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Cyclist Doorstep Rides, No4: Senior editor Stu's New Forest gravel ride

23 Apr 2021

Over an eight-week period, Cyclist and komoot are sharing some of their favourite rides and routes that are accessible from the doorstep. For our third instalment we turn to Head of Video Stu Bowers

The New Forest in Hampshire is an idyllic place to pedal a bike either on or off road, but in my opinion if you want to see it at its bucolic best, then getting right into its heart, away from the hubbub of roads (especially during holiday season), is the way to go and for that a gravel bike is the perfect partner.

Gravel riding opportunities abound in the New Forest, as a National Park with over 750 square km of enticing countryside plus a network of over 160km of dedicated, waymarked, off-road cycleways across the Crown Lands.

I live on the western edge of the forest so many of my rides start out east, often via Burley, a quintessential New Forest village, and this is where my doorstep ride begins.

Equally, though, it’s a loop, so you could just as easily start from Brockenhurst, another stunning picture-postcard village, which benefits from fast, main-line rail access from London (Waterloo to Bournemouth/Poole line), or even Lyndurst, to the North.

My ride begins on a disused railway known as the Castleman Trail. This is part of the old Southampton to Dorchester railway and, as an aside, it’s now possible to cycle on it almost the entire way (with the exception of a few minor deviations onto roads) from Brockenhurst, in the heart of the forest, all the way to the coast in Poole.

That’s a ride for another day, though. This ride heads east from Burley along a mix of trailway and adjoining woodland trails to Brockenhurst. Then there’s a change of scenery as it ventures out onto the open heathland, a prominent feature across much of the New Forest, and a disused WWII airfield to explore too.

Just before reaching Beaulieu the route loops back in a northwesterly direction, but as it’s just a few extra kilometres if you fancy taking in another truly beautiful New Forest village, then Beaulieu is ideal for a mid-ride coffee stop.

Well-surfaced gravel roads are the order of the next part of the ride, heading to Lyndhurst, before heading back through Bank, a tiny hamlet, where the Oak Inn is a great shout for a cold pint or bite to eat.

The route then heads south to enjoy a glorious redwoods forest that is so picturesque the road passing through it is called Ornamental Drive.

You have the option from here to take in a few extra kilometres up a really pretty road climb, or if your legs aren’t game and you want to turn off before things get too heavy going and stay off road you can.

Either way, Burley is but a short distance, and you can finish things off with a classic cream tea or even locally made cider from one of its quaint tea rooms/cafes.

Along this route you’ll enjoy a mix of surfaces, stream crossings (only enough to get your feet slightly wet, so don’t worry!) and you’ll almost certainly encounter ponies and/or sheep, pigs and cows too, all of which roam freely across the forest.

To that point, a word of caution. Always be aware you are riding in a National Park, where you are a visitor to the natural habitat for a lot of wildlife, so treat animals, and indeed other trail users, with the utmost respect and stay on waymarked trails and dedicated cycle routes. Enjoy.