Cycling in Wiltshire
Stonehenge, White Horses, Britain’s best towpath rides, mystic ancient barrows and crop circles – and Swindon: Wiltshire has an unmatched range of must-sees to explore by bike, all set among quite beautiful chalk hills, valleys and country lanes.
Start in Salisbury, with its fine cathedral and its close. Cycle via an old drover’s road up to remote Normanton Down: Stonehenge reveals itself dramatically. Cyclists in the know, though, prefer the village of Avebury, whose ancient stone circle is more accessible and more fun to visit. The Wylye Valley route from Salisbury to Bath (NCN24) passes through typically fabulous valley scenery; the circular 160-mile Wiltshire Cycleway showcases the county, right up to historic Malmesbury in the Cotswolds.
For mountain bikers Avebury, is the start of the Ridgeway, the renowned chalk lane that heads west across England; the first 42 miles are a cycle treat. Another good MTB day or two out is to take an OS map visit all eight Wiltshire White Horses, huge chalk figures cut into the hills in the hills rolling northeast from Westbury (home of the grandest). Exploring the mystic ancient burial barrows and speculative crop-circle country round here makes a great road or off-road tour.
The Kennet and Avon canal, running east from Bath, offers England’s best towpath cycling experience (NCN4). It runs smoothly to Italianate Bradford-on-Avon through unmatched scenery, and into Devizes you have the astounding staircase of nearly 30 locks at Caen Hill, a world canal marvel. All great for families, particularly the Bath-Bradford leg.
And when you need large town facilities, Swindon has three decent local 7-mile leisure routes. Cycling its notorious six-gyratory ‘Magic Roundabout’ is a once-in-a-lifetime experience – as in, ‘never again’.
Cycling groups and clubs in Wiltshire
Swindon CTC (Swindon)
Weekend and weekday rides; accompanied children welcome
Baydon Flyers (Baydon)
Malmesbury Clarion Cycling Club (Malmesbury)
Cycling club operating in and around Malmesbury
Corinium Cycling Club (Cirencester)
Organises a range of activities - on and off bike - to suit all levels of cycling
Swindon Road Club (Swindon)
Fitness building, social and training rides, road and circuit races, time trials, cyclocross, MTB
Westbury Wheelers (Westbury)
Sarum Velo (Salisbury)
Many types of cycling including road, mountain bike, track, cyclocross and time trials
Salisbury Road Club (Salisbury)
Four Hundred in Four (Salisbury)
Mountain Biking Swindon (Swindon)
Resource for all things mountain biking, including Croft Trail and Ridgeway
Swindon MTB Enthusiasts Forum (Swindon)
North Wilts Road Club (Swindon)
Holds Saturday and Sunday rides and a midweek ride
Salisbury Plain Area MB (Chippenham)
Wrong Way Round Bike Ride (Wiltshire)
Chippenham and District Wheelers (Chippenham)
Caters for riders of all ages and abilities, with a strong focus on developing young cyclists
Salisbury Road and Mountain CC (Salisbury)
Wiltshire Police (Wiltshire)
Wanborough Vets CC (Wiltshire)
Recycles, Booth House (Wiltshire)
The George Veterinary Group Cycling Club (Wiltshire)
Wincanton PLC (Wiltshire)
KBB 4 Sanitation First (Wiltshire)
Cycling 4 Health - Swindon Sports Development & Partnerships (Swindon)
Jamie's Farm (Wiltshire)
Frome & District Wheelers (Frome)
What to take with you on your ride
The only thing you really need for cycling is a bike. And maybe a phone, and credit card: in Britain you’re only a call away from any service you might need.
But unless money is no object, it’s wise to take a few things with you on a day ride. A saddlebag, panniers or bikepacking bags are best for carrying stuff. A front basket is second best. A rucksack is third best. Your sweaty back will soon tell you why.
Cycling short distances in jeans and t-shirt is fine, but on a long or strenuous ride – over ten miles say, or in hills – those jeans will rub and the t-shirt will get damp and clingy. Shorts or, yes, lycra leggings and padded shorts will be much comfier, and merino or polyester cycling tops wick away the sweat, keeping you dry and comfy. (They don’t have to be lurid colours.)
If rain’s in the air, pack a rainproof top. If it might turn chilly, take a fleece or warm top. But the thing you’re most likely to forget is the sunblock.
It’s remarkable how often you enjoy being out on the bike so much that you suddenly realise it’s getting dark. So take lights (which are legally required at night). They’re price of a sandwich, take no space, are easy to put on thanks to tool-free plastic clips, and the batteries last for ever.
Take a puncture repair kit (with tyre levers) and pump. Make sure it fits your valves, which will be either ‘Presta’ or ‘Schraeder’ – realising they don’t match is a very common roadside discovery! Carrying a spare inner tube (make sure it matches your tyre size) makes puncture repair much easier: mend the old one back at home. If you do get in trouble, some kindly passing cyclist will probably stop to help.
Using a helmet is a personal choice – they’re not legally required.
Cycling makes you thirsty, so take lots of water. Long-distance riders talk about ‘the bonk’ – a sudden loss of energy rendering you almost stationary. It’s miraculously and instantly cured by eating something sweet. On short rides you’re unlikely to run out of energy, but just in case, take a snack like flapjack, banana, chocolate or jelly babies.
Taking a packed lunch or picnic will save you money, though that hot drink and cake in a cosy cafe could yet prove very tempting!
Your phone GPS could be invaluable for showing where you are when lost; you can download free detailed UK maps and GPS software before your trip.
Paper maps are still useful, though, so take one: no power source or wifi signal required, and they’re great for suggesting possibilities or changes of plan.