Cycling from London to Avebury or Stonehenge
What is it like to cycle from central to London to the ancient stone circles of Avebury or Stonehenge in two days? In this blog we look at this beautiful route of 199 or 229 kilometers (123 or 141 miles) and give you a good idea of what you may encounter along the way.
London Bridge station, just a stone’s throw from the Tower Bridge, is a dynamic location to start a cycling adventure. On London’s South Bank popular attractions such as the traditional ship Golden Hinde, Shakespeare’s Globe theatre and the Tate Modern museum attract large crowds of visitors. It is slow going in the narrow streets, but once you cross Blackfriars Bridge you can bring up the pace on the recently opened Cycling Super Highway 3, directly along the River Thames.
From the Big Ben and Parliament Square you will cycle via The Mall towards Buckingham Palace. For those who are good with their timings; if you arrive by 11 am you have a high chance of observing the change of the guard (Mon-Wed-Fri-Sun, daily June-July). From here you will cycle the full length of Central London’s sway of green, from Green Park via Hyde Park to the Kensington Gardens. The journey continues via quiet back streets in chic South Kensington towards Putney Bridge. This is where you will leave the city behind you. Via the London Wetland Centre you will make your way to Richmond Park. There is a high chance you will encounter some straying deer here.
Although you are still well in urban Greater London, Kingston upon Thames retained its own character. From here, you will hardly notice London’s endless suburbs. The wide Thames estuary of the east has transformed into a tranquil stream heading west. The beautiful Thames towpath takes you via Hampton Court palace and multiple riverside pubs on the way.
This green stint of 22 miles gets only very briefly interrupted by busy Staines. From here, you will be approaching Windsor Park. Just beyond London’s orbital motorway, this is a haven of peace and quiet. Windsor Castle is visible on the horizon from a striking viewpoint. At the historic Thames river bridge the castle will be towering above you. On the other side of the river is Eton, with its famous boarding school catering for England’s upper-class youngsters. It provided the United Kingdom with a multitude of its leaders.
You may remember the rowing tournament of the 2012 London Olympic Games. It was held at Dorney Lake and cycling towards commuter town Maidenhead, you will be right next to it. Beyond Maidenhead, you will be cycling your first quiet country lanes since leaving London. At Sonning village, you will be on your last mile of Thames towpath. The busy city of Reading is a good place to stay overnight, splitting the ride of this blog into two days.
From Reading, the Avon & Kennet Canal takes central stage in the route. We follow its green towpath for about 18 miles and you should be prepared for some discomfort here. There are a few tricky barriers, forcing you to unload and load your pannier bags. The gravel surface has a variable quality and there are also a few grassy stretches, kept for historic reasons. Also, shrubs can be overhanging on the towpath in the high season, as cutting is limited to a very few times a year. You may want to consider cycling with long sleeves, covering arms and legs.
The inconveniences above are offset by the advantages of this traffic-free route. You will not need to cycle in rushing traffic on the nearby roads and you can enjoy some scenic sections of the canal which look more like an idyllic stream at times. There is always some hustle and bustle around the canal locks where canal boat folks operate the locks themselves. Of course, various pubs on the way can treat you on a perfect lunch. Beyond Newbury and its famous horse racing track you will leave the towpath near the town of Hungerford.
The route will take you into the county of Wiltshire, famous for its rolling hills and grand open vistas. Naturally this means that the climbing gets more demanding and that progress is a bit slower. Savernake Forest is a remnant of the woodlands that used to fully cover the British Isles a long time ago. At the other end of these woods, you will arrive in Marlborough. Its high street, one of the widest in England, features many buildings bearing witness to a wealthy past.
In Wiltshire you can choose from two UNESCO ancient stone circles; the world-famous Stonehenge and the lesser known Avebury. The route via Stonehenge is 18 miles longer and takes you via the Salisbury Plains. Empty country roads feature several crossing points for army tanks, as the plains are used as training ground for the British army. The route via Avebury takes you via Fyfield Down, a former glacier valley with stone debris still spreading towards the horizon.
Stonehenge is a major tourist attraction, also infamous for the A303 main road passing within spitting distance from the ancient stone circle. This road makes it difficult to access Stonehenge by bicycle. You will need all your wits about you to cross the ongoing flow of traffic and to park your bike at a gate at the other side of this road. The last quarter of a mile to the stone circle can only be covered on foot. Buy your tickets in advance, otherwise you will have to make your way to the official visitor centre 1,5 miles further to the west.
Avebury is in many respects easier to visit. This stone circle is larger, with a small village in its centre. It features a pub and the excellent Keiller Museum, with bike racks in front of the museum. From here, you can do a scenic and free circular walk. The challenge of Avebury is its approaching route; 4 miles off-road in the hills on a gravel path with stony and grassy patches. The views from this ‘Ridge Way’ are phenomenal!
The Stonehenge and Avebury routes merge at the hamlet of Alton Barnes. It is right next to Wiltshire’s highest hill, Milk Hill, featuring the Alton Barnes White Horse. The horse in the hills is a beautiful marker of the point where our London-Land’s End Cycle Route crosses our England North South Cycle Route. Another time you can read more about our continued route into the West Country.
London Bridge station is accessible by bike from both Harwich and Dover, see our previous blogs. You can also start at London Bridge renting bicycles from OnYourBike. Our additional cycle routes from Paddington, King’s Cross-St Pancras and Liverpool Street can also take you to London Bridge station. London Bridge is located on the north-south train route between Bedford and Brighton, with Luton and Gatwick airports along the way.
The described route section ends at Alton Barnes. From here you can cycle further west towards Bath and Bristol or switch onto our England North-South Cycle Route. The nearest train station is Bedwyn. In England, bicycles can be taken on the train for free, but not during peak times and depending on the capacity of the train. On some routes you need to make a reservation for bicycles.
We do not recommend the use of any bicycle trailers, cargo bikes, bike trailers, etc. This is due to various barriers on cycle paths with tight corners and narrow gaps. You may also encounter difficulties on narrow towpaths, steep slopes and when taking your equipment on the train. Note e-bikes can only be charged at booked accommodation on the way; public charging points are rare.
The route in this blog is largely signposted as ‘Route 4’, but many London highlights such as Parliament Square, Buckingham Palace and Hyde Park are not part of this route. To get to Avebury and Stonehenge, we also divert away from the signposted ‘Route 4’. In Windsor Park, the route is not signposted at all. To cycle the route comfortably, we recommend using our ‘London-Land’s End Cycle Route’ guidebook. This guidebook contains route directions, maps, cycling-focused tourist information and facility listings with campsites, youth hostels, B&Bs, hotels and bicycle repair shops along the way. Order your copy now and you will receive the guide in your mailbox within a week! GPS tracks of the route will be sent to you by email.
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