From the white cliffs of Dover, through chic Brighton, past the hills and forests of South Downs NP, the sunny Isle of Wight, the beautiful New Forest NP and the Henge of Avebury to Swindon.
We put together our route by looking at the routes of European cyclists: Cycling around the English Channel and England from North to South and the routes of Sustrans, England’s network of cycle paths. Here we looked at the coastal route, nr 2 and a little more northerly route nr 45.
We did not follow these routes blindly, but adapted them to the campsites we had in mind before departure.
I took over the routes in Komoot and so we could easily drive the distance per day. The routes are mainly on asphalt, but there are also large parts that go on single tracks or gravel paths through the woods or meadows. You are then relieved of the busy traffic, but sometimes these paths are not suitable for a heavily loaded holiday bike. More about that later.
The asphalt of the provincial roads is fine, the quieter roads are of lesser quality, with large holes in them. Many parts are also quite steep. The hills in England and the roads that run through them are not sloping, but have a high percentage of gradient. On the other hand, large parts of the route also go along beautiful beach boulevards where it is wonderful to cycle!
Our plan was to go from Dover, via London, by train to Swindon and start the route there. A week before departure it turned out that a train strike was planned, so we changed things around and decided to go cycling first and travel back by train on the last day. Fortunately, we were still able to rebook our reservations.
You can reserve bicycle places for a number of trains, but there are also routes where this is not possible. Then you depend on the amount of space at that moment. We had to let a train go because there was no more room. It is useful to plan your trip well in advance.
Train tickets are getting more and more expensive as the date gets closer. Try to book on time! In the unlikely event that your plans cannot go ahead, for example due to a strike, most train companies are flexible in reimbursing your costs.
We adjusted our route twice and went by train from Eastbourne to Lewes and from Brockenhurst to Salisbury to skip a small part of the route.
In Bristol you drive halfway through the city on an industrial peninsula, which lies off the coast (at Western Lawns). This is an uninteresting part where the Sustrans route and the Channel route lead you. It is better to choose to keep driving along the boulevard.
On the Isle of Wight we really liked the quiet roads, these are less busy roads. We also chose to follow bridle ways. These are very narrow paths through the forest or through meadows, also suitable for horses. But this time it was a very muddy route, where you had to go through many gates. It was a beautiful dry day, but we sank deep into the mud and had to walk large distances. Maybe nice with an MTB bike without luggage, but not for us.
From day to day…
We leave on Saturday morning, in about 2 ½ hours we drive to Dunkirk. There is a small parking lot at the DFDS terminal. Your car can stay here, officially for a week, but our car was there for about ten days.
We cycle smoothly past customs and check in. You have to report an hour in advance, so then you wait quietly until you can board. Usually the cyclists are the first to board. There are few facilities on the boat to ‘park’ your bicycle, especially when it is busy, but with ropes or lashing straps your bicycle is fine. We enjoy the sun outside. After about two hours, the white cliffs of Dover come into view and the tour can begin! Dover – Fallow Fields campsite about 31 km
Directly in Dover and the part to Folkestone you will encounter a number of tough climbs. You drive on quiet roads or separately constructed cycle paths, so that’s nice. We take a break at the top of the cliffs, with a wonderful view!
At the end of the afternoon we arrive at Fallow Fields Campsite, a campsite slightly inland between the meadows. There are several fields, little direct shelter. Excellent sanitary facilities. When we arrive, the owner asks if we still feel like pizza and a little later we are enjoying ourselves!
Fortunately the wind has died down a bit. The nights are cold, about 5.6 degrees. During the day it is pleasant and the temperature rises to about 15 to 18 degrees. There is a cold north east wind, which we have against along the coast in some parts.
Fallow Fields campsite – Pett Level, Fresh Winds Campsite approx 64 km
Today a mostly flat ride, mostly along the coast. In many places, boulevards or storm barriers have been built where you can cycle. We cycle to Dungeness, a separate area with many houses in the middle of nowhere and where the old lighthouse of Dungeness is located. In the background an ugly power plant.
We take a break at the stone beach and see several porpoises in the sea!
The ride continues along narrow cycle paths to Rye, a surprisingly pretty and fun town. Beautiful old center with cobbled streets and beautiful houses.
Then we adjust the route. Tired of the busy traffic, we choose a path through the Rye Harbor Nature Reserve, accompanied by thousands of sheep and a beautiful old castle: Cambercastle from 1544. Well worth the detour!
With a headwind we drive the last part along the coast and then inland to drive through beautiful forests to Fresh Winds Campsite. This turns out to be a unique place! The campsite owner happens to have just come from the campsite, he lives further down the road on his farm. We turn out to be the only guests on a large site and we can decide where we stand. There is a sober sanitary building with dry toilets, but with a wonderful hot shower. There is a roof where you can cook and eat. At many places you will find a swing in the tree. On the grounds we find a fairytale route for children, a beautiful pond, lots of flowers and curious cows ….. in short, it is a paradise!
Pett Level – Telscombe Stud Farm about 45 km
Cycling is a bit more difficult today. The first part to Hastings is going well. We are again surprised by the beautiful houses and streets in this town. At the harbor there are ‘Netshops’, sheds where fishing equipment used to be stored. They have been nicely restored. We cycle a large part along the coast, via beautiful boulevards and along beautiful cliffs.
In Eastbourne the energy has run out a bit and we decide to shorten the route by taking the train to Lewes. This is going well. In Lewes itself we look for a supermarket and then drive to the campsite via an adapted route. Often along a busy provincial road. There is a small part, via a newly constructed cycle path, that is fun! The last stretch to Telscombe is tough, steep hills!
The Stud Farm is a gigantic farm, where a back field on the hill has been turned into a campsite. There is a small but clean toilet block with two showers. A school camp has just arrived and we stand in the far corner so that we are not bothered by the busy teenagers. There is a cold north wind, we take shelter behind a water tank.
We take another walk and see hundreds of rabbits. In the air, the skylark screams for attention. We go to sleep with a crystal clear sky, it is very cold.
Telscombe – Graffham about 77 km
I get out of bed wrinkled. It was really cold tonight. We leave early and drive to Telscombe cliffs. At the end of the path (which goes through meadows) we see up close a fox with a prey, a rabbit, in its mouth. Beautiful face!
We cycle along the boulevards, underneath the white cliffs. A lovely cycle path towards Brighton. Brighton itself surprises us. I thought it was a bit impoverished, but it is a chic city with beautiful streets and buildings, exudes quite a bit of grandeur. The pier has also been refurbished and looks beautiful.
After the industrial part on the peninsula, which we could easily have skipped, we dive inland. This cycle path is called the Downslink Way, along the River Adur. At first it is a great path with beautiful views over the river landscape. At Bramber we expect to cycle past the castle, but we are guided around it with a curve. Shame. We decide to continue cycling and to combine this route with other back roads (and thus pick up our own route later) but this party is cancelled. Firstly, the Downslink Way becomes a worse path and a little later we meet a woman who says that we cannot continue on this route at all. So we have to go back. Too bad, because this costs us time and energy!
Once back on the route we try to increase the pace. Just before the campsite we decide to take a bridle way. A fun and exciting ride through the forest via a narrow path. Not really bikeable, but we see a deer and that also makes it very nice.
Graffham campsite is a Caravan Club campsite. Most are members-only and don’t have spaces for tents, thankfully this one does. It is a beautiful campsite in the woods, with nice spacious pitches. The sanitary building is super and I really need a nice shower! We eat late and then roll into bed.
Graffham – Fleet Farm, Hayling Island, about 58 km
Early in the morning we encounter a polo match. The sleek horses, the busy caretakers, the spectators watching the game from their trunks… fascinating to watch. We cycle on and have lunch at a beautiful church. We enjoy the nice weather. There is less wind and the temperature is rising.
At Hayling Island we can cycle along the coast via a cycle path. We see a fox here! How nice!
Finding a suitable campsite was difficult here, we end up at Fleet Farm. This is a terrible campsite, full of dilapidated caravans, which still have people in them. The owner is unfriendly and the toilet block has had its day. Fortunately we don’t have to pay the top price, but it’s just not a pleasant place. We decide to cycle back to the coast to eat there and enjoy the sunset.
Hayling Island – Grange Farm, Brightstone, 56km
The next morning we have a quick breakfast and then leave for the ferry to Portsmouth. This cute ferry boat takes us to the other side in four minutes. One of the other passengers asks where we are going. Ah, Isle of Wight, you’re going to suffer! We have noticed before that people say that it is a beautiful island but very hilly! We are curious!
The drive along the outer edges of Portsmouth is beautiful (good cycle path) and we arrive at the ferry on time. But this turns out not to be the right starting point …. there are several ferries to the Isle of Wight. We want the boat to Ryde. After some irritation and heated minutes on the bike, we arrive in time at the other office of Wightlink. The hovercraft boat is expensive, but we’re on time. When we arrive in Ryde we immediately notice what hilly is, the streets go up steeply here! The route goes through the interior of the island to the coast. At Sandown and Shanklin there are again beautiful boulevards and cute beach houses. And there is an elevator, which can also accommodate bicycles! Ha, that saves another slope!
We continue our way via Quiet Roads, quiet back roads. Which turns out to be more and more beautiful. And we think the hilly (after the Southdowns) is not too bad. A friendly walker points us to Appuldurcombe House. A baroque house from the 18th century that looks beautiful from a distance, but it appears to have been completely destroyed by bombing during the Second World War. And it has not been restored. Very special to see.
The route continues via the busy road and we are happy when we can enter another bridle way, but this turns out to be unsuccessful. Way too narrow, too muddy and impossible to handle with our heavy bikes. We even have to take off the bags otherwise we won’t get ahead in the mud! And there are many nettles and annoying fences that we have to pass. Finally we are past it and we are back on the normal road. We then drive to Brightstone via the military road.
Tired we arrive at camping Grange Farm. We are very warmly welcomed there. How nice! We are allowed to rinse our bikes and that is much needed. We are in a nice place with a view of the sea! It is a wonderfully friendly campsite, with many animals. To end the day we go for a bite to eat in the pub.
Brighstone – Long Meadow Campsite, Brockenhurst approx 59km
We stand up in good spirits. Today we first cycle to the westernmost point of the island. Here the Needles stick out of the water and we would like to see them. But the route to it goes through some tough hills! Fortunately, the descent is also worth it.
When we arrive at the very tip, there appears to be an entire amusement park. Via a path we can cycle a bit further to the point. Here are still old defenses, a lighthouse and measuring equipment. So we don’t see the Needles that quickly….but eventually we succeed!
After this visit we drive to Yarmouth where we catch the ferry to Lymington in a few minutes!
During our crossing we see the bad weather hanging over the New Forest NP. Heavy rain is predicted from 2 pm to 8 pm tonight. Mmm, not nice. But we can’t complain!
In Lymington we have to go to the supermarket for groceries, but we treat ourselves to a pasty, a delicious pie wrapped in puff pastry. Then we really go on the road. We soon encounter the first donkeys, horses and cows. They are allowed to roam freely in the New Forest Park. It’s raining harder and harder. We drive for over an hour on gravel roads through the New Forest in the pouring rain. And we love the environment. By the way, it is not so much forest, but more open heathland with fens that we drive past. Many flowers. And then those stray animals. It gives a special atmosphere.
When the rain stops, it’s all fun! A nice drive through this beautiful area follows. At the end of the afternoon we arrive at Long Meadows campsite. A huge field, which is quite busy. We are put next to the toilet block by the owners. These are the backpacker places. Someone walks with us… who then asks if we can take our bags off our bikes, because there have recently been thefts in the vicinity of bicycles… Huh? If we indicate that our tent is really too small for all the bags, she will ask the reception whether they can stand there. But that turns out not to be possible, because then they are responsible. All a bit strange. We find it especially annoying that she talks about it like that, because we don’t really intend to take our bags off. In the meantime, we also regret that we are standing next to the toilet block and not further up the field in the sun!
Anyway, we decide not to be difficult and after dinner we drink a cup of tea in the setting sun with a view of a field full of deer!
Salisbury – Little Owls campsite, All Cannings, approx 56 km
Our original route was from Brockenhurst to Amesbury and then to Stonehenge campsite. About 70 km. We decide to do part of this by train, because we are quite tired. The last stage from Stonehenge to Swindon, also about 70 km, is particularly tough and we can also shorten it by spending the night a little further on the route today.
No sooner said than done. But at the station the train to Salisbury turns out to be extremely busy. We can’t go. We take a train later, which fortunately offers enough space for the bicycles.
In Salisbury we first cycle around the city, including past the beautiful cathedral. After that we always drive near the Avon river, through small villages to the north. According to Komoot, this route should be mostly flat… well, we encounter quite a few hills. We pass Stone Henge in the distance and see the crowds. The imposing stone circle looks nice, but you are not allowed to go there. You can only walk around it in a big circle. We cycle on via a nice path, with many sheep.
We pass the largest military zone in England. You just cycle through here, while there are signs such as ‘watch out, crossing tanks’ or ‘there may be unexploded bombs here, don’t touch them’. Ok thanks, nice to know!
We want to spend the night at The Barge Inn, a pub with a small campsite. But when we get here the field appears to be overcrowded. There is a kind of festival atmosphere. Pretty cosy, but I also like to sleep peacefully. We decide to continue cycling. A few miles away is Church Farm, a caravan club site. Despite the field being almost empty, the owner says it is full. Shame. We cycle on to Little Owls Campsite. Here we are warmly welcomed. It’s two fields, it’s not much. The toilet block is still a work in progress and there are no showers, but we are nice and quiet there.
All Cannings–B&B, Swindon, 25 miles
Our last day starts with a pleasant ride along the canal. Then we drive through the windswept hills of Wiltshire. With a view of the ‘horses’ that were installed here in the hills in the 19th century.
Just before Avebury we see West Kenneth Long Barrow, a huge row of upright stones, 5600 years old. It has been used as a cemetery. A few miles away is the Henge of Avebury. The largest in the world, they are three circles, 335 meters in diameter. Scientists don’t know how old it is, probably 4600 years old. The village is right in the middle! The stones here are 2 ½ to 5 ½ meters high. A Henge is a kind of ditch with a bank along which the stones stand. It was probably used for rituals or ceremonies. It is wonderful to wander around here, among the sheep.
We take a break at the Red Lion Pub, where we treat ourselves to Brownie and Fudge… Yummie!
After Avebury we pick up the route. We drive via the Ridgeway, one of the oldest routes in England. It is a gravel road and sometimes single track that is popular with mountain bikers. They are nice trails but the cycling is tough. For a moment I don’t pay attention and I’m lying on the floor! Luckily I didn’t really hurt myself.
We drive to Swindon, which turns out not to be such a pleasant town. Many companies, but also bad neighborhoods. We collect the train tickets and drive to our B & B. We are kindly welcomed by Sarah. After a nice shower we get takeaway.
Swindon – London Paddington, London Paddington – London st. Pancras, London St. Pancras – Dover, about 14 km
Today is a travel day. We cycle to the station early and catch the reserved train to London Paddington. All luggage must be removed and we place our bicycles upright in the bicycle compartment. After an hour we get off at London Paddington.
We like cycling in a big city like London, but we overestimate ourselves a bit. We can go directly to St. Pancras, but also via the highlights such as Buckingham Palace. We think that’s funny. So we do, but the traffic is really heavy here and there aren’t really many good bike paths. So we take a detour past the palace to be sent all the way via the Thames. We are running out of time and we ‘have to’ catch that train.
So sweating through the streets of London! In the end, the St. Pancras station turns out not to be easy to find either. There are two (international and national) but we’re just in time! We throw our bicycles on the train, because there is no separate bicycle section. Fortunately, the conductor thinks it’s okay.
In Dover we cycle from the station to the DFDS terminal. A maze of roads and ambiguities, but in the end we get to the right boat! After a good crossing we arrive at about five o’clock and after we have attached the bicycles to the carrier, we drive home.
We can look back on a wonderful week. We were very lucky with the weather, saw beautiful regions and cycled wonderfully!