Rob and Ed Take on King Alfred’s Way – In A Day!

Rob Carter writes of his challenge with Ed Gurney to ride the new Kind Alfred’s Way in a day! Chapeau guys!

Rob Carter and Ed Gurney
Saturday 18th July 2020
223 Miles (approx.)
4,420 metres of ascent (approx.)
Start 00:00
Finish 23:14

Ed and I were supposed to be taking part in a seven-day mountain bike stage race in Italy, but like everything else, it had been cancelled due to COVID-19.
We needed a challenge and something to train for so taking inspiration from Rob Colliver (SDWx4etc) we decided to give the soon to be released King Alfred’s way a try.

It’s a circular route from Winchester and the route we used is still a draft version with sections being updated before its official release in August 2020.

https://www.cyclinguk.org/kingalfredsway

At approximately 223 miles it is longer than the South Downs Way double but is only half the amount of climbing, so completing it in less than 24 hours seemed like a good challenge. Most of the routes in Hampshire would be known to us but the Wiltshire, Berkshire and Surrey sections would be new ground and navigation was expected to be significantly more of a challenge than the SDW.

Completing and enjoying rides of this distance in a day is all about getting your bike, nutrition and mental preparation sorted before you start. Looking back to our notes from SDWx2 gave us a good reminder of the nutrition required. The bikes were both S-Works Epics. Tyres were tried and tested favourites (without the word ‘race’ included in the name) Conti’s for me and Vittoria’s for Ed.

Mentally it was four 55 mile bike rides. Night, morning, afternoon, evening, with the reward of food at the end of each section. Just like the SDW the start is at the statue of King Alfred in Winchester but rather than heading east for the downs this time it was up the High Street past the socially distancing revellers being turfed out of the pubs.

It was a moonless night and very dark on the tree lined tracks. The first section to Salisbury is the most technical of the ride with some rutted tracks and very overgrown sections thick with brambles and nettles. Perhaps these will be cleared in the future but when we rode them some were almost impassable.

Picking out the central line between the off roaders deep ruts is often more luck than judgement and it gave Ed the opportunity for a slow speed sideways dismount into the long grass. No damaged done to man or machine!

After Broughton the KAW picks up the ridable section of the Clarendon Way for a few miles before dropping down to the River Bourne. The temperature dropped by the river so it was layers back on for the climb up to Stonehenge. Stonehenge was reached at 4 am but invisible in the darkness. After Stonehenge there is a fast 4 mile road section before heading out across Salisbury Plain. Now the tracks are much faster and wider.

Breakfast was at 5:40 with 55 miles done. On schedule despite the night riding and slow going in places. We stopped on the northern edge of the Plain but a cold wind prevented too much relaxing so once the muesli was gone (brick of porridge for Ed) we were on our way.

Section two, the morning ride, was all about the Ridgeway. This is my favourite part of the ride. After a short section of the Kennet and Avon Canal the Ridgeway is joined at Avebury. The track is in great condition and was bone dry for us. In wet conditions the chalk will be much less friendly. With a gentle south westerly providing assistance our average speed increased and the views towards Swindon (my home town) were a delight!

Wayland’s Smithy and Whitehorse Hill were soon reached. Familiar sites from my childhood. Unfortunately, you can’t see the famous white horse from the KAW so a detour is recommended if you haven’t seen it before. Dragon Hill provides a great vantage point if you don’t mind the additional climbing. (There is never any grass on the top of Dragon’s Hill because of all the Dragons blood, but I think that is King Arthur rather than Alfred!)

Beyond Whitehorse Hill the Ridgeway just keeps on giving as it heads due east. Watch out for a water point near some old barns after about 100 miles. Near a crossroads I think.

Lunch was taken after 110 miles at 11:00. An hour in the bag thanks to the Ridgeway. Cold pasta, crisps and pork pie. Proper food makes such a difference on these long rides. Section three, the afternoon ride, is a real shock to the system after the beauty of the Ridgeway. Hello Reading!

Hats off to the route planners here because crossing from north of the M4, River Thames and main London train line presents some navigational challenges. Passing to the east or west of the town offers few options so its straight through the middle for the KAW!

Every national cycling network route in the town is employed. The route even goes down the main pedestrianised shopping area past the front door of the cinema! After what felt like a gratuitous detour to show us a new and very empty estate of office buildings, thank you route 23, we were able to escape the concrete and tarmac. But only by about 5 metres as the route follows the side of the A33 dual carriage way for 2 miles. It’s a relief to return to the countryside although the next section is a mix of road and trail as we head south and cross beneath the M3.

It was getting hot by this point and a kind lady provided water bottle refills. Beware there are not the well-marked water stops that you find on the SDW. The next section was a surprise and a delight as we joined the tow path of the Basingstoke canal.

I had no idea that this was open to cyclists. My OS map doesn’t show any access rights but we encountered few problems as we followed the tow path. Watch out for the low bridges and other path users. It really is a lovely ride and so unexpected.

Some more clever route planning gets us through Farnham although our route included a section along Greensand Way that was most definitely closed to cyclists so I expect the final version will change this section. Tea was taken at 167miles overlooking Frensham Little Pond. A lovely spot for Marmite and cream cheese bagels and two slices of pizza.

The evening leg started at 17:05. 7 hours to get back to Winchester. The start of leg 4 is slow with lots of sand on the MOD land. Again this would be hard going in the wet.

The climb up to Hindhead is memorable. It gave us a few roadies to catch! However, our efforts required emergency refuelling from the BP garage at the top of the town. One swift bottle of Coca Cola later and we were turbo charged for the next 40 minutes as we headed south towards familiar territory.

We expected to see the SDW around every corner but this section down to Petersfield goes on longer than we expected. Note that my OS map shows we used a footpath going into Liss. I don’t remember this but again I expect this will be changed for the final KAW route. Finally, we arrived in Buriton and it was here that we made our worst navigational mistake of the day.

Amongst the confusion of paths and fallen trees we headed into the disused pit. Much sweating and bike carrying lead to some concentrated micro navigation and our escape on to the road leading to Queen Elizabeth Country Park. Home territory! We now expected the KAW to stick to the SDW but the KAW route plot we used took us down the easy valley road through QE. I expect the final version will stick to the actual SDW route.

The climb up Butser Hill was especially hard after 200 miles but no dabbing was required! Old Winchester, Exton and Beacon Hill passed in a gel fuelled blur. Lights on and final water stop at Lomer Farm. Holden Farm, over the A272, field of sheep (round the edge please) Keepers Cottage, Cheesefoot Head. All we had to do was roll down to Chilcomb.

Er no, the route planner clearly does not like the final section of the SDW (if only the footpath across the fields could be changed to a bridleway) so we had to carry straight on to the Twyford road and back in past the horse jumps, Hockley golf course and Plague Valley. This gave the KAW the chance to finish on one last cycling network along the Itchen Way and back to King Alfred himself for a 23:14 finish.

Reflections

Only half the climbing of the SDWx2, so not as hard.
Interesting route, very well put together.
Congratulations and thanks to Cycling UK for devising this route.
Strava https://www.strava.com/activities/3783574349

Nutrition

For me these rides are long distance constant picnics. My advice is that you need to be grazing constantly after six hours and the large food stops provide a great mental and physical boost.

The Menu

Breakfast
Muesli
Starbucks cold coffee in a can

Lunch
Pasta
Pork pie
Crisps

Tea
Marmite and cream cheese bagels
Homemade pizza slices x2
Crisps

On the go…
3 x Wiggle gels
2 x High 5 Aqua gels with caffeine
Kit Kat
Mars bar
Time Out
Another pork pie
2 x homemade flapjacks
Haribos
2 x Kind protein bars
Clif Blocks
2 x Clif bars
Half pack wine gums
2 x bottles of Coke
Bag cashews
PH Hydration tabs plus PH capsules.

About The King Alfred’s Way

The King Alfred’s Way is due to be launched officially on 29th August 2020.

Here’s a run-down of what to expect:

  1. King Alfred’s Way is a 350km off-road adventure route around historic Wessex, the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Alfred the Great.
  2. The trail starts and ends in Winchester where Alfred is buried, and connects iconic monuments including Stonehenge, Avebury stone circle, Iron Age hill forts, Farnham Castle, and Winchester and Salisbury Cathedrals – visitors can immerse themselves in 10,000 years of history.
  3. The trail is perfect for gravel bikes and can be ridden over a few days as a bikepacking/touring trip. It makes an ideal short staycation to fit into the end of the summer.
  4. However, it doesn’t have to be ridden all in one go, as it is easily accessible by train for linear day rides (once public transport is encouraged again).
  5. The trail passes through or close to many villages and towns, so there is a wide variety of options for accommodation and refreshments.
  6. The route is designed to be suitable for people with a good level of fitness and experience of off-road riding (as you’ll know, there are some steep hills!), but doesn’t require technical mountain biking skills.