Family Cycling in the Chilterns

family_icecreamThere’s nothing better than taking the family out for a ride on a warm summer afternoon to enjoy the beautiful Chilterns countryside – zipping along quiet paths, wind in your hair, surrounded by nature and wildlife and the perfect excuse to treat everyone to an ice cream at the end of the ride!

Here in the Chiltern Hills we are lucky enough to have lots of open countryside and different habitats to explore but, as the name suggests, there are hills and this can sometimes put people off. (There’s nothing we can do about those though, you get used to them!) Parents are also concerned about their children riding on roads with traffic so we are often asked about places for families to enjoy a pleasant ride together.

We’ve put together a list of some of the places we think families might enjoy riding. Some are off-road and traffic free, some involve short sections of quiet lanes, some are suitable for children of all ages, some are only suitable for slightly older children riding a bike with slightly bigger wheels, some have hills, some don’t. These are just suggestions of where you might want to go depending on how adventurous and fit you are and how old and confidents the kids are. Many of these suggestions might also be suitable for beginners to try.

Wendover-leaflet-1Wendover Woodswebsite

A well-known area for cycling and outdoor activities, Wendover Woods in Buckinghamshire is owned by the Forestry Commission and has a 6 mile waymarked cycle route. Compared to other FC mountain bike trails, this is graded as ‘easy’ although it is steep in places. The trail does have a good, all weather, stone surface though. A map and route leaflet are available.

Other info: Cafe in the Woods, Go Ape, Walking trails — activities all year
Waymarked routes: Yes. Other bridleways and tracks are also available.
Nearest train station: Wendover

National Trust Ashridge Estatewebsite

Ashridge Estate covers around 5,000 acres of the Chiltern Hills and has been managed by the National Trust since 1926. There are a variety of bridleways criss-crossing the estate, some surfaces are in better condition than others and they can get very wet and muddy when it’s been raining. There are also a couple of waymarked cycle routes, a map is available online or at the visitor centre.

Waymarked routes: Yes. Plus bridleways.
Other info: Visitor centre, cafe, toilets, local knowledge about where to ride
Nearest train station: Berkhamsted and Tring.

sustrans_phoenixThe Phoenix Trail Princes Risborough to Thamewebsite

Launched in spring 2002 the Phoenix Trail follows the course of an old railway line and forms part of National Cycle Network route 57. The 5 mile route is a shared use path with walkers and horse riders and is surfaced with tarmac and limestone dust. A tranquil path to amble along the route is rich in wildlife and a place to spot Red Kites, it also has over 30 artworks from local artists sited along it.

Waymarked: Yes. Flat, straight, very easy to follow
Nearest train station: Princes Risborough and Thame (depending which end you start)
More like this: The Nickey Line (Hemel Hempstead to Harpenden); The Ebury Way (Rickmansworth to Watford); The Alban Way (St Albans to Hatfield)

Grand Union Canalwebsite

As Britain’s longest canal it runs for around 80 miles from London to Birmingham through rolling countryside, industrial towns and peaceful villages, including Hemel Hempstead, Berkhamsted, Tring and Marsworth with a currently unused arm to Wendover. The surface can vary from wide, gravel tracks to grass with muddy sections. It all depends on recent weather. Obviously being a canal the route is reasonably flat.

Waymarked: Only when official cycling routes use it – Chilterns Cycleway and NCN routes. Otherwise, just follow the water.
Other info: A plethora of towns, shops, pubs and cafes along the route with lots to see and information boards to tell you about the history and wildlife.
Nearest train stations: Hemel Hempstead, Berkhamsted, Tring plus many, many more

Thames Path Goring to Mapledurham House (see map below)

As one of 16 National Trails across England and Wales the Thames Path is mostly made up of public footpath on which cyclists have no legal right to ride unless they have permission from the landowners. However, we did find this little gem of public bridleway and quiet lanes stretching from Goring all the way to Mapledurham.

Distance: 9 miles, one way. Starting at Goring train station there’s a short no thru road section to join the bridleway which takes you all the way to Whitchurch-on-Thames; mostly well-surfaced though can be narrow, expect mud after wet weather. Then a busy road crossing onto a quiet lane to Hardwick House where you join a private road so hardly any traffic through the private estate to Mapledurham.

The last section to Chazey Court is also a concrete private road through the grounds of the estate – estate and farm traffic only through stunning grounds. Turn back the way you came from there or add on the little loop up through the woods. The whole route is reasonably easy to follow with good bridleway and byway marking. Probably suitable for older children and beginners although younger children could do sections of it.

Stonor to Christmas Common/Christmas Common to Stonor (see map below)

Bridleway thru Queen Wood

Bridleway through Queen Wood

Two large sections of Restricted Byway and Public Bridleway that we’ve joined up to form a reasonably easy, traffic-free circular route of around 9km/6.5miles on gravel roads, dirt tracks, through Queen Wood and across farmland. Start with a descent from Christmas Common or save it until the end by starting at Stonor.

We started after lunch at the Quince Tree (it’s the polite thing to do if you’re parking there) or you could park in Stonor Park when it’s open. There’s a short road section on the B480 but there’s very little traffic. The Byway sign just past the junction is easy to spot with a big gravel entrance. Then it’s all the way to the top of the gradual hill on an old gravel road. The surface deteriorates near the top as you enter Queen Wood.

The Bridleway at the top off to the right is also well marked, follow it all the way down through the wood going straight on at the crossroads. This brings you out onto the farm land. After wet weather and during winter it can be extremely muddy and a gloop fest towards the bottom and through the farmyard. The final tracks around the farm fields improve as you get closer to the road. Going could be rough for very small children with small wheels on this route.

Berkhamsted through Ashridge Estate (see map below)

With a little knowledge and some new bridleways this is a fantastic off-road route that we discovered, steeped in history passing Berkhamsted Castle and the World War I trenches at Ashridge – a spectacular ride for everyone.

Distance: 13.5 miles. Starting at Berkhamsted train station this is the busiest section of the whole route and the only bit of road. If you’re not confident or have small children, there is a pavement all the way up New Road to join the bridleway on the edge of the estate. Then it’s off-road on well surfaced bridleways all the way through Frithsden Beeches to cross the B4506 (care!) to reach the Bridgewater Monument, cafe and visitor centre. This bit is quite well marked and easy to follow.

The next section is slightly trickier to follow and it can be easy to miss the bridleway off to the left – it’s quite steep downhill with some wooden step sections out on to a farm track. Cross the road and the terrain improves – hardly any hills, better surfaces and very easy to follow the new bridleway sections around the golf course.

Popping out onto the road near Park Hill Farm, although the road can be very busy the grass verge is well used and easy to ride along to the Byway through the farm yard. Only residents use the road that takes you to the Grand Union Canal towpath, which takes you all the way back to the train station. Lovely!

Route Guides coming soon:

Swan’s Way/Icknield Way Ewelme to Chinnor

The Swan’s Way is a long distance 65 mile bridleroute from Northamptonshire across Buckinghamshire to Goring on Thames. Large sections of this route are on Public Bridleway or Restricted Byways and make great linear cycle rides. The sections from Ewelme all the way to Chinnor are practically traffic free with just the odd (very quiet) road crossing and bridleway links to the Ridgeway, the Chiltern Way, Ewelme Park, Bledlow Cross, Benson and more. We’ll do some more detailed route suggestions for this one soon, but if you’re feeling adventurous, grab an OS map and go explore.

The Ridgeway

Another National Trail and prehistoric route for herdsmen and soldiers, The Ridgeway stretches from Overton Hill through the Chiltern Hills to Ivinghoe Beacon. Again, much of this route is public footpath and not accessible for cyclists. But there are some good sections of bridleway in various places. It can be hard to distinguish the Ridgeway from the Icknield Way, the Swan’s Way, the Chiltern Way, the Oxfordshire Way and the Midshires Way from one another on maps as they seem to criss-cross and merge in a number of places. But as long as it’s a bridleway or a restricted byway, we wouldn’t worry about it too much.

Other cycling facilities in the area:

Aston Hill pumptrack | Chesham skate park | Henley skate park | Dunstable BMX track | Wendover jump tracks | Hemel Hempstead skate park

A little further afield:

River Lee Country Park, Herts | Black Park, Bucks | Aspley Woods, Beds/Bucks | Rushmere, Bucks | Woburn Sands, Bucks


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Posted in _Omni-Chilterns, Berkhamsted, Chesham, Great Missenden, Henley-on-Thames, Princes Risborough, Tring, Wendover

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