Sunday, 17 Jan 2021

Hampshire. Bicycle Travel Basics

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“Best 100-Mile Bike Routes”

Chris Sidwells

Maps of New Hampshire

Winchester in Hampshire used to be the capital of England, and it shows. The city was already the capital of Wessex, but it grew in importance after the Norman Conquest of 1066 when several smaller kingdoms were united into one England. It’s still a very fine place, Winchester’s cathedral is one of the largest in Europe, and inside the castle’s great hall there is what was once thought to have been King Arthur’s round table. Unfortunately it’s not old enough, having probably been made around 1290 in the time of Edward I, but it’s still impressive. This route starts in Winchester and it visits two of Hampshire’s beautiful chalk rivers, the Test and the Itchen. Winchester is located on the latter. It also visits the hill country around Highclere, touches the western edges of the South Downs and goes through the Meon valley.

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Hampshire’s rivers are very special, and it doesn’t share the Test or the Itchen with any other county. Both are world-renowned trout rivers, and are like the ideal river of your dreams, a sort of perfect combination of rivery things. You join the Test just upstream of Stockbridge, a town with a long tradition of fishing, then follow it past a series of splits and sluices, before taking the tributary valley of the Bourne Rivulet to start this ride’s killer climb. Don’t be fooled by a summit after the first mile. The road descends sharply into a dry valley, but then climbs again to the real summit at Three Legs House. Highclere Castle, used as the setting for Downton Abbey, is below you in the next valley. The Tatler magazine recently christened this area Downtonia.

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Cycle by bike of Hampshire

A long downhill section takes you back to the River Test in Whitchurch, then you ride a loop around its source, centred on Overton. You can just see the pond that the river flows out of in a field on your right, 200 metres after the Ashe junction. Soon the route goes south, over Popham Beacons, for no other reason than that it’s pretty that way, before it passes beneath Hampshire’s spaghetti junction, where the A303 joins the M3. You cross the Itchen valley at New Alresford, which lays claim to being the watercress capital of the world. Watercress grows naturally in the Itchen, but commercial production is now done on farms, using large pools. The town has a Watercress Festival every May, and the approach through Old Arlesford past the ponds and the River Arle is a babble of brooks, placid water and lush green meadows.

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Continuing south, you climb to the source of the Itchen just after Cheriton. You ride through Kilmeston to the top of the hill, then descend to Twyford and ride back into Winchester. The city wears its history well. The road you are riding on is a Roman one. On a hill to your left as you enter is Oliver’s Battery, the site of an Iron Age earthwork that Oliver Cromwell used when laying siege to Winchester during the Civil War. There’s another hill fort on your left, and as you approach the city centre you can see the original grid layout of Winchester, a city where history lives.

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Go west from the town centre on the B3040, take the first right after the hospital, cross the B3041 and follow this road west, almost to King’s Somborne. Turn right just before the village, then turn left in Little Somborne, then left onto the B3049 to Stockbridge. There, you turn right onto the A3057, go north through Leckford and turn right onto the B3420. Where this road turns sharp right continue straight on the B3048. Follow this road to Hurstbourne Tarrant. Turn right onto the A343 and turn right at the top of the hill. Turn left at the second crossroads then right at the bottom of the next hill and left at Egbury Castle Farm. Keep left to Whitchurch, where you turn left onto the B3400 to Overton. Turn left onto the B3051 and take the first right after Frost Hill Farm. Turn right under the railway bridge just before Oakley and follow the B3400 back to Overton.

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Bike touring of Hampshire

Turn left at the second crossroads in Overton and left just before the A303; then take the first left and go right and right again to North Waltham. Continue straight through North Waltham, cross the A30 and go under the M3 to Axford. Turn right onto the B3046 and follow this road through New Alresford to New Cheriton. Go straight over the A272, through Kilmeston up the hill and turn right at the top. Keep right, and turn right again after St Clair’s Farm. Follow this road to Morestead, where you turn left to go through Twyford and take the B3335 back into Winchester.

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Start and Finish. Hampshire: Winchester.

Getting There. Hampshire  Winchester is at Junctions 9 and 10 of the M3. It has a direct rail link with London.

Bike Shop. Hampshire: Hargroves Cycles on City Road.

Cafe. Hampshire: The Corner House in the Market Place.

Local Delicacy. Hampshire: Watercress.

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