King Alfred Way Day 1 Report
On the bank holiday weekend for the Queens Jubilee celebrations in June 2022, I decided to cycle the 350km loop of the King Alfred Way.
The route was developed by Cycling UK in 2020 and aimed to take riders on an off-road gravel adventure taking in all the historic sights of the Wessex region. It connects segments of the South Downs Way, Ridgeway and Thames Path to existing bridleways, byways, and quiet country lanes.
No doubt the pandemic was a catalyst here in a way to have an adventure in the UK with no need to fly abroad, and long term they have the hope of attracting international visitors to boost UK tourism.
I opted to ride the route in 3 days starting in Winchester. As a loop it allows you to join wherever you like, which is super helpful in attracting more people and making it easier to plan.
My bike of choice for the trip was my Marin Nicasio+. I prepped for the ride by changing the stock tyres and going for instead the slightly knobbly WTB Resolute 42mm. I bought a new Planet X 9 litre Podsac Saddle bag and for all the other kit required I already had it at home. I will do a full break down of kit in a future post as that is a whole conversation in itself.
King Alfred Statue, Winchester
I was all ready to go!
I left Winchester at 0800 heading towards Amesbury direction for lunch. It didn’t take long before I was off the tarmac and onto some pretty fun descending single track – which is a nice wake up if any kit isn’t strapped down correctly. I ended up meandering through some lovely tracks interspersed with quaint English villages for the first 20kms. It was truly divine and a great introduction.
As I approached Amesbury there were some tasty climbs with a few tree roots to navigate. Obviously on the other side of these climbs it led to some exciting downhill speed. I stupidly got a little carried away on one of the downhills and thought that I was on my mountain bike and that I wasn’t carrying any kit.
What resulted when I hit a large rock with my front tyre at the end of a fast downhill was the first puncture of the trip after 30 km. This was frustrating so early on, but these things happen and I just had to get on with repairing it.
I wasn’t running tubeless for a number of reasons. Firstly, the wheels I had were not compatible, and secondly when speaking with the staff at my local bike shop they weren’t overly confident or complimentary of converting to tubeless. I did look into this before I left. I would be interested to know other peoples views, and the argument that if I had tubeless this wouldn’t have occurred is a good rationale to start with!
When I repaired the puncture I pumped up to slightly harder than what I had them at, and overall it gave me a much more confident ride without sacrificing on traction or comfort.
They were at 30 psi when I left and I would predict around 40 psi when I pumped them up after the repair. A fail be me was using a website to calculate my psi levels given my weight, tyre width and riding conditions. What I had failed to take into consideration was the weight of my luggage which in total was roughly 10 kg. When I put this into the calculator it actually had my psi at 35.
Anyway, back to the cycle. The tracks towards Amesbury got pretty narrow and overgrown in places. If you weren’t wrestling the nettles you are being tested with some gnarly short technical descents, it really is good stuff.
I had a feed and a rest at Amesbury as they have a great selection of pubs and cafes to pick from. Even though it’s only about 45km to Amesbury it’s a tough ride as there is a fair amount of up and down, and technically not the easiest. Perhaps I was tired after the puncture change – did I mention about that puncture?.......
The route from Amesbury headed to the Salisbury Plains. The tracks now are wider and the views just superb. Navigation at this point is easier as the turns are less frequent the only time I missed them was when I was distracted by the scenery or talking with fellow cyclists I had randomly met up with.
MOD Salisbury Plain Warning Signs
One thing that was slightly frustrating, but I can understand why they planned it like this, is that the route doesn’t go directly next to Stonehenge. The official route is on road that runs quite a way from it. On the lead up you can see the stones in the valley but you don’t get up close to it. I presume this was to avoid riding next to loads of walkers and cars trying to get a glimpse. It didn’t bother me too much but if I was a tourist down in the region for a one off trip and I had to back track in order to see them up close I would be annoyed. Something to think about if it is important for you.
Soon after the Salisbury Plain was one of the highlights of the day as I tracked along this epic ridge overlooking Wiltshire. A slow steady climb up and before you knew it you were rewarded with some amazing sights overlooking Devizes.
Views over Wiltshire
In the later half of the day the frequency of pubs and cafes are a lot less frequent and you do need to think and plan ahead. I had a break in All Cannings and The Kings Arms. A very friendly local pub with a good ale selection on tap. I had missed lunch so filled up on crisps and peanuts, the fuel of champions.
Leaving here there were two almighty climbs I had to deal with which late in the day and with an amber ale as fuel it really tested things. These climbs then had some sketchy downhills which thanks to the overgrown grass you couldn’t see where you tyre was being placed, but knew it was precariously balanced on the top of a very deep rut either side ready to trip you up.
My end point for the day was the village of Ogbourne St George with the hope that the pub The Inn with the Well was serving food, otherwise it was a begrudging cycle in the wrong direction to Marlborough. My prayers were answered, and the very friendly hosts really looked after me. I had a great meal with a few drinks and rested up before I cycled off to find a campsite.
Obviously, the route away from the pub was up a vertical road to join the Ridgeway which was again tough going now as I had an American sized burger and fries sitting in my stomach.
Thankfully I found a spot to wild camp very early on the Ridgeway. My bivi spot on the edge of a farmers field had a great sunset and it didn’t take long before I crashed out.
Camping on the Ridgeway
I was shattered after that first day. I’d not cycled that far in a long time. I’d not cycled with that much kit in a long time. I’d never cycled that long on gravel before. And I’d not cycled in anything that hot since last summer. So overall I was shattered!
An absolutely amazing, hard, technical day with epic views. Final stat counts had me at 122km riding for 1575m elevation.
Keep an eye for part 2 where we pick up from here as we head towards Farnham.