Mountain Biking around Alresford
Disclaimer: This isn’t the official Watercress Way full route, but it does overlap sections of it. When I designed this route on Kamoot, I just picked trails that I thought looked fun. It was only when we were riding it and I spotted the Watercress Way route signs that I even knew it existed. My route is mostly off road on byways and bridleways with a few on-road sections that tour pretty locations. It’s a good ride, not too strenuous with plenty of fun parts. Hopefully I’ll go back and ride the official Watercress Way soon to compare the two.
New Alresford to Abbotstone
We parked at Arlebury Park car park because there is free parking on a Saturday before heading down The Avenue into Alresford town and turning left into The Dean. At the very bottom of the road we had to dismount to push the bikes the short distance along the footpath to the Fulling Mill.
We crossed the bridge in front of the mill and over the gravel drive to join the minor road. This lead up a hill towards a vineyard where we took the right fork and carried on riding until turning right onto a restricted byway. This byway was nice riding and not muddy despite this week’s rain. At the crossroads we could see across the fields to the back of Old Alresford.
We took a left here and followed another nice wider byway through the tunnel of trees and hedges all the way to Abbotstone.
Joining the Watercress Way
The byway opens out to a minor road with a glorious view over fields and the site of a Medieval village. It really is quite stunning scenery around here and we were fortunate enough to have the weather to really be able to appreciate it.
We stayed on the road for a few minutes before getting to a crossroads and heading straight across onto another byway. A short cycle along here brought us to a intersection of five paths at Itchen Stoke Down. There was a sign marking distances to both Windsor and Winchester on the Three Castles path (potential future ride).
It was here that my planned tour stumbled onto the route of the Watercress Way. We took the second turning on the right and followed both the Watercress Way and Oxdrove Way signs along another byway. Since this seems to be a popular place for walking and cycling routes, it’s not surprising we passed a lot of people here. Some were out rambling, while others were foraging for sloes along the hedgerows. At the highest point of the road, you can see triangulation pillar stone 130 situated in the middle of the field to the right.
This byway is a bit of a mixed bag for riding. There are big wide sections of track and quite tight overgrown bits that are little more than paths. The terrain is good but my bare legs got caught by nettles and brambles a couple of times. Once we came out of the trees, we rode downhill down a grassy path to find ourselves back on a road that ran between both Micheldever and Itchen woods.
Micheldever Woods to Springvale
The road was nice to ride, with a few cars but not too much traffic. There is a bit of a steady incline but nothing too strenuous. At the end of this we came out onto a crossing with the A33. This a fast road so make sure to pay attention when crossing it onto the Alresford Drove byway to continue on the Watercress Way. This is a long stretch of mostly gravel track which is quite potholed for the first portion. It then becomes really quite nice riding with more lovely panoramic views across the countryside.
At the end of the byway, the Watercress Way goes straight ahead towards South Wonston to loop around the north of the village. Instead, we turned left back onto the tarmac of the Old Stoke Road for about half a mile before turning right onto another byway. This was a nice track which we followed for another half mile or so before turning left onto a short fun drop onto a bridleway that runs along the fence of Worthy Down camp and picks up the Watercress Way again. There is what looks like a disused railway platform along here but steer clear of the edge as some of the slabs are crumbling and broken.
At the end of this clearing is a small jump park to the left which was being ridden by a few teens who looked most aggrieved at our intrusion onto their fun. Once we had done a couple of circuits of that, and got a little confused about the route forward, we followed the bridleway south through a small wooded path and dropped down a turning to the right which came out onto a gravel byway between fields with a few cute Shetland ponies.
We followed the track under a couple of railway bridges until finally emerging into a housing estate in Springvale.
Kings Worthy to Avington Park
There’s not much to say about the roads that we followed from Springvale through to Kings Worthy other than there is a bit of traffic but nothing too frightening. At the turning right into Kings Worthy itself, there is a commercial watercress bed on the corner but its not as picture perfect as the prettier beds around Alresford.
The roads got busier and faster the closer we got to re-crossing the A33 onto the B3047. For a minor road there is a lot of traffic that use it and I was glad to when we turned off it again after only a mile. The official Watercress Way route follows the B road for a bit longer but we diverted towards the quieter roads of Martyr Worthy, crossing the River Itchen along the way.
The village itself is chocolate box pretty with a couple of friendly looking country pubs that I plan to investigate further in the future. Before long we were riding over a cattle grid and into the stunning grounds of Avington Park.
Dare I say it but the view across to the house is probably one of the most stunning views in Hampshire. There were a few horses grazing on the front lawn and lots of ducks and swans swimming on the lake. It was breathtaking and so we decided that we wouldn’t find a more perfect spot to pull our bikes off the road and sit down for a spot of cake.
Itchen Abbas back to New Alresford
Rested and refuelled, we remounted the bike and followed the road through the car park and out of the grounds to meet the road that leads to Itchen Abbas. We were now running opposite to the Watercress Way route which stays on the Avington side of the River Itchen and follows cycle route 23 towards Ovington.
We however crossed the bridge over the waterfall and through Itchen Abbas by road for a couple of miles before turning left onto the Three Castles Path bridleway running north east. This was probably the hardest part of the whole ride, not because it was technical but because it was narrow and overgrown and uphill for most of the way. Both J and I ended up with thorns in our gloves and some scratched shins. It probably would have been worse a month ago before the nettles had started to die back.
The inconvenience only lasted just over a mile though before we found ourselves back at the five way intersection and Three Castles Path signpost from earlier. This time we took the Oxdrove Way byway that led south-east and were rewarded with the most amazing and fun mile downhill of fast gravel track. I would love to have shared a photo of it, but I was too busy enjoying it to stop. We passed some watercress beds again before having a final climb up the Wayfarers Walk byway to join the tarmac of Drove Lane. At the top of the lane it was only one more left turn back on the B3047 for a short pedal back to Arlebury Park.