Cycling from Guildford

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


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Route 8B: Reading to Oxford via Goring by off road tracks

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Summary Starting from Reading station, this route mainly follows quiet lanes and tracks close to the River Thames, through Goring and Wallingford to the village of Dorchester, with its historic Abbey. Then pick up the track following the old Roman Road to Alchester to reach the outskirts of Oxford. Cross the Thames at Sandford Lock and pick up the Thames Path into the city. A pleasantly rural ride. It is worth diverting to climb to, and admire the views from, the Wittenham Clumps.
Distance/time: Approx 35 miles, about 5 hours riding, add a mile and another half hour to enjoy the excursion up to Wittenham Clumps.
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.
Conditions under the tyre: Most of the route is along tracks and bridleways with unmade but generally reasonable surfaces. A mountain bike is preferable, and expect some mud after rain, especially along the old Roman Road.

On the bridleway between Whitchurch and Goring, there is one short sharp descent into a valley and up the other side: I advise not to attempt to ride this: get off and push.

Most of the route is off-road, but take care of traffic on-road, 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 into Oxford is popular with walkers and cyclists coming from Oxford (including rowing coaches): please show courtesy, slow down, and ring your bell.
Route variations: You could mix and match this route with Route 8A. For example, rather than going to Dorchester and doing the Roman Road, you could pick up Route 8A (=NCN5) at Little Wittenham.
Route description:

On exiting from Reading station turn left (east), head down to the roundabout at which turn left, pass under the railway and cross the bridge over the Thames. Either carry down steps to the left, or take a ramp down to the right to join the riverside path heading west alongside the Thames. Before Caversham bridge, leave the riverside and cross the main road and take the A4074 Church Road heading west (CARE). Past a Church, turn left down the Warren. After one mile, where the road makes a sharp left turn, take the bridleway continuing straight on, soon becoming a tarmacked road again through pastoral scenery and passing Mapledurham House. Here the route 'dog legs' right then left and continues to join a lane to Whitchurch. At a T junction with the High Street, turn right then left signed Hartslock Bridleway (or Carriageway as the sign at the entrance says).

After a mile, the track suddenly descends very steeply into a valley then up the other side: DANGER: get off and push! The route now descends across a wooded slope (take care) and then continues close to the Thames, with occasional glimpses of the river through the trees. The path leaves the river and joins the road into Goring passing the station. Turn left over the railway bridge into the town, and take the second right (Cleeve Road). This road comes close to the river then, where the road bears right, carry straight on the track signed 'Ridgeway'. Continue to join the road through the village of South Stoke.

At a T junction, turn right signed 'Swan's Way'. (NB The left turn signed 'Ridgeway' will take you down to the river, but the riverside path is a footpath, so not open to cyclists). At the B4009 turn left (take care of fast traffic on this busy road) and after one mile, turn left to Little Stoke, follow this lane, making a sharp right at Little Stoke Manor, and where the road makes a turn to continue back up to the B4009, take the bridleway heading roughly N across fields into North Stoke. Carry straight on through the village to re-join the bridleway heading N. Pass through a golf course and under the A4130. Join a tarmacked lane, and after passing Newnham Farm buildings on the left, watch out for a bridleway branching off across fields to reach reach the main road into Wallingford. Turn left to cross over the Thames on Wallingford Bridge.

Continue up Wallingford High Street, through traffic lights and at the cross roads turn right onto Castle Street (or turn left of you want to look around this attractive town). Follow Castle Street for about one and a half miles to Shillingford Bridge over the Thames (care, this is quite a busy road). Do not cross the bridge, rather bear left across the hotel car park and follow the bridleway 'upstream' skirting left round North Farm and passing through Little Wittenham Wood. On leaving the wood, continue on across the meadow to Little Wittenham church. (NB if you wish to make the excursion on foot up to Little Wittenham Clumps, on leaving the wood go through an obvious metal gate and push up a well worn path to the Clumps on top of the hill to admire the view. You can walk around the Clumps to the hill fort on the adjacent hilltop, and make your way down to the car park to the North. (Please don't cycle in this area, walk.) Exit through the car park, and re-mount to cycle down the road to Little Wittenham village.

From the church, head down to lock where a bridge takes you over the Thames and bear NE away from the river slightly across the meadow, and after passing a dyke turn right (East) following the dyke, then left on the track into the outskirts of Dorchester. At the tarmac lane turn right passing allotments on your left to enter the village via Bridge End. Pass (and stop to admire) the Abbey church and continue N on the main road (High Street) and where the main Abingdon road bears left, head right into Drayton Road. Cross the A4074 on a bridge, and immediately bear left off to pick up a track beside the busy road, with a gravel pit to your right. At the end of the gravel pit, bear right (North): this track follows the route of the old Roman Road. Carry straight on through the unremarkable village housing estate of Berinsfield and on into open fields beyond (the track starts with the remnants of a concrete surface).Shortly the track dog legs right then passes through a gap in the hedge on the left (this is easy to miss), and passes a solitary clump of trees.

Cross the B4015 and continue on till the bridleway bears left to join the tarmac lane at the hamlet of Baldon Row, Bear right at a T junction then where the road turns right follow the grassy track signed between houses. Go through a small metal gate to continue on the track which is slightly downhill, and rather narrow (and in Autumn, overgrown). Its bumpy at first (care) but soon levels out and passes pylons to join a lane past a large substation complex. Take the next track on the left which soon joins the main road. Cross a series of roundabouts and pass Oxford United stadium and the Science Park and heading up towards the A4074. Follow signs under the A road signed to Sandford. At a T junction turn right, then left past the church and down to the car park at the King's Arms. Push through the garden and left beside the lock, to cross over the lock gates (preferably when they are closed).

Once over to the far bank, the official cycle route is to take the road up the railway bridge, then follow the good track beside the railway. It also seems to be acceptable for cyclists to head through the lock and use the Thames path over meadows beside the river, but do give way to pedestrians. Both routes meet before the railway bridge over the river, and the towpath then has a good surface all the way to St Aldates Bridge.

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.

Refreshments:

Goring and (especially) Wallingford are sizable towns with plenty of facilities. Most of the villages along the way have at least one pub. The Kings Arms at Sandford Lock is a popular watering hole, and the Isis Farmhouse on the tow path near Oxford is well frequented by people out for a stroll from the City.

Oxford, of course has no shortage of eateries.

Points of Interest

The scenery along the route until Dorchester is pleasantly pastoral with meadows and woods, and a succession of picturesque towns and villages. This part of the route follows the Thames as closely as is possible on a bike (the actual riverside path being for the most part a footpath hence not open to cyclists). The stretch on the Roman Road is distant from the river, and crosses open fields. You cross back and forth over the Thames - at Reading, Wallingford, Little Wittenham, Sandford and St Aldates, Oxford, but otherwise glimpses of the river are fleeting until the final few miles on the towpath into Oxford. It's 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 stabilisation as it hovers. They were re-introduced into the Chilterns in the 1990s; they are now common, and are spreading throughout the south-east.

On the way out of Reading, after crossing the Caversham Bridge road, the Caversham Court Gardens can be accessed through impressive studded gates. There are attractive flower beds, and lawns fronting the river.

Mapledurham House is an attractive brick mansion, dating from the early 17th century, and modified to its present appearance in the nineteenth century. The house is open to the paying public from time to time, and is a venue for weddings. Nearby, the estate includes a church and watermill. Further along, on the way into Whitchurch, you may see alpacas in the fields: this is the location of Bozedown Alpacas, a major breeder of this form of woolly llama.

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. To the left of the bridge as you cross is the elegant spire of St Peter's church, which was built on the sight of an older church destroyed in the Civil War. As you leave the town on Castle Street, on your right a lane gives access to the Castle Gardens, which include the remaining ruins of the castle and its earthworks.

On top of the Sinodun Hills south east of Little Wittenham, you will see the distinctive clump of trees called “Wittenham Clumps” and the adjacent Iron Age Hill Fort on Castle Hill, which provide excellent views all round, including to the cooling towers of Didcot Power Station. The Clumps and Little Wittenham Wood are owned by the Earth Trust, an environmental charity. On the way into Dorchester, you pass by a system of iron age dykes in the fields.

Dorchester Abbey serves as an outsized village church. Essentially a Norman building, it is on the site of an earlier church dating from AD635, built by the papal legate Birinius on land provided by the King of Wessex.

The route North from Dorchester follows the course of the old Roman Road from Silchester to Alchester. Silchester can be visited on Route 6 on this website.The site of the town of Alchester is just south of Bicester: it should not be confused with Alcester in Warwickshire.

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 route is covered by Ordnance Survey Landranger 1:50K maps 175 (Reading and Windsor) and 164 (Oxford) and Explorer 1:25K maps 159 (Reading), 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.