Circuit via Winchester, Salisbury, Reading, the Ridgeway and Farnham 220 miles
In June 2022 I rode the King Alfred Way. This is a 220 mile (350km) offroad circuit, conceived by Cycling UK as a bikepacking showcase of south-east England.
I did it with a friend, over five moderate days of 40–50 miles a day, staying in pubs. I rode my trekking bike: an old Scott MX1 hardtail mountain bike adapted for touring, with mudguards, rack, and raised handlebars. It proved a very good choice for this route.
There’s plenty of practical information about the route, videos, maps and GPX trace at Cycling UK’s King Alfred Way page.
The King Alfred Way Facebook Group is worth joining if you’re thinking of doing the route.
Simply put, if you prefer riding bumpy but car-free offroad for miles to country lanes, you may well love it. If you’re happier on nice smooth tarmac and unfazed by traffic, you may well find much of it tedious.
❎ TEN REASONS NOT TO DO THE KING ALFRED WAY
Looking for an excuse? There are plenty…
❎ No signage
KAW-specific signs? None at all. Zilch. Nada. Sometimes you can bodge it by following signs for routes the KAW piggy-backs on – Shipwrights, South Downs, NCN23 – but you’ll often get lost.
❎ Bad surfaces
Many stretches are unrideable: so bumpy, steep, rutted, overgrown, muddy, tree-rooted or booby-trapped that you can spend hours a day pushing.
❎ Deceptive distances
350km, so three days at 120km a day? Maybe sounds easy on tarmac, but the endless bumping along offroad will soon tell. It’ll tell your bottom, which will then tell you.
❎ No connection with Alfred
Sure, there’s a statue in Winchester, but there’s one of Licoricia too. (Who? Exactly.) Otherwise there’s nothing related to him to see or follow. At least you won’t find any burnt cakes.
This is affluent south-east England, where a pint costs £6, fish & chips £20, and twin rooms over £100. Even tent pitches cost £30. You may go far but your money won’t.
❎ You probably have the wrong bike
Gravel bike? For ultra-light packers maybe. But road bike? No chance. Sturdy tourer? Nope. Hybrid? Try again. MTB? Fine offroad, tedious on. Folder? For some charity dare, maybe.
❎ Lack of views
There are long stretches in the eastern half with nothing to see but trees either side. And when you do have views, you’re watching the track in front instead, so as not to fall off.
❎ Wildcamping is illegal
You may not be comfortable breaking the law. You may not be comfortable anyway, having found nothing but mud or bark chips to pitch on.
❎ Lack of on-route services
Being away from it all is great until you need a sandwich, cold drink or bike shop. Then you’ll be cursing these extra miles you didn’t factor in as darkness falls.
❎ The Ridgeway
Make people envious on Instagram with selfies of this decently-surfaced, scenic, super-enjoyable offroad part of the trip. And dispense with the rest of the KAW route.
✅ TEN REASONS TO DO THE KING ALFRED WAY
Looking for a nudge? There are plenty…
In under two years it’s become a must-do route. Many who’ve done it go back and do it again in more detail. Tens of thousands of UK tourers can’t be wrong.
✅ On trend for bikepacking
It’s a 21st-century route, GPX and all, set up for fashionable, lightly-loaded gravel bikes. Want to see what the bikepacking thing is all about? Here’s your chance. Freedom awaits.
✅ Good guidebook and backup
Cycling UK’s guidebook is very good, with practical planning tips and background information to enhance your ride, backed with comprehensive OS maps (yes, paper!)
✅ Cross-section of SE England
You see all of south-east English culture at its most concentrated: pretty villages, historic pubs, trim countryside, churches, farms, woods, heaths, prehistoric earthworks, Waitroses…
Technically illegal yes, but there’s no shortage of places tucked away where many riders do it discreetly, leaving no trace – and saving a fortune on accommodation.
✅ Easy to access
You don’t have to start at Winchester. Trains plus a short ride enable you to start – or leave – the route at many points on the circuit.
✅ Easy to split
Take your time. Many people do the route in weekend installments, exploring it in depth. That rail access means you can easily start where you left off.
✅ Easy to adapt
In such a densely developed part of the world, there’s bound to be stuff of specific interest to you near the route: family, friends, sights, links to your own past – or future. Add them in.
✅ Rus in urbe
‘The country in the town’. Despite being in a built-up, fully-developed part of England, most of the time you feel you’re in the countryside miles from anywhere.
✅ The Ridgeway
The forty-mile stretch of ancient chalk track from Avebury to Goring is one of Britain’s showcase offroad rides. You get it all included as part of the route.