The UK is one of the world’s best countries to live in or visit if the great outdoors is a personal priority. Local authorities and government take great pride in preserving the countryside while encouraging locals and tourists to enjoy what it offers.
Walkers and cyclists are spoilt with thousands of public footpaths which sprawl across the outdoors like capillaries. But the real specialty of Great Britain is its arterial national trails and bridleways, which offer long-distance paths. Many of them are well over 100 miles long and can be completed in sections by busy folk or can make for great adventures if tackled in one hit.
A Nation of Trendsetters
Wales caught the world’s attention in 2012 when it launched the Wales coastal path. The 870-mile long trek around the Celtic coastline became the world’s first dedicated footpath around a country’s coast.
But now it’s England’s time to shine again. The dedicated charity Cycling UK has spent the past three years upgrading bridleways, byways, footpaths, and peaceful country lanes to create the King Alfred’s Way. This new circular route connects four existing national trails, Ridgeway, Thames Path, North Downs Way, and South Downs Way.
Not all trails are created equal. Only two out of fifteen of England’s national trails are bridleways. This means that the entire section of the trail can be legally accessed by cyclists and horse riders. Cycling UK noticed that something was lacking in England and they were adamant to do something about it.
The two bridleways are the Pennine Bridleway and the South Downs Way (astute readers may notice this has been bolted on King Alfred’s Way). Both are incredible trails showing off the diverse North and South of England. However, they are both long trails that begin and end at various points. They are not circular.
This left riders stuck having to get trains home, picked up in cars, or even worse, cycling home on Britain’s roads, which are full of bicycle-hating drivers. This lack of options inspired Cycling UK to come up with the King Alfred’s Way, Britain’s first national trail-length circular mountain bike route.
Freedom to Roam
“With King Alfred’s Way, we want to show what is possible if we fill those missing links between our national trails and start making the countryside accessible for everyone – walkers, horse riders, and cyclists,” said Cycling UK campaign manager Sophie Gordon.
The circular route both begins and ends at the historic cathedral city of Winchester. The route is perfect for bikepacking and should take most riders just three to five days to complete with its 220 miles (350km) total distance.
Unfortunately, wild camping is illegal in England (many people still partake in stealthy missions) except in Dartmoor National Park, which is not located on this route. This is no problem though as luckily there are plenty of campsites along the way. Even the official website gives advice on wild camping, telling riders there is woodland for covert camping. It’s one of those laws that, thankfully, most people turn a blind eye to.
Cyclists will experience an eclectic range of terrain on the new route. Woodland trails, narrow and wide gravel tracks, grassy field edge bridleways, canal towpath, and sandy heathland. Therefore the best choice of weapon for such a varied adventure would be a gravel bike. A gravel bike will offer plenty of traction on gravel and tarmac, meaning you don’t work harder than you need to, whilst giving the grip needed on the classic mountain bike trail sections.
From Dirtbag Bikers to History Buffs
America may have the landmass to provide trails galore for intrepid mountain bike nuts. But it cannot offer the same level of historical interest that Britain is famous for.
The trail allows its riders to bask in 10,000 years of historic Wessex, the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Alfred the Great. The start and endpoint is where Alfred himself is buried. The rest of the route shows off Iron Age hill forts, Farnham Castle, and Winchester and Salisbury’s cathedrals.
If these historical marvels aren’t enough to peak your interest, how about the opportunity to cycle past the world-famous UNESCO heritage site that is Stone Henge? There is definitely no other mountain bike trail on earth that can offer that.
Get Fit First
Like all trails in the UK, the King Alfred’s Way is open to all and is completely free. However the Cycling UK website states that the trail was designed as an ‘off-road adventure route’ for people with a good level of fitness.
However the good news is technical mountain biking skills are not needed here. You don’t have to be Danny MacAskill to enjoy riding this picturesque southern loop.
COVID-19 has changed the lives of every person in the world and has made drastic changes to people’s physical and mental health. Many have been driven to exercise even more due to the isolation whereas others have become personally acquainted with streaming services and late night snacking.
Staycations have become the norm for many and have become more attractive, whereas others cannot wait to be able to fly again.
The launch timing wasn’t great for Cycling UK. When COVID restrictions begin to lift worldwide and service resumes as usual, hopefully the hard voluntary work and dedication that was put into creating this trail will pay off.
Those itching to travel will visit, Peloton addicts will take their wheels back outside and armchair adventurers will dust off their bikes again.
Sophie Gordon really says it best.
“There’s no need to fly or, for many, even travel far for a challenging trip, King Alfred’s Way is 220 miles of literal ups and downs looping through a quintessential southern England made up of thatched cottages, Iron Age hill forts and stone circles.”
What more could you ask for?