Cycling from Guildford

Cycling routes throughout the South East, accessible from Guildford in a day


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Route 10B: South Downs Way: Petersfield to Amberley Station.

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Summary This route covers the South Downs Way from the car park above Buriton to Amberley Station. Trains are used to avoid the need to retrace one's steps, ie train to Petersfield from Guildford, and returning from Amberley Station via Redhill. This seems to me one of the remoter parts of the Way, with no villages or inns directly on the path until Amberley Station, so carry some food and drink. Panoramic views alternate with stretches in woodland plantations.
Distance/time: 25 miles; whole day (including train travel)
3323 feet of ascent, 3509 feet of descent.
Start: Petersfield Railway Station
Finish: Amberley Station
Note that this is actually at Houghton Bridge, some way from the village of Amberley itself. (NB You could also cycle back to Petersfield on the lanes under the north side of the South Downs, but this would make for quite a tiring day in my book!)

Transport: Get the train from Guildford to Petersfield. Typically there are two trains per hour, and journey time about 30 minutes. Avoid rush hour for cheaper fares.

Return to Guildford from Amberley, changing at Redhill, 1 train per hour, journey time about 2 hours.

Check train websites for bike carriage constraints: since you are going against the flow of commuters, there should be no problems. The trains usually have one or two carriages with dedicated bike spaces: look for the bike logo.
Conditions under the tyre: The route uses roads to reach the SDW above Buriton; this involves a short but steep climb from the village.

The Way itself is mainly a well defined but rough series of tracks, with a surface of loose stones, with many ups and downs. Great care is needed especially on down hill sections: don't be ashamed to get off and push. I have only done the route in summer and have found that it is then not too muddy: I suspect in winter that would not be the case. A mountain bike with a good range of gears is pretty well essential. All that said, once you're in the groove, it is possible to bowl along at a fair pace.

The Trail is shared with walkers and horse riders. Don't creep up quietly on a horse from behind. Give a friendly shout or ring your bell so the horse and rider know you're coming.
Reverse route: The prevailing direction for the wind and weather is from the West, so the route is best done west to east. If there is a strong easterly wind, there is merit in reversing the route, although Amberley is quite a bit lower than Petersfield so there would be 200 feet net extra climbing to do.
Route variations:
You could shorten the ride along the SDW and turn it into a circular by dropping down from one of the several roads crossing the Downs, ie B2146 to South Harting, A286 to Cocking, A285 to Duncton, minor road to Bignor, then returning to Petersfield by the lanes beneath the South Downs.

If you've had enough of stony descents, you could avoid the last one from the A29 to Amberley Station by, having reached the car park above Bignor, descending on the 'Monarch's Way' track to the the A29 roundabout, then the B2139 to Amberley Station. Or you could descend from the roundabout on the A284 via Arundel to Ford station, from where you could get the train back to Guildford, changing at Havant.
Route description: Exit Petersfield station on the SE (town centre) side and make your way via Charles Street and the Spain to the B2070 and head SW out of town. Shortly there is a large parking lay-by on the left and a lane (Petersfield Road) forks left: take this to Buriton. At the cross roads with Buriton High Street, cross over into Kiln Lane, go on steeply to the summit and turn left (east) to join the SDW.

(For an alternative to reach the SDW (see Google map), at the point where Petersfield Road branches off, stay on the shared use cycle path along the B2070: follow signing to Queen Elizabeth Park, which you will reach via the old road, now traffic free, beside the busy A3. Join the SDW just south of the visitor centre. This follows a tarmac road heading up North East through the forest, becoming a stony track. A stony descent (CARE!) takes you to the Halls Hill car park at the the Kiln Road summit, as above.)

Once on the Way, navigation is relatively straightforward. The SDW is signed by 'acorn' signs, but there are several other tracks crossing and joining, so if in doubt check your map and GPS carefully to ensure you are not heading off piste. The only major obstacle is Beacon Hill, which is very steep and not cyclable (by me, anyway). The SDW makes a 'notch' detour south, but you can push up a track rising diagonally SE at a feasible gradient to some trees, then coming back to Beacon Hill. Do not attempt to ride down the other side of Beacon Hill!

When you reach the A29, there is another quite steep, stony descent to the Arun valley. The SDW crosses the Arun to meet the B2139, which you then take back to Amberley Station.
Refreshments:There are no eateries on the Way itself. The tea room at Uppark House (NT, entrance fee) can be reached down the B2141 (about 2 miles round trip). There are doubtless pubs in the various villages nestling beneath the Downs but it would be rather tedious to lose height reaching them, so I recommend carrying a picnic.

Before you start, you can grab a bite to eat or drink in Petersfield or there are a couple of reasonable looking pubs in Buriton. At journey's end, there is a pub next to Amberley Station, and (more appealing in my opinion) a tea room just a stone's throw away next to Houghton Bridge, with a pleasant terrace beside the river.

If you take the variation past the A29 roundabout, there is a tea room here, and also eateries in abundance in Arundel.
Points of Interest The main attraction on this ride is the South Downs Way itself. The 160 kilometre long trail follows the old routes and droveways along the chalk escarpment and ridges of the South Downs. The highest points are Butser Hill, Hampshire 270m (900ft) (visited on Route 10A) and Ditchling Beacon, East Sussex 248m (814ft) on Routes 10C and 10D. In both locations the actual line of the Trail runs just below the summits at 245m and therefore both can claim to be the highest points. The high sections of this route (A) bump along at around 700feet (215m). The major 'summits' are (going west to east)

  • Beacon hill (242m)
  • Linch Down (248m)
  • Heyshot Down (233m)
  • Glatting Beacon (245m) - just off the route
  • Bignor Hill (225m)
Signs of ancient occupation are marked on the OS maps, and can be seen if you take the trouble to do a bit of exploring.These include neolithic flint pits (c6000 yrs BP), Bronze Age tumuli (c3500 yrs BP - Some of the best examples can be seen on this route at the Devil's Jumps and Heyshott Down.), Iron Age hill forts (c2500 yrs BP - Beacon hill is an excellent example) and Roman Stane Street crossing near Bignor."Cross Dykes" can be seen at Pen Hill, just east of Beacon Hill: these ditches and banks are often built right across the chalk ridge. Probably they marked territorial boundaries.

The dry valley of Bramshott Bottom between Harting Down and the Beacon Hill fort was cut by a river flowing over the frozen chalk during the Ice Age, but now that water can sink into the thawed ground the river has long since disappeared.

Bignor Hill, where the South Downs Way crosses Roman Stane Street, is an area of major archaeological importance. Stane Street ran from Noviomagus, Roman Chichester, to London and was a major trade route. The A29 still follows the Roman line for much of the way and the Roman villa at Bignor (about 2km northeast of the Bignor Hill car park) is another sign of the civilisation in this area in Roman times.

Uppark House (National Trust, entrance fee), a 2 mile round trip diversion off the route along the B2141 is an elegant mansion enjoying an elevated position with fine views. It was destroyed by fire in 1989, but has been faithfully restored to its original grandeur.The Trust also own Harting Down on the route. Here the Trust are using traditional management to encourage the growth of downland plants and animals.

Amberley Museum and Heritage Centre next to Amberley Station is a 36 acre open-air site dedicated to the industrial heritage of the south-east. The Museum contains a wide range of exhibits, from transport-based collections, such as the Southdown bus collection and the village garage, to industry-based collections, such as the Print Workshop and Wheelwrights. The Museum is also home to a number of resident craftspeople, who work to traditional methods.
Finding your way Good maps are recommended for this ride ie OS Explorers: 120 (Chichester) and 121 (Arundel and Pulborough).

You could add OS Explorer 133 (Haslemere and Petersfield) for the start in Petersfield - or you could just print out the relevant chunk of the Google Map.