King Alfred's Way: Day 1
King Alfred’s Way is a 220 mile circular off-road route that takes in the iconic sights of Stonehenge, Avebury stone circle, the Ridgeway, and South Downs Way.
I was originally going to ride and camp the route with friends earlier in the year but plans got derailed by life. As this year’s miserable summer drew to a close, I started toying with the idea of doing it solo and travelling light by staying in hotels. My wife agreed to meet me in the evenings for dinner and a fresh supply of clothes, so I only needed to carry food, water, and tools. I planned to split the trip over 4 days and 3 nights as a reasonable balance between having enough time to enjoy it and being away for too long.
I booked a week off work and hotels with flexible dates so that I had some leeway with the weather because riding in the rain is miserable. Then I had about five weeks to get a bit fitter and setup the bike by doing some longer and hillier rides at the weekends.
Winchester to Avebury
After a week of torrential rain and thunderstorms the long range forecast came good with blue skies for my first day on the bike. I could have started the route near where I live, but the splits for accommodation were easier from the official starting point at Westgate in Winchester.
Very quickly the busy town gave way to quiet residential streets and then singletrack. The amount of mud and vegetation were fine, compared to everything else I’d ridden recently.
I’d thoroughly recommend the Farley Mount diversion that’s detailed in the guidebook. The views from the top and fast descent through the woods and out between the fields were great.
Then my first unavoidable puddle just before the road. Over the many forks of the very clear River Test.
The remaining stretch to Salisbury was a bit of a slog. Trails at the edges of fields were scenic but gave you the option of either being shaken to bits by the uneven mud or slowed down by the grass. It’s amazing how tiring just a little loss of traction from the rear wheel bouncing around can be. Thank you to the other rider that warned me of the very deep mud at the bottom of a fast descent. Though I still managed to slip over while walking.
I took a short break at Old Sarum which overlooks Salisbury and is the site of the original cathedral.
My plan to pack my lunch in a container so that it didn’t get squashed in my seat pack had backfired because the pastries had been obliterated by all the shaking around. Lesson: pack in foil and a container. The foil can always double up as an emergency tyre boot.
Then a pleasant stretch onto the Bridge Inn at Upper Woodford, which is only slightly off route. They were very helpful with refilling my water bottles and table service in the garden so that I didn’t have to leave my bike unattended.
The detour from Lake to get closer to Stonehenge was slow going uphill on grass. But my spirits were lifted when I could see long barrows on the horizon and shortly after my first glimpse of the stones.
I got lucky crossing the busy A303 without needing to wait. The security guard on the ticketed entrance to Stonehenge directed me to the permissive path that runs parallel and gets you near to the stones for free. Getting this close definitely made the detour worthwhile.
The first half of Salisbury plain was the hardest part of the day. More bumpy and grassy tracks, or wide open gravel with headwinds. It’s quite a surreal landscape. Unfortunately I didn’t see any tanks, which I was quite looking forward to.
The short interludes past baby cows and through the Beech trees were a welcome change.
I eventually cheated a couple of short grassy sections between Tilshead and Gore Cross which I don’t feel bad about at all.
Suddenly the surfaces and wind direction changed in my favour. I was cruising along and enjoying it again. So much that I nearly missed my turning for the descent into Chirton.
I caught a glimpse of the Alton Barnes White Horse whilst coming into All Cannings. From there I only had 6 miles left for the day but also the most significant climb of the day over Tan Hill, so I fueled up on two ice creams from the community shop.
Over the Kennet and Avon canal and a quick look at a modern day long barrow that was built in 2014.
Then that climb up Tan Hill. I just knew that quarried section in the middle would be where I was going. It involved lots of alternating between sitting and spinning, standing and stomping, and cutting zig-zags up the road.
Finally a fast roll down and a bit of weaving into Avebury. Past the Adam and Eve Longstones, a glimpse of the conical Silbury Hill, through some quiet back streets, and amongst the stones of Avebury.
I did some stretching, met my wife and kids, and we drove to the Premier Inn at Malborough. The hotel was reasonably priced, well furnished, right next to a supermarket for restocking, and had no problems with storing my bike in the room. After a quick shower we went out for dinner at a pub.
This first day felt really tough and I was left with a little bit of doubt about whether I’d be able to continue at the same intensity. I was rushing a bit by the end of the day to ensure I had enough time to get clean, go for dinner, and prep for the next day. Which wasn’t the kind of stress that I wanted for the trip. I was certainly glad to have split the trip over 4 days instead of the 3 that I had originally considered.
Stats for the day:
- Distance: 66.8 mi
- Elevation Gain: 4,603 ft
- Moving Time: 6h 18m
- Elapsed Time: 8:31:02
- Average Speed: 10.6mi/h
- Max Speed: 30.0mi/h