I had high hopes for the Blackwater Valley Cycle Route. Everything about it sounds like it might be a nice, gentle, pretty route through picturesque scenery. The sort of thing that the Famous Five might have done on their day off, cycling along with a picnic accompanied by lashings of ginger beer.
Breakfast of Champions
The day got off to a good start. Since we didn’t have to drive anywhere, it meant we had a much needed lie in. A lazy breakfast of Eggy bread smeared with Marmite followed. It had been ages since we’d both had a weekend off together to go exploring and I was excited. This route had been stored as a planned ride on my Kamoot profile for a few weeks. The sun was shining, so we could take our time to explore. I packed up my rucksack with rolls filled with the remaining cheese bought on last week’s ride. Plus some slices of homemade orange and Bourneville cake, a flask of coffee and some extra water. As usual J organised all the actual essential items like pumps and spare inner tubes and tyre levers. We were ready to roll.
Basingstoke Canal to the Blackwater Valley
The first part of the ride was delightful. The fact that we live thirty seconds from the Basingstoke Canal is a real blessing. The towpath between Fleet and Farnborough is well used. Unlike some other stretches, isn’t overgrown so you can get a nice pace up. The only real essential for the towpath is a bell because you often come across walkers. They are (usually) happy to move the side to let you pass. If you are lucky you can sometimes see kingfishers perched on overhanging trees. Or traditional barges chugging their way along the water. We saw the latter today but sadly no flashes of electric blue birds.
We followed the tow path for a few miles. Past Farnborough Airport, past a lock, until we reached an aqueduct that carries the canal over the main road. This is near the southern end of the Blackwater Valley Trail. We decided not to go from the very start as it would mean doubling back on ourselves.
Lakeside Nature Reserve
Instead, we went down the zigzag connecting path and passed alongside some private fishing lakes into Lakeside Nature Reserve. Then crossed over the water via some reassuringly sturdy wooden bridges. The path was OK to ride here, but it was a little overgrown. I got stung a few times by nettles fringing the route. I was a little disappointed by the scenery as the water was hidden behind reeds and pond weed. It looked like it could do with a little love and attention.
An Unexpected Obstacle
It’s always worrying when you are following a cycling trail and you don’t really see many other cyclists. Before long we found out why. A family we passed warned us that there was a fallen tree coming up. I assumed that there was just going to be a trunk across the path that we would have to hop the bikes over. I hadn’t expected to find a full grown willow tree blocking our way. Getting past it was made more awkward by the position of some of the branches. It meant that the only real way to squeeze the bikes through was for me to climb over. J had to hold the bikes horizontally and pass them through to me. It was a challenge of trying not to snag either the handlebars or the saddle.
Ash Vale and North Camp
Back on the bikes again, we resumed the ride. Sadly, it was more of the same overgrown, slightly neglected and sad looking scenery all the way through Ash Vale. We passed a Dad out with his young sons and I sorry for them as we warned them of the tree. There is better, more fun riding to be found that didn’t involve the jeopardy of being stung so much. We emerged out into the fringes of North Camp into an industrial estate. This didn’t improve my impression of this section of the trail. We were greeted with a massive pile of fly tipped rubbish and some rather charming graffiti.
We reached the railway station with the impression that it would have been a far more pleasant ride if we had stayed on the Canal all the way to Ash Vale. To be honest for anyone reading this and thinking about riding it, my advice would be to do just that. Especially if you are riding with kids. Follow the canal instead and skip this part of the Blackwater Valley Cycle Route. Until Rushmoor Council send someone down with a strimmer for the nettles and a chainsaw for the tree, the quality of the ride just isn’t worth the hassle.
North Camp to Frimley
From North Camp we followed the path alongside the M3 motorway for a while. Then turned off and followed a gravel track alongside the stream for a couple of miles. This was much more like the type of riding that I was hoping for. The increasing amount of other cyclists and walkers that we passed confirmed that it was a nicer trail. It still wasn’t that ‘pretty’ but it was fast and flat and fun. So it started to restore my faith that this route wasn’t going to be a total fail.
Coming off the gravel we crossed pulled into the lakeside parking area. J pointed out the Kingfisher on the Quay pub which he said was a nice place for a drink. There were people practising waterskiing along the line in the lake. But we decided to keep pushing along the trail and were rewarded with some nice riding. It was a mixture of tarmac, well compacted earth paths, gravel and some block paving as the route passed by a business park in Frimley. This section was lovely and I’d definitely recommend it as a family friendly route.
Hawley Meadows To Blackwater
As we entered Hawley Meadows we lost sight of the trail markers. I’d recommend either downloading the route to an app like Kamoot or having a paper copy to hand. However, if you follow the trails and you keep the water to your right, you can’t really go far wrong. Hawley Meadows is a really gorgeous place to cycle (or just wander). There were a lot of families taking in some fresh air here. There’s a couple of spots that would be perfect for a paddle or to relax with a picnic.
Ascot Brewing Company Detour
Just before we finished the trail we took a quick detour to check out the Ascot Brewing Company. I have plans for a ride out with some friends for a few cheeky, locally brewed beers one day. So I wanted to see what it looked like. It is an odd beast, located in a unit in an industrial estate. There are socially distanced benches set out on astroturf in front of the big beer hoppers. We just swung by for a look-see so don’t take my word as gospel but there could be worse places to spend a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon.
Hawley Lake and Minley
We retraced our route back and came out by The Meadows roundabout. We followed the A30 away from Camberley, through Blackwater and turned left at the first roundabout. This led to a bridleway towards the top of the Hawley Lake estate. There is always great riding to be had around here and this time we found a trail across the north of the area that we hadn’t ridden before.
We talked about stopping for coffee and cake as we rode alongside the perimeter of Gibraltar Barracks. However, the moment we emerged onto the road that marked the start of Minley, J’s tail went up and all thoughts of food were forgotten. Minley is his favourite place to ride around here and he knows it well. So when he asked me if I fancied some single track riding I let him take the lead and followed him through the trees. If you fancy some really fun riding, I suggest that you check out my Kamoot profile for more Minley Manor rides.
It’s fun revisiting places that I haven’t ridden for a while as it gives me a chance to check out how much my skills have come on. Therefore it was a particularly satisfying moment when J stopped to let me catch up, only to discover that I was already right behind him. There’s still a lot of room for improvement in my technical ability though and couple of near misses reminded me that I really need to pay a little more attention to where my pedals are in relation to tree roots.
Once we’d had our fun around Minley, it was an easy ride back to Fleet via the pond and home and cake. (finally!)
Ride Length: 21.7 miles
Time Taken: 2 h 31 mins
Elevation: 475 ft
Suitable for: Beginners. Skip the single track through Minley and follow the main gravel path if you are unconfident.