Cycling from Guildford

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

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Weather at Start:

Route 6: Guildford to Reading via the Basingtoke Canal

Weather at Finish:

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Summary This route takes some quiet byways to reach Reading, namely the Christmas Pie Trail to Tongham, the Basingstoke Canal Towpath to Old Basing on the outskirts of Basingstoke, and then quiet National Cycle Network Route 23 to Reading. Amongst the sights are the remarkable ancient walls around the site of the Roman town near Silchester.
Distance/time: Approx 52 miles, about 6 hours riding
Start: Guildford Station
Finish: Reading Station
Transport: Trains from Reading direct back to Guildford (around 3 trains per hour, journey time about 30-40 minutes).

Trains don’t seem to have special bike carriages: just park your bike in the door area, but make sure it is safely propped up, and be prepared to move it to allow passenger movement at busy times.
Conditions under the tyre: The route to Old Basing is mainly on the Christmas Pie Trail, which has stretches of off road track, and the Basingstoke Canal Towpath, which is is a reasonable surface, but both could be muddy, so a mountain bike is preferable. However, a conventional bike should be OK too.

There are no steep/high hills, just gently rolling countryside between Old Basing and Reading.

Most of the route is on quiet roads, but take care of traffic, especially around Guildford and Reading stations.

The Canal towpath is quite popular with walkers: please show courtesy, slow down, and ring your bell.
Reverse route: It should be quite possible to reverse this route by getting the train to Reading, and cycling back to Guildford. Wind direction is also an issue: if the wind is north westerly then Reading to Guildford is preferable, and vice versa.
Route variations: If you want to shorten the route, you could get the train back to Guildford from Basingstoke via Woking.
Route description:

From the main exit from Guildford station, you can cycle straight up the (busy) road (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 turning 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.

Once you arrive on the Street in Tongham, turn right then immediately left down The Moors, and under the A331, then find the Blackwater Valley route signed to your right. Follow this trail till you reach, and go under, the Basingstoke Canal, where a ramp gives access to the Canal Towpath. Now head West on the right-hand bank all the way to Greywell, where the Greywell Tunnel ends your canalside idyll. Now take roads to Old Basing, passing over the M3 on Greywell Road, and shortly turning left to meet and cross the A30 into Hatch Lane.

Arrived at The Street in Old Basing, you could turn left to visit Basing House (undergoing refurbishment: check website), otherwise go right on the Street and pick up Pyott’s Hill on the left. You should shortly pick up NCR23 blue signs. At the end of Pyott’s Hill, a traffic-free track takes you on to Long Lane across the A33 and up Thornhill Way. Soon, you will see NCN23 signs along a path branching left. You will emerge on roads which take you under the railway out into open country, and onward on NCN23 to the Roman Walls near Silchester. Take time to inspect the walls and amphitheatre, and follow the path around the site.

Continue on the NCR23: having crossed over the railway again on Park Lane you reach a T junction with a tarmacked roads, and there is a track (“The Devil’s Highway”) in front of you, which provides an off-road short cut. Take this dead straight track (it follows the old Roman Road from the Roman town) to emerge again on the official NCR23.

Keep on the NCN23 eventually passing over the M4 and on through a quite well landscaped modern business park, then on a cycle track beside the A33, and finally on the Kennet & Avon towpath into Reading town centre from where make your way to Reading Station. There seems no simple traffic free way to the station, so it will be necessary either to brave the traffic, or walk up some one way or pedestrianised streets.

The route takes you through the car park of the Guildford Tesco superstore, which does sandwiches, and also has a café.

In Tongham, if you go left along the Street instead of right, there is a parade of shops with a Londis store.

The Basingstoke Canal passes near towns and villages such as Fleet, Church Crookham, Odiham and Greywell, all of which must have pubs, though I haven’t explored them.

On the Street in Old Basing is the Crown Pub .

On the route between the Roman town and the M4 at Beeches Hill is the Elm Tree all-day pub.

There are numerous eateries when you get into in Reading.
Points of Interest 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 Basingstoke Canal was constructed between 1787 and 1794 to convey agricultural produce from North East Hampshire to London via links to the Wey Navigation and the Thames. It was a complex engineering project, requiring the construction of 29 locks and the Greywell Tunnel. As with all English canals, the coming of the railways from the 1840s undermined the business case. The canal had some success conveying materials to the Army at Aldershot, but by 1964 it was virtually derelict. Fortunately, the Canal had been used to provide drainage off various Army sites, and was thus a flood risk, which actually supported the case to maintain it as a waterway, and, starting in 1974 it was restored by a collaboration between the Surrey and Hampshire County Councils (providing the finance) and the Surrey and Hampshire Canal Society (providing voluntary labour), finally re-opening in 1991. The towpath provides a very pleasant green artery for walkers and cyclists, but please cycle considerately. The Greywell Tunnel has suffered roof collapse and is closed, and the canal bed westwards into Basingtoke has largely been built over.

The route passes the south western end of the runway for Farnborough Airfield . This site has been associated with aviation since 1908 when the HM Balloon Factory was located here, then later became the Royal Aircraft Factory (designing many iconic WW1 aircraft) and then, from 1918, the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE). The site now houses the defence company Qinetiq, and the airfield is operated by TAG as an airport for business aviation.

Old Basing is a pleasant village with several old cottages. It is most famous for the ruins of Basing House, originally built by in 1535 as a new palace for Sir William Paulet the first Marquess of Winchester and Lord Treasurer to Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. It was the largest private house in the country, with around 360 rooms, and was frequently visited by the monarchs of the day including Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and Philip of Spain who honeymooned there. During the Civil War, the Paulet family were staunch Royalists and held the House for the King, withstanding an epic siege, which was only ended in 1645 by a direct assault led by Olly Cromwell himself. The house was left in ruins which can be visited today along with the circular Norman embankment. The site has been undergoing refurbishment, so check the web site for opening times.

To your right as you cycle the NCR23 between Chineham on the outskirts of Basingstoke and Bramley is the site of Bramley Army Camp. You can see nothing from the road, but Google satellite imagery reveals a mysterious pattern of buildings spaced out on on a regular grid, traversed by a railway line. The Camp was formerly an an ammunition depot: presumably the buildings were widely separated storage sheds. The site is now said to be a training area for the SAS, and has also played host to Channel 4's Scrapheap Challenge, presumably not at the same time.

Near the modern town of Silchester lie the ruined walls of the Roman settlement of Calleva Atrebatum. Today, only substantial stretches of the town’s defensive walls and the amphitheatre enclosure remain, but from the air, the distinctive grid pattern of streets can be seen. Originally a township for the Atrebates tribe, it became a Roman garrison town soon after the invasion in AD43. With growing unrest amongst the locals, defensive ramparts were probably built in the late second century, followed by the impressive walls from 260-280. The amphitheatre dates from around AD50, and underwent various development. It is estimated that it could seat up to 9000 spectators, and was probably used for the usual Roman entertainments (gladiators, Christians v lions etc). The site is a major focus for excavations by the archaeology department of Reading University and they have revealed evidence for many substantial buildings. In common with other Roman towns, it was probably abandoned as the Roman empire contracted in the 400s. The complete circuit of the Roman Town Walls and the amphitheatre are open free to visitors all year round, and the University excavations are open during the summer season: see website above.

A bit further on you cycle along a stretch of an old Roman Road, the Devil’s Highway, which almost certainly radiated from the Roman town. At the end of the Devil’s Highway, a diversion off-route to the south east, are the grounds of Stratfield Saye the home of Dukes of Wellington since 1817, when the house was acquired by the First Duke, of Waterloo fame. There is access to the park at most times (for a fee), though cycling is not allowed. House opening times are limited: check website.

The route into Reading is alongside the Kennet and Avon Canal of which I shall write more in the page devoted to the Kennet and Avon Cycleway route.
Finding your way

The route is covered by Ordnance Survey Landranger 1:50K maps 186 (Aldershot and Guildford), 185 (Winchester and Basingstoke) and 135 (Reading and Windsor), and Explorer 1:25K maps 145 (Guildford and Farnham), 144 (Basingstoke) and 159 (Reading).

The Christmas Pie Trail is reasonably well signed: download a leaflet here.

The Blackwater Valley Route and the Basingstoke Canal towpath are pretty easy to follow: there’s not much choice.

Once on the NCR23 past Old Basing there is reasonable signing.

For getting out of Guildford, getting from Greywell to Old Basing and getting to Reading Station a print out at street map level might be handy.