Cycling from Warwick to Avebury via Oxford

What is it like to cycle from Warwick to Avebury via Oxford in two or three days? In this blog we look at this beautiful route of 216 kilometers (133 miles) and give you a good idea of what you can encounter along the way.

Previously we wrote about our route from Berwick-upon-Tweed, Newcastle, Whitby, York and the Peak District National Park. Warwick, not far from Birmingham, is well-known for its impressive Warwick Castle. Just a few miles out of town south, you will cycle via Charlecote Park, a 16th-century estate with a deer park. A little further, you will cycle via a historic traffic-free bridge into scenic Stratford-upon-Avon.

Stratford-upon-Avon is the birthplace of William Shakespeare and the town has spared no effort to remind us of that fact. Timbered houses of the Tudor era line the streets, including the birthplace of William Shakespeare himself. There is also ‘Tudor World’ where you can explore multiple historical houses from the inside. At the riverside, the landmark Royal Shakespeare Theatre brings a further homage to the great writer. If you plan your trip well, you could cycle into town and attend an evening show, followed by an overnight stay!

In that case you will cycle the Stratford-upon-Avon Greenway in the morning. This route south on a dismantled railway takes you across a flat landscape towards the Cotswolds Hills, clearly visible on the horizon. It is here were the railway path ends, catapulting you onto pleasant rural country lanes, with some modest climbs to take in. In the hills, you will find two pleasant gardens right opposite each other. On one side of the road, Kiftsgate Gardens features rare plants whilst Hidcot Manor on the other side of the road features a series of gardens arranged as outdoor living rooms, each with its own character. Also visible from the road are the hills of Wales, far on the horizon across the Severn Valley.

The small town of Moreton-in-Marsh is extremely busy for its size. It is not only acting as a magnet for visitors touring the Cotswolds, it is also the essential shopping town for those living in the vicinity. A long, wide high street with plenty of shops caters for both. Cyclists are advised to stock up on food and drinks here, as towards Oxford there will be limited choices, with the road ahead being long and empty.

Out of Moreton-in-Marsh, the cycling is initially easy on some flats, but the hills will resume and with it a remote feel. The foundations of the North Leigh Roman Villa lay deserted in the hills, adding to that sense you are out there on your own. In Long Hanborough you will have the feel that you are returning to civilisation. It is here where you will have to make up your mind regarding a possible visit to UNESCO World Heritage Blenheim Palace.

This country estate was built between 1705 and 1722 to commemorate the English victory in an Anglo-French war. Blenheim Palace’s architecture is Baroque and it is particularly striking because of its size. It gained further fame as the birthplace of Winston Churchill. To pay a full visit, you should plan a day, with possibly two nights of sleep in a hotel in Woodstock, where the main entrance is. Note this is quite a detour if you are a cyclist on our North-South route. Also, the entry fee of over 30 pounds per person is pretty hefty.

However, if you are just passing by and if you just want to get a glimpse of the building and the beautiful grounds, it is good to know you can also visit the Blenheim Estate via a public right of way, accessible from Long Hanborough. Note that this access is via a heavy metal swing gate, only allowing pedestrians through. You would have to park up your bike with all your panniers in a hedge on a nearby country lane. You will need up to two hours to make a return walk with a glimpse of the palace as shown in the picture.

Beyond Blenheim, it is not far now to Oxford. You will arrive in this famous city via a canal towpath. Our route takes you via stunning buildings such as the Racliffe Camera, the Bridge of Sighs and the Christ Church Cathedral. The presence of one of the most famous universities of the world has also generated a remarkably large number of museums over the years. The Ashmolean, the History of Science Museum and Natural History Museum are all free of charge. There are also tours in the Bodleian Library, where a copy of every book published in England is kept, including our own England North-South Cycle Route book!

Naturally, Oxford is the logical place to divide this route into two (or three) stages. You will leave the city via a pretty tow path along the Thames, taking you to scenic Abingdon. From here, you continue your journey south towards Didcot, with a total change of scene. You will cycle around a large industrial estate, heading for Didcot’s station. Didcot grew due to its presence on the Bristol to London railway, with a large railway yard where stream trains were built. This is now the Didcot Railway Centre, with plenty to enjoy for steam railway buffs. If you want to change onto our London Cycle Route, we advise you to take your bikes on the train from Didcot to Reading.

For those wishing to continue cycling towards the south coast, a difficult route is now presenting itself. On your way to the historic market town of Wantage, the hills of the North Wessex Downs are clearly closing in. From Letbourne Regis, you will start the climb onto these hills, joining the Ridgeway. The Ridgeway is a famous ancient high land travel corridor, free from flooding and with stunning views over the surrounding plains. Most famous on this route is Uffington Horse, the largest and oldest chalk carving of a horse in England, dating from the Bronze Age.

These joys come at a price. The reality is that the Ridgeway is hard-going, with grass and gravel over a length of 29 km (18 miles). It all varies in quality, including some sections with rough gravel, scree or mud, all mixed in with some short steep slopes. Plan four hours to battle with it all, walking your bicycle on multiple stretches. This will also be needed with E-bikes, otherwise you may damage your bicycle; go slow! If you are not up for the challenge, we recommend you taking your bikes on the train at Didcot, heading for Salisbury, from where you can continue our route to the south coast. An easy-going alternative for the Ridgeway is sadly not available.

Those who persist will get through in the end; the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage ancient stone circle of Avebury will be your reward. Your difficult journey to get here will make you appreciating this special place even more. Avebury is in fact a small village surrounded by stones. It features a pub and the excellent Keiller Museum. From here, you can do an easy scenic and free circular walk. Back on tarmac, you will cycle down Wiltshire’s highest hill, Milk Hill. At the end of this smooth descent, the Alton Barnes White Horse is a beautiful marker of the point where our England North South Cycle Route crosses our London-Land’s End Cycle Route. Another time you can read more about our continued route to the Isle of Wight on the south coast.

Practical notes:

The route from Warwick is a continuation of our route from Berwick-upon-Tweed, Newcastle, Whitby, York and the Peak District National Park. You can also switch from the train to our route in Warwick. 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.

The described route section ends at Alton Barnes. From here you can cycle to the Isle of Wight on the south coast or switch onto our London-Land’s End Cycle Route. The nearest train station is Bedwyn. If you wish to continue on our route across London, avoid the hard-going Ridgeway, we recommend taking bikes on the train between Didcot and Reading. If you are heading for the south coast and want to avoid the Ridgeway, change in Reading for Salisbury.

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. The Ridgeway route is particularly challenging given its rough terrain, even for regular bikes. Note e-bikes can only be charged at booked accommodation on the way; public charging points are rare.

The route in this blog is partly signposted as ‘Route 5’, ‘Route 442’, ‘Route 544’, and ‘Route 45’. Considerable parts of the Cotswolds and Ridgeway routes are not signposted. Also, for access to Blenheim Palace and the highlights of Oxford, we created our own routes. To cycle the route comfortably, we recommend using our ‘England North-South 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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