Did King Alfred own a bicycle? I only ask because last weekend I cycled on the route named after him and wondered if he had a support cart following behind, with a bag of burnt cakes for when he got hungry.

The King Alfred’s Way is a 350km off road cycle loop that begins and ends by said king’s statue in Winchester. The route sweeps west to Salisbury, then heads up over Salisbury Plain to Avebury, before swinging east along the Ridgeway path. It then drops down into the Thames Valley, following the river via Pangbourne and Reading before heading onwards towards Hook and along the Basingstoke Canal to Fleet; and then looping on again, completing the circle back to the beginning.

Together with a group of friends, I rode the section from Salisbury to Fleet over three days, a journey of just over 200 km. On the plus side, it was bone dry so there was no rain or mud to cope with. On the downside it was very hot and it was hard to stay hydrated.

On top of which, the fact it was my first long distance ride quickly showed when I turned up with a pair of panniers on the back of my bike. While everyone else was neatly packed with back packs and ‘banana’ bags hanging off the back of their saddles, my heavy rear end swung left and right every time I tried to manoeuvre the bike. I felt a bit like Buster Gonad, if there are any Viz fans in.

Heading up and out of Salisbury past Old Sarum, it wasn’t long before I heard a familiar hiss. My front tyre was completely flat: upon investigation, a shard of flint that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a stone age weapon was the culprit. As much as I wanted to get close to the local countryside, this was perhaps closer than intended.

As the first day’s ride went on, early nerves gave way to enjoyment. Passing tractors, tanks and travellers, the ride was the local area writ large. As the hours and days went by, so the landscape continued to evolve, and I appreciated both how beautiful this part of the world we live in is – and also how little I know of so much of it.

Maybe because Salisbury Plain acts as a bit of a natural barrier, I’ve never really travelled north to walk or cycle. But the Ridgeway was stunning, as was the Thames, as was the Basingstoke Canal path. With travel problems continuing, why risk a holiday abroad when you could spend a week exploring our stunning local countryside? Swap the plane for the Plain is my recommendation.