National Cycle Route 23: Part 1 - Introduction

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National Cycle Route 23: Part 1 – Introduction |
National Cycle Route 23: Part 2 - Sandown to East Cowes, Isle of Wight |
National Cycle Route 23: Part 3 - Southampton to Eastleigh, Hampshire |
National Cycle Route 23: Part 4 - Eastleigh to Alresford, Hampshire via Winchester |
National Cycle Route 23: Part 5 - Alresford to Basingstoke, Hampshire |
National Cycle Route 23: Part 6 - Basingstoke, Hampshire to Reading, Berkshire
A map of the UK's National Cycle Network

National Cycle Route 23 is a part of the National Cycle Network. A National Cycle Network of both National and Regional cycle routes to encourage cycling is currently being created in Britain. This aims to be a series of routes that are easily accessible and can be cycled by cyclists of all ages and abilities, using off-road routes where possible and quiet roads and bicycle lanes where necessary.

It is hoped that these routes would not only be used by commuters but also by cyclists wishing to use undemanding cycle routes away from traffic, enjoying the countryside. They are located near Britain's cities and large towns, making them easy to get to and easily accessed so that the cycle paths can be cycled by anyone.

The Route

The route starts in Sandown on the Isle of Wight and ends in Reading, Berkshire. The route travels via the towns of Newport, Cowes and over the floating bridge to East Cowes on the Isle of Wight then, after the ferry to Southampton in Hampshire, continues in Hampshire to Eastleigh, Winchester, New Alresford and Basingstoke before crossing the Berkshire border and ending in Reading.


  1. Sandown, Isle of Wight to East Cowes, Isle of Wight – 16 miles
  2. Southampton, Hampshire to Eastleigh, Hampshire – 10 miles
  3. Eastleigh to Alresford, Hampshire via Winchester – 18 miles – Track incomplete
  4. Alresford, Hampshire to Basingstoke, Hampshire – 18 miles
  5. Basingstoke, Hampshire to Reading, Berkshire – 22 miles

Attractions On Route:

The route of National Cycle Route travels close to several points of interest. These include:

Why the route is not fully finished

Most of the route has been completed, although there are several sections which need to be better sign posted. Similarly some sections, especially either side of Basingstoke, are provisional until an improved route can be completed.

There have been two main delays for the completion of the route, both have occurred either side of Winchester. To the south of Winchester the proposed route would enter Winchester by following the former Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway line along the top of the Hockley Viaduct. This former railway bridge was built in the 1880s but when the line closed in the 1966 it was abandoned and subject to vandalism. Although both National Cycle Route 23 and the South Downs Way National Trail plan to use this impressive 2,000 yards long, 33 span structure as a shared cycle route and footpath, the viaduct has been neglected for fifty years and needs over £1 million spent on repairing and preserving it. In July 2011 it was announced that work not only on preserving this viaduct would go ahead, but another former railway bridge that no longer exists, the Hockley Canal Bridge over the Itchen Navigation canal, would be replaced to complete the National Cycle Route.

The other delay in completing the route has been caused by the Highways Agency. To get from Winchester to Basingstoke, the route has to cross the M3 motorway. A subway cycle route beneath Junction 9 (A34) of the M3 has existed since 1985 and has been shown as such on several Ordnance Survey maps. However when the Highways Agency, who own the motorway, were informed of proposals to upgrade this cycle path to National Cycle Route status, they unexpectedly responded rather grumpily. They informed Hampshire County Council and Sustrans in January 2011 that they considered cyclists using this cycle route to be illegal and would take steps to prevent cyclists from using the subway at all. Hampshire County Council at time of writing have launched a legal campaign hoping to prove once and for all that cyclists have had an uninterrupted and unobstructed use of the subway network since its construction and that therefore a Cyclist Right of Way exists.

It is hoped that these problems will be resolved and the National Cycle Route fully completed by 2016. It is, of course, possible to make your own arrangements getting to and from Winchester and complete the cycle route at present.


When cycling National Cycle Route 23 a bicycle helmet, bicycle lights and high visibility clothing is strongly recommended. The bicycle used should be in a fully working order. A strong pair of boots or trainers is recommended. Footwear should ideally provide strong ankle support, good grip, be waterproof and lightweight. High heel shoes should not be worn.

Brakes, tyre pressure and lights should be checked before the journey. Lights and rear reflectors are legal requirements in dark conditions. Moving parts should be lubricated also, such as cables and the bike chain.

Although the route can be completed by any type of bicycle, there are several sections which are surfaced in gravel. These segments are perhaps more suited to off-road bikes with wider tyres, such as mountain and BMX bikes, rather than narrow tyred bicycles such as racer bikes. Similarly the route is not intended for purely urban bikes, such as folding bicycles with small wheels. People wishing to use racer or folding bicycles along the route are advised that the Southampton to Eastleigh section is almost entirely flat and on tarmac and is probably the section best suited for these types of bicycles. The Isle of Wight section of the cycle route, which is quiet, almost entirely traffic-free and easy going, is best suited to family cycling with young children, in particular the section south of Newport that makes up the Troll Trail. Hybrids and touring bicycles are ideal.

A strong bike lock is also advisable. Cyclists should ideally use bicycle stands when provided but other street furniture such as lampposts are acceptable. The bicycle should be left somewhere visible, with any quick-release wheels or saddle secured. A common-sense approach should be adopted to ensure that the bike is out of the way, not attached to private property or railings, and is not blocking the road or pavement.

Cyclists should familiarise themselves with the Country Code and be aware of the dangers that the route can face – never attempt the route in the dark. Although the route is fairly flat, it travels besides several rivers, which wind and change direction. The terrain and climate can also vary significantly. Cyclists should stick to authorised cycle paths and roads, not cycle cross-country on farmers' fields etc. Leave only tyre-tracks and take only photographs and memories.

Cyclists should carry plenty of fluid and a basic bicycle repair kit in case of flat tyres etc. There are bicycle repair shops en route should they be required, although these are infrequently spaced and should not be relied on. It is recommended that you take a phone and/or whistle with you, consider carrying a first aid kit and keep someone informed of your progress at all times. Clothing appropriate for the time of year and weather should be worn and/or carried with you.

Advice for cyclists

A cycle lane.

Cyclists should remain alert for hazards at all times. When cycling on the road, cyclists should obey the rules of the road, stopping at red lights and zebra crossings etc. Failure to do so is illegal and against the Road Traffic Act 1984. Similarly when cycling on unsegregated shared use cycle paths, pedestrians have right of way and cyclists should slow down and take every care when passing them. When using segregated shared use cycle and footpaths, take note of the signs and markings and ensure you use the correct side. The side across the line is classed as a pavement. Cyclists should not use any pavement or footpath not labelled as a cycle path as this is illegal.

When cycling, be courteous and polite to pedestrians met along the way. When using a bike bell to alert pedestrians to your presence, try to do so in a friendly and unaggressive manner, using a short, friendly ting rather than repeated and sustained ringing, which can be considered annoying. When cycling in large groups, cyclists should cycle spaced out1. This prevents unnecessary accidents and collisions between cyclists and other road/cycle path users. It also feels less imposing to pedestrians, horse riders etc met on the way.

When a motorist stops to allow you to cross the road, respond with a polite smile, nod or wave to acknowledge their friendly gesture. Sadly, many motorists are under the delusion that roads were made for them2.

Signs and Maps

Although you can follow the signs, it is possible that you will need to divert from the established path. Similarly, in places the signs are difficult to spot and may have been vandalised, and so it is recommended that you take an up-to-date Ordnance Survey3 map with you. Ordnance Survey maps of the area commonly come in two scales: 1:25,000, which is used by the Outdoor Leisure and Explorer map series, and the less detailed 1:50,000 scale used by the Landranger map series, although fewer maps are needed for the route with the Landranger series.

For the Isle of Wight section you should ideally carry OS Outdoor Leisure Map 29, although OS Landranger Map 196 is also acceptable and also provides some coverage of Southampton. For the Southampton to Eastleigh section you can use Outdoor Leisure 22 New Forest, which just covers this area and some of the Eastleigh to Winchester section, or Landranger Map 185 which also covers the route heading to Basingsoke. For Winchester to Basingstoke section use Explorer Map 132 and for Basingstoke to Reading Landranger Map 175 or Explorer Maps 144 Basingstoke, Alton and Whitchurch and 159 Reading. These can be found in outdoor pursuits, tourist information and book shops or ordered online in advance. On an up-to-date ordnance survey map the route is included as a red/orange4 circular dotted line clearly labelled with '23' in a rectangle.

Area1:25,000 scale1:50,000 scale
Isle of WightOutdoor Leisure 29 – Isle of WightLandranger 196 – The Solent & Isle of Wight
Southampton to EastleighOutdoor Leisure 22 – New Forest
Winchester to New AlresfordExplorer 132 – WinchesterLandranger 185 – Winchester & Basingstoke
BasingstokeExplorer 144 – Basingstoke, Alton & Whitchurch
ReadingExplorer 159 – ReadingLandranger 175 – Reading & Windsor

Alternatively it is possible to use Online Cycle Maps, maps provided by the civic authorities that the route travels through or even road maps. It is even possible to download cycle route apps for mobile phones. These, though, are no real substitute for a proper Ordnance Survey map.

Signs to follow for National Cycle Route 23 usually show a red 23 in a square next to a picture of a bicycle in white on a blue background. These can appear on stickers on lampposts or on railings etc, as part of a blue or green sign post listing numerous other destinations or even simply painted on the pavement. Sometimes just the red 23 is shown.

Cyclists should also know and recognise the meaning of the relevant road and off-road signs that relate to cycle lanes and cycle paths in general as well as National Cycle Route 23 in particular.

Other routes

National Cycle Route 23 is part of the National Cycle Network. It passes and connects with other National and Local Cycle routes, offering alternate destinations. Not all cycle routes have been fully completed and developed at time of writing. Other cycle paths en-route include:

  • National Cycle Route 2 – Dover to St Austell, Cornwall, via Folkestone, Rye, Hastings, Brighton, Worthing, Emsworth, Portsmouth, Fareham, Southampton, Christchurch, Southampton, Dorchester, Lyme Regis, Exmouth, Exeter, Newton Abbot, Totnes, Plymouth, Looe, Bodmin and St Austell.
  • National Cycle Route 4 – London to Fishguard, via Reading, Bath, Bristol, Newport5, Swansea and St. David's.
  • National Cycle Route 5 – Reading to Holyhead, via Oxford, Banbury, Stratford-upon-Avon, Redditch, Birmingham, Stoke-On-Trent, Chester and Bangor
  • National Cycle Route 22 – Epsom to Brockenhurst, New Forest via Dorking, Guildford, Farnham, Portsmouth and Ryde to Yarmouth via Newport on the Isle of Wight
  • National Cycle Route 23a – An alternate branch for National Cycle Route 23. This takes cyclists from Alresford to Alton instead of Basingstoke. It is later intended to extend this alternate route to Farnham to connect with National Cycle Route 22.
  • National Cycle Route 24 – Eastleigh to Bath, via Romsey, Salisbury, Warminster, Frome and Radstock.
  • Regional Cycle Route 67 – Round the Island – 49-mile either clockwise or anti-clockwise route via Yarmouth, Cowes, Ryde, Sandown, Shanklin and Ventnor.
  • Regional Cycle Route 89 – Winchester to Eastbourne. A 99 mile route along the South Downs Way through the South Downs National Park.6

Sustrans have announced that they wish to renumber Regional Cycle Routes with a 3-digit number, so the Regional Cycle Route numbers may change.


The charity Sustrans, is the leading force behind the overall development and creation of the National Cycle Routes, working closely with the regional councils that the route passes through. Because of this, the completion and upkeep of the routes is largely the responsibility of the civic authority that each section of the route is within.

Sustrans is an organisation dedicated to sustainable transport, in particular transport beneficial to health and the environment. It has done this since 1983, working initially to convert former railway lines and canal towpaths into footpaths and cycle ways.

National Cycle Route 23: Part 1 – Introduction
1As in keeping a reasonable distance from other cyclists, not under the influence of illegal substances.2In fact it was cyclists who made Britain's modern road network possible. After the introduction of the canal and railway networks by the 1840s, Britain's roads were ignored until the Cyclist's Touring Club created the Roads Improvement Association in 1885 and held the first Roads Conference in 1886, giving advice on road improvement. This was the first national organisation dedicated to road improvement since the Romans. The first petrol car was not built in Britain until 1894.3Ordnance Survey is the official British mapping organisation. They have been mapping the UK since 1790, initially for military purposes for the Board of Ordnance, the equivalent of the Ministry of Defence, to assist the defence of Britain in case of an enemy invasion.4The colour of the dotted line depends on the type of map. It is usually red on Landranger maps, orange on Outdoor Leisure and Explorer maps. See the key on the relevant OS map.5Not Newport, Isle of Wight.6Curiously, this is a National Trail for walkers, but only a regional cycle route for cyclists.

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