The Woods Rat Run

location England, Europe
  • Distance

    159 Mi.

    (256 KM)
  • Days


  • % Unpaved


  • % Singletrack


  • % Rideable (time)

    99 %

  • Total Ascent


    (2,382 M)
  • High Point


    (256 M)
  • Difficulty (1-10)


  • 3
    Climbing Scale Fair49 FT/MI (9 M/KM)
  • 7.5
    Technical Difficulty Difficult
  • 7
    Physical Demand Difficult
  • 3
    Resupply & Logistics Fair
About Our Ratings

Contributed By

Tom Farrell

Tom Farrell

Guest Contributor

Tom Farrell co-owns The Woods Cyclery in the New Forest, a custom build specialist bike shop that also serves as a cycling hub in the national park. Coming from a BMX background, Tom enjoys challenging and engaging trails and has an inbuilt desire to explore the route less travelled. Find out more about him here.

The Woods Rat Run is a long-weekend route that links a National Park, a World Heritage Coastline, and an Area of Outstanding National Beauty in South West England. Primarily off-road and some 160 miles in length, it knits together all flavours of gravel roads, bridleways, and woodland singletrack, taking in the New Forest, the Isle of Purbeck, and Cranborne Chase in one fell swoop…
Share Facebook 0 Twitter Pinterest

Words and Photos by Tom Farrell and Cass Gilbert

The Woods Rat Run is a route that connects the New Forest to the Isle of Purbeck and Cranbourne Chase, set within the counties of Hampshire, Dorset, and Wiltshire.

Beginning at The Woods Cyclery in Lyndhurst, where the promise of good coffee and fine pastries kick off proceedings, the route initially swoops quickly and smoothly beneath great oaks and elms and along the white forest tracks of the New Forest, an area that’s popular with gravel riders. But it’s not too long before clues to its name emerge, as it plots an unexpected course along forgotten woodland bridleway ‘rat runs’, emerging unexpectedly at Christchurch and Bournemouth’s coastal promenade, complete with seaside huts, cafes, and a chance for a quick dip.

From Sandbanks, bikepackers rest their legs briefly by hopping onto the chain ferry – just £1 a pop – for the short and peaceful crossing to the Isle of Purbeck. Both the scenery and the terrain take a change here. Picture faint singletrack scratched into heathland ablaze with purple and lavender flowers that eventually emerges at the 11th century Corfe Castle, a picture-perfect, crumbling ruin perched on a hilltop – built by Willian the Conqueror, no less. Then, it’s another route highlight: the climb up to the ridgeline at Swyre Head offers glorious views across to Kimmeridge Bay and Dorset’s World Heritage Jurassic Coast – where further opportunities for swimming or wandering the beach in search of ammonites and other fossils await.

Heading north past Arne, a popular bird-watching area, you’ll soon come across Wareham, a pretty Dorset town that marks the edge of the Isle of Purbeck – which is, in fact, only an island by name, connected as it is by historic marshland. Forging onwards into North Dorset, coastal tracks give way forest roads, old woodland, overgrown bridleways, and a converted railway line. Cresting the Iron Age hill forts of Okeford Fitzpaine is the next blip in the elevation profile and another highlight of the route, so don’t be too tempted to ride around it!

From there, the route ascends to its highest points in Cranborne Chase, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a region that’s known for its chalky doubletrack and gorgeous, rolling rural vistas – and from a bikepacker’s perspective, a dreamy stretch of singletrack to Tollard Royal, as well as the historic tree tunnels of the Oxdrove Way.

  • Woods Rat Run bikepacking route, England
  • Woods Rat Run bikepacking route, England

Classic bridleways wind their way through beautiful Breamore Estate – with more rooty woodland singletrack thrown in for good measure – before riders finally find themselves connecting back into the New Forest National Park once again via the little-travelled Franchises Wood. Looping across Hampton Ridge, it’s time to return from whence you came, hopefully in time for celebratory cake at The Woods Cyclery if you’re quick enough!

Route difficulty: We’ve awarded this route a 6.5 as its overall rating. However, bear in mind that a reasonable degree of off-road riding confidence is required to enjoy, especially on a gravel bike, due to the varied nature of terrain – particularly in Purbeck and after Hambledon Hill, where you can expect some involved singletrack and a number of rough-and-tumble bridleways. You’ll want a reasonable level of fitness to complete the ride too, as it has steep climbs throughout, and there’s no shortage of elevation gain each day, especially if you complete it in the recommended three days. A stoic, open mind is useful too, as you can expect small sections to be nettly and overgrown at different times of the year!

This said, the logistics for the Woods Rat Run are very straightforward, with opportunities to resupply or eat out at pubs throughout the loop. The route is also very easy reached on public transport from a number of points, so can be short cut if need be.

Route Development: This route was developed by Tom Farrell over the course of a number of years riding and exploring the area on day rides and local overnighters. It was then tested and polished as a longer bikepacking loop when ridden as part of The Woods Cyclery Rat Run event in 2022, as well as various other smaller group rides. Plans are afoot to develop a longer Woods Rat Run XL, incorporating the Isle of Wight. Any recommendations for great local food along the way? Let us know!

Submit Route Alert

As the leading creator and publisher of bikepacking routes, endeavors to maintain, improve, and advocate for our growing network of bikepacking routes all over the world. As such, our editorial team, route creators, and Route Stewards serve as mediators for route improvements and opportunities for connectivity, conservation, and community growth around these routes. To facilitate these efforts, we rely on our Bikepacking Collective and the greater bikepacking community to call attention to critical issues and opportunities that are discovered while riding these routes. If you have a vital issue or opportunity regarding this route that pertains to one of the subjects below, please let us know:

  • **Advocacy opportunities may include bringing awareness to a new trail project, conservation initiative, access potential, or local effort that we might help with or bring awareness to via our broad-reaching platform.

  • *By clicking submit, you're also subscribing to our email list. You'll receive an opt-in email before being added.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
  • Highlights


  • Must Know


  • Camping


  • Food/H2O


  • Trail Notes


  • The sheer density of open bridleways and woodland singletrack throughout the area.
  • Riding primo, smooth, fast-rolling New Forest gravel roads.
  • Following the bike path along Bournemouth’s blustery seafront promenade.
  • Riding classic Purbeck singletrack and bridleways to big, sweeping coastal views.
  • The climb up and over Hambledon Hill, home to a Neolithic hill fort.
  • Riding Cranbourne Chase’s chalky drover’s roads set to lofty, rolling, countryside views.
  • Experiencing the dark, dank, and rugged tracks of RSPB’s Franchises Wood, a lesser-travelled part of the New Forest.
  • Best bike: a big-tyre gravel bike (2.3in tyres or so) or a hardtail is the ideal tool for the job, as you can expect challenging trails and rough bridleways. There are steep inclines throughout, so low gearing is recommended too. Thinking about riding it singlespeed? Check out this post on Tom’s setup.
  • Best time of year: Summer and shoulder seasons. Avoid winter due to claggy mud conditions!
  • In the summer especially, be prepared for some overgrown bridleways with nettles and brambles to contend with!
  • During July and August, between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., cycling is prohibited along the promenade in Bournemouth, so time your day accordingly or reroute via the road (use Googlemaps if need be).
  • In the long summer months, 50+ miles a day should still allow time for swimming, eating, and relaxing. Just bear in mind the logistical challenge of Bournemouth seafront in July and August.
  • Keep in mind that after numberous rainy days there are some sections of the route – particularly through Crankborne Chase – that will be almost impassable due to mud.
  • rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>Sandbanks Ferry runs most of the year but check during especially inclement weather, and for any maintenance or unexpected repairs. It’s possible to detour around it, using bike paths, but it will add a lot of mileage.

  • There are a number of recommended swimming spots that will require short out and backs to access – see map for suggestions. The boat slip at Kimmeridge Bay is probably the best spot near the route if you want a quick dip in the sea.
  • Getting there: Although the closest train station to the start of the loop is Ashhurst and Brokenhurst, you can also join the route from Dorchester West, Wareham, Bournemouth, and Salisbury. The is a good website to book tickets – check for bike policies/booking, especially if there are a few of you.
  • Want to extend the route? Check out the Purbeck Bimble and the New Forest Gravel Taster for ideas.
  • There are official camping areas throughout the route, a number of which are marked on the RWGPS map to help plan your ride. All are small, friendly, recommended spots.
  • It’s also possible to chat to local landowners and camp in fields or woods.
  • The Woods Cyclery in Lyndhurst makes a great spot to grab a delicious sandwich, have a coffee (roasted locally), and fill your bottles before setting off for the day.
  • There’s no shortage of pubs along the route! A few favourites are marked on the map.
  • There are a number of water taps along Bournemouth seafront promenade before you cross over to the Isle of Purbeck.
  • There are also plenty of spots to grab a traditional cream tea! A few are marked on the map.
  • Almost all towns along the way will have a Co-Op or Spar for basic resupplies, a number of which are marked on the map.
  • Some independent grocery stores have been marked on the map for local produce.

Suggested Itinerary

This suggested itinerary is based on our ride on the route. Find more insight into the area, including posts from various test rides at The Woods Cyclery Journal and this blog post from our ride on the route for this guide.

location Lyndhurst/The Woods Cyclery to Steeple Leaze

Day 1 (52 miles/2,000 feet)

Starting at The Woods Cyclery Lyndhurst, where you can load up on coffee, cake, and last-minute bike supplies, the route winds through classic, smooth, New Forest gravel and some lesser-known bridleways towards Christchurch. A little scoot round the town and the beautiful ‘Hengistbury Head’ (worth a stop off if you have time) takes you to Bournemouth seafront, a flat seven-mile promenade. A BIG NOTE! The seafront Promenade is NOT cycle-able from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in July and August; avoid those times or have a nice stroll with your bike – or ride the alternative road section. The Sandbanks/Studland ferry takes you onto the Isle Of Purbeck, where you’ll find some fun, rough, singletrack, big steep climbs, and the best views the South of England has to offer.

location Steeple Leaze to Coombe Bridge/Bake Farm

Day 2 (64 miles/3,460 feet

Leaving Purbeck to ride north through the quaint town of Wareham (worth a coffee stop and re-supply), you will join Wareham Forest’s sandy, smooth gravel. Using the North Dorset Trailway, you’ll head further north, gently climbing towards Hambledon Hill, where the elevation really starts to kick in. A dreamy section of woodland singletrack takes you up further to the highest point of the trail past Tollard Royal and to the chalky doubletrack and big views of Cranbourne Chase.

location Coombe Bridge/Bake Farm To Lyndhurst/The Woods Cyclery

Day 3 (44 miles/2,300 feet

Classic bridleways wind through the beautiful Breamore Estate with some more rooty woodland singletrack thrown in for good measure. Into the dark woodland of Franchises Wood, and you cross the border back onto the fast-rolling gravel and ancient woodland of New Forest National Park. If you’re riding the loop in three days, we’ll be hoping that you get to The Woods Cyclery in Lyndhurst before 4 p.m. when the cafe closes!

Terms of Use: As with each bikepacking route guide published on, should you choose to cycle this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While riding, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individual riders cycling or following this route.




Please keep the conversation civil, constructive, and inclusive, or your comment will be removed.