Experienced, fit ultra-distance cyclists won’t need this page and might find the White Horse Round quite straightforward. For most riders however, even those participating regularly in club-level events and sportives, completing the route in a single day will be a significant and serious challenge and might need some special prep.
The following is given in the form of friendly advice only – take as much as you need.
What to expect
The route is mostly on quiet unclassified and B-roads, gravel and loose stone tracks, off-road doubletrack (from fast-flowing to rough), and a small amount of singletrack. It’s a ‘gravel’ route, well-suited to a rigid drop-bar cyclocross-style bike, but adventurous in nature, sometimes briefly straying into mountain bike territory. You will encounter boneshaking hardpack, steep gradients (both up and down), rutted sections, and some long ridge sections that are exposed to the elements.
Roads make up approximately 50% of the route and are nearly all quiet, remote, or pass through small towns and villages in 30mph limits. Main roads are crossed in a few places, but no time is actually spent on them.
Climbs vary from short, sharp off-road stingers to strung-out winches, and although the route does not include climbing for the sake of it there is a still a lot – somewhere towards 6000ft or 1800m. Most of the big ascents are on good surfaces, often paved. However, there are some short, steep off-road sections that might end up being pushed by many riders, to save the legs. These include the climb to the Cherhill/Lansdowne Monument, and possibly some very short sections near Castle Coombe and Avebury. They should amount to no more than about 15 minutes of the total completion time. Everything else is rideable in most conditions with typical off-road gearing.
In the summer, mud is rarely an issue on the route, and in dry conditions you’re more likely to finish covered in dust. There are some chalk paths though, and in the wet these can become slippery and boggy. In places also watch for ruts obscured by grass overgrowth.
When to attempt it
The round is best tackled Spring to Autumn, in dry periods, on a fine day that’s not too hot. In winter some of the route will be unpleasantly muddy, and only a few very fast riders would be able to complete it in daylight hours. Even in the summer you could easily spend 13 or 14 hours in the saddle, so have backup power available for your GPS, and consider carrying an LED rear light (at least) for the road sections.
What bike to use
The Whitehorse Round is ideally suited to good quality gravel, cyclocross and cross-country mountain bikes. Hydraulic disc brakes and cushioned bar tape will help avoid hand fatigue. Using tyres with some tread makes sense in all but very dry conditions.
Aside from the obvious personal stuff – bike, drinks and clothing – some or all of the following can prove really useful:
- GPS unit with loaded route – compulsory, perhaps
- USB power bank for GPS battery backup
- Ordnance Survey backup mapping. A dedicated OS mapping app on a fully-charged mobile phone makes sense.
- Backup windproof/waterproof layer
- Backup energy food stash (gels etc)
- Basic first aid (antiseptic wipes, plasters etc)
- Spare tubes, puncture repair kit, emergency tyre boot/patch, pump – a spare folding tyre isn’t excessive
- Essential tools, chain splitter, cable ties, spare derailleur hanger
- Bell (a few sections are busy with pedestrians, especially at the weekends)
Food and drink stops
The White Horse Round takes you quite a long way from civilisation at times, so it’s worth planning where you’ll replenish water and take on food. Distances assume you’re on the full-length route with a Bradford-on-Avon start.
Bradford-on-Avon 0 miles
Canal drinking water point approx 50m along after first joining the towpath. (We’re listing this for the benefit of riders who might be starting the route elsewhere, or in case you forgot to fill your bottles). NB. Water points look like metal bollards, between the path and canal, often with a small drain underneath them. This one, and many others, are usually locked, but can be opened with a British Waterways key, available very cheaply from various suppliers (Google) or from Canal & River Trust shops.
Bratton (off-route) 14 miles
Convenience store less than 1/4 mile off the route. At the junction with the B3098, just before the climb of Port Way, turn left into the village.
Devizes (off-route) 36 miles
Petrol station approx 200m off-route on the A361. After descending from Etchilhampton Hill and approaching the town, don’t take the canal towpath but go north over the road bridge on Windsor Drive. A petrol station is almost immediately visible to the right and is open 24 hours. From there retrace to the canal bridge and resume route on the towpath.
Avebury 49 miles
National Trust Visitor Centre cafe, including outside water tap on the Circles Restaurant building. Cafe 11am-3pm, closed Mon/Tues but tap should be available 10am-4pm every day.
Also Avebury Community Shop (10-4pm) every day.
Chiseldon 59 miles
Tall Trees Farm Shop & Cafe on right as signposted cycle route is reached, near the A346. 9am-4pm Tues-Sat, 10am-4pm Sun, closed Mon.
Spar in village, 6am-8pm every day
One Stop convenience store in row of shops approx 1/2 mile after leaving Coate park. 6am-10pm (Lock your bike…)
Cricklade (off-route) 73
Tesco Express. 6am-11pm Mon-Sat, 7am-10.30pm Sun. From Cricklade High Street the route turns sharp left up a side-road, Bath Road. Store is less than 100m further on, beyond the mini-roundabout.
South Cerney 78
Co-Op. 7am-8.30pm Mon-Sat, 8am-8pm Sun.
One Stop (immediately left after Co-Op) 7am-9pm every day.
Castle Combe 100
The Old Stables cafe, down first left turn (into yard) below the market cross. 10am-4pm Weds-Sun, closed Mon-Tues.
The Little Picnic Shop (takeaway), brown door on left after Old Stables cafe yard. 9am-6pm every day. Very expensive picnic boxes, and you may need to ring ahead to order (07949 052121), but if you’re desperate…
Premier convenience store, 6.30am-10pm Mon-Sat, 6.30am-9pm Sun.
Robbie’s Plaice fish and chips, 9am-10pm Mon-Sat, closed Sun.
Dundas Aqueduct 112.5
Canal drinking water point