Get on the chain gang

Karen Neville


Cycling is environmentally friendly, good exercise, offers the chance to enjoy the countryside and doesn’t have to be expensive – so what are you waiting for – get on your bike and pedal!

From penny farthings to electric bikes, cycling has always been a popular pastime – good for you and good for the environment – so there can be no better time to get out on your bike than during Bike Week this month.

June 5th to 11th marks the 100th annual Bike Week celebrating a century of everyday cycling for everyone. The health and green benefits are well known. This year to further peddle those, Bike Week 100 is all about workplace cycling – whether that’s organising an event or simply cycling rather than driving to work.

Guildford based Cycling UK, the organisation behind Bike Week, has set a series of challenges at Bike Week 100 Challenges | Cycling UK – burn 100 calories by bike, save £100 by bike and cover 100 miles by bike. The choice is yours, but of course having some stunning scenery in which to cycle is always a bonus, fortunately in our part of the world we are spoilt for choice!

Surrey & Hampshire

Surrey & Hampshire

Follow in the footsteps or tyre tracks of Olympic cyclists and take to Box Hill, the scenic route through the Surrey Hills is a mixture of A and B roads and country tracks.

Picturesque Chinthurst Hill in Guildford is perfect for family outings, hop aboard your bikes and drink in the beauty of the woodland complete with its quirky folly. Why not stop off on the way and make a day of it?

The Green Flag award-winning site of Frensham Ponds has a cycling spot which is perfect for shorter outings so provides the ideal family jaunt into the countryside. Nearby Farnham Park is another spot suitable for families to take to their bikes and enjoy a trip in nature.

In the same part of the world, Alice Holt Forest is a wonderful opportunity for natural cycling. Travel through ancient mighty oaks as well as wildflower rich open spaces during your cycle. Trails are open to enjoy with your own bikes or they can be hired here. The three-mile-long Family Cycling Trail starts with the opportunity to enjoy some fabulous freewheeling on the downhill section.

Take in a medieval castle on your route as you cycle the loop around Guildford Castle and Chantry Wood. The 6.8km trail is well kept and while popular still offers the chance for some peace and quiet.

Chobham Place Woods, Blackwater Park and Virginia Water lake should also go on your cycling ‘must do’ list. Here you’ll be able to spot ancient monuments and a stunning ornamental cascade waterfall as well as a 100 foot totem pole, with 10 mystical totem characters.

Neighbouring Hampshire invites you to try Abbotstone Down, Alresford where the route will take you through rolling chalk hills and bluebell woods or how about making tracks through Chawton Park Wood to Bentworth village on the 10-mile trail easily accessible from Alton or Four Marks. Enjoy more of a challenge from Alice Holt Forest along bridleways and roads through Bordon to Oakhanger and for hardened cyclists there’s one of the hardest trails in the county to the north of Petersfield where you can embark on some challenging climbs through rewarding scenery – not for the faint-hearted.

Serious cyclists may want to put their foot on the pedal and take on the challenge of the Surrey Tour on September 30th at Cranleigh Showground. The short route (!) is a mere 88km with longer options of 120 and 160 on the table too. Whichever you choose you’ll cycle through amazing countryside and in addition to a medal at the end there’ll be a much-needed beer and how about a slice of well-deserved pizza to refuel afterwards.

Bikes, like anything else you treasure, require some TLC from time to time and that’s where organisations such as Bike Project Surrey come in. The charity which has a workshop at Guildford College and a second at Brooklands College will teach you how to look after and service your bike and gain skills necessary for its maintenance. Paid and volunteer mechanics will help you make the most of your bike to prolong its life and help protect the environment. They will service, fix and customise your bike using recycled or new parts where necessary to help keep it on the road or track.

One of the things that makes Bike Project Surrey so great is that not only will they help get your bike shipshape they are also giving opportunities to those who may have missed out on learning in the past. Many students go to them for work experience, as can NEETs who will have the chance to gain a recognised qualification.

If you’re after a new bike, they have refurbished ones for sale and if you’ve an unwanted one or one children have outgrown then why not donate it? To find out more about their work and how you can get involved visit

Cycling is not just about two wheels, Wheels for All offers all ability cycling through its fleet of adapted bikes, trikes, quads, recumbents and side by side helping to make cycling an all-inclusive activity. It embraces disabled people and those who may not otherwise be able to enjoy the fun and freedom of cycling. Wheels for All Woking sessions are based at the athletics track at Woking Sportsbox. To find out more and to get in touch go to


Enjoy some of the finest history Oxfordshire has to offer on a ride from the city of Oxford to Blenheim Palace. The family friendly ride follows the National Cycle Route 5 through residential neighbourhoods as it heads out towards Woodstock on its journey of around eight miles.

If mountain biking is your thing then at just under seven kilometres, the trail at Bagley Wood near Abingdon is ideal for beginners and the family, taking around two hours.

Mystery lovers should hop on their bikes and follow the Agatha Christie cycling route which takes in Wallingford, Goring and Streatley and Cholsey on the 17 mile loop. Once you’ve developed a taste for cycling in this area how about trying a ride through Goring Gap along quiet lanes and with stunning views.

Fancy seeing some art on your bike ride from Upton to Didcot? In addition to some lovely countryside there are interesting art benches (perfect for a breather) along the three to four mile route. Join the art trail from Upton and follow the signs for Didcot down towards the train station and into town for a refreshment stop.

Serious cyclists may like to take part in Bike Oxford on June 25th, choose from three routes of 75, 50 and 26 miles all winding through the best scenery Oxford has to offer. This popular event raises funds for Maggie’s Oxford Cancer Care centre. To take part visit

Bikes, like anything else you treasure, require some TLC from time to time and that’s where organisations such as Broken Spoke Bike Co-op in Oxford and Windrush Bike Project in West Oxfordshire come in.

The Broken Spoke is run by people who are passionate about cycling and aim to make people more proficient in cycle maintenance and riding. They offer a range of DIY workshops, mechanics courses, cycle training, Beryl’s night – a free monthly evening session for women and all trans and non-binary people – as well as repairs and sales. It depends on its volunteers and more help is always needed, to find out more and offer your services visit

In West Oxfordshire, the staff and volunteers at the Windrush Bike Project help people to make journeys by bike and learn about the mechanics of bikes. A community workshop teaches vulnerable children and adults to fix donated bikes through courses. They also deliver Bikeability cycle training in schools across the area, campaign for safe cycling routes and provide information about riding in and around West Oxfordshire.


The Kennet & Avon Canal is great for more adventurous family biking expeditions and all the locks en route provide the perfect start / stop points and with the trainline running alongside too you can do some great A-B bike rides starting at a railway station and returning by train if it all becomes too much or the Great British weather intervenes! Take in the picturesque canal through Newbury, Thatcham, Hungerford and Pewsey.

The Nature Discovery Centre, near Thatcham has a lovely bike ride loop around the lake, perfect for kids and with a café and two playgrounds it’s a fabulous day out.

Don’t be surprised if you suddenly encounter ponies grazing as you ride through Snelsmore Common. They’re a familiar sight around the routes to Donnington Castle if you venture far enough.

The Ridgeway is a journey through time taking in part of our heritage, experience wide open views and explore ancient treasures such as Neolithic long barrows and Bronze Age round barrows. At more than 80 miles long the Ridgeway is a route that will test your fitness levels. Mountain bikers can complete the stretch from Avebury to Goring in around two days.

For off-road cycling and 24km of trails suitable for all abilities, visit Swinley Forest which offers a choice of three trails – green, blue and red. Green is the perfect introduction to off road cycling, ideal for families and beginners. The blue trail offers a flowing loop suitable for intermediate and mountain bikers while the red advanced trail has challenges those with off-road skills will appreciate.

Dinton Pastures, near Wokingham is one of the most attractive spots locally and offers several different tracks around the lakes including the 1.8 mile Black Swan Lake loop where you can spot interesting ducks and swans along the way. The path is flat so ideal for kids but does have some bumpy sections where the path has been resurfaced with rough gravel.

Black Park Country Park has “family” written all over it with options for kids of all ages. In addition to the circular path around the lake, there’s a great route with an adventure play park halfway. It’s just under a mile so ideal for little legs. Bigger kids looking to exert themselves can take on the 10 miles of cycling and walking tracks around. Take your own bikes or hire them from Go Ape next to the car park.

The Thames Path stretch from Goring to Pangbourne is public bridleway so saddle up and ride. Enjoy some glorious country back lanes to Tilehurst Station (via Mapledurham) – it’s around nine miles and from there a train can zip you and your bikes back to Goring in about eight minutes.

Bikes, like anything else you treasure, require some TLC from time to time and that’s where organisations such as Reading Bike Kitchen come in. Got a bike that’s been sitting in the garage with spokes covered in cobwebs or just need some advice and access to tools to get your beloved bike shipshape again? This is the place for you. Take your trusty steed along and either make use of the space and tools at the Small Business Centre in Weldale Street or just ask one of the volunteers who will be more than happy to help and get you back in the saddle. Reading Bike Kitchen also welcomes donations of bikes in reasonable condition to pass on to a new owner. Visit to find out more.

Windsor Cycle Hub is a community initiative organisation set up to promote cycling for all in the community which as well as encouraging residents and visitors to get on their bikes, recycles affordable bikes, teaches mechanical skills, sharing knowledge and resources and running events and rides. Operating from The Swan in Clewer, the bike kitchen will carry out safety checks, maintenance, repairs and offer advice. Most weekends there’s a ride you can join in with too – operating on four different levels they’re a wonderful way to enjoy cycling in the company of others. Find all dates, advice and more at


Wiltshire has some gorgeous scenery to navigate and explore so how about going slightly further afield and starting in Salisbury – worth it for the cathedral alone. Cycle via an old drover’s road up to remote Normanton Down where Stonehenge will be on the horizon. Cyclists in the know prefer the village of Avebury, whose ancient stone circle is more accessible and more fun to visit. The circular 160-mile Wiltshire Cycleway showcases the county, right up to historic Malmesbury in the Cotswolds.

Experienced cyclists will want to tackle William’s Big Wheel on Saturday, 10th June. Run by West Berkshire Spokes, it starts from West Mills, Newbury RG14 5BQ and takes you through Marlborough, Ramsbury and Lambourn. This is a limited numbers ride but if seeing them whizz past whets your appetite for ‘serious’ cycling then the group runs two rides a month, find out more at

You might still be in time to sign up for the Hydra Ride on June 25th. The sportive-style road cycle ride, starts from Wood Street, in the heart of Swindon Old Town, a choice of three routes all go south-east along rolling roads winding through stunning countryside taking in Lambourn, Ramsbury and Aldbourne on the way. The Hydra 5, 7, and 9 offer a challenge for riders of all abilities with rewarding climbs and swift descents. And if the cycling’s not for you make sure you look out for them pedalling through the towns and villages. Full routes at


Follow the Phoenix Trail from Princes Risborough to Thame and enjoy the perfect family trail. Not only is it flat and safe, but there’s no traffic to contend with along the 7.5 mile path which largely follows the path of a disused railway line, dotted with 30 sculptures acknowledging railway history and the Chiltern countryside.

Wendover’s Juniper Cycle Trail takes you along six miles of well-surfaced trails with climbs and descents. Suitable for intermediate riders and mountain bikers with basic off-road skills, some parts are steep but the trail is well-surfaced.

Take in the sights of Jubilee Weir and Windsor (including Eton) on an enjoyable 11.5 mile route from Windsor Bridge Loop to Taplow that includes five+ miles of fabulous cycleways.

Explore Little Marlow, Bourne End, Cookham Bridge, Cookham Dean and the Marlow Suspension Bridge on an easy circular route of just over 10 miles, finishing back in town for a well-earned refreshment reward.

Longer routes well worth a pedal in the area include taking in the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre and Butt’s Way with a cycling round trip which takes in Princes Risborough. You can cycle in the landscape of Pavis Wood and enjoy Chesham, Amersham and Great Missenden and how about exploring the Royal Standard of England taking in Beaconsfield en route? For full details of these and more rides, please visit

Organised by Wheelpower, the Tour de Vale Charity Bike Ride on Sunday, 11th June, is Buckinghamshire’s largest charity cycling event which starts and finishes at Stoke Mandeville Stadium with a chance to enjoy the beautiful countryside. Cyclists can enjoy full support en route while the finish yields a massage, barbecue and bar to recover and relax. This fabulous event raises funds for the Stoke Mandeville charity which provides opportunities for disabled people to lead healthy, active lives. Full details and to enter, visit

The Oxfordshire Plan 2050

Round & About


The latest consultation on the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 has now launched and runs until 8 October.

The Oxfordshire Plan will set the development framework for the county for the next generation. It will affect all Oxfordshire residents, either directly (through development) or indirectly (through impacts on services, infrastructure, our countryside and rural character).

CPRE Oxfordshire is fighting to make sure that the growth options are deliverable without undue damage to our countryside and some otherwise good policy proposals for getting to net zero and restoring nature. That means guiding development to the right places and building high-quality compact housing to make the best use of scarce land.

We urge you to respond to the consultation – it is our best chance of influencing both the outcomes of this Plan and the OxCam Arc proposals.

Have your say NOW – it’s too late to act when the bulldozers arrive.
Find more information on the CPRE Oxfordshire website

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Visit Surrey Hills as lockdown eases

Liz Nicholls


As lockdown measures ease and the weather improves, Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty remains a popular destination for both locals and visitors.

The past year has drawn more people than ever towards our green spaces in an effort to find fresh air for exercise and to reconnect with nature.

The Government’s roadmap out of lockdown sees measures eased this week, with the relaxation of the ‘Stay at Home’ rule, meaning outdoor gatherings of either six people or two households will be allowed, making it easier for friends and families to meet outside. From Monday, 12th April, non-essential retail will be able to open including most outdoor attractions and settings and hospitality venues will be allowed to serve people outdoors.

These dates also coincide with the Easter break, school holidays and improved weather, all factors that will see a greater volume of visitors head to the Hills for recreation and relaxation.

Heather Kerswell, Chair of the Surrey Hills AONB Board says: “As lockdown measures slowly ease over the coming months, we expect the Surrey Hills to attract a greater volume of visitors. It is important that those who do come follow the Countryside Code and our guidance to ensure a safe and enjoyable visit. We encourage those who do come to seek out the less well-known areas of the Surrey Hills and keep away from the busy beauty spots where it will be harder to socially distance. Please remember to respect, protect and enjoy the outdoors and where possible support the local business community who very much need our custom at this time”.

We encourage residents to be tolerant and visitors to be kind as we see an increased enthusiasm for the Surrey Hills over the coming months. In-line with the newly launched Countryside Code we’ve set out our top tips for visiting this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to ensure the countryside is a safe place for all:

• We are aware that many visitors who love to walk and cycle will have greatly missed the Surrey Hills landscape, the views, and the well-known beauty spots. We advise you to avoid well-known sites such as Box Hill, Leith Hill and the Devil’s Punch Bowl which may become congested and therefore difficult to socially distance. Instead, why not visit lesser-known areas of the Surrey Hills.

• Please check before you travel that hospitality, car parks and facilities are open. Some local amenities such as loos may not have reopened yet.

Take your litter home, leaving no trace of your visit. This keeps the Surrey Hills a special place for everyone. Please don’t light fires or BBQs unless there is a sign to say they are permitted. It is easy for a fire to get out of control and destroy rare habitats.

Respect local wildlife and look after nature by being extra cautious and sticking to footpaths and bridleways so as not to disturb ground-nesting birds and other wildlife.

• Please be aware that our local farms are under great seasonal pressures during this time and we would encourage you to respect their needs by keeping dogs on leads and follow all designated footpaths and bridleways to keep yourselves and farm animals safe.

• Remember to consider the local community and other people enjoying the outdoors. Observe social distancing measures to help restrict the spread of the virus and ensure the countryside is a safe place for all

• We encourage you to continue supporting local during this time of transition and want to highlight all the wonderful products and services available on our doorstep in the Surrey Hills. Take a look at our list of businesses offering home deliveries, online support and services, gifts and inspiration.

• We hope that renewed enthusiasm for the Surrey Hills will translate into more people getting involved in caring for nature, wildlife, and the landscape. Remember to Respect, Protect and Enjoy – breathe deep, stride out, and give a cheery heartfelt hello to those you meet along the way!

Chris Howard, Chairman of Visit Surrey says: “Visit Surrey is delighted to welcome back our residents and visitors to the many attractions our county has to offer. It will, however, be a challenging time for the county’s most popular beauty spots and researching to find some of the Surrey Hills hidden gems may make for a more enjoyable and safer experience. Remember many places, even if they are free, will want you to book in advance. Also, toilets and other facilities will still be limited, so do plan your outings carefully.”

By being respectful of wildlife and the local community we can all benefit from an enjoyable visit to the Surrey Hills

Stephanie Fudge, National Trust General Manager for the Surrey Hills comments: “We would encourage all visitors to plan outings carefully and to check facilities are fully open. As wildlife emerges from the winter, we are seeing large numbers of ground-nesting birds across the Surrey Hills from March until early Summer. Their breeding success is critically dependent on not being disturbed and so we would ask that visitors are considerate, keep to paths and keep their dogs on leads in sensitive areas. By being respectful of wildlife and the local community we can all benefit from an enjoyable visit to the Surrey Hills.”

The Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is one of 46 nationally protected landscapes in the UK, having equal landscape status and protection to a national park. The Surrey Hills AONB was designated on 8 May 1958, which makes it the first AONB in southern England to be designated (the first was the Gower Peninsula near Swansea in 1956). The Surrey Hills AONB stretches across a quarter of the county of Surrey and includes the chalk slopes of the North Downs from Farnham in the west to Oxted in the east, and extends south to the deeply wooded Greensand Hills which rise in Haslemere. The Surrey Hills Board is a Joint Management Committee which is funded by Defra, the National Trust, Surrey County Council and the local authorities within the Surrey Hills area.

For further information on the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) visit

Stay connected #SurreyHillsAONB Please follow @SurreyHillsAONB on Twitter & Facebook @SurreyHillsAONB and Instagram @surreyhillsaonb for the latest updates from the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

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Headlines & Hedgerows

Round & About


Our countryside & its wildlife is at risk. We encourage you to join the campaign to save our endangered hedgerows and share an exclusive extract from John Craven’s new book.

The hedgerows that criss-cross our countryside are not only an iconic sight, but a vital habitat and corridor for many of our native species. However, they are becoming increasingly fragmented which is threatening the wildlife that depends on them.

We’ve lost about half our hedgerows since WWII. Although the rate of direct hedge removal has been reduced, hedgerows are being lost simply through how they are managed.

“With 70% of UK land being agricultural, hedgerows offer the safest route for wildlife to travel across farmland,” says Megan Gimber, key habitats project officer at PTES. “Sadly, many hedgerows are becoming ‘gappy’, which fragments this amazing network. And, without more sensitive management, many hedgerows are at risk of being lost altogether. This is problematic, especially when we’re seeing a fall in numbers of the animals that depend on them, such as hedgehogs, bats, hazel dormice and song thrush.”

In Britain, habitat fragmentation is thought to be a limiting factor for the distribution of some species and a threat to others’ survival. Corridors play a vital role preserving a number of species deemed ‘at risk’. Some 16 out of the 19 birds included in the Farmland Bird Index, used by government to assess the state of farmland wildlife, are associated with hedgerows.

Healthy hedgerows reduce soil erosion, flooding damage and air and water pollution. They provide forage for pollinating insects, predators to keep crop pests in check and shelter for livestock, reducing deaths from exposure and improving milk yields. Hedges help us fight climate change by storing carbon and reduce the damage from flooding.
To take part in the Great British Hedgerow Survey or find out more, visit

Hedgerow. Credit Allen Paul Photography &
An extract from John Craven’s new book

Headlines and Hedgerows is published by Michael Joseph

We have all heard that well-known piece of advice first coined by W.C. Fields: “Never work with animals or children.” Well, I’ve done both throughout my career (in fact, I couldn’t have succeeded without them!) so in my case at least that old adage is totally wrong.

I suppose one reason for my longevity is that I have never been very ambitious. I have not sought the headlines, never seriously courted celebrity nor been tempted to take chances on high-profile but potentially risky and short-lived programmes – apart from one, and that was Newsround, which was a six-week experiment in 1972. Thankfully it is still going strong so, as it turned out, it was not much of a gamble and a recent poll in Radio Times placed Newsround at number three in a list of the top 20 children’s programmes of all time.

And Countryfile is often in the top 20 of most-watched shows. During my 30 years there I’ve seen rural issues ranging from social isolation and deprivation to the way our food is produced climb higher and higher up the national agenda. That our audience is split pretty evenly between country dwellers and townies proves to me that, united as a nation in this at least, we want to preserve, protect and enjoy our glorious countryside…

For my Countryfile interview with Prime Minister David Cameron, we met for an hour at Cogges Manor Farm, a rural heritage centre in his Oxfordshire constituency. The cameras were set up around the kitchen table and before he arrived a lady who seemed to be in charge of his “image” wanted to know where he’d sit. She checked the angles and saw a large Welsh dresser in the background. “Could we move some of those plates and ornaments,” she said. “It’s too fussy.” It proved that politicians have learned to be careful what’s behind them on screen. An exit sign, for instance, would be the last thing they wanted.

When Mr Cameron came in, dressed casually in a jumper – this, after all, was Countryfile – he said “I was brought up on you, John!” I don’t feel particularly old but it’s alarming when the man leading the country says you were part of his childhood! We had a wide-ranging conversation and he had no idea of the questions beforehand. I challenged him on his plan to make his administration the greenest government ever (which didn’t really happen) and overdevelopment threats to the landscape. “I care deeply about our countryside and environment,” he told me earnestly. “I’d no more put them at risk than I would my own family.”

Today, I wonder what he’d make of the report by the Campaign to Protect Rural England revealing 15,500 new houses have been approved in areas of outstanding natural beauty in the years since. We also talked of his plans for a free vote in Parliament on bringing back hunting with hounds (which never happened) and persuading all other EU countries to enforce farm animal welfare laws as diligently as the UK (still waiting for that). I was impressed by his detailed knowledge of rural issues, even when pressed for details. A few months later at a Downing Street lunch for people involved in all aspects of the countryside, he smiled and said he hadn’t expected to be grilled by “a rural Jeremy Paxman.”

The Great British Hedgerow Survey

To take part in the Great British Hedgerow Survey or find out more