UK National Cycle Route 23: Part 1 - Introduction Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

UK National Cycle Route 23: Part 1 - Introduction

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UK National Cycle Route 23
Introduction | Sandown to East Cowes, Isle of Wight
Southampton to Eastleigh, Hampshire | Eastleigh to Alresford, Hampshire via Winchester
Alresford to Basingstoke, Hampshire | Basingstoke, Hampshire to Reading, Berkshire

A map of the UK's National Cycle Network

National Cycle Route 23 is a part of the UK's National Cycle Network currently being created in Britain to encourage cycling. This aims to be a series of routes that are easily accessible and can be cycled by people of all ages and abilities. It uses 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 enjoy the countryside on undemanding cycle routes away from traffic. They are located near Britain's cities and large towns, making them easy to get to so that they can be cycled by anyone.

The Route

Route 23 starts in Sandown on the Isle of Wight and ends in Reading, Berkshire. It travels via the towns of Newport, Cowes, 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.


For practical purposes, we've divided the route up into five sections:

  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 en Route

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

Why the Route is not Fully Finished

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

There have been two main delays in the completion of the route; both have occurred around Winchester. To the south, the route followed 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 subjected to vandalism. Both National Cycle Route 23 and the South Downs Way National Trail planned to use this impressive 2,000-yard-long, 33-span structure as a shared cycle route and footpath. As the viaduct had been neglected for 50 years and needed over £1 million spent on repairing and preserving it, however, it was not opened until February 2013.

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 appears on several Ordnance Survey maps. At time or writing (2013), however, there is a legal dispute about this subway, the Highways Agency claiming that it is not a Right of Way for cyclists while the Hampshire County Council say that it is.

It is hoped that this problem will be resolved and the National Cycle Route fully completed by 2016. In the meantime, cyclists must walk their bikes through the 400m of subway and associated paths around the motorway junction.


When cycling National Cycle Route 23, a bicycle helmet, bicycle lights and high visibility clothing are strongly recommended. The bicycle used should be in fully working order. A strong pair of boots or trainers is recommended. Footwear should ideally provide strong ankle support and good grip, and should be waterproof and lightweight. High-heeled 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, hybrids and touring bicycles are ideal. There are some sections which are surfaced in gravel. These 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 to these types of bicycle. The Isle of Wight section of the 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.

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, is 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 – inexperienced cyclists should not attempt the route in the dark. Although fairly flat, it travels beside several rivers, which wind and change direction. There are a few sections of the route which even experienced cyclists should avoid in the dark - these will be pointed out. 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 infrequent 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, 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 with 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.

Cycleway Regulations

Below is the list of regulations posted in the Isle of Wight section of National Cycle Route 23. These are in fact good advice for every section of the Route, so they are reproduced here.

  • Please show consideration and share the path
  • Pass other people slowly
  • Allow other people to pass you
  • Use your bell to warn of your approach
  • Take your litter home
  • Clear up after your dog
  • Respect wildlife and adjacent farmland
  • Some sections of cycleway are bridleways. Horses are permitted on other sections, except where otherwise stated, but please keep to walking pace when overtaking horses.
  • It is an offence to cycle carelessly or inconsiderately.
  • Cyclists should keep their speed down when close to other users and give warning of their approach to walkers and horseriders.

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. These 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. They can be found in outdoor pursuits, tourist information and book shops or ordered online in advance. Up-to-date maps show the route as a red or orange dotted line clearly labelled with '23' in a rectangle.

The maps that cover the route are shown in the following table:

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 ForestLandranger 185 – Winchester & Basingstoke
Winchester to New AlresfordExplorer 132 – Winchester
BasingstokeExplorer 144 – Basingstoke, Alton & WhitchurchLandranger 175 – Reading & Windsor
ReadingExplorer 159 – Reading

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 alternative 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, and Bodmin.
  • National Cycle Route 4 – London to Fishguard, via Reading, Bath, Bristol, Newport, 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 Guildford, Farnham, Portsmouth, ferry to Ryde, Newport, Yarmouth, and ferry to Lymington.
  • National Cycle Route 23a – An alternative branch for National Cycle Route 23. This takes cyclists from Alresford to Alton instead of Basingstoke. It is later intended to extend this alternative 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 Isle of Wight – 49-mile route either clockwise or anti-clockwise 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.4

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.

UK National Cycle Route 23
Introduction | Sandown to East Cowes, Isle of Wight
Southampton to Eastleigh, Hampshire | Eastleigh to Alresford, Hampshire via Winchester
Alresford to Basingstoke, Hampshire | Basingstoke, Hampshire to Reading, Berkshire
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 Cyclists' 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.4Curiously, this is a National Trail for walkers, but only a regional cycle route for cyclists.

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