Cycling from Guildford

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

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Weather at Start:

Route K: New Forest: Southampton to Bournemouth

Weather at Finish:

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Summary This ride takes in a nice mix of countryside and seaside, traversing the New Forest on National Cycle Route 2 (NCR2) via Brockenhurst to reach the sea at Mudeford Quay at the mouth of Christchurch Harbour. Then take the ferry across to the spit of Hengistbury Head, with its fine sandy beach and views across to the Isle of Wight. Finish along Bournemouth Promenade (cycling allowed except between 10am and 6pm during July and August). Also includes the ferry from Southampton across Southampton Water to Hythe.

Distance/time: Approx 38 miles, about 5 hours cycling.
Start: I started this ride by driving and parking in one of the many free laybys on the edge of the New Forest, in particular one at SU395092 west of Hythe.
Finish: Bournemouth Station
Get the train back to Southampton and cycle back to the start, crossing Southampton Water via the Hythe Ferry.
Transport: This route is most efficiently done using a combo of car and train. Drive to the start (A31, M3, M27, M271, A35 West, A326 South to Hythe/Dibden roundabout: here take the exit right (west) signed to Beaulieu Station, pass the New Forest signs, and park in one of the several free laybys and car parks along this road.

Follow the route to Bournemouth station, then get the train back to Southampton, several trains per hour, journey time from 30 to 50 minutes. Then cycle back to the start via Hythe Ferry approx. 2 ferries per hour, fare per adult about £4.00, cycles carried free.

You could also do this ride by taking the train from Woking to Southampton, ride to Bournemouth, train back to Woking.
Conditions under the tyre: This ride is mainly on a mix of quiet roads and forest tracks. When I did this ride in the Spring, the tracks were in good condition, with one major exception, namely the track between Burton Common and the A35 on the outskirts of Christchurch. This track was to all intents and purposes flooded, with foot deep lakes, rather than puddles, spanning the track and hence unavoidable. I got very wet feet (and socks and legs). I have shown an on-road alternative on the Google map, which I haven’t tried, but unless you are riding during a drought, cannot possibly be worse. All in all, this ride is probably best done on a mountain bike.

The roads are fairly quiet (though I imagine some of the New Forest roads could be busy at peak tourist season). Brockenhurst was quite busy. The roads from the seafront to Bournemouth station need care. In Southampton the route mainly uses cycle tracks, but the road along to Town Quay is busy.

There are no major hills, but the climb from Bournemouth seafront to Bournemouth station is quite steep so take care especially if you’re tired after that long ride.
Reverse route: It should be straightforward (and desirable with a Westerly wind) to reverse this route.

Route variations: The OS map shows several alternative cycle tracks through the New Forest, so you could probably improvise variations on a theme. See also the cycle network map on the website.

See comment above about the alternative route approaching Christchurch, to avoid the flooded track.

When the promenade at Bournemouth is closed to cyclists (10am-6pm in July and August) the NCR2 following the cliff top can be used instead.

Route description:

These route directions should be used in conjunction with the Google map at the head of this web page (it can be opened in a new window).

From the layby, head west on the road which forms part of NCR2 to the B3056, turn right on this road and pass Beaulieu Road Station . When the road bends sharp right, a track heads south through Denny Wood Campsite. Continue on this track through the forest, passing Denny Lodge, crossing the railway and then taking a right (West - watch for green cycle route signs) which takes you to the B3055 Beaulieu Road. Turn right (North West) and shortly branch left signed Brockenhurst, then right on the A337, cross the railway level crossing and make a left into Brookley Road through the centre of Brockenhurst, which is a good place for refreshments.

Leave Brockenhurst on the B3055 heading south west on the Sway Road. At a T junction turn Right following the sign to New Milton. Then, having come under a railway bridge, take the track branching right under another railway bridge. This soon joins the route of a disused railway by a white cottage. Follow this across relatively open heathland till it meets a road, at which turn left passing Wootton Bridge, then right on a track which takes you to the A35. Across the A35 is a lane into Holmsley Inclosure, and the cycle track is picked up again on the left some way down this lane, emerging to pass the Holmsley Caravan site and the site of Holmsley South airfield, bearing right to join Forest Road at a car park.

Head South (Left) along this road and watch out for, and visit, the New Forest Airfields Monument on the right. At a T junction turn right (West) and proceed through the hamlet of Godwinscroft, then look out for Waterditch Road on your left. (This is where you might like to consider the alternative route if it’s been wet.) Waterditch Road becomes a track, crossing a stream (in a valley known known locally as Donkey Bottom) and emerging on Burton Common, where you pass a trig point, then bear right (South West) on a (probably flooded) track more or less following the railway. Go under the railway and bear slightly left to meet the A337 at a superstore park.

Cross the busy road by a footbridge and head down the B3059 a few yards, before picking up the NCR2 left (South) beside a stream (the River Mude), which takes you to Curlew Road in the suburbs of Mudeford. Blue signs show you the way down Peregrine Road and on down to Mudeford Quay. Here get the ferry over to Hengistbury (more correctly, Mudeford Sandbank), with its sandy beach, colourful beach huts and views across to the Isle of Wight. It’s worth exploring here, and parking your bike and going up Hengistbury head, before continuing on the track beside Christchurch Harbour.

This track joins a road which will take you down to the main Christchurch/Boscombe/Bournemouth promenade. Provided it is NOT between 10am and 6pm, in July and August, you are allowed to cycle along the prom despite the cycling prohibition symbols at the entrance (slow down for pedestrians, it can be quite busy). I show the route as far as the main pier in Bournemouth, then ascend the roads to Bournemouth station – take care on Bournemouth’s busy roads. (You could exit the prom earlier if you wish at several points.)

Arrived back at Southampton Central Station, exit on the south side, cross the A3024 at a Pelican Crossing and work your way through rather a maze of car parks and superstores, then on a cycle path beside Harbour Parade, then via West Quay and Town Quay to the Town Quay pier. Here get the Hythe ferry across the water to …Hythe. Now try and follow the NCR2 through the maze of streets in Hythe – easiest just to refer to the Google map, or just stick to the main drag out of Hythe – up to the A326, and thence back to the car.

The ride through the Forest offers few refreshment opportunities, so make the most of the facilities in Brockenhurst. I stopped at the French Confection patisserie which was a very friendly place. Slightly off the route, if, instead of going south to Wootton Bridge, you stay on the road built along the path of the old railway, you will find the Station House Tea Rooms by the A35, in, as the name suggests, the buildings of the old Holmsley station. There is the Haven House Inn at Mudeford Quay, or you could wait till you cross to Mudeford Sandbank and visit the Beach House café which has covered outside seating beside Christchurch harbour. There are several cafes along the prom as you near Bournemouth.

Points of Interest

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.

Brockenhurst is a busy village, with good shops and facilities. At the end of the main shopping street, Brookley Road, there is a ford across the Weir Stream, known as ‘the Splash’. In winter, to avoid ice, tunnels under the road are opened to divert the waters.

South of Brockenhurst, the route follows a short stretch of track on the old Brockenhurst to Hamworthy railway. The railway, opened in 1847, was built to link Southampton to Dorchester. It was built largely at the instigation of a solicitor with offices in Wimborne and Ringwood, one Charles Castleman, and since it took a somewhat circuitous route through these towns it was nicknamed ‘Castleman’s Corkscrew’. A branch was later opened from Ringwood to Christchurch, then, in 1870, Bournemouth. The line proved inadequate to carry the number of passengers visiting Bournemouth, and when a direct line was opened in 1888, it dwindled to a rural branchline. Like so many such lines, it lingered on until the Beeching axe of 1964.

There is little other than an information board to mark the site of Holmsley South Airfield. It was one of 12 airfields operating in the New Forest during WW2. Built in 1942, it was initially used by RAF Coastal Command for operations against U-boats in the Bay of Biscay, and subsequently switched to support the Normandy invasion in 1944, latterly as a USAAF base. Abandoned in 1946, little remains now, and a campsite occupies some of the former site. Nearby, standing at the Western perimeter you pass the New Forest Airfields Memorial which was opened in 2002 'to commemorate the immense efforts and great sacrifices made in this area in the dark days of World War 2.

Burton Common is an SSSI, managed with the help of funding from English Nature to 'restore a range of sensitive heathland habitats supporting important plants, nesting birds, reptiles and invertebrates'; the scheme includes grazing by cattle and New Forest Ponies.

Mudeford Quay is in an attractive location at the mouth of Christchurch Harbour. The quay is lined with lobster pots, and there is a stall selling locally caught fish. At the mouth of the harbour sits the popular Haven House Inn, and an excellent beach extends to the east. Across the water, Mudeford Sandbank is a sand spit extending across Christchurch Harbour mouth from Hengistbury Head. There are colourful beach huts and an excellent sandy beach, with fine views across the Solent to the Isle of Wight.

Hengistbury Head is a low sand/clay headland, comprising heathland and dunes and is a Local Nature Reserve owned and managed by Bournemouth Borough Council. It is well worth locking your bike, and doing a bit of exploring on foot. The cliffs show clear strata of sand and clay, but are relatively recent (c60M years) compared to the Jurassic Coast further west. At the western end of the headland are Iron Age defences known as Double Dyke, and iron ore was extracted from a quarry on the north side of the headland in the nineteenth century. The headland is a good place for migrant birds during spring and autumn.

Hidden under the sea off Boscombe Sea Front is the controversial Bournemouth Surf Reef. The reef mimics the effects of a natural reef and is built from large geo-textile bags pumped hard with sand. It cost £1M+ and opened in 2009, but has not met expectations, and a costly dispute with the developers is underway.

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

The route follows National Cycle Route 2 where it has been defined, ie from Southampton to Wootton Bridge. The stretch from here to Waterditch has yet to be agreed, and within the Forest, the usual blue signs are few, being replaced by green New Forest cycle route signs. OS maps are strongly recommended: the OS Explorer Outdoor Leisure map of the New Forest, OL22, covers the route on one sheet.