Cycling from Guildford

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


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Route 5B: Guildford to Portsmouth using the Christmas Pie Trail, Alice Holt Forest, Liss Ranges and the Sussex Border Path

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Summary

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

This ride is an alternative to Route 5A. It goes west from Guildford to Farnham on the Christmas Pie Trail, heads through the Alice Holt Forest and crosses the Liss Army Ranges on the trackbed of a disused military railway. Then pick up the Sussex Border Path to take you over the South Downs, where you join Route 5A to reach the sea at Chichester Harbour. The Hayling Billy Trail, a disused railway trackbed takes you along the Western side of Hayling Island and crosses the entrance to Langstone Harbour on the Hayling-Eastney Passenger Ferry. Then ride along the Southsea sea front 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.
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.
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: Much of this route is off-road, so a mountain bike is preferable:
  • Christmas Pie Trail, tracks through woods can be quite muddy after rain
  • Alice Holt Forest trails: good grit surface
  • Liss Army ranges: good grit track following disused railway; final stretch through woods into Liss could be muddy after rain
  • Sussex Border Path: initial mile or so through woods is quite rough; track descending South Downs to B2146 is rough- take care
  • 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 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.The roads through the Havant conurbation, and the sea front road at Southsea could all be quite busy, so take care.

Reverse route: I usually do 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 to stations at Liss, Petersfield or Havant, all of which have direct trains back to Guildford.
Route description: From the main exit from Guildford station, you can cycle straight up (busy) Walnut Tree Close to the route through the University of Surrey campus. Alternatively (as shown on the Google map) you can cross the road by the traffic lights, push left, and almost immediately take the path right between buildings which leads to steps down (carry) to the Wey Navigation Towpath on which you can head up to the railway bridge, then double back on Walnut Tree Close to the through-campus cycle path on your right. A bridge takes you over the railway, then follow the roads around the campus, to exit near the Cathedral roundabout. The off-road cycle path cuts down to the underpass under the A3, then proceeds to the Tesco superstore, and goes through the car park and on to Egerton Road.

Turn left on Southway and shortly left into Applegarth Avenue. After a right-angle bend, you will see the sign for the Christmas Pie Trail pointing left. Now follow the trail all the way to Tongham on bridleways and quiet roads. It is reasonably well signed, with a distinctive Beano-style Christmas Pudding logo.

From Tongham, the Christmas Pie Trail continues:
  • turn left (South) down the Street, Tongham, then right down Grange Road. Cross the busy slip road at the A331 (CARE!) and go under the A31. Continue West along Tongham Road.
  • At a T-junction, turn right along Guildford Road, then just before you reach the A31 bear left down Rock House Lane, then left down a track through Kilnside Farm.
  • At a T-junction, do not take the Christmas Pie Trail signs, rather turn left and take the track signed NCN22
Now make your way round the outskirts of Farnham:
  • Turn right on the B3001 then very shortly left on Monks Walk. Then follow the Google map closely: Lodge Hill Road, Burnt Hill Road, Upper Bourne Lane, Jubilee Lane, Boundstone Road, Chapel Road, the Avenue, Cherry Tree Lane
  • Take Church Lane past the Church and enter Alice Holt Forest. Take the trails through the Forest heading south to emerge on Dockenfield Lane where turn left, then bear right onto High Thicket Road. Now follow the lanes on the Google map to Arford, and on down Liphook Road through Headley and on to the B3004.
  • Turn left on the B3004 then right signed Conford. Pass through the village and cross a ford (or use the footbridge). Pass Conford House and continue on a track where you will soon encounter the boundary fence of the Woolmer Forest Military Training Area, lined with red flags. Turn left and follow this gravelly track, which soon runs parallel to the (noisy) A3.
  • Continue past the Liphook junction, and in due course cross a bridge over the A3 to the Longmoor Camp ranges. Skirt the Camp to your right, and follow the disused military railway path SW, eventually reaching a car park on Forest Road.
  • Cross the road and carry straight on on a pleasant track through the woodland Local Nature Reserve to emerge at the level crossing by Liss Station.
  • Cross the railway, and at the roundabout bear right on the B3006. Follow this and at the B2070, cross and dogleg slightly right down a lane past the Jolly Drover Pub. Approx 350m on the right, there is a small car park from which a path enters the woods past a sign 'Durford Heath National Trust'.
  • The next bit is on quite rough tracks, and navigation need care. You are following the Sussex Border Path, but signing is sporadic. After 250m SW bear left (SE) then after 380m the track bears SW again for 490m. Here you will see a slight wall to your left and a less obvious track heading roughly South, then shortly take a path branching off Right uphill. At the top you emerge from the woods to get good views South across fields to the Downs.
  • Take the obvious track heading South with a line of trees to your right. After a short downhill you rise again and join a lane which descends to the A272.
  • Cross the busy A272 and enter a slip road right (West) to join pleasant lanes heading south, passing Quebec Farm and Torbery Hill to meet the B2146. Turn left then almost immediately right on a lane 'signed 'Private Drive', but this is actually still part of the Sussex Border Path. The tarmac lane climbs very steeply to pass Foxcombe Farm, then rises again to enter woods, becoming a track. Keep to the edge of the woods on you right. Stay on the signed bridleway heading more or less South, ignoring a more obvious (private) track heading SE. The track now heads downhill (its quite rutted, take care) to meet the B2146.
  • Take the B2146 South through Compton 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 £3.00)
  • 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.
  • Hare and Hounds pub in Rowledge, just before Alice Holt Forest.
  • Crown Inn, Arford
  • Shops and cafes in Liss
  • Village shop in Compton does teas. Also Coach and Horses pub.
  • 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 of this ride are the pleasant and varied countryside traversed, the views of the South Downs as you approach and cross them, 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 Christmas Pie Trail is so-called because it passes through the hamlet of Christmas Pie. Why the hamlet of Christmas Pie is so-called I do not know. It provides a pleasant mainly traffic free route from Guildford to Farnham.

The Christmas Pie Trail into Tongham uses the path of the old LSWR Guildford to Farnham railway line, opened in 1849. There was a station at Tongham, which served the Army at Aldershot. This stretch of the line became redundant with the opening of Aldershot railway station in 1870, served by a more direct line from London. Passenger services finally ceased in 1937, but the line continued to serve Aldershot gas works until it was finally closed in 1954.

The name of the Alice Holt Forest most likely derives from Aelfsige, a Bishop of Winchester in the tenth century, and Holt, a Saxon word meaning ‘managed forest’. The woods are managed by the Forestry Commission, which gives a high priority to public access, including family friendly cycling.

Around the hamlet of Conford, Conford Moor and the adjacent Passfield Common are registered commons, largely owned by the National Trust. Along with the adjoining Woolmer Forest, they constitute an important SSSI.

The Longmoor Military Railway, was set up in 1902 to transport materials for the building or Bordon Military Camp, but was subsequently developed and used as a training railway for the instruction of military staff, railways being an important part of military logistics. It ran between mainline stations at Bentley in the north to Liss in the South via Bordon.It closed in 1971. It now makes an excellent cycle path across the Longmoor training area, and the stretch through woods beside the River Rother into Liss is particularly pleasant.

The route between Liss and Compton follows a part of the Sussex Border Path, which is in total nearly 150 miles long around the inland boundary of the county of Sussex, first devised in 1983 by Ben Perkins and Aeneas Mackintosh.

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.

On Southsea Common, you will pass the Portsmouth Naval memorial 'IN HONOUR OF THE NAVY AND TO THE ABIDING MEMORY OF THOSE RANKS AND RATINGS OF THIS PORT WHO LAID DOWN THEIR LIVES IN THE DEFENCE OF THE EMPIRE AND HAVE NO OTHER GRAVE THAN THE SEA'.

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 This ride will require careful route finding. Hopefully my directions above and the Google map will help, but you should also pack OS Explorers 145 (Guildford and Farnham),133 (Haslemere and Petersfield), 120 (Chichester) and 119 (Portsmouth - for the final strip through Southsea). (You could dispense with 119 and just use the Google Map print out for the short stretch from Eastney to the finish).