Katherine Moore

Ancient bridleways of Central England — Icknield Way Trail

Andy Field (Field Office) (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Ancient bridleways of Central England — Icknield Way Trail

Mountain Biking Collection by Katherine Moore
3-6 days
3-6 h / day
149 mi
6,950 ft
7,275 ft

Part of the larger Greater Ridgeway Trail that links the north coast of Norfolk to the South Coast on the English Channel, the Icknield Way Trail is the cycling-friendly version of the hiker’s Icknield Way Path. It connects Peddars Way in Knettishall, Suffolk, which leads to Hunstanton, to the Ridgeway Trail, from Ivinghoe Beacon to historic Avebury. You can then link with the Wessex Ridgeway to ride all the way down to the Jurassic Coast at Lyme Regis in Dorset.

Passing through six counties of Central and Eastern England; Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, this trail takes in idyllic rural villages, rolling agricultural landscapes and hidden woodlands. Plus there are sandy trails over grassy commons, plantations and heathland, all yielding magnificent views. What this area might lack in mountains it certainly makes up for in charm, and a few steep ascents!

The route is slightly different to the official Icknield Way Path, which is a walking-friendly route for hikers established in 1992. Avoiding footpaths in favour of bridleways and byways so that it can be followed by horse-riders and cyclists alike, the Icknield Way Trail was formed in 2004. Look out for the signs where the official path and trail split.

The Icknield Way Trail is best enjoyed in the drier summer months. In the winter, many of these field and woodland trails become very muddy and slow-going, so you’ll make the best progress when they’ve dried out. You’ll be fine on either a gravel, mountain bike or sturdy tourer, ideally with tyres 40mm wide or more.

Here we’ve proposed the route in three stages, although of course you can choose to split them further or combine as you wish. Being close to many villages and towns in this part of England, you’re never far from places to stay.

Access to either end of the trail is best by train, although you’ll need to add a little ride to your journey to find the nearest stations. Travel to Princes Risborough, a 4.5 mile (7.2 km) ride from the start in Chinnor, on Chiltern Railways for the southern end,, and ride 7 miles (11 km) to Thetford at the other end for the nearest train station to the finish. Do check when you buy your ticket whether you need to reserve a space for your bike too.

Check out the related routes here.
The Peddars Way: komoot.com/collection/900448
The Ridgeway: komoot.com/collection/899679
The Wessex Ridgeway: komoot.com/collection/960938
The Icknield Way Path (walking-friendly): komoot.com/collection/954916

On The Map

Tours & Highlights

    Difficult
    06:05
    41.1 mi
    6.8 mph
    3,125 ft
    3,000 ft
    Expert gravel ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    Start your Icknield Way Trail adventure from the village of Chinnor in South Oxfordshire. The train line here is no longer in use by domestic services, but you can get a train to nearby Princes Risborough on the Chiltern Railways main line and pedal down to Chinnor.

    From the village, you’re straight up into the hills as you climb a trail around the lower slopes of Chinnor Hill on singletrack. A short stretch of quiet lane later and you’re back passing through Princes Risborough, skirting around the south of this urban area.

    Up into the hills again you go, around The Hangings forest on a steep singletrack climb, then over to Pulpit Wood before the thrilling bridleway descent to Missenden Road. Don’t forget to take in the views at the top of these climbs, which on a clear day can be very impressive indeed.

    Follow the Icknield Way Trail up into Chisley Wood, over Little Hampden Common and down through Dunsmore to the edge of Wendover. A short stretch along Hale Lane leads you to a steep climb through Wendover Woods, and then along the tops to Gadmore Lane. Riding through the gorgeous woodland next to Tring Park, you then descend into Wiggington, and further down to cross the Grand Union Canal and the trainline.

    The next section heads north to Paul’s Knob, next to Ivinghoe Beacon where the Ridgeway Trail officially ends. You could start your ride here if you’re linking the two as part of the Greater Ridgeway. Back through the Ashridge Estate and over Berkhamsted Common, there are many trails to explore both over grassland and in the woods.

    There are some lanes up next to aid progress, through Great Gaddesden and Hudnall, where you’ll rejoin a singletrack trail to climb up to Whipsnade. Your last treat of the day is to cross the glorious Dunstable Downs, which lead you to the edge of Dunstable town. Here you’ll find plentiful local services and places to stay overnight.

    Difficult
    07:21
    54.1 mi
    7.4 mph
    2,025 ft
    2,450 ft
    Expert gravel ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    The second stage of the Icknield way from Dunstable to Great Chesterford is bridleways galore. Sandy ones, rocky ones, woodlands, field margins and mud; this is a big day in the saddle with some of central England’s finest traffic-free trails.

    Start the stage by leaving Dunstable and crossing both the Sewell Valley Path and then carefully over the Northern Bypass. A combination of small lanes and field tracks takes you past Toddington along mellow gradients, much less steep than the first stage. You cross over the top of the M1 motorway, leaving the hustle and bustle behind as you continue east into the Sundon Hills. The official walking route goes through the centre of the Country Park here, but you must head to the north on a bike.

    Through Streatley and heading east, a few byway sections are up next with generous doubletrack. You climb up and over Telegraph Hill as you pass the scenic Pegsdon Hills on your left, before the cracking descent down Wood Lane bridleway into Pirton.

    Take the Hambridge Way doubletrack next to Ickleford, then ride through the centre of Letchworth. With many shops, this is a great place for a resupply or a cuppa.

    Field margins and sand are on the menu next as you take the Ivel Grange bridleway out of the town, before the dead straight grassy Ashwell Street bridleway to Melbourn. Enjoy the contrast of this flat area compared to yesterday’s climbing!

    The final part takes you along quiet lanes and small linking bridleways to Great Chesterford. Here you’ll find a few options for accommodation, with more choice in the villages and towns to the north, a short pedal away.

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  • Difficult
    06:57
    53.5 mi
    7.7 mph
    1,800 ft
    1,825 ft
    Expert gravel ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    The third and final stage of the Icknield Way Trail delivers you to the junction with the Peddars Way from your start point of Great Chesterford. Most of the climbing is in the first half of the stage, although it is a very moderate amount, and the latter half will be a relief for your weary legs!

    Climb up through the singletrack to Hadstock to start the stage. Long Lane bridleway will take you to Linton village, then continue on north up Rivey Hill to the water tower. You’ll likely get wet feet as Rivey Lane is known for being wet, as you descend to meet the road. Take the Roman Road briefly, before peeling off onto the easy bridleway to Balsham.

    You’re in for a real treat next, with the long, wide and pretty flat Frog End gravel road taking you for miles across the serene countryside. A change of direction and a few lanes take you through Brinkley and Burrough Green. Climb a little to Woodditton Water Tower before a fast, wide and smooth section of gravel along the Icknield Way Trail.

    A road section comes next to Ashley, and after the village you’ll turn left onto a track that follows the River Kennett as far as Moulton. Here you peel off to the right, following the lane that crosses over the A14. It’s well worth a pit-stop at Phoenix Cycleworks here, a friendly bike shop and hire centre with a well-stocked cafe.

    It’s easy trails and lanes from here on in to the start of the Peddars Way in Knettishall. It’s a pretty bizarre place for a route to start or finish, so I’d recommend a short cycle along the lane to the west into Thetford, where you enjoy a meal and catch a train home. Alternatively, if you’d like to carry on along the Greater Ridgeway, check out the Peddars Way route here: komoot.com/collection/900448/norfolks-hidden-gravel-highway-peddars-way.

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    3
  • Distance
    149 mi
  • Duration
    20:23 h
  • Elevation
    6,950 ft7,275 ft

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Katherine Moore

Ancient bridleways of Central England — Icknield Way Trail