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A new off-road adventure route in the UK offers an irresistible challenge for cyclists

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Cyclists now have a brilliant new excuse to get on their bikes with the newly launched King Alfred's Way. Not only does this off-road trail open up swathes of beautiful English countryside and picturesque towns for two-wheel adventures, it also connects cyclists with World Heritage sites like Stonehenge and the Iron Age hill forts.

King Alfred's Way is a new off-road adventure trail that runs through historic Wessex, beginning and ending in the ancient cathedral city of Winchester. It runs for 350km (220 miles), or two days, passing iconic locations including World Heritage Sites at Stonehenge and Avebury and Iron Age hill forts at Old Sarum and Barbury Castle.

Three women ride into Winchester along the Itchen Way  cycle path, past St Catherine's Hill nature reserve
Three women ride into Winchester along the Itchen Way cycle path, past St Catherine's Hill nature reserve ©Robert Spanring/Cycling UK
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Named after Alfred the Great, the Saxon king who is buried in Winchester, the route was designed by the charity Cycling UK, who spent three years upgrading footpaths, bridleways and byways and quiet country lanes on existing trails to make them more accessible for cyclists and horse riders. Charity officials say they hope it encourages people to venture out into the great outdoors to appreciate England's well-known landmarks and savor the small details of its hidden gems.

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Four people cycle past Winchester Cathedral
Four people cycle past Winchester Cathedral, one of the largest cathedrals in Europe and one of many impressive historic monuments along King Alfred's Way © Robert Spanring/Cycling UK
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"There’s no need to fly or, for many, even travel far for a challenging trip," said campaigns manager Sophie Gordon. "King Alfred’s Way is 220 miles of literal ups and downs looping through a quintessential southern England made up of thatched cottages, Iron Age hill forts and stone circles.”

According to Cycle UK, the terrain is ideal for gravel bikes and could be completed in about two days as a bikepacking trip, or for point-to-point day rides passing through Reading, Winchester and Salisbury. Mountain biking skills aren't required, but a good level of fitness is necessary.

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Three cyclists push their bikes up an unrideable section of the Thames Path
Katherine Moore, Sophie Gordon and Sam Jones push their bikes up an unrideable section of the Thames Path, July 10, 2020. The Thames Path is one of the four national trails King Alfred's Way links up P©annier.cc / David Sear

Bicycle touring is shifting gears in Great Britain, particularly in England. While much of the countryside has been approved for walkers under the Countryside Act in 1947, Sophie Gordon argues that not much has been done to improve access for cycling. England has 15 national trails, but Cycle UK said only two of them are cyclable from end to end: the Pennine Bridleway and the South Downs Way. What they want to achieve for cyclists is a network of long-distance cycle routes that stretch the length and breadth of Great Britain.

"With King Alfred’s Way we want to show what is possible if we fill those missing links between our national trails and start making the countryside accessible for everyone – walkers, horse riders and cyclists," said Sophie.

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