King Alfred's Way | Bikepacking Around Historic Wessex - Outdoors Magic

Outdoors Gear, Equipment, News, Reviews, Forums, Walking Routes and More at



King Alfred’s Way | Bikepacking Around Historic Wessex

We sampled Cycling UK's new route circling historic Wessex, the pre-Norman kingdom of Alfred the Great – and what a ride it was...

After an open-skied stint across military firing ranges, up lung-busting hills and beneath precariously fallen trees, I looked at my muddy legs, my battered bike, then across to my friend’s tired eyes and thought to myself: how in the hell did we just manage that? In the same breath, I laughed quite contentedly and took a big swig from my Guinness, thinking of what tomorrow’s trails would bring.  

It’s weird how that mindset works. You’re both excited and drained, and yet determined to crack on with the road ahead. It’s what makes bikepacking and off-road adventuring so rewarding, and I’m sure it’s a feeling many Alfred’s Wayers will have encountered along the route.

Puddle-dodging. Photo: Jazz Noble

Distance: 217 miles / 350 km 
Start / Finish: Winchester (or wherever you please) 
Time: 3 to 6 days 
Difficulty: Varying and testing terrain with steep climbs. Good level of fitness required
Accommodation: Plenty of campsites and B&Bs to choose from
More info:

Spanning 350km of the heartlands of historic Wessex, The King Alfred’s Way (KAW) is an epic off-road cycling route around the pre-Norman kingdom of Alfred the Great. Launched by the charity Cycling UK, I got the chance to test out some of the route this August, exactly one year since the trail’s conception in 2020. 

The route starts and finishes at the statue of King Alfred in Winchester and crosses paths with the North Downs Way, the South Down Way, the Thames Path, the Pilgrims’ Way and the Ridgeway. As you can imagine then, the terrain is incredibly varied. Just when you think you’ve gotten used to the chalky climbs and rolling hills, you’ll turn a corner and find narrow singletracks with disguised lumps and bumps, hidden (and sometimes overgrown) bridleways, ancient paths and towering woods overlooking farmlands for miles.  

Related: Best Walks Near London

Gravel, MTB and touring bikes are recommended for this off-road adventure. It’s safe to say, however, that I gently expanded on this advice, opting to test the very limits of my hybrid commuter bike… 

Leaving Winchester. Photo: Jazz Noble
Getting our rhythm. Photo: Jazz Noble

(Disclaimer: I wouldn’t necessarily recommend doing this, though I was very impressed with how well my trusty Dawes performed on these rough and rocky tracks. Hats off to the Schwalbe Marathon Plus touring tyres too for keeping me puncture-free and well and truly gripped to the ground.)  

Following a circular loop, you ride through ancient transport routes and visit old battlegrounds, with historic sites including Winchester and Salisbury cathedrals, Stonehenge, Old Sarum hill fort, the Devil’s Punch Bowl, Roman roads, Saxon camps and Iron Age hill forts, and much, much more.  

Here’s a breakdown of my two-wheeled adventure, the kit I used, the scenes I saw and the lessons I learnt along the way.


Bikepacking Kit

Shared across our two bikes, here’s a brief breakdown of some of the kit my cycling partner and I brought along for the ride…


  • Chrome Industries Urban Ex Pannier 2.0  
  • Chrome Industries Doubletrack Feedbag  
  • Ortlieb Gravel Pack  
  • Ortlieb Handlebar-Pack QR  
  • Ortlieb Roller City Panniers x2 
  • Wizard Works Voila! Snack Bag x2 
Chrome Industries Doubletrack Feedbag. Photo: Jazz Noble
Chrome Industries Urban Ex Pannier 2.0. Photo: Jazz Noble

Other Equipment

  • Bike lights and bike locks
  • Bike tool kit including spare inner tubes x2
  • Miscellaneous clothes and food items (lots of flapjacks, coffee and Supernoodles)   


Day One: The Sludge

Beginning in London, we set off train-bound for Winchester in the early hours of the morning. Once we arrived, we fuelled our bodies with a trusty Gregg’s and hit the road.  

After meandering through the hilly suburbs, we were led through concealed bridleways into the expanding Hampshire countryside. These tracks were a mix of gravel, grass, paved roads that had weathered charmingly out of place, and an intense splattering of mud. 

Fallen trees along the bridleway. Photo: Jazz Noble

Though we knew the prior week’s rainfall might have altered the trails, we were hoping most of the mud would’ve dried in time. Alas, we were wrong. But we adapt; we overcome. It inevitably slowed us down but was nevertheless fun to navigate and trudge our way through.

As the route continued, the mud eased, and we made our way across quiet fields, quaint villages and old Roman roads sheltered by tree tunnels towards Salisbury. We passed Old Sarum hill fort, the river Avon and views of Stonehenge in the distance, before heading towards Tilshead to call it a day.  

We scouted the surrounding areas for an appropriate wild camping spot and rested our weary limbs for the evening. By this point, our remaining energies could only rustle up Supernoodles and cheese rolls for dinner, a slightly odd combination but one which nonetheless filled the void. Accompanied by a slightly warm beer, we quickly got tired and gave in to sleep. 

Our first night's camp. Photo: Jazz Noble

Day Two: Hills, Drills And Thrills

Having now gotten more used to the terrain and settled into the route, we awoke feeling confident and ready to make up our mileage that was lost to the mud. In the tender hours of sunrise, we packed away our tent, grilled some sausages while charging our gear on the Biolite stove, and set off towards the Salisbury Plain Military Training Area. 

Biolite Campstove 2+. Photo: Jazz Noble

To be honest, it was quite weird cycling over this landscape. The prospect of hearing gunfire or bumping into a tank kept entering my mind, though the fields themselves were actually wonderfully peaceful. It’s worth noting that if a red flag is flying on any of the fields, you do not cross. It means a Ministry of Defence exercise is in progress and there’s a real and immediate danger in passing through. 

Thankfully, our cycle remained peaceful and relaxing, with spectacular views across undulating hills and small towns obscured by fields of cows grazing in the sun. 

After making a slightly precarious descent out of the training area, including a minor nosedive into a bush – see picture attached – and some scattered carrion, we headed up towards the North Wessex Downs into the heart of Wiltshire.  

Watch out for hidden ruts…Photo: Jazz Noble

One of the most challenging ascents of this section was definitely Tan Hill. Situated near Allington, Tan Hill’s summit is 965 ft high, and you can really feel it on the way up. The terrain is a nice traffic-free tarmac road though, and the views are absolutely worth the challenge. From the summit you can see across Wiltshire for miles, with the sound of bleating sheep as a fitting backdrop.  

The road then turns to gravel as you make an awesome descent towards Beckhampton. At this point, however, we realised some screws had disappeared from my friend’s pannier rack making it shake and rattle with each pedal stroke. 

Looking down the Tan Hill road. Photo: Jazz Noble
Views on the way up. Photo: Jazz Noble

We swiftly decided to make a detour to The Marlborough Bike Company to fix the pannier (thanks guys) and then on to the Wellington Arms for a pint. We might have gotten slightly carried away here and so decided to relax and camp at the Posten Hill campsite in the ancient Savernake Forest for the night – a place I definitely recommend visiting. 

Grilling burgers and vegetables on the stove was a much-needed variation on the Supernoodle special, made all the easier by the handy Biolite FlexLight attachment for cooking in the dark. With full bellies, and slightly aching bums, we got some rest for the mighty Ridgeway that lay ahead.  

A late night dinner in the dark. Photo: Jazz Noble

Day Three: The Ridgeway

The Ridgeway, otherwise known as Britain’s oldest road, was my favourite section of the KAW trails we tested. It begins near Avebury and covers 87 miles if you go from end to end. Our route covered roughly 30 miles or so, however, and was really quite spectacular.  

Related: Guide To The National Trails Of England And Wales

After a steep climb up White Horse Hill near Uffington, the route is predominantly single tracked grassy paths with a few chalky and rubbly sections thrown in the mix. It’s clearly waymarked and very isolated, with panoramic views for miles. The sun really came out on this day too and illuminated the surrounding fields for the entire ride.  

The Ridgeway. Photo: Jazz Noble

Leaving the Ridgeway for Pangbourne involved some immense descents giving you a hell of a lot of speed. We flew along these tracks and eventually reached the Goring Thames Path which takes you along a forest trail next to the river.  

This section would have been a dream for a mountain biker – there were twists and turns in amongst the trees, and chain-busting inclines mixed with hair-raising declines all throughout. 

A dirt path through the forest. Photo: Jazz Noble

Once we made it off the path, we travelled down to Pangbourne to our last camping spot – Meadow Farm campsite. After setting up camp and regaining the will to move, we indulged in a pub dinner, a walk along the Thames and a slight collapse into our tent. A day well cycled it would seem. 

Day Four: Homeward

As much as we wanted to finish the whole loop, sadly life persists beyond the trail, and we had to think about getting home. We had a slow campsite breakfast, hacked off a bit of the mud from our bikes, and rejoined the King Alfred’s Way route.  

From Pangbourne, we sauntered our way along more of the Thames Path and through Mapledurham, before heading into the hustle and bustle of central Reading via the canal path.  

Photo: Jazz Noble

London-bound, we talked about when we’d next get the chance to finish the route, and which kit items we’d use next time. Each trail, after all, is unique, and practice makes perfect. 

On the whole, being able to cycle through ancient lands and rediscovered bridleways with nothing but our legs as engines was an awesome experience. Though the Ridgeway was my favourite, each and every section provided stunning scenery and the chance to try something new each day.

Being able to cycle through Hampshire, Wiltshire and Berkshire in just a few days is no average weekend either. From the never-ending countryside views to the terrain changes around each corner; I can’t wait to see what the final Surrey section has in store. Until next time King Alfred.  


You May Also Like:

John Muir Way | Cycling Coast To Coast Across Scotland

Best Bikepacking Bags

Lael Wilcox Interview | Cycle Touring, Gravel Riding, Bikepacking & Beyond


Newsletter Terms & Conditions

Please enter your email so we can keep you updated with news, features and the latest offers. If you are not interested you can unsubscribe at any time. We will never sell your data and you'll only get messages from us and our partners whose products and services we think you'll enjoy.

Read our full Privacy Policy as well as Terms & Conditions.