Cycling from Guildford

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

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Route I: Six Ferries: A ride around the Solent

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Summary: Do you like ferries: then this ride is for you. The challenge is to make a circuit of the Solent, using no less than 6 ferries: Portsmouth-Gosport, Warsash-Hamble, Southampton-Hythe, Lymington-Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight (IOW), Cowes chain ferry across the Medina, and finally Ryde-Portsmouth catamaran. It takes in some interesting scenery, including the New Forest, passing through the honeypot of Beaulieu and the eighteenth century shipbuilding hamlet of Bucklers Hard, some fine views across the Solent to/from the Island, and the rolling (aka hilly) countryside of the IOW. See warships ancient and modern in Portsmouth Harbour, liners in Southampton Water, and sailing yachts cruising off Cowes.
Distance/time: About 60 cycling miles (excluding ferry crossings) so this is definitely a whole day, and a long one at that, so best done in summer. You also need to factor in time for the ferry journeys, but they're part of the fun. I have typically started around 9am and finished at about 8pm.
Travel and ferries: I describe this circular route starting from the Gosport Ferry landing stage adjacent to Portsmouth Harbour station, and proceding 'anti clockwise'. To reach the start, you can either take your bike to Portsmouth Harbour on the train, or, by car, parking in the big multi-story multi-facility car park at Gunwharf Quays next to the station: there is a special parking rate of £8 for the whole day for IOW ferry users, so make sure you keep the ticket receipts. Always check details on the ferry web sites (links above) above but in summary:
  • Gosport passenger ferry across Portsmouth Harbour: every 15 minutes or less, buy a ticket from the ticket machine (there is no office this side), adult + bike £4.00, crossing time about 5 minutes. Technically, all tickets are return, though you won't be needing that.
  • Warsash-Hamble passenger ferry across the River Hamble: a little pink boat, on demand (always seems available), fare around £3, crossing time about 5 minutes. (NB The service ceases at 6pm. This is not a problem doing the ride anticlockwise, but is if you are going the other way round: make sure you get to Hamble in time, otherwise you will have to make a long diversion.
  • Southampton-Hythe passenger ferry across Southampton Water: every 30 minutes, fare around £6.70 including bike, crossing time about 15 minutes.
  • Lymington-Yarmouth (IOW) car ferry across the Solent: approx every 40 minutes, fare around £9.00 (bike free), crossing time about 40 minutes. Tides, plus loading times seem to lead to delays, such that the official timetable is indicative only.
  • Cowes chain ferry across the Medina estuary: regular (around every 10 minutes), foot passengers and bikes free, crossing time a few minutes.
  • Ryde-Portsmouth passenger catamaran: about every 30 minutes, fare around £11.50 (bike free), crossing time about 22 minutes.
I have encountered no problems just turning up at the ferries, although during the IOW festival and other special events there could be a problem with space on the IOW ferries: check ferry web sites for details. The Six Ferries also seems to be gaining popularity as a sponsored cycle ride: google 'Six Ferries Cycle Ride' to check for such events, and avoid or join in according to taste.

Conditions under the tyre: There are some rough off-road sections as follows: between Tichfield Haven on the Solent and Warsash on Southampton Water; and an optional section of the Solent Way coming out of Hythe. Segments are quite bumpy, and could be muddy after rain. Whilst a mountain bike would be handy, it's not essential if you are prepared for short bumpy stretches.

The road along the sea front around Lee-on-Solent is busy, but for the most part cycling is allowed on the shared-use pavement. Expect busy traffic on the road through Southampton from the Itchen bridge to the Hythe ferry pier, and the B3054 through Beaulieu in the New Forest.

The route on the IOW avoids busy A roads, but has a lot of up and down as a consequence.

Reverse route: As the ride is circular, wind direction is not an important factor.

The only significant difference is that the Hamble ferry ceases operation at 6pm, so if you are going 'clockwise' make sure you get there in time otherwise you will have to take a long diversion inland to cross the Hamble by bridge at Bursledon.

Route variations: If you wish to shorten the route, you could take the B3054 more directly to Lymington from Hythe (though this can be very busy).

On the IOW, if you've had enough, instead of going all the way to Ryde, you could get the ferry from Cowes to Southampton, then get the train back to Portsmouth, or the ferry from Fishbourne to Portsmouth.

Route description:

    From Ferry 1: Gosport to Ferry 2: Hamble

  • Catch the ferry to Gosport from the landing stage next to Portsmouth Harbour station. There are good views of the Spinnaker Tower, and HMS Victory and HMS Warrior, plus modern naval ships (if we have any left) in the harbour. Landed in Gosport, take the B3333 South Street westwards about 1.6km, then take the disused railway path on the left (South) off Cleveland Road.
  • Follow this traffic free cycle path, crossing Stoke Lake on a causeway, to emerge on Crescent Road. Turn right along this road, an impressive Georgian terrace. At the t-junction with Anglesey Road turn left, then right at the roundabout onto Stokes Bay Road. (Avoid the temptation to cycle straight on to the lifeboat station: although the sea front path is very wide, well surfaced and ideal for cycling, cycling is prohibited.) Continue along this road along the sea front for 1.5km, making use of the shared use path where available. The road curves inland to a roundabout: take the first exit west along Browndown Road, then left onto Privett Road (B3333), again making use of the shared use path.
  • After 1.7km, this road rejoins the sea front again and passes through Lee-on-Solent. Take Crofton Avenue to the left, then join Salterns Road then Hill Head Road to emerge once more with clear views of the sea to your left at Tichfield Haven Nature Reserve. After 600m with the reed beds to your right, the road curves inland again as Meon Road. After 1.5km, take the track to the left signed as National Cycle Route 2.Follow the signs along pleasant traffic free tracks, to emerge opposite some cottages in the village of Hook. Take Hook Park Road, a rough track immediately left. Follow this round, and it turns back to tarmac and bends North through Warsash, passing the Maritime Academy to your left. At the crossroads in Warsash, turn left and take the road down to the car park by the shore.
  • A path to the left of the car park takes you along the strand to the Warsash-Hamble ferry landing stage. Take the short ferry ride across the river estuary to Hamble.

  • From Ferry 2: Hamble To Ferry 3: Southampton-Hythe

  • Take the one way system to join the B3397 High Street/Hamble Lane out of the village, to take Coach Road on the left. This swings round to parallel the shore, passing a car/boat park and jetty on the left. Then take the footpath (dismount if busy) through trees into Victoria Park. Head down to the road beside the shore of Southampton Water. Leaving the park, follow the road through Netley till, just after the ruins of Netley Abbey on the right, take the path through woods on the left and follow the path beside the shore (the Solent Way/NCN2) into Woolston, along its High Street and ascend a stepped ramp up to the Itchen Bridge.
  • Cross the bridge, and at the roundabout on the other side, take the first exit onto Saltmarsh Road, then at the junction, right onto Canute Road, which becomes the busy A33 (CARE!). Proceed till you reach the Town Quay pier on the left. Go down the pier to the Hythe Ferry.

  • From Ferry 3: Hythe To Ferry 4: Lymington-Yarmouth

  • Take the ferry to Hythe (you should get good views of any liners which are berthed at the time.) Cycle down Hythe pier. From here you have two choices to exit the town. EITHER follow the rather tortuous NCN2 through the backstreets up to the A326, then follow that left to the busy B3054 to Beaulieu (CARE). OR (pleasanter), walk down the short pedestrianised Marsh Street, and exit along Shore Road, beside Southampton water. Having crossed a level crossing, take Hart Hill to the left. This turns into a bridleway (the Solent Way) with a reasonable surface, which emerges by a petroleum depot and a roundabout with the A326, at which take the road into the Hardley Industrial Estate. This becomes Limekiln Road, then branch right into Park Lane. When this meets the main road, turn right and head west across the heath to join the B3054 into Beaulieu (CARE-busy town).
  • Having crossed the Beaulieu River, turn left down the High Street, then left onto a short stretch of the busy B3054, then left signed to Bucklers Hard. The extra few miles to visit Bucklers Hard are well worth while. Then follow relatively quiet lanes passing the tithe barn at St Leonards and the village of East End (watch out for New Forest ponies on the road), and on to the ferry port at Lymington. Take the ferry to Yarmouth.

  • From Ferry 4: Yarmouth To Ferry 5: Cowes Chain Ferry

  • From the Yarmouth ferry, head up to the A3054 and head east. You need to follow the "Round the Island" route, aka Regional Cycle Route 67, marked with characteristic signs (blue background, with a cycle on a white IOW-shaped diamond). Start by turning right onto the B3401, then follow the quiet but somewhat circuitous and hilly route through pleasant island countryside, passing the old town hall at Newtown, and finally emerging onto the coast at Gurnard Bay. The bracing ride into Cowes is along the sea front, usually to the accompaniment of sailing yachts racing out on the Solent. Take the shared-use pavement in front of Cowes Castle with its line of brightly polished miniature cannons. Make your way along the bustling shopping street (plenty of cafes, pubs, ice cream parlours), dismounting for pedestrianised areas, to emerge on the A3020 Medina Road down to the chain ferry.

  • From Ferry 5: Cowes To Ferry 6: Ryde-Portsmouth catamaran

  • Leaving the chain ferry, take a right into Clarence Road and again follow the 'Round the Island' signs, climbing out via Whippingham (passing Queen Victoria's impressive church), and taking a reasonably quiet lane to the town of Wooton. The official route through these back streets is not easy to follow, so if you miss it, just make your way down Rectory Drive to the A3054 (CARE - busy road). Cross the Wooton Creek. You now have two possibilities. The official Round the Island route takes Firestone Copse Road to the right, and uses backroads to the South of Ryde. Alternatively, use National Cycle Network Route 22. Take the B3731 left to the Fishbourne-Portsmouth ferry. You could take this if you've had enough. Otherwise, branch right of the port and continue following NCN22 signs along Quarr Lane heading east. At the junction with Church Road turn left down to a pretty church, and take the tree-lined Ladies Walk footpath across the golf course.
  • Where this ends at the A3054, head left though a gap into Spencer Road, and follow the back lanes down to the Ryde esplanade and the pier. Cycle along the pier to the ticket office at the pier head, and your catamaran back to Portsmouth.

There are plenty of eateries along the harbour front at Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth. You pass through several towns along the way, so refreshments are never far away - Warsash, Hamble, Southampton, Hythe, Beaulieu, Lymington, Yarmouth, Cowes, Ryde: all have pubs, cafe's etc.

The tea room at Tichfield Haven Nature Reserve is also a pleasant place to stop. There are also tea rooms at Bucklers Hard and, on the IOW, The Dairy Deli and Quarr Abbey (passed on the route between Wooton and Ryde, though I haven't tried these).

Points of Interest: There is plenty to see on this ride, though if you wanted to spend time exploring each location, you would have to take two days over the trip.

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.

The disused railway track down to the sea from Gosport was a branchline which opened in 1863 from Gosport to Stokes Bay from which a ferry service ran to Ryde. The track crosses Stoke “Lake” which is actually a tidal inlet. There is a pleasant view to St Mary’s Church, Alverstoke, across the tidal pool, which is used as a sailing lake.You emerge from the railway path onto The Crescent in Alverstoke, which is an attractive white-painted Regency terrace completed in 1830 to provide fashionable seaside villas, and a hotel, The Anglesey.

The shingle beach from Lee-on-Solent past Stokes Bay to the Portsmouth Harbour Mouth is claimed to be the longest continuous shingle beach in England.

Tichfield Haven Nature Reserve includes areas of reedbed and marsh at the mouth of the Meon Valley, and is a good spot for birding. Some of the lakes can be viewed from the road, and there is a good café and toilets at the visitor centre.

Warsash is the home of Warsash Maritime Academy a faculty of the University of Southampton. Hamble-le-Rice is the centre for the Port Hamble Marina, a mecca for ‘yachties’.

The Royal Victoria Country Park occupies the site of the eponymous military hospital, built following the Crimean War. It opened in 1863, and was a vast place. It continued to treat wounded and sick soldiers through the two world wars, following which its use declined. The buildings were badly damaged by fire in 1963 and most were then demolished. The remaining buildings continued as an asylum until final closure and demolition in 1978. The tracks of the railway which served the site can still be seen in places, and in the woods there is a large cemetery, with many commonwealth war graves. The only remaining building is the huge chapel. A miniature railway operates in the park.

The extensive ruins of Netley Abbey are in the care of English Heritage and are open free to the public. Founded in 1238, it is the most complete surviving Cistercian monastery in southern England. At the dissolution in 1536 the estate was granted by Henry VIII to Sir William Paulet, who converted the buildings into a grand Tudor mansion, which was abandoned in the eighteenth century.

Southampton is a major cruise and cargo port. The ride along the waterfront from Victoria Park and the ferry crossing to Hythe gives excellent views of passing and alongside ships respectively. For a schedule of shipping movements go to the ABP website.

Hythe Pier is notable for its electric tramway to carry passengers. Opened in 1922, the original rolling stock is still in use today.

The New Forest National Park is the smallest National Park in the UK, and was only established in 2005. It was set aside as a hunting preserve by Bill the Conq over 900 years ago. It is “a combination of heathland, ancient woodland, wetlands and grassy plains, with many inclosures of both coniferous and deciduous woodland.” The inclosures sic are fenced to keep out grazing animals, and are actively worked to provide timber. There are also “pasture woodlands” with long established deciduous trees which are left open for browsing by deer, ponies, cattle and pigs.

Beaulieu village Beaulieu

occupies a picturesque location at the head of the flooded valley of the Beaulieu River. Grass areas beside the water provide grazing for New Forest ponies. The Palace is the present home of the Lord and Lady Montagu) and there is a ruined Abbey and the National Motor Museum. The village itself is something of a honey pot for visitors, and there are several cafes and tea shops along the High Street.

Bucklers Hard was originally intended as a port to be called Montagu Town. These plans were never realised, but the hamlet with its isolated street of cottages running down to the river became a shipbuilding centre, building several ships for Nelson's fleet, using timber from the New Forest. There is a museum (entrance fee) and tea room.

On the route, about 1 mile south of Bucklers Hard, are the ruins of St Leonards Tithe Barn (not open to the public, but easily seen from the road), one of four such barns for Beaulieu Abbey.

Yarmouth is an attractive, little harbour town, with bustling shopping streets (and - for cyclists - a frustrating one-way system). There is a castle next to the ferry landing stage, which was one of the last of Henry VIII's coastal defences completed in 1547. A kilometre east under the sea off Bouldnor archaeologists have relatively recently discovered evidence of an 8000-old Mesolithic settlement, a relic from when the bed of the modern Solent formed plains besides the 'River Solent', whose valley subsequently flooded following the end of the last Ice Age.

Newtown Town Hall is an elegant 17th century building, believed to date from 1699. It sits incongruously isolated within this small hamlet. The town used to be bigger, but declined in the 18th century. It still returned two MPs until the constituency was abolished under the 1832 Reform Act. The Town Hall was a ruin until 1932 when it was rescued and donated to the National Trust.

Cowes is a lively town, devoted to yachties, who support a range of upmarket shops and eateries along the bustling pedestrianised High Street. Entering the town along the West along the Esplanade, you pass in front of the Royal Yacht Squadron (founded 1815) with its line of polished brass cannons along the sea wall: these date from the time of William IV, and are fired at five minute intervals to start races.

St Mildred's Church, Whippingham is an imposing church for such an apparently ordinary village. It was remodelled in around 1860 to serve Queen Victoria as her local church when she was in residence at nearby Osborne House.

Quarr Abbey, near the route West of Ryde, was built in 1912 next to the ruins of the more ancient Benedictine Monastery, to house the Solesmes, a sect of French monks who chose to leave their native country to escape restrictive laws. It remains a functioning religious community, supported in part by a tea room and farm shop.

Ryde became a popular seaside resort in the nineteenth century, especially after Queen Victoria bought nearby Osborne House in 1845 and started holidaying on the island. Ryde Pier opened in 1814, eventually being extended to 703m in length. It needs to be long, because at low tide the sea retreats to reveal a vast sandy beach. An adjacent railway pier was opened in 1880. The railway from Ryde Pier Head to Shanklin uses London Underground rolling stock (1938 vintage), since this is the only stock which could pass through the Ryde tunnel.

Finding your way
  • From Portsmouth to Southampton: follow signs for National Cycle Route 2
  • From Hythe to Lymington: bespoke
  • From Yarmouth to Wootton Bridge: the 'round the island cycle route', which is signed with an IOW shaped logo.
  • From Wootton bridge to Ryde: either 'round the island cycle route, or follow NCN22 signs
  • Supplement my Google map on this page with the relevant OS Explorer map sheets OL22 (New Forest) and OL298 (Isle of Wight).. Also, check out the latest OS Explorer mapping online at Bing maps: make sure you select 'Ordnance Survey' from the drop down, and zoom in till 1:25K Explorer mapping appears. Definitive mapping of the National Cycle Network is at the Sustrans website.