The following is a breakdown of what the conditions were like when I rode the Shipwrights Way in early September 2020.
Bentley Station Through Alice Holt Forest To Cradle Lane
The Shipwrights way starts at Bentley train station. Look out for the ship’s wheel markers on the signposts, these will be your friends on this trip.
There is a steep climb from Bentley train station up a tarmac path with the Arboretum on your left. This changes to natural path so might get muddy in the colder months. You have to cross over a busy road to get to the visitor’s centre in Alice Holt Forest. Most of the trails through the forest are wide gravel paths so should be good riding all year round. Some of the inclines are long but not arduous.
Once you cross over the next road into the Abbots Wood enclosure you are back on earth paths again, which are slightly sandy. It is much quieter this side with less runners and families. I startled a couple of deer as I was passing through. You then have to cross another minor road to join Cradle Lane Byway. There is ford here and a bridge if you don’t want to get your feet wet. This byway can be used by motorbikes which I suspect will churn up the mud in the autumn and winter.
Cradle Lane through Lindford
Once you exit Cradle Lane Byway, there is a short section on a country lane. Then there is a left turn onto a sandy bridleway running past copses of trees and a local nature reserve. This becomes a rather glorious path between fields which reminded me just how great the British countryside is.
Then there is a short run through some more woods. These exit onto a road just to the north west of Lindford. The blue national cycle route 22 signs can be found here. It was a welcome sight as I was beginning to wonder if I was on the right route.
The signs point you into Bordon Inclosure, another area of woodland with good trails. You have to cross over a stream before you exit out into Lindford. You then pass through housing estates and a track through the village. Be warned that the Shipwrights Way signage can be a little patchy around here so make sure you have another way to navigate. If I wasn’t following the trail on Kamoot at this point I think I would have got lost.
Bordon To Liss
The initial part of this section is probably one of the least picturesque parts of the Shipwrights Way. You pass through housing estates and built up areas of Bordon. However, most of this is either on shared pavements or on-road cycle routes so it’s not too perilous. Once you cross over the roundabout leaving Bordon, you see the signs marking the South Downs National Park.
From here you are back on bridleway again that runs alongside the military training grounds of Woolmer Ranges. I had to make a slight detour because a couple of fallen trees had closed the route. So I followed the diversion onto the military roads that ran parallel with the bridleway. All across here was good, flat riding on nice surfaces. On exiting the ranges I got a little confused about the route so trusted Kamoot again and crossed the A325 into Greatham. I followed the small roads through the village before turning onto a bridleway. This took me over the A3 by bridge before briefly returning to some road riding. I then turned on to the disused military railway line towards Liss.
I really loved this part of the ride as it’s pretty flat and wide and passes alongside Liss Forest and the River Rother. Technically I think this is a footpath but everyone I passed seemed OK with it being cycled. There are some great oak bridges to cross over, plus a couple of Shipwrights Way sculptures to be found. At the very end of this track there is a disused railway platform which marks the exit into Liss itself.
Liss to Petersfield
From here you cross the level crossing and follow the roads through the town. Then back over the railway line via a bridge with a cycle gutter. That was a new experience for me as I don’t think I’ve ever seen one before. I lifted my bike into the groove and pushed it up the steps, but decided to carry it down the other side. I’m so clumsy that using the gutter to descend would probably have ended in tears.
The path then runs down to and alongside the A3 for a short time before crossing underneath it to start approaching Steep. Unsurprisingly this village lives up to its name and there are a couple of sharp inclines on the byway that leads to it.
There was a really pretty pub here called the Harrow Inn, which I noticed had toilets if you need to stop for a rest. You then have to re-cross over the top of the A3 by bridge before following some more minor roads down into the top of Petersfield. By this point I had decided that I was well and truly in need of a break, so I followed the Shipwrights Way signs to the central square. It being a Saturday, it was market day and packed full of people so I decided to pull into the grounds of the Church to refuel with some coffee and cake.
Petersfield to Queen Elizabeth Country Park
The route out of Petersfield is all tarmac via fairly quiet roads with some cycleways. On the way out of the town there is a turning left which took me up a quiet country lane towards Buriton. It was here that I realised I should have stopped a little earlier because the cake hadn’t kick in yet and my energy was low. So I pushed for a while until the road levelled out and I could climb back on to follow the lane into Buriton.
This is a really pretty village which has a church overlooking a pond and would be a good place for a rest. Be warned though that the signage is a little sketchy here so I had to rely on my app again to find the bridleway that runs from beside the pond and under the railway bridge. From here there is a VERY steep climb on gravel track through Buriton Chalk Pits.
My stamina was not strong enough to pedal this so I pushed the bike for this part. This meant I could take in some of the sights through the trees and spot some disused mine trucks along the way. Once out of the woods and across the road, I found myself at the entrance to the Queen Elizabeth Country Park.
Queen Elizabeth Country Park to Finchdean
The first thing I had to do in the Queen Elizabeth Country park was another climb. This did not fill me with joy. So I’m not ashamed to say that I pushed for most of it. This wasn’t so bad as the views are really worth taking the time to appreciate.
The riding through the park is mostly good wide gravel track with some more off-road type bridleway sections. There are so many riders and route markers that it is easy to get a little lost though so I mostly relied on Kamoot to guide me through. The middle section is a lovely, fun downhill which led to another very long, but ridable climb. I passed another Shipwrights Way sculpture that marks the location of the site of a Roman Villa.
From here I got my first view of the sea and my ultimate destination. This really lifted my spirits, along with the knowledge that the steepest part of journey was almost behind me. Coming out of the park there is a very short, sharp downhill which took me down to a country lane and back to riding on tarmac. The roads around there are mostly quiet with few cars so it is easy riding. Just north of Finchdean is a gorgeous little church dedicated to St Hubert and I decided to stop here for some lunch on the bench in the church grounds. Apparently there is an important mural inside, but due to Covid-19 restrictions access to the building itself was forbidden.
Finchdean To Havant
I found the next part of the Shipwrights Way the worst for traffic. It is an on road section that follows Finchdean Rd south. Fortunately it only lasts a couple of miles until you come to Rowlands Castle which is a pretty town with lots of pubs and cafes with outside seating. It seemed to be a popular place with riders and there were several cycling groups dotted around the village green. As I left the town, I turned left to meet the bridleway that was once a drove road through the trees. This is the final stretch of actual dirt track on the Shipwrights Way. This gave way to shared pavement and off-road cycleway as I got closer to Staunton Country Park and Havant.
Havant To Hayling Ferry
There are a lot of Shipwrights Way signs on this section so it is easy to follow the route down to Hayling Island. The riding from Havant is mostly dedicated bike lanes and pavement until it joins the Hayling Billy trail. This is a really lovely gravel track cycle route following a disused railway line. I found this part great riding, flat and with good views towards the coast.
After this you cross over the bridge and onto Hayling Island. I felt pretty ecstatic by this point because I felt like I was approaching the finish line. Little did I realise that there were still quite a few more miles for my legs to cover yet (Hayling Ferry is about 5 miles from Havant). Hayling Island is lovely to cycle around and the Billy is a nice off road gravel track that hugs the coast along Langstone harbour.
There are tons of signs pointing out the available wildlife and is a popular route for families riding together. The last mile and a bit of the route to the boat was along Ferry Road which was gusty and I ended up cycling into a headwind most of the way. There is some tourist traffic along here, which would probably have been busier in a summer without Covid-19. I had slightly mistimed meeting the ferry and had to wait 45 mins for the next crossing. There is the Ferryboat Inn and a fish and chip van if you wanted to get some refreshments while you wait. I contented myself with sitting on the harbour wall eating sandwiches in the sunshine.
Hayling Ferry to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
Boarding the ferry is so much fun as the boat is totally set up for bikes. There is a big ramp to help with boarding and a rack along the bow to prop front wheels in. The toll is cheap (around £3) and is well worth not having to cycle all the way around the harbour.
The crossing itself only took a few minutes before I was pushing the bike off the boat for the final stretch to Portsmouth. The ride into the city was nice, with dedicated cycle lanes running along the seafront. There’s lots of sights along the way: the pier, Southsea Castle and the Royal Garrison Church, which was bombed during WW2.
The final part of the Shipwrights Way is all tarmac or paved paths and crosses Southsea Common along the Ladies Mile before becoming small, but busier roads on the approach to Gunwharf Quays and Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. I couldn’t quite believe it when I finally stood overlooking HMS Victory, it was a rather poignant place to finish my journey. It had been an amazing few hours in the saddle. I really, really loved riding the Shipwrights Way and would do it all again in a heartbeat.