless sites to explore including Old Sarum, the Avebury stone circles, Stonehenge, Farnham Castle, Salisbury and Winchester Cathedrals and countless hill forts.
As the route never strays too far from villages and towns, it is a great choice for beginner and experienced bikepackers alike. You can enjoy the route with full gear and camp locally, or pack light and stay in quaint B&Bs along the route, the choice is yours. Although the official start and finish is in Winchester, you can start the route wherever you like. It is really well served by train stations, including in Reading, Farnham, Goring and Salisbury.
Prepare to be surprised and amazed on the King Alfred’s Way; no two tracks are the same. Whether you want to pace around in just three days or take a relaxed approach in a week, there’s plenty to admire in the gorgeous South East.
The King Alfred's Way's official start is in Winchester, fittingly where King Alfred held his throne. But, as this route is a loop, you can start and finish at any point you choose.
This first stage will take you clockwise onto the loop from this ancient city bustling with history from the Westgate, straight into the glorious Hampshire countryside via a series of hidden bridleways.
You'll soon enjoy some marvellous views, including the fields and hills from the Up Somborne hill before crossing the River Test to head further west.
After Broughton village, a quintessential Hampshire parish, you'll encounter a steep but thankfully pretty short chalky climb, where you’ll join the Monarch's Way and Caledon Way for a while.
One of the real highlights of the stage is up next with a visit to Old Sarum, the original site of Salisbury. From here, you head north to skirt around Stonehenge, which you can see across the fields, and skirt around the edge of the Salisbury Plain Training Area to reach the end of the stage in Tilshead.
In this pretty little Wiltshire village you'll find a great pub serving delicious Italian food, as well as a very accommodating campsite.
The second stage of the King Alfred's way from the Salisbury Plain Military Training Area to the Ridgeway is a stage that promises to be chock full of brilliant wide gravel roads.
Leaving the quaint village of Tilshead behind, head north via a series of grassy bridleways that have been newly updated from footpaths, thanks to the advocacy of Cycling UK to allow cycling.
After you're warmed up, you'll tackle the Redhorn Hill climb up onto the higher parts of the Salisbury Plain on a wide and well surfaced gravel road, earning spectacular views out across Wiltshire.
After a short descent, you have a few lanes to navigate before crossing the Kennet and Avon Canal after All Cannings, where you'll then head up the traffic-free tarmac of Tan Hill. This is a spectacular climb, make even more special as you don't have to share the road!
After you reach the top, the road turns to gravel before a sharp left-hand turn to descend a narrow bridleway. Take care when overgrown as it can hide a few ruts.
After descending to Beckhampton, it's a short ride to Avebury, boasting three impressive ancient stone circles that you can explore. This is a good place to refuel, as you'll head up onto the Ridgeway next where there's less opportunity to do so.
The Ridgeway is one of the best established routes in the south of England, miles upon miles of wide gravel tracks turning to grassy field singletrack, huge views and chalk horses carved into the hillside.
The stage ends near Wantage, where you can find many hotels and B&Bs, or there's a bunkhouse for hire and cafe at the Court Hill Centre.
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Completing the Ridgeway on the northern end of the King Alfred's Way before passing through Reading, Stage 3 feels like a ride of two halves. Chalky and grassy bridleways and byways turn into mucky tracks on the Thames Path, and from our once remote journey you now pass through the delightful villages of Berkshire into central Reading and out along the canal path.
The stage starts at the Court Hill Centre, just south of Wantage and on the well-signed Ridgeway trail. You'll continue to follow this for the first third of the stage, enjoying rocky, chalky doubletrack and grassy fields until the descent to Goring on Thames.
Here you'll pick up another long distance bridleway, the Thames Path, which is a lot hiller than you might expect for a dirt trail following the river! Some of these inclines are steep, but at least there's steps to help you if you need them.
Riding towards Reading, you'll pass through Mapledurham on a mixture of lanes and bridleways past a dairy farm, before rejoining the Thames in Caversham on the edge of Reading.
With great signage and cycleways, the passage through the city of Reading is easier than you might expect. You'll follow the river before riding through The Oracle shopping centre, to join alongside the Kennet and Avon Canal out of the city to the south.
After crossing over the M5, the lane to Three Mile Cross delivers you to a magnificent byway that runs alongside a busy main road, but sheltered in the trees you'd hardly know it.
The stage ends at Riseley, Berkshire, where you'll find a pub and shop, plus a couple of local B&Bs.
From Berkshire into leafy Surrey, the fourth stage is perhaps one of the best.
You'll start with a series of quiet country lanes as you head south, then leaving the tarmac behind every now and then to seek out hidden singletrack through roadside woodlands and heath. Although the official route does not follow the Basingstoke Canal, you could choose to ride part of this in this stage.
The first climb of the stage comes as you approach Farnham; you'll need to gear down for the effort out of Ewshot on the byway up to the main road! Here you cross over into military land, where you can follow the gravel tracks between the pines to avoid the busy road to Farnham, crossing back over again for a thrilling last descent on narrow bridleways to the edge of this gorgeous town. You'll pop out near the Castle, which is well worth a visit if you have time to spare.
Don't leave Farnham behind before you've had an explore and perhaps enjoyed a snack and some coffee; there are many places here to try. You'll head out of the town on the brilliantly named Christmas Pie Trail, which follows the River Wey in part.
You'll soon come to the Frensham Brewery and Cheese on the Wey before crossing the river itself. Thankfully there's a footbridge spanning the width, or it can be refreshing to walk across on a hot day!
Up next is one of the real gems of the King Alfred's Way; Frensham Common. Here, sandy moorland tracks and forested trails await you, with wonderful views over the large ponds. It's easy to see why this is such a popular area for locals to come and enjoy.
You'll be treated to even more great rocky and sandy trails over Thursley Common, before taking the cycle route around the Devil's Punchbowl and then Bramshott Common. After a short road section, you'll finish the stage in Liphook.
The final stage of the King Alfred's Way will take you full circle back to Winchester via the well-known South Downs Way.
From Liphook, you'll skirt the edge of the Longmoor Ranges before the old converted railway line cycle path into the town of Liss. Nicely warmed up, from here you'll tackle the first climb of the day up to the aptly named Hill Brow.
The descent heading south from here is a corker, down through the dappled woodland on a twisting dirt bridleway, then out onto a farm track between the fields.
A few lanes lead you to join the South Downs way near South Harting. It's a hilly part of the route, so make sure you've got some legs left for this on the last day!
Take the well signposted South Downs Way, with wide and chalky trails sometimes narrowing to hedge-bound singletrack or grassy field margins. You'll soon descend through the Queen Elizabeth Country Park, ready for the second major climb of the day.
Butser Hill is an impressive sight, and a tough ride too. Riding or walking up this grassy slope, the views from the ascent are simply marvellous and will make it worth your while!
Enjoy a fast descent on the lanes past the fishery at East Meon before taking the cow tracks up the next off-road climb on the South Downs Way out of the Meon Valley to Old Winchester Hill. Here you'll follow field edges and some well-surfaced gravel tracks as you near the end of the stage and total route.