“THERE is a lot of lovely off-road biking around here around the back lanes,” says Will Norgan, owner of Hammoon Cycles in Shaftesbury.
He and his family like to cycle the countryside east of Shaftesbury and accessible via the only flat road into the town. It’s an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which recently received £2.5m of funds to spend on a series of projects – including improved cycle routes.
Here Will shares his favourite route out of Shaftesbury, a 26-mile ride “along beautiful lanes” with plenty of suggested stops. It’s a gently undulating route with some tree cover, easy for family cycling, and mostly on single track or quiet lanes. There is only one short climb going into East Knoyle, and a one-mile busy stretch of road on the return to Shaftesbury.
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WILL’S WHEELS: Leave the Bell Street Car Park in Shaftesbury on the B3081 road towards Gillingham. On the bend under the flyover, take the road to Motcombe described as a “hamlet of gardens at the foot of the hill” by Sir Frederick Treves in his 1906 book The Highways and Byways of Dorset.
This is Route 253 of the National Cycle Network, and meanders gently downhill on a well-made road into the village. Turn right at the sign for the village shop onto The Street, past the village hall and three gloriously thatched cottages and you’ll find Motcombe Community Shop on your left. It’s under three miles from Shaftesbury.
Outside are tables, fruit and Purbeck ice-cream. Inside, treats from Berry’s Bakes of Shaftesbury: stem ginger cookies and a bag of chilli cheddars (£2.95). A group were in the coffee shop (cappuccino, £1.65 takeaway), with a box of shop own-label clotted cream fudge. It’s the heart of the village, with 60 volunteers working shifts. The previous owners couldn’t find a buyer, so the village bought it, raising £150,000, half through £1 shares.
ONWARDS AND UPWARDS TO EAST KNOYLE
From the shop, the road rises slightly up Elm Hill, still on NCN253. Turn left at the sign to Gillingham. The hedges here are cut low, affording magnificent views towards Duncliffe Wood and Shaftesbury on its ridge. The road passes The Coppleridge Inn, set in 15 acres of meadows and woodland, a good place to stay on the route. After a mile or so, turn right at the crossroads, with the signpost pointing towards the Knoyles and Hindon.
The road gently rises and passes under oaks. You cross the River Lodden and pass The Islands Fishery, where the road turns to the right, over an old bridge and past Avery & Sons former bakery: a Hovis sign is still outside.
Turn right at a farm, following the sign to East Knoyle, crossing the border into Wiltshire. The hamlet of Underhill gives warning to the road ahead, a half-mile stretch of hill and the only real climb on the entire route. At a crossroads, the road ahead is signposted for Clouds House, an addiction treatment centre.
To your left is the East Knoyle windmill (it stopped working in 1900) and the road climbs further to The Fox and Hounds on The Green, with fabulous views out over The Blackmore Vale. But turn right at the crossroads, and the route takes you down through a beech wood to the lovely village of East Knoyle, birthplace of Sir Christopher Wren and now home to guitarist Eric Clapton. The village has its own community-owned shop at the bottom of the hill to stock up on local produce.
A CASTLE, KITCHEN GARDEN AND GALLERY
Leave East Knoyle down The Street, take the first fork on the left into Millbrook Lane, then across the busy A350 and 50m south to rejoin the lane. The route to Semley takes you past Summerleaze Gallery, two exhibition spaces converted from barns (open by appointment only). The lane is a single track, level road, which rolls down to a minor crossroads. Cycle straight on between two gorgeous cottages and past Linly Woods on your left, dotted with massive oaks and part of the Pythouse estate. A little later on you’ll see the gated drive to Pythouse, a 300-year-old country house now a private home.
The route here turns right – but if you have the time, head straight on and visit Pythouse Kitchen Garden, a stunning place for lunch (and dinner on Friday and Saturday night). Or just squeeze in a coffee: it’s worth it for the setting and the flower/veg/herb gardens.
From Pythouse gates, the track runs through an avenue of vast Wellingtonia trees and oaks before dropping into the sleepy, sprawling village of Semley, home to another good pub, The Benett Arms. There is also the Semley Village Stores so spread your picnic blanket on the village green and enjoy your village shop purchases. As a bonus, you can pour your own milk direct from Church Farm Dairy on the edge of the green.
Following the sign for Wardour (2.5 miles), past the church and along a bucolic valley with views of open countryside and shaded avenues. Follow the English Heritage signs for Old Wardour Castle, a proper ruin (reached via a short, stiff bike ride up the hill) and a child’s delight – a lawn to run around, a grotto, a circular staircase to the roof and dozens of corridors and hiding places: 95% of Tripadvisor reviews rate it excellent or very good. So did Kevin Costner: he used it as an inspiration for the castle in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves.
SOUTH, TO THE DONHEADS AND LUDWELL
Retrace your route back to the junction and head straight on into Donhead St Andrew. There is also a Donhead St Mary – and the fictional Donhead St Ague, as introduced by author Jane Gardham in her book The Man in the Wooden Hat. “There is a glorious part of England on the Dorset-Wiltshire border known as The Donheads. The Donheads are a tangle of villages loosely interlinked by winding lanes and identified by the names of saints…” It’s an easy ride into the thatched village, past The Forester pub (noted for fish, venison and beef dishes) and out, following the sign to Berwick St John.
Cycling up Overway Lane, the track leads to the A30. Fear not – we’re heading straight over, following the Berwick sign, then immediately right at the No Lorries sign into another long, level stretch of lane. After half a mile, turn right at a crossroads for another straight track before taking a dogleg right-and-left at the next junction. The views are up to Win Green and the chalk ridge from Shaftesbury to Tollard Royal.
At this stage, you are gently bypassing the village of Ludwell, with its award-winning village shop and The Grove Arms pub. Drop in for supplies or refreshment, or carry straight on until you reach the A30 just after The Rising Sun Coffee Tavern. From here, it’s less than a mile to Shaftesbury but it is along a narrow, busy road, so take it easy.
- Hammoon Cycles can hire bikes and deliver them within Shaftesbury. Speak to Will Norgan for rates and availability.