British Gravel Staycation | Conquering King Alfreds Way
Find your adventure... With Staycations on the cards for many of us this year, we have decided to find some of the best Road, Mountain, Gravel and Leisure cycling routes and Locations around the UK that provide you with stunning scenery and a sense of freedom! For our final British cycling staycation location, Liv Ambassador, Elle Linton will be taking us down towards Reading where we will be riding part of the King Alfred's Way - one of Britain's most infamous Gravel Bikepacking routes. Crammed with stunning scenery, awesome gravel paths and fellow cycling enthusiasts, it's hard not to fall in love with this route!
Named after the Anglo-Saxon ruler of Wessex, the King Alfred's Way is now a route that's renowned for being technical, challenging and exciting amongst Gravel riders and Bikepackers. For me, this is my first venture into the world of Gravel cycling and might I add... what a route! Coming from a cyclocross background, I am used to rugged and rough terrain so I wasn't totally out of my comfort zone but you definitely have to keep some energy in the tank for when you do encounter an ascent.!
With the full route being 350Km long and often taking people several days to complete on two wheels, we decided to take on a smaller section called the "Ridgeway" which is a stretch of Gravel path between Reading and Swindon overlooking the impressive North Wessex Downs AONB. Along this segment, I encountered some gothic ruins, impressive monuments and a few cosy little villages bubbling with life. With the route being mapped with Cyclists in mind, there are conveniently placed taps along the path so you have constant access to fresh drinking water... they really have covered it all!
The Route - Riding the Ridgeway
Starting on the outskirts of Reading, in the bubbly little village of Pangbourne, we have an easy starting point to get kitted up and get our legs warmed up for the day of riding ahead. From straight out of the village, you are immediately met with the Thames Path which as you can imagine... runs alongside the River Thames. Between Pangbourne and the first area of natural beauty, you will encounter a small climb and descent which is off road but it is just about perfect to get your body and mind aligned ready for the ride ahead!
After 4 miles or so of warming up, I rode my way into the village of Goring-on-Thames which is a beautiful place to stop if you are after a coffee before making your climb onto the Ridgeway.
The climb onto the Ridgeway isn't as bad as I made it sound, by following a quiet road through a wooded area you've already completed a lot of the climb effortlessly. At the top of the road, if you turn right you have just entered the official Ridgeway which is what we are riding most of today. When you get onto the gravel, my best bit of advice is to keep looking into the distance and not at your front wheel and you will find yourself progressing a lot faster and way more stable.
Once on the Ridgeway, you are met by consistently beautiful landscape scenery of luscious green rolling hills that spread for miles around! It's easy to get lost in the beauty of the North Wessex downs and soon you'll be finding that you're making great progress over the chalky gravel surface! When riding with friends as you're all on a bikepacking staycation, I can guarantee that the riding will be full of laughs and memories but the beauty of the King Alfreds Way is that you can also just do one day stints like I did.
After riding across the chalky gravel for a while, you soon cross over the A34 before making your way across the ridge towards Wantage. You'll know once you've reached the village as you shall see the Wantage Monument which is a memorial cross and monument dedicated to Lord Wantage which stands loud and proud on the hillside overlooking the town.
As I crossed over the B-road and back onto the gravel I could feel the burn starting on my legs thanks to the constant, undulating and uneven terrain. However, I continued onto my next stop which was at a small water fountain near a horse racing course! Here, I took a breather, smashed a gel and refilled my water bottles so I could complete the final leg of the day.
With the finishing point only a few Kilometers away at Uffington Castle and White horse hill I decided to really get stuck in and give it my all and boy was it worth it! Uffington castle is the remains of an Iron age hillfort whilst the White horse on the hill is a chalk cut figure of a horse created between 1740 - 210BC making it a really nice piece of history. And the perfect end to today's Gravel ride!
Whats the perfect bike for the job?
What is the perfect bike for King Alfreds Way? On my travels, I saw people riding a variety of different bikes... from gravel and cyclocross bikes to XC and Trail MTB's - which makes this route good for a variety of disciplines! With it being close to so many cities it is nice just to get away into the countryside and enjoy life on two wheels for a few days, no matter what bike you are on.
I completed my stint on a Cyclocross bike which was very responsive yet fast as it is designed to be raced. I was running a 1x drivetrain which made my journey power transfer from cranks to rear wheel efficient whilst also making my shifting effortless. 1x will be found on many Cyclocross and Mountain bikes whilst Gravel bikes will often stick to the 2 cogs at the front (wider variety of gear ratios). I was running 700c wheels on my bike which made it feel effortless as I cruised over the open field sections yet they were still agile enough to control over the gnarlier gravel.
The Kit -
Thanks to my full Sportful outfit, my day of riding was super comfortable as I was never too hot or cold as the fabric wicks away sweat with ease. Alongside this, it's always good to like the look of what you're riding in and the Sportful Idea jersey provided just that with its striking aesthetics!
Upfront and navigating the way was my trusty Wahoo Elemnt Roam which competently navigated my way across the North Wessex downs all whilst tracking my progress. When it comes to off-road navigation, the Wahoo Roam is second to none as it has never let me down!