Cycling from Guildford

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

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Weather at Start:

Route 5A: Guildford to Portsmouth over the South Downs and Hayling Island

Weather at Finish:

To download the GPS file for this route click here
To view a slideshow of this route click here

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NB As of August 2016, the Hayling Island ferry used on the latter stage of this route is back in operation.

This ride is a long day, but very satisfying. It negotiates a cross section of scenery, including the Wey Valley, the rolling countryside of NW Surrey, West Sussex and Hampshire, and crosses the South Downs near Uppark House, to reach the sea at Chichester Harbour. Then it uses the Hayling Billy Trail, a disused railway trackbed along the Western side of Hayling Island and crosses the entrance to Langstone Harbour on the Hayling-Eastney Passenger Ferry. A ride along the Southsea sea front brings you to the Gunwharf Quays shopping emporium, in the shadow of the Spinnaker Tower. Return home by the train from Portsmouth Harbour. Carefully check the ferry times to make sure you don't miss the last one! Also, check tide tables: if a high tide is predicted, you may be unable to use the beach route, and should use the alternative via Havant shown on the Google Map.(For an alternative with more off-road, try Route 5B)
Distance/time: 59 miles; whole day
Start: Guildford Railway Station
It is assumed Guildford cyclists will cycle to the station (or some other convenient starting point along the route). There is pay parking locally, but it's pretty expensive. You could also drive and park free at Bramley Old Station on the Downs Link, though obviously after arriving back at Guildford Station at the end of the ride you would have to cycle back to there.
Finish: Portsmouth Harbour Railway Station
Transport: Return to Guildford Station from Portsmouth Harbour Station. Typically there are several trains per hour (some faster than others), and journey time from 1 hour to 1 hour 20 minutes. Check train websites for bike carriage constraints: since you are not catching rush hour commuter trains bound for London, there should be no problems. The trains usually have two carriages with dedicated bike spaces: look for the bike logo.
Conditions under the tyre: The route is mainly on road, except as follows:
  • short stretch of the Downs Link cycle path to reach Bramley: this has a very good surface
  • track between villages of Heyshot and Cocking, which is quite stony, but can be avoided by sticking to the lanes
  • A short piece of the South Downs Way, which should be OK, but can be avoided by sticking on the road through South Harting
  • track from Warblington to reach the shore of Chichester Harbour, and then ride along the beach: check the tide tables because at high tide this will not be passable: an alternative via Havant station is shown on the Google Map
  • Hayling Billy Trail: this has a good surface
The roads chosen are generally pretty quiet, and I usually use my sit-up-and-beg Raleigh bike. The B2130 through Hascombe, the B2146 over the South Downs, the roads through the Havant conurbation, and the sea front road at Southsea could all be quite busy, so take care.

The route does undulate quite a bit, and the climbs over the South Downs, and up from the village of West Marden to Forestside are pretty steep, so be prepared: I have been known to get off and push, but for every up there is a down.

Reverse route: I have only done this ride from north to south, since it is always satisfying to reach the sea. However, it would be straightforward to get the train straight to Portsmouth and reverse the route. This might also be advantageous if there is a strong southerly wind, and would also get the ferry crossing out of the way, so you wouldn't have to rush.
Route variations:
You could shorten the ride by cutting from South Harting to Petersfield Station, or by stopping at Havant, both of which have direct trains back to Guildford. I also show on the Google Map an alternative between Bramley and Dunsfold: this stays on the Downs Link to the outskirts of Cranleigh, then uses road and a short stretch of bridleway by the Wey and Arun Canal to emerge on roads past Dunsfold Airfield to rejoin the main route at Dunsfold.
Route description: The route starts from Guildford station. The essence of the route is as follows:
  • subway and follow path to riverside, and then through Millmead, past Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, A281 to...
  • ....cycle path across Shalford Park to reach the Downs Link near Shalford
  • Downs Link to Bramley
  • lanes to Thorncombe Street
  • B2130 through Hascombe
  • lane signed right to Dunsfold Church and thence to Dunsfold village
  • lanes via Shillinglee, cross A283 and on to the hamlet of Gospel Green
  • south through Licksfold and Lodsworth
  • east short distance on A272 then right on lanes via South Ambersham and Heyshott to Cocking on the A286.Before entering Heyshot on Hoyle Lane, at a sharp bend right, a narrow, stony lane can be used as a shortcut, bypassing Heyshot: otherwise carry on through Heyshot
  • lanes under the South Downs through Bepton, Didling, Elsted and Treyford
  • left onto Hill Lane, which climbs to meet the B2141
  • follow South Downs Way west to B2146
  • B2146 past Uppark House and on to the village of West Marden
  • right at cross roads, steep climb to Forestside
  • left on a straight, downhill road past the entrance to Stansted Park
  • right on Emsworth Common Road, cross B2148
  • left on Eastleigh Road, cross level crossing at Warblington station
  • at traffic lights with Green Pond Road, cross over down Pook Lane to footbridge over A27
  • bridleway down to seashore of Chichester Harbour
  • provided tide is out: along beach to join sea wall path to Ship Inn by Langstone Harbour Bridge
  • if it is a high tide, you may not be able to pass the beach. Use the alternative route via Havant shown on the Google Map
  • Cross bridge to Hayling Island, find Hayling Billy Trail on right
  • after Hayling Billy Trail, take Sinah Road and Ferry Road to Hayling Island Ferry
  • cross to Eastney (fare: about 5.00)
  • follow road (including cyclists cut-through on Melville Road, to Esplanade
  • on along Clarence Esplanade across Southsea Common
  • at Clarence Pier, right on Pier Road then left down Gordon Road and Pembroke Street
  • across High Street onto Lombard Street, and cross to cobbled Gunwharf Road
  • at the back entrance to Gunwharf Quays, enter the complex and walk though to the harbour frontage and the Spinnaker Tower
  • push through the shopping centre back to the road and ride round to the station
Refreshments: You pass through several villages along the way, so refreshments and facilities are never too far away. Here are some possibilities.

  • Bramley Cafe on the A281 in the middle of Bramley does a good breakfast.
  • White Horse pub in Hascombe
  • Sun Inn on the green in Dunsfold
  • Hollist Arms Pub in Lodsworth
  • Village shop in Cocking
  • Three Horseshoes Pub in Elsted
  • pubs and shops in South Harting
  • Cafe in Uppark House (NT, entrance fee)
  • Coach and Horses, Compton
  • Stansted Park Pavilion Tea Room
  • Ship inn by Langstone Bridge
  • Ferry Boat Inn, adjacent to the ferry at Langstone Harbour Mouth
  • Numerous cafes along the harbour frontage at Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth
Points of Interest The main attractions on this ride are pleasantly rolling countryside between Guildford and the South Downs, the views of the South Downs as you cycle along their 'foothills', the sense of achievement when you finally reach the sea at Chichester Harbour, and relief as you enjoy tea and cake at Gunwharf Quays.

The route to Bramley follows the trackbed of the old Guildford to Horsham railway line, which closed in 1966 and is now converted to the Downs Link path. Download a useful leaflet here. The old platform at Bramley is one of only 3 that remain.

Around Bramley, the trail follows the Cranleigh Waters stream and the remnants of the Wey and Arun Canal. What is known today as the 'Wey & Arun Canal' actually consists of two canals. The first was the Arun Navigation, which gave trading vessels from the south coast access to Newbridge Wharf near Billingshurst and was opened in 1787. Then in 1813 an Act of Parliament, backed by the 3rd Earl of Egremont of Petworth House, authorised the building of a further canal, the Wey and Arun Junction Canal which extended the navigation from Newbridge up to Stonebridge Wharf south of Guildford on the Godalming portion of the river Wey, thus allowing barge traffic from London to reach the South Coast at Littlehampton. The opening of the railway destroyed the canal's business, and by the 1870's it was largely derelict. It is in the process of being restored, although currently effort is focused on the southern stretches.

Winkworth Arboretum (National Trust, entrance fee) can be accessed via its 'back gate' just after Thorncombe Street. Colourful displays especially in spring and autumn - also tea room.

The quiet village of Hascombe is said to be home to several celebs (or at least, they own properties there) including Chris Evans, Anthea Turner and the occasional Russian oligarch.

Dunsfold Church, situated just off the route before reaching Dunsfold Village, is a typical attractive Surrey Church, dating from the 13th century. Dunsfold itself is a pleasant village, straggling along the long village green. Nearby is the old Dunsfold Aerodrome, which started life as a WW2 airfield for the Canadian Airforce. From 1951, it was used for test flying by Hawker Sidley and its successors, being the site for a number of important test flights such as the Harrier. In 2002, BAE Systems sold the site to Dunsfold Park Ltd, and it now hosts a variety of light industrial activities, and is also the filming base for Top Gear. Proposals to build an 'eco town' on the site have so far not been successful.

On the road between Dunsfold and Shillinglee, listen out for nightingales in the bushes beside the road. Lurgashall Winery, about 2.5 miles south of Gospel Green, produces a range of fruit liqueurs, honey meads and country wines: there is a shop, should you have room in your pannier for a few bottles.

Off in the woods to the right of the road just before Lodsworth (around GR SU927243) is the Woodman's Cottage built by Ben Law and featured on Channel 4's Grand Designs.

Nestling under the South Downs, near the village of Didling is the isolated 'Shepherds' Church'. The small whitewashed building dates from the 13th century, but its font is said to be Saxon. Services are still held here.

Uppark House (National Trust, entrance fee) is an elegant mansion enjoying an elevated position with fine views.

As you cross the road bridge onto Hayling Island, Langstone Harbour is to the west (right) and Chichester Harbour to the east (left). Chichester and Langstone Harbours are important sites for wading birds and sea birds. Langstone Harbour is the large tidal bay lying between Hayling Island and Portsmouth. A narrow entrance protects the harbour from the open sea and small channels link Langstone with Portsmouth Harbour to the west and Chichester Harbour to the east. At high tide, water covers about 1900 hectares but at low tide only about 200 hectares are under water, leaving 1700 hectares of mud exposed. Saltmarsh and cordgrass cover the more sheltered areas of shore and islands within the harbour are used by nesting seabirds. The harbour is much used for recreation, both on and off the water and there are a number of mooring areas providing both deep water and drying moorings for several hundred boats. There is a small fleet of commercial fishing vessels and commercial ships land goods at two wharves. It is feared that as sea levels rise, the exposed mud and salt marsh habitats will be squeezed against the sea walls.

The Hayling Billy Trail uses the trackbed of the old Hayling Island branch railway from Havant. The route starts at Havant station and goes down the West side of Hayling Island, offering good views over Langstone Harbour, which is home to many waders and sea birds such as Little Terns. The trail has been provided with an excellent surface for cyclists, but unfortunately a Millennium project to reinstate the old railway bridge was turned down - lets hope it does obtain funding eventually, because the road bridge is horrendously busy with traffic. To the North at the start of the trail, the walls of the old Oyster Beds are visible. Oyster fishing has been practiced on the Langstone Harbour shore of Hayling Island since Roman times. The site in its present form was developed following the opening of the Hayling Branch line on the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway in 1865, having a direct rail connection to the mainland markets. The Victorian development comprised a series of lagoons, formed by embankments of London Clay enclosing parts of the intertidal area, topped by chalk, shingle and brickearth. Seaward the embankments were reinforced with timber palisades. The lagoons were filled by tidal overtopping of the embankments, with outflow regulated by sluices and wind pumps. Following the First World War pollution and disease forced the closure of the fishery, and the site fell into dereliction. There was a rather bizarre attempt by a company to reinstate the oyster fisheries in the 1980s which ended when it was realised that the original planning permission had allowed the bed walls to be built too high, and the site was mercifully reclaimed as a nature reserve. It has played host to a colony of rare little terns, but their numbers have fluctuated.

The Hayling Island Ferry has been operating since 1850, when an on-demand rowing boat service started. In 2015, the operator went into receivership, and until August 2016 there was no service. Fortunately, the service was then reinstated, with support from a crowd-sourced trust fund. Hopefully the service will be good for another hundred years, but check their wesbite for service updates. Shortly after leaving the ferry at Eastney, you will find the Royal Marines Museum, whose cafe can be accessed for free.


Gunwharf Quays is a redevelopment on the site of naval facilities, including HMS Vernon. There are extensive blocks of flats (sorry, apartments), a frontage with numerous eateries overlooking the harbour, plus the emblematic Spinnaker Tower - go up it if you have the time, and there isn't a long queue: the views are fantastic. Sadly however, the lift used is the one hidden inside the tower, rather than the panoramic one on the outside: that got stuck carrying the dignitaries at the opening ceremony and has never worked since.
Finding your way After Bramley, the ride is 'freestyle' ie not following any particular signed route, so good maps are advisable.

Unfortunately, the route spans no less than six OS Explorers: 145 (Guildford and Farnham), 134 (Crawley and Horsham - needed for a small strip around Dunsfold), 133 (Haslemere and Petersfield - from Dunsfold to Lodsworth), 121 (Worthing - for the stretch to Cocking), 120 (Chichester - from Cocking to Hayling Island) and 119 (Portsmouth - for the final strip through Southsea).

To avoid carrying a library, you could make do with the OS Landrangers 186 (Aldershot and Guildford), 197 (Chichester and the South Downs) and 196 (Solent and the Isle of Wight). (You could dispense with 196 and just use the Google Map print out for the short stretch from Eastney to the finish).