How to explore King Alfred's Way, England's newest long-distance cycle route

After an adventure on home turf? Grab your bike and set off on one royally good new cycling route.

By Connor McGovern
Published 9 Nov 2020, 08:00 GMT, Updated 9 Nov 2020, 10:53 GMT
Cyclists in Surrey

The newly launched King Alfred's Way snakes through four counties, taking in such landscapes as gentle plains and challenging chalk uplands.

Photograph by Alamy

Ten thousand years of history, 220 miles, four counties, one cycle route — all hail the King Alfred’s Way, southern England’s new off-road cycling trail. 

Named after the Anglo-Saxon ruler of the ancient kingdom of Wessex, the trail kicks off in England’s former capital, Winchester, before winding its way through four counties. Riders can expect a score of the region’s best-known historic sites on the way, including: Stonehenge, Avebury, Salisbury Cathedral and Iron Age hill forts at Old Sarum, before finishing up at Winchester Cathedral, where the ninth-century ruler was originally laid to rest. The region’s natural beauty is highlighted just as much its heritage, too, with the route crossing a mix of terrains and ecosystems, such as Salisbury Plain, ancient Surrey heathland and challenging chalk uplands in the South Downs, making it a must for serious cyclists. 

Three years in the making for charity Cycling UK, the launch of King Alfred’s Way is good news for riders looking to seamlessly crisscross the South on two wheels. The route links up with other regional paths such as the South Downs Way, the Thames Path, and the riders’ route along the North Downs Way, which launched in 2018. 

The wider aim, however, is an ambitious one: to connect the whole country with a vast web of long-distance, off-road cycling routes that link the UK’s landscapes and heritage hotspots — in much the same way the country has been open to walkers for decades.

A detailed map can be viewed online, where riders can check out an extensive guide to the trail and download route files (GPX format) to follow on the go.  

Three more: new trails on two wheels

The new National Famine Way follows in the footsteps of the 1,490 local people who made the 103-mile journey from Strokestown, County Roscommon, to Dublin during the 1847 potato famine. The route is dotted with informative waymarks for riders to west weary legs and mull over the locals' poignant story. 

New York
When finished by the end of 2020, the Empire State Trail will clock up a huge 750 miles, running from New York City north to the Canadian border, and east from Buffalo to the state capital of Albany, making it the longest multi-use trail in the nation.  

The two new Orchard Cycling Trails celebrate the county’s fruity heritage, taking in local orchards, cideries, farms and producers. Two loops run for 40 miles through the countryside, and both start and end in the cathedral city of Hereford.  

Published in the Nov/Dec 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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