Cycling in Dorset

Cycling in Dorset

Dorset is a county of contrasts – the beaches of Bournemouth and Studland, the rolling Dorset Downs, and captivating towns such as Lyme Regis, Bridport and Dorcester.

Cycling in the east of the county is generally flatter than the west, but both have excellent cycling routes.

Cycling in Dorset: Bournemouth East Cliff - photo by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay
Bournemouth East Cliff

Below you will find sections on different aspects of cycling in Dorset:

  • Suggested cycle touring and cycling holiday hubs
  • Gentle / family bike rides
  • Cycle touring
  • Waymarked long-distance cycle routes
  • Mountain biking / off-road cycle routes
  • Cycle-friendly holiday accommodation
  • Cycling maps and guide books

Suggested cycle touring and cycling holiday hubs in Dorset

  • Bridport and West Bay, close to National Cycle Network Route 2 , the South Coast West, with a new cycle path linking West Bay and the market town of Bridport.
  • Dorchester, at the meeting point of NCN Route 2, the ‘South Coast West’, and NCN Route 26, ‘Weymouth and Portland to Sherborne’
  • Bournemouth and Poole, with links northwards on NCN Route 25 to Bath via Blandford Forum, and eastwards along NCN Route 2 towards the New Forest and Hampshire and westwards via the Sandbanks Ferry to Swanage and the Isle of Purbeck

There are many other cycle-friendly towns and villages in Dorset. The Visit Dorset website can help.

Gentle / family bike rides in Dorset

Dorchester to Moreton Walled Garden Café – there and back

7 miles each way, mostly flat on country lanes using National Cycle Network route 2. Take a towel if you want to paddle in the river in Moreton!

If arriving by car, park on the road near the National Trust house Max Gate, former home of Thomas Hardy. Route 2 goes past the front of the house, so if facing the house, turn right, which will take you away from the town centre. This start avoids crossing some busy roads around the town.

Then simply follow the signs.

If arriving by train, the London line arrives at Dorchester South Station, while the Bristol line stops at Dorchester West, about half a mile apart. Neither of the following starts are ideal for young families on bikes. Starting at Max Gate is much better.

From Dorchester South Station, come out of the station on to Weymouth Road (take care) turning left. Turn first left on to Maumbury Road and follow it. Route 2 will join you. From Dorchester West Station, come out of the station and down to the traffic lights. Go straight over on to Great Western Road which is NCN Route 26. Follow it and you will soon find signs for Route 2. If in doubt ask someone the way to Max Gate.

On Route 2 itself now, you will pass the gorgeous Woodsford Castle, owned by the Landmark Trust and available as a holiday home(!).

Once in Moreton you have the choice of two cafés, one in a walled garden, the other in the former school house. The river is off to the left, signposted to a ford. It’s wide, shallow and popular with families. Also in Moreton is a lovely church, really well worth a visit, and the churchyard having the grave of Lawrence of Arabia.

Map: South Coast West Sustrans map

North Dorset Trailway Route

Sturminster Newton to Blandford Forum in north east Dorset – 18 miles there and back, or 14 miles if you stop at the village of Stourpaine and cycle back from there. Part of the Bath to Bournemouth National Cycle Network Route, so the Sustrans map is ideal, and will give you ideas for other routes in the area.

This is a very easy-to-cycle former railway-line path, suitable for all ages. The route starts in Sturminster Newton by the main car park. You will cross bridges and go through woodland and past fields, great for younger families.

At the village of Stourpaine after an easy 7 miles you will fine a pub/village shop and a tearoom. Carry on another 2-3 miles and you will be in pleasant Blandford Forum, a small town with all the facilities you would expect pubs, cafés, shops, toilets, play areas, a soft play area and a swimming pool.

Cycling back is just as easy and enjoyable.

Map: Bath to Bournemouth Sustrans map

Circular cycle tours in Dorset

Bridport and Beaminster Circular Route

26 hilly miles, rewarded with great views of the Dorset Downs

This route is from a suggested day ride on the Dorset Downs Sustrans map, BUT there is an error on the map where the route starts in Bridport. The coloured route is correct, but the description is wrong. Please use the description below instead.

Bridport is a popular market town, close to the tourist attractions of West Bay and not far from Lyme Regis.

If arriving by car, park in the Wykes Court car park just off the town centre. As you come out of the car park, turn right, then second right along Victoria Grove.

Stay on that road through Pymore to a T-junction and turn right, the first of a good few hills. At the top, cross the main road carefully and take Harrison Way diagonally opposite.

The Sustrans map is correct after this, leading you through West Milton and Powerstock villages, then up Eggardon Hill. To visit the hill fort, turn right at the crossroads and cycle a couple of hundred yards to a stile on your right, where a small sign (easily missed) shows a footpath into the hill fort. Don’t go too far down. It’s a long haul back up!

Cycle touring in Dorset

Then the route goes cross country to Beaminster for a drink and rest stop!

After Beaminster you cycle through lovely Stoke Abbot into Marshwood Vale and back via Broadoak and Dottery to Bridport. West Bay is just down the road, or nearby cycle track, if you would like to extend the ride and have fish and chips by the harbour or on the beach!

Map: Dorset Downs Sustrans map

Shaftesbury – Sturminster Newton – Gillingham circular route

This is a 33-mile route in north east Dorset, taking in lovely countryside, starting and finishing in Shaftesbury, famous for the Hovis advert of a lad pushing his bike up the ridiculously steep Gold Hill and freewheeling down, legs stretched, bouncing over the cobbles.

Much of the route is flat or gently rolling, but you will take in some hills. And finish on Gold Hill. You might be pushing!

Cycling in Dorset: Shaftesbury - Gold Hill
The iconic Gold Hill in Shaftesbury – famous from the Hovis adverts

You should use the Sustrans Dorset Downs map for this (or OS maps, but the Sustrans map will show you the Sustrans signposting that you can follow the whole way). Most of it is NCN Route 253 (see below), with parts of Route 25 and Route 250.

Head north out of Shaftesbury, down and down and down to Motcombe village before looping round to Gillingham. Then a hilly up and over before a pretty flat run south to Sturminster Newton for a cuppa (and a scone?).

At Sturminster Newton you join the North Dorset Trailway, signposted as NCN Route 250, a wonderful route almost entirely flat, as it uses a disused railway line. After about 3 miles turn off left onto Route 25 as far as Bedchester. Then back on NCN Route 250 to Shaftesbury.

Gold Hill awaits.

Map: Dorset Downs Sustrans Pocket-sized Map

Waymarked long-distance cycle routes in Dorset

South Coast West, NCN Route 2

This route will eventually link Land’s End and Dover. For now, it starts in Dawlish in Devon, runs through Dorset and on into the New Forest. It is well signposted, but please note: the ferry from Purbeck to Poole has been closed for the summer of 2019.

From Axminster in Devon, the route climbs steeply to cross the border into Dorset, dropping into Marshwood Vale which is relatively level, before some hills lead you to the north of Bridport to the village of Bradpole. From here, new cycle paths can lead you nearly all the way to Bridport town centre.

From Bradpole the route rises steadily and then steeply before dropping down via Shipton Gorge to the Bride Valley. After a more level stretch, there are more testing climbs to take you up and over to Dorchester via the hill fort Maiden Castle.

After that, the route is very flat via Moreton (see above) and Wool before taking to forest tracks to head for what would be the ferry to Poole (if it were running) or otherwise to lovely Studland Beach. If you are feeling fit, cycle over the hill to Swanage:

Cycling in Dorset: Swanage Bay - photo by diego-torres on Pixabay
Swanage Bay

Bath to Bournemouth, NCN Routes 24 and 25

An 85-mile waymarked cycle route starting in Bath and finishing on the seafront at Bournemouth.

This is a really good route, avoiding many of the major hills locally, taking in gorgeous scenery and pretty villages. It uses several off-road trails, including the long tunnel leading out of Bath and the North Dorset Trailway.

On the way you pass through Frome, Gillingham, Blandford Forum, Wimborne Minster and Poole, with the option of a detour up the hill to Shaftesbury (and down Gold Hill – think Hovis advert!).

Map: Bath to Bournemouth Sustrans map

Mountain biking / off-road cycle routes in Dorset

The ‘Rough Ride Guide to Wiltshire and Dorset’ includes mountain bike routes all round Wessex:

Wiltshire and Dorset Mountain Bike Rides - the routes

In Dorset the routes are based around:

  • Purbeck
  • Dorchester
  • Cerne Abbas

Routes in another guide book, ‘Mountain Bike Guide Dorset’, include:

  • Badbury Rings & Kingston Lacy: 16Km, graded easy, an all-weather ride
  • Beaminster and the West: 20Km, graded moderate/hard with steep rolling hills
  • Maiden Castle: 16Km, graded moderate on all-weather tracks and grassy fields

Cycle-friendly Holiday Accommodation in Dorset

To be completed

The maps and guide books for cycling in Dorset

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For non-cycling maps and guide books, and novels and non-fiction relating to Dorset, go to our sister website Dorset in Books.