Cycling from Guildford

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


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Route 7: Reading to Guildford via the Thames Valley and Wey Navigation

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To download the GPS file for this route click here
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Summary Take the train from Guildford to Reading. The route uses the Thames Valley Cycle Route from Reading to Shepperton, then follows the Wey Navigation towpath back to Guildford. There is some surprisingly pleasant countryside between Reading and the Thames at Staines, then riverside riding to Shepperton, where you cross the Thames to Weybridge on the passenger ferry. Once beyond the M25, the Wey Navigation runs through gentle meadows. The boating activity around the locks on the Thames and Wey is a constant source of interest, and the Dorney Rowing Lake (to be the site of the rowing and kayaking events for the 2012 Olympics), Old Windsor, Windsor Great Park and the Air Forces Memorial on Cooper’s Hill are amongst the places of interest.

Distance/time:

Approx 55 miles, about 6 hours riding
Start:

Reading Station
Finish:

Guildford Station
Transport: Take the train from Guildford direct to Reading (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.

This route relies on the Shepperton to Weybridge Passenger Ferry this normally runs every 15 minutes till 1730 in summer: check exact timings here
Conditions under the tyre: Much of the route is on either the Thames towpath or the Wey Navigation tow path, and these do get muddy after rain and early/late in the season – especially so in the case of the Wey. Hence a mountain bike is preferable, though a conventional bike should be OK in summer.

There are no steep/high hills, though there is a bit of a climb between Wargrave and Knowl Hill, and over Cooper’s Hill overlooking Runnymede.

Most of the route is on quiet roads, but take care of traffic, especially coming out of Reading Station, and in Maidenhead.

Reverse route: It should be quite possible to reverse this route by cycling to Reading, then getting the train back to Guildford. Going in this direction, the road beside the north bank of Thames after the Weybridge ferry is one way the wrong way, so strictly speaking you would have to either walk this or take the diversion via ‘inland’ roads. Wind direction is also an issue: if the wind is north westerly then Reading to Guildford is preferable, and vice versa.
Route variations:

On the Google map, I show an alternative route for the last 7 miles or so into Guildford, which should avoid the worst of any mud on the Wey Navigation towpath.

Route description:

The first bit was not well signed when I last did this route. Exit Reading station on the south side (it’s the only exit, I think), then bear left (East) down to the A329 Vastern Road roundabout, left under the railway, then down to the River Thames on the left hand side of the road bridge. You are now on NCR5. Head East under the road bridge and follow the riverside path. At the crossing over the junction with the Kennet and Avon Canal, the riverside route becomes the NCR4, which is your companion to Shepperton.

Follow NCR4 to Sonning Lock, where there is a tea garden and toilets. Then NCR4 leaves the river to cut cross country via Maidenhead to rejoin the river at Bray. From the bridge at Sonning, head down Charvil Lane, from where there is a good cycle path beside the A4 then the A321 to Wargrave. On the outskirts of this town, the NCR4 is signed right through back roads then out via Crazies Lane (!). At the cross-roads with Hatch Gate Lane turn right into that road, which leads into a pleasant woodland track down to Knowl Hill.

At the junction with the A4, turn right then immediately left into Knowl Hill Common, which leads to a good cross country track which eventually joins Beadcroft Lane. Cross the mainline railway. Now follow the NCR4 signs carefully through the suburbs of Maidenhead, passing under the A404(M) and passing Maidenhead station to finally escape along Green Lane to the village of Bray. Follow NCR4 signs to exit Bray on Monkey Island Lane over the M4, then watch out for the track on the left leading over an impressive purpose built wooden bridge over the Thames.

You now arrive at the extraordinary Dorney Rowing Lake, home to Eton College rowing club, but also the venue of the rowing and kayaking events for the 2012 Olympics. The official NCR4 route is on the NE side of the lakes, but it seems allowed, and more fun, to cycle down the middle of the two ‘lakes’. The main lake is 2.2km long, and there are regular distance markers, so this is a great place to check out your milometer.

At the end of the lakes, the official NCR4 route deviates from the river, but it seems allowed to follow the river along, under the A322 and into Eton on the north side of the Thames, from where a bridge takes you over to Old Windsor on the south bank. (Note that this diversion into Old Windsor can be avoided by crossing on the A322.) Having explored Old Windsor if you wish, head west parallel to the river bank still following the NCR4, to turn left onto Vansittart Road, and work your way via back roads to the entrance to Windsor Great Park. NCR4 now goes SW across the cavalry Exercise Ground, then parallel to the main road for a short way, before branching left on an ‘authorised vehicles only’ road which takes you past the estate Village with its Post Office cum tea room, and on through the Park on very pleasant, quiet, roads, to exit the Park at Bishop’s Gate.

The route carries on to cross the A328, then takes Coopers Hill Lane which passes the Air Forces Memorial, which is well worth a visit. Then drop down to the A30 where a roadside cycle path leads on under the M25 and along beside the A308 to and over Staines Bridge. It is possible with care however, to cross over and follow a path beside the M25 flyover to join the Thames Towpath and follow this to Staines Bridge.

On the north side of Staines bridge, the towpath is picked up heading eastwards, initially through the recently, and quite pleasantly, redeveloped Staines riverside, then giving good riding past attractive Penton Hook Lock, across the open lawns at Laleham, under the M3 and thus to Chertsey Bridge (which you do not cross). Turn left on Chertsey Bridge Road until you reach Dockett Eddy Lane on the right. This Lane is not the official NCR4 route, presumably because it is one-way thus blocking passage in the opposite direction, but its OK for us: take the Lane down and beside the river to arrive at the Shepperton Ferry landing stage (opposite a nautical supplies store). The ferry goes on the quarter hour, and at the appointed time, ring the bell to let the ferryman know he has a passenger waiting.

Safely on dry land on the Weybridge bank, turn right and follow a short stretch of towpath to a car park, then, leaving the Thames for good, head down Thames Street. At the Old Crown Pub on the right, take Church Walk (get off and push), the take a right over a bridge over water, then follow the path skirting right of a newish housing development to arrive at Thames Lock, the first on the Wey Navigation. Cross over the steep bridge, and you are now on the Wey Navigation Towpath. You shortly emerge onto a road (Addlestone Road) heading west beside the Navigation. When this road bends right away from the River, take the bridge over the river to rejoin the towpath.

The towpath carries on all the way to Guildford. It passes under the elevated section of the M25, then gets progressively more peaceful. You switch banks several times, and pass many locks. The going can be quite rough beyond Newark Abbey. Eventually, nearing central Guildford, you will run parallel to the (noisy) A3, which you pass under and then emerge to cross the A25 Woodbridge Road (CARE), beside the Ladymead retail park. Then carry on along the (improved) towpath till you see some steps rising to give access to Guildford Station. Or, to avoid the steps, carry on under the Bridge Street bridge for a short way then follow footpath signs right to the station; follow these paralleling the gyratory and access the station via an underpass. Job done! A



Refreshments:

Reading station has the usual crop of sandwich bars and coffee stalls. You also pass through Wargrave, Bray and Maidenhead, which doubtless have eateries of various kinds, though I haven’t stopped there.

Sonning Lock has a snack bar with tables in the garden.

There are several cafés around the bridge into Old Windsor

In Windsor Great Park you pass the Village Post Office which also does teas.

On the route at Weybridge there are a couple of pubs on Thames Street.

On the Wey Navigation, you pass the Anchor Pub at Pyrford Lock and the New Inn at Send: both have gardens by the river.

Points of Interest The stretches of the route on the towpath beside the Thames are part of the Thames Path, which follows the river for 184 miles (294 km) from its source in the Cotswolds almost to the sea, passing through peaceful water meadows, unspoilt rural villages, historic towns and cities, and finally cutting through the heart of London to finish at the Thames Barrier in Greenwich.

You pass several pleasant locks on the Thames, notably Sonning outside Reading and Penton Hook at Laleham.

Dorney Rowing Lake was built to provide still water rowing facility for Eton College. It took ten years to construct and was opened in 2006. It meets international standards and has been selected as the venue for the rowing and kayaking event of the 2012 Olympic Games.

Windsor is best known for its castle , which is well seen from the route beside the river running into Eton. There are many old buildings in the town, for example Christopher Wren's house near the bridge: download a town guide here. On the Buckinghamshire side, Eton High Street is also well worth a browse.

The Windsor Great Park part of a vast Norman hunting chase, is set in 5,000 acres of the Surrey and Berkshire countryside stretching from Windsor Castle to the north and Ascot to the south. For a cyclists guide click here.

For some quiet contemplation be sure to visit the Air Forces Memorial on Cooper’s Hill. The Memorial commemorates by name over 20,000 airmen who were lost in the Second World War during operations from bases in the United Kingdom and North and Western Europe, and who have no known graves. They served in Bomber, Fighter, Coastal, Transport, Flying Training and Maintenance Commands, and came from all parts of the Commonwealth. There are excellent views over the Thames Valley from the top of the Tower.

The Wey Navigation is in the care of the National Trust, and is picturesque in its own right, with a succession of attractive locks.

At New Haw is Cox’s Mill building, now converted to apartments. A short way on you come to the point where the Basingstoke canal joins the Wey Navigation, and the water is also crossed by the railway and the elevated M25 is nearby, an interesting juxtaposition of 4 centuries of transportation means. In the field adjacent to Newark Lock, you will see the forlorn ruins of Newark Priory , which was founded in the early 12th century by Augustinian Canons, or ‘Black Canons'. At Papercourt Lock, if you cross over the second bridge to the north and look over the meadows, you will see what looks like a hefty stone barn in the distance. This is all that remains of Old Woking Palace , dating from Tudor times. It was owned by Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII. The Palace was frequently visited by Henry VII on his accession to the throne and by his son Henry VIII who extended and enlarged the Palace between 1515 and 1543. Further work was carried out between 1565 and 1594 during Elizabeth I’s reign.

Finding your way

The Thames Valley Cycle Route from Reading to Shepperton is quite well signed throughout, though you need to check carefully for signs in Maidenhead. For the first mile or so from Reading to the Kennet and Avon Canal it is NCR5, then becomes NCR4. Note the Thames Valley Cycle Route does not follow the Thames towpath all the way, since long stretches of the latter are footpaths not open to cyclists for both legal and practical reasons: that path is surprisingly narrow and bumpy in parts, with kissing gates, styles etc. (Nevertheless it is a shame more has not been done to open the Thames towpath to cyclists, for example around Runnymede.)

The Wey Navigation towpath is pretty easy to follow: there’s not much choice.

It might be useful to print out street maps of Reading (around the station), Maidenhead and Guildford (around the station).

Sustrans publish a map of the Thames Valley Cycle Route which is handy.

The route is covered by Ordnance Survey Landranger 1:50K maps 135 (Reading and Windsor) 176 (Rickmansworth and Staines) and 186 (Aldershot and Guildford), and Explorer 1:25K maps 159 (Reading), 160 (Windsor, Weybridge & Bracknell) and 145 (Guildford and Farnham).