White Horse Round full
This page splits the route into 9 sections, with descriptions. You don’t need it – the GPS track downloadable directly below has all the detail you’d ever need. And you might not want it if you’d like to experience everything fresh. But it highlights a few notable features, and hopefully gives a flavour of what’s in store on the route. Mile values, incidentally, are the total distance at the end of each section.
For alternative start points, and some nice shorter variants, see the Route Variations page.
NB. In section 6 of the notes below there’s some information about a temporary route diversion in Swindon. It’s likely to be in place until Summer 2024.
117 miles, 5500ft climbing – approx 50% off-road
If you’re downloading please consider donating to the Great Western Air Ambulance Charity. Any contribution will be very gratefully received.
(macOS users, the full-screen feature is glitchy in Safari for this and other embedded maps on the site, but it works perfectly in Google Chrome.)
The suggested start point for The White Horse Round is Bradford-on-Avon, accessible by train on the Wessex Main Line (GWR).
If you’re arriving by car a good option for parking is Bradford-on-Avon station car park (postcode BA15 1DB). Head for Zone B, which (at the time of writing) charges £6.30 for a full day, 8am-6pm, Monday-Saturday, including bank holidays. Sunday flat rate is 80p. There are two pay and display machines, or the MiPermit parking app location code is 710129. Multi-day stays are permitted, in case you’re planning to bike-pack the route.
Another parking alternative is the Canal and River Trust car park at Baileys Barn. This is even nearer the start of the route, but is a little more expensive at £8 for 24 hours. Pay and display is by cash or PayByPhone (location code 89054).
Please note: the initial, and final, miles of the White Horse Round from Bradford-on-Avon are on the towpath of the Kennet and Avon Canal. This gets very congested with pedestrians on sunny weekends, but if you leave early morning and return late afternoon/evening (and ping your bell politely when necessary) you’ll have no trouble.
1: Bradford-on-Avon to Westbury White Horse (15 miles)
The opening miles along the Kennet and Avon Canal make for an easy, attractive and enjoyable warm-up.
If you’re coming from the railway station head east out of the car park to Frome Road (B3109) and turn right, south out of town (mini roundabouts, slow traffic). You’ll soon see the Canal Tavern and Lock Inn Cafe on your right – at the bridge just beyond turn left on to the towpath.
Then it’s a case of following the towpath for just over 6 miles to a pedestrian swing bridge next to a small wood. It is normally open, but swings to let boats pass, so there is a small chance of a brief hold-up. Cross the canal and exit immaculate farm grounds, continuing to a main road junction. Turn right, then left down a bridleway just beyond a car dealership. This – the delightfully-named ‘Stoggy Lane’ – has a very short low-lying section that can be wet or overgrown (or both), but the surface rapidly improves immediately afterwards before becoming a road.
Later, opposite a cottage, dive down Gypsies’ Lane. After a stream crossing the path can unfortunately become a jungle in high summer, for about 50m. Some relief may be found on an adjacent field edge, or with a machete… At the end of it cross a road to join Mudmead Lane, a lovely track.
Roads lead to Bratton and one of the big climbs of the day, Port Way. It’s on a good road surface and is at least steady, but it’s a relentless 500ft. At the top awaits the brilliant viewpoint of Westbury Hill, with its imposing white horse figure. A good spot to refuel.
2: Westbury White Horse to Urchfont (28 miles)
This section hugs out-of-bounds Salisbury Plain military land, on the Imber Perimeter Path. It’s wide open, atmospheric, and can be surprisingly tough, particularly if you aren’t assisted by south-westerly wind common here.
Retrace steps from the Westbury Hill car park, and turn right. Thunder down and labour up the first section to the east. Do the same again, surrounded by stupendous terrain, with a crossing of the A360 (CARE!) at Gore Cross.
As you top out the next long climb, pass to the north of a promontory with a little cluster of trees. Look for a path dropping left, initially accessed by a few bumpy turf steps, hidden in summer. Narrow at first, but fast and flowing, this descent later broadens to a chalk track which can be messy, though still rideable, just about, in wet periods.
As the gradient eases look for a bridleway to the left with a few brick-strewn steps – if you hit the road you’ve gone too far. Eventually this turns right to cross the B3098.
3. Urchfont to Devizes (37 miles)
On the continuation bridleway, which soon turns west, this next section is wonderfully varied, and can feel remote and quiet.
First, there’s a descent through a valley, with huge trees holding together crumbling banks – watch for off-camber drifts and drainage channels.
Later, at a left hand bend, launch up a stiff byway climb, before turning north east on a super, flowing track. This leads to a turn into the remote Stert valley, and to escape it take a steep watersplash (or a nice footbridge) left to access a beautiful lane that climbs next to thatched cottages.
At the A342 (CARE) cross directly to fields then take a sunken lane north-west over Etchilhampton Hill. Great views open up, and the modern Roundway white horse figure lies ahead.
A quiet road heads into Devizes. At a T-junction cross to the pavement/bike path opposite, and take a ramp signposted ‘4’ to drop steeply to the canal towpath. Continue on it after a 90º turn to the right before crossing north on a road bridge to the quiet Quaker’s Walk path, through impressive iron gates.
4. Devizes to Avebury (49 miles)
Potter up the lovely tree-lined Quakers Walk (CARE – pedestrians). Shown as a footpath on OS maps this is nevertheless a (signposted) access to NCR 4, and endorsed as part of the town cycling infrastructure. Crossing a road, continue on a slightly rougher track (also technically a footpath, but deserted, and with established use by horse-riders and cyclists) to finally access the stiff road climb to Roundway Hill and the Roundway white horse. Another great view point.
Good, open gravel tracks beyond lead into an imposing Wessex landscape. Cross a fast road (CARE) to continue towards Cherhill Down, and then tackle it directly turning 90º left, leading to a lovely but very steep grassy climb.
Up on top, bear left through the remains of earthworks of Oldbury Castle hill fort, crossing the centre of its bleak interior. Head directly for the Lansdowne Monument, finally passing left of it on an obvious track. It must be one of the best panoramic viewpoints in Wiltshire. A scramble up to one of the surrounding knolls is well worth the effort.
Continue on the double-track that goes left of the monument and through a gate. Then it’s down a chalky descent, which is ‘entertaining’ in the wet. A few sections are quite technical, there are steps, and low-slung overgrown shrubbery might force one or two quick dismounts no matter how good your handling. If you can spare a glance to the right, by the way, the Cherhill white horse figure is seen to great effect from here.
At the bottom, hopefully still in one piece, cross over the very fast A4 (CARE) to drop into beautiful Cherhill. Down low, bear right to the gravel track Juggler’s Lane, which climbs steadily to excellent, fast tracks past Yatesbury.
Dogleg right-left with Windmill Hill to your left, and then enter Avebury the prettiest way possible: via narrow well-marked cycle paths over the river Kennet, and into very narrow lanes with some tight turns. (CARE – pedestrians).
Off the High Street the main National Trust visitor centre (50m down a pedestrian track to the left) has an extremely useful water tap on the wall of the cafe building. And in the centre of the village the size and scale of Avebury’s stone circle is immediately obvious. Worth a quick visit, with good views from the banks around the huge ditches.
5. Avebury to Swindon (61 miles)
From the middle of Avebury, carved up by the A4361, go more or less east, instantly leaving the crowds behind and transferring to a gravel surface near a farm. This, the Herepath, pitches up with a few steep sections and lots of ruts to intersect with the ancient pathway The Ridgeway.
Turn left on that and enjoy a gradually improving surface to Hackpen Hill, which has its own white horse hill carving. Cross the road (CARE – poor visibility on a corner) and continue on towards another hill fort in a majestic landscape, Barbury Castle. Stay on The Ridgeway to where it runs out to road, and just before the car park of the Three Trees farm shop and cafe take a well-signposted bridleway left, which leads into the little village of Chiseldon.
Sneak through residential streets until onward progress in a cul-de-sac is provided by a little escape path at the far end. For about 30m this is technically a footpath, but visibility is good and riding it when no-one else is about would not, it could be argued, be a huge crime. Pull up out of the sunken lane beyond and take a right that immediately begins the drop towards Swindon…
… and not without some surprises. There’s some lovely open slopes as the roar of the M4, which lies ahead, increases. To cross the motorway, take the ‘curly-wurly bridge’ with its 360º on- and 720º off-ramp. Weirdly enjoyable. Tarmac snakes through more woodland, and there would be the potential for huge speed here, but with pedestrians now more likely it’s advisable to keep the lid on it. Eventually you enter the very pleasant Coate Country Park, with its waterfowl, diving board, and miniature railway. And at this point there’s no point pretending otherwise – you’re in Swindon.
6. Swindon to South Cerney (77.5 miles)
Crossing Swindon, on an otherwise quite wild, adventurous gravel route, might seem like madness. Actually, it’s surprisingly enjoyable.
Being too intricate to describe in detail, just take care and follow your GPS unit.
But in essence from Coate you cut through residential streets, via a few dedicated cycle-lane crossings, to Lawns Park. Built up in all directions, it’s still possible to see deer there. Then, after a quiet road section you turn into Central Trading Estate. This looks hugely unpromising… but a path next to fencing at the far end leads out and joins an old railway track-bed that passes behind Swindon’s Old Town, with a fine surface and great views to the south.
Leaving the old line, modern but excellent cycle paths lead (via a couple of road crossings) to the Westmead area of town,
and a more remote-feeling track heading north initially through industrial ground. This short section is currently closed for a water main replacement. See the notes below. Then you skirt a big dual carriageway, and beyond it some pleasant-enough housing estates, and you’re through!
A road, with a barrier preventing access by motorised traffic, leads north. Later you transfer to another railway track-bed that leads into the ancient market town of Cricklade. Roads lead out to a continuation of the track you were just on, flowing fast up to South Cerney. An incongruous sight of bobbing sailing masts reveals this to be the epicentre of the Cotswold Water Park – dozens of lakes formed from old gravel pits.
Unfortunately a good off-road section of the route in Swindon is currently closed for a major water main replacement and looks to stay that way until August 2024 at the earliest.
A diversion is in place, which should be clearly signed both at the start of the section, and at various places through the diversion. It adds at most a mile to the total distance.
Photos of information posted by Thames Water are shown here. In practice, keep going straight where you’re barred from turning left. Then look out for dedicated cycle route diversion signs – they have a diagram of a bike and arrows in white on a red background. The official diversion keeps to cycle paths and roads which are somewhat cycle-friendly. An alternative is to go on the road through the Cheney Manor Industrial Estate – faster, but unlikely to win any beauty contests, and potentially busy during working hours.
7. South Cerney to Castle Combe (100 miles)
There’s no way around it – 6 miles of road riding are now required to rejoin gravel routes to the west.
Starting from the marina in South Cerney, ride through town – it’s pleasant enough and there are a couple of useful supermarkets. Leaving it behind, some largely flat terrain eventually leads into the pretty villages of Ewen and Kemble. You almost immediately leave the latter down a narrow, pothole-heavy lane to turn off right in the microscopic Kemble Wick. This road runs out, but bikes continue by turning right to pass a stable yard and following a field edge.
Then, after another short road section, begins the Fosse Way. This amazing bit of Roman infrastructure is dead straight, but far from flat. It carves down past little Wiltshire villages, always rising or falling, and there are several notable features, such as the two ancient bridges over different branches of the Avon. The huge ford at the first is, apparently, rideable in the summer, but the little bridge to the right is probably more fun anyway. CARE is needed at times on the Fosse Way byway – it crosses or joins many 60mph country roads, farm access tracks cut across it, and there can be little or no warning of these junctions. Be wary of any change in surface ahead and be ready to stop quickly. Also, as it’s a byway open to all traffic, you might sometimes encounter motocrossers, quad bikes, Land Rovers and even large tractors – as well as horse riders and pedestrians of course.
After ducking under the M4 on a road section, soon turn left. This quiet road, more like a dirt track, crosses another to become a byway. At the next road turn right, and at a meeting of four roads go directly ahead down a no-through-road lane (with CARE, as it’s a road junction salad). The road runs out at a private drive, where you cut right down a rough, steep eroded bridleway through dense woodland to exit abruptly at a road. Good sport.
Turn left to quickly hit the painfully pretty, chocolate-box reality of Castle Combe, and get ready to dodge pedestrians everywhere.
8. Castle Combe to Bathampton (110 miles)
Continue on down through the village and start to climb, in a beautiful valley. At the top, a metal gate lies directly ahead across a junction – go through this then turn immediately right to go parallel with the side road for some metres, before the track bears left into a valley. A lovely, remote descent that is over too soon.
What goes down… At the bottom turn sharp left to cross a stream and immediately climb a narrow path with a tight switchback. You’re channelled along between hedgerows to eventually pass into the grounds of a house. Go straight through and out via another gate to turn right on to gravel doubletrack – don’t be tempted to use the house’s private driveway, which comes sooner.
Enjoy this beautiful, remote valley, before going past North Wraxall and back on the path of the Fosse Way, on the road, at The Shoe. The road continues, down and steeply up through another valley, then past the airfield at Colerne. Finally with a drop yawning just ahead, take a bridleway on the right, via a metal gate, out of a lay-by.
Here, on Bannerdown Common, get over to the right hand path as soon as possible, and keep right – the track narrows, trending right, before curving back left. It gets quite steep for a short time, with some rough ruts and steps. On a wider track now, contend with roots and gravel before dropping steeply to a junction and roundabout at Batheaston.
Go across the junctions, bearing a little to the right, with a row of shops on your right. Immediately turn left into a car park, signposted as a cycle route to Bathampton and the city centre. A bridge and a parkland track turn you to the south to rejoin the road, climbing up over a railway bridge. Down the other side follow the road left past a pub and a churchyard, to another bridge. There, access to the towpath should be visible from a side-road to the left, across a junction.
9. Bathampton to Bradford-on-Avon (117 miles)
If you’ve made it this far, this last bit is effectively the victory lap.
On the towpath go east initially, then follow it generally south down a beautiful valley with a railway line always nearby.
The first place of real note is Dundas Wharf and Aqueduct, which can be busy with pedestrians but is worth a quick look. The towpath first obviously crosses a narrow bridge, and then there’s a really tight pinch-point behind an old tollhouse. Then the aqueduct itself.
Leaving the hordes behind again, another beautiful section gradually turns east, arriving at Avoncliff. Here, watch carefully for route signage. Unexpectedly, immediately after the aqueduct you have to double-back right, drop under the canal, and climb up the other side via a steep switchback. You should end up next to the canal again, on its north side.
And that’s almost it. A final section of house boats and broad towpath leads back to Bradford-on-Avon and the bridge where you first left the road. The Canal Tavern may be a temptation. Otherwise it’s a left back into town and the railway station.