Cycling from Avebury to Portsmouth via the Isle of Wight

What is it like to cycle from Avebury to Portsmouth via the Isle of Wight in two or three days? In this blog we look at this beautiful route of 182 kilometers (112 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, the Peak District National Park and Warwick to Avebury. Multiple cycle routes pass through the village of Alton Barnes, just south of Avebury. In this article, we continue further south 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. Then you end up with the famous prehistoric stone circle of Stonehenge.

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. It is also possible to plan an overnight stay in nearby Amesbury and walk to Stonehenge from there.

You will leave all the hustle and bustle of Stonehenge behind you via a nice quiet valley route with views over the meandering River Avon. It takes you to Old Sarum, an Iron Age hill fort, abandoned in the 13th century. Around that time, its people moved to a new settlement in the underlying valley, Salisbury. At Old Sarum you can take a stroll on the old embankments. Lively Salisbury is well-known for its cathedral with the highest church spire of England. The cathedral also houses an original copy of the Magna Carta, a historical document that recorded the rights and duties of the English King in the year 1215.

South of Salisbury, the route continues via the Avon Valley to the village of Downton. Here we change course to the east, onto the higher sandy grounds of the New Forest. Sandwiched between the large cities of Southampton and Bournemouth, England’s largest forest and heath land obtained the status of National Park in 2005. Now protected from further urban developments, the area is in many ways a playground for the rich. Villages mainly consist of villas and very expensive cottages and accommodation options are scarce; it is essential to plan ahead your overnight stay. Campers have a choice between several basic campsites where facilities are limited.

The New Forest National Park is best known for its freely roaming wild ponies. You are guaranteed to meet some at some stage of your journey. Our route includes the iconic Bolderwood & Rhinefield Ornamental Drive. This tarmac road gets crowded on sunny weekends with motorists, cyclists and pedestrians alike, but is a heaven of peace and quiet most of the time. Brockenhurst is a village in the centre of the park and located on the main railway from the south coast to the north. This can be useful if you would like to make a quick connection, taking bikes on trains to other destinations. Otherwise, you will continue to cycle on beautiful gravel paths towards the Lymington Pier ferry terminal.

At Lymington Pier, you will make the crossing to the Isle of Wight, a journey of approximately half an hour. The Lymington-Yarmouth service departs at least every hour, with the last departure around 9 pm. During the crossing, you can enjoy great views over the impressive cliffs across the Solent strait. These are the famous white chalk cliffs of the Needles, the grand finale of your trip on our England North-South route.

Your will arrive on the Isle of Wight at the cosy harbour of Yarmouth. From here, a railway path takes you along the scenic Yar estuary. While cycling in this flat landscape, it is hard to believe that you will be on top of the imposing cliffs of the Needles within 6 miles. At the town of Totland, you will start to climb gradually making your way onto the dead end road to Alum Bay. A large car park at a fairground is the end of the world if you are driving, but as a cyclist you can just continue on the tarmac path leading up to that striking needle, sticking westbound into the English Channel. At the Old Battery Museum, you will take a last unexpected corner. Then, the path suddenly ends and right below you, you will see the waves crashing on the chalk cliffs’ base, a worthy finish of your ride across England!

Standing right on top of the Needles, your job is not done though. There is still a connection to make to Portsmouth, from where you can take bikes on trains to cities such as Brighton and London. There are also multiple ferries connecting to France or you may well continue on a journey along the south coast? Whatever your choice is, we still have a very enjoyable route of about 40 miles on offer, taking in the best sights of the Isle of Wight!

Heading back on the path from the Needles to the Needles Pleasure Park car park, you will have superb views of the red -colored cliffs of Alum Bay. With a chairlift you can visit its rugged beach, once again providing great views of the Needles. After some backtracking via Totland, you will arrive at the small town of Freshwater Bay, starting point of the next highlight of Wight, the Tennyson Trail.

With a total length of only 3 miles, the challenges of the Tennyson trail lay in the short steep slopes at the head and at the end of the trail. The middle part of approximately 2 miles consists of a reasonable gravel track with some grassy patches. From this high grassy down, you will have the most panoramic views that the Isle of Wight can offer you. Directly south, you will look over the lower hills with the coastal main road. Futher along, there is that line of beautiful cliffs, bending away in both directions.

From the village of Brighstone, our route gradually moves further inland. This route via quiet country lanes features the best of Wight’s rural heartland and avoids busier winding roads on the official signposted Wight cycling route. The Newport-Sandown Cycle Way is truly your last railway path experience on the England North-South route. A cosy pedellars cafe with accompanying B&B can be found midway on the path.

The coastal town of Sandown is worth a short detour, just about a mile back and forth on the railway path. Don’t miss the town’s beautiful sandy beach and seaside promenade, a perfect place to reflect further on your journey. There are several hotels directly by the sea where you could spend the night. On the other side of the water, England’s mainland is looming in the distance.

The town of Ryde is the last town to visit on Wight. From here, several pedestrian ferries depart for Portsmouth. Make your choice depending on your onward journey. If you intend to continue cycling eastbound along the south coast, take the Hovertravel ferry to Southsea, from where you can take another pedestrian ferry to Hayling Island. If you are heading for France or if you are taking bikes on the train, take the Wightlink Ferry to Portsmouth. This pedestrian service will take you directly to Portsmouth Harbour station. Those heading for France are provided with a last short from this station to the international ferry terminal. It is also possible to visit Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Tower or its Historic Dockyard, the very last tourist attractions on our route!

Practical notes:

The route from Alton Barnes near Avebury is a continuation of our route from Berwick-upon-Tweed, Newcastle, Whitby, York, the Peak District National Park and Warwick. You can also use our London-Land’s End Cycle Route to get to Alton Barnes. The nearest train station on our routes is Bedwyn. You can also join the route at Salisbury station. 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 ends in Portsmouth. From here you can choose to continue cycling along the south coast with National Cycle Route 2. Note there are gaps in the signage of this route and a good guidebook in the English language is not available. From Portsmouth you can also cross the English Channel with Brittany Ferries to Caen, St Malo, Cherbourg and Le Havre in France. From Portsmouth Harbour you can take bikes on trains to destinations such as London and Brighton. When travelling to Dover, you will need to change trains in Brighton.

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 Tennyson Trail 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 first part of the route in this blog is signposted as ‘Route 45’ and ‘Route 24’. From Downton, we have created our own route across the New Forest. Also on the Isle of Wight, we created our own route, utilising some sections of the signposted Wight circular. 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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