Cycling from Guildford

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

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Route 8: Reading to Oxford along the Thames Valley Cycle Route

Weather at Finish:

To download the GPS file for this route click here
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Summary Starting from Reading station, this route follows National Cycle Route NCR5 which is part of the Thames Valley Cycle Route. First you cross the Chilterns then descend to cross the Thames at Wallingford. There is another climb over the Sindoun Hills to Didcot (which can be bypassed if you don’t like railways or power stations). Having passed through the interesting town of Abingdon you join the Thames Path for the final run into historic Oxford.

Distance/time: Approx 40 miles, about 5 hours riding
Start: Reading Station
Finish: Oxford Station
Transport: Trains from Guildford direct to Reading (around 3 trains per hour, journey time about 30-40 minutes).

Return train from Oxford to Reading (around 4 trains per hour, journey time about 25minutes, then Reading to Guildford. Bikes are carried in a separate compartment at the end of a carriage.
Conditions under the tyre: A mix of generally quiet roads, lanes, tracks and bridleways with reasonable surfaces. I did this route on a conventional bike, but expect some mud after rain.

There is a climb over the Chilterns between Reading and Wallingford, and over the Sinodun Hills.

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

Reverse route: It should be quite possible to reverse this route by getting the train from Guildford to Oxford via Reading, and cycling back to Reading. Wind direction is also an issue: if the wind is north westerly then Oxford to Reading is preferable, and vice versa.

The Thames path is quite popular with walkers: please show courtesy, slow down, and ring your bell.

Route variations: The NCR5 makes quite a diversion in order to pass through Didcot: much of this is through housing estates, and around Didcot Power Station, so unless you particularly want to visit the Railway Museum or get close up views of the cooling towers, the Google map shows a more direct route bypassing the town.

Route description:

On exiting from Reading station turn left (east), head down to the roundabout at which turn left, pass under the railway and pass down the left hand side of the river bridge to reach the NCR5 heading west alongside the Thames. Cross over Caversham Bridge. The NCR5 is reasonably well signed, and is shown by green blobs on the 1:50,000 OS maps, and by red ‘5’s on the 1:25K maps.

You climb over the Chilterns, then descend to cross the Thames at Wallingford. Having passed through the attractive village of Brightwell-cum-Sotwell, the NCR5 does a loop over the Sinodun Hills to join a track into Didcot at Long Wittenham (see ‘Route Variations’ for alternative bypassing Didcot).

You can divert on cycle paths to visit the Didcot Railway Centre if you have time, otherwise make your way on roads and paths around the north side of Didcot Power station, and out to Sutton Courtenay (make a short excursion to the Church to visit the grave of George Orwell). Back on NCR5 you soon pick up a track on your right which takes you onto the road beside the Thames into Abingdon.

You leave the town via a track through the grounds of the old abbey, and past some gravel pits, on through Radley and past Radley College. On entering Kennington, take Sandford Lane on your right. Its worth going on down to the river to see Sandford Lock, then return and follow the track beside the railway, and bear right under a railway to join the Thames Path which goes under the A4142, then on into Oxford on a good tow path.

Pass the A4144 bridge (St Aldates) then cross on a footbridge and take backstreets signed NCR5 to arrive in George Street. (You could also leave the NCR5, cross St Aldates Bridge, and head up along St Aldates past Christ Church College and on into the centre of town.) Take some time to look around, before making your way to Oxford Station.


The route takes you through several towns (Wallingford, Didcot, Abingdon) and villages (eg Stoke Row, Brightwell-cum-Sotwell) with pubs, cafes etc.

Oxford, of course has no shortage of eateries.

Points of Interest

Stoke Row is at a high point on the Chilterns, at 175 metres above sea level. Obtaining water was always a problem for the village. A local man became Governor of the North West Provinces of India, and the local Maharajah was so touched by his stories of the hardship caused by the lack of water that he paid for a well to be sunk in the village, as well as providing a keeper’s cottage and an orchard. The well was dug in 1864 is 364 feet deep and was provided with an Eastern style cupola.

The NCN5 over the Chilterns is rather enclosed by hedges, but as you descend Garson’s Hill the views open out. The cooling towers of Didcot Power Station dominate the skyline. Hereabouts, its worth looking out for Red Kites, a distinctive bird of prey, identified by its characteristic forked tail, which it twitches back and forth to provide stabilistion as it hovers. They were re-introduced into the Chilterns in the 1990s; they are now common, and are spreading throughout the south-east.

Wallingford is an attractive town with many buildings of historical architectural interest, including a 17th century market hall. It is approached by an elegant multi-span bridge over the Thames.

Between the attractive villages of Brightwell cum Sotwell and Little Wittenham lie the Sinodun Hills. Just before you reach Little Wittenham, on your right you will see the distinctive clump of trees called “Wittenham Clumps”) and the adjacent Iron Hill Fort.

Didcot Railway Centre , beside the modern railway station, is a shrine to Brunel’s Great Western Railway, with a unique collection of steam engines, coaches and other artefacts of the railway. You can take short rides on the trains.

Didcot Power Station is run by npower, and comprises two plants, Didcot A and Didcot B. Didcot A is dual-fired (coal and gas), and it is planned to introduce a third fuel, biomass. Didcot B is one of a new generation of efficient gas fired stations. The cooling towers dominate the views from miles around. Cooling water is drawn from the River Thames.

The village of Sutton Courtenay has some interesting old buildings, and is also worth visiting to see the grave of author George Orwell in the churchyard. He had no connections here other than being friends with David Astor who lived here. When Orwell died in 1950, he requested to be buried according to Anglican rights. Astor suggested the attractive (then) country churchyard of All Saints Church as a suitable final resting place. You should find directions to his grave posted on the church door. He is buried under his real name Eric Arthur Blair. Herbert Asquith (Prime Minister from 1908-1916) also lived in the village, and died there in 1928: he is also buried in the churchyard.

Abingdon is a prosperous town pleasantly situated on the Thames. Its town hall built over a colonnade dates from c1680, there are the remains of the old Abbey (notably the Abbey Gateway), an historic Guildhall and many fine domestic buildings.

Outside Abingdon you pass Radley College, founded in 1847, and one of the few remaining all-boys public (ie private) boarding schools.

The route into Oxford is alongside the Thames (or Isis) , passing Sandford and Iffley Locks, various college boat houses and giving good views over Christchurch Meadows on the far bank to the tower of Merton College Chapel. The colleges and historic streets of Oxford deserve a full day’s exploration, but a wander up St Aldates, "the Broad" (Broad Street) and “the High” (the High Street) will take in a selection of the most historic colleges.

Finding your way

The whole route is covered on the Sustrans map of the Thames Valley Cycle Route. This map is adequate, but for reassurance you may wish to pack some Ordnance Survey maps as well, ie Landranger 1:50K maps 175 (Reading and Windsor) and 164 (Oxford) and Explorer 1:25K maps 159 (Reading), 171 (Chiltern Hills West), 170 (Abingdon, Wantage and the Vale of the White Horse) and 180 (Oxford, Whitney and Woodstock).

A print out of street maps of the centres of Reading and Oxford might come in handy, too.