Berkshire's nickname is 'the royal county'. Five counties--Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Surrey, and Wiltshire border Berkshire. Its boundaries run from the outskirts of London and Heathrow airport in the east to the towns of Hungerford and Lambourn in the west. In the center of the county sits the large town of Reading. The Thames river outlines the northeast boundary of Berkshire.
Beside the river is Eton College (1440) with Windsor Castle on its doorstep across the 1823 iron bridge. Windsor is the world’s largest inhabited castle and the oldest in continuous occupation. It covers thirteen acres that include woods and park. It's one of royalty's official residences. In the grounds is St George's chapel, built in 1475. Ten of England's royal heads are buried here.
In Windsor Old Town (a separate village from Windsor) a number of 17th century buildings survive. History was made nearby when King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215. This is a good spot to take a river boat trip. Head up towards the large town of Maidenhead if you are a bridge architect lover. Isamard Kingdom Brunel designed the one here. Royal Windsor racecourse is located on Maidenhead road.
Charming riverside villages and pubs are an incentive to continue Thames travelling. Remenham, Sonning (home to a historic mill), and Wargrave are of note.
Following the river, you eventually reach Reading, a town dating back to AD 800. The local museum tells the town's story and houses a collection of Roman artefacts. Another museum, the Riverside Museum at Blake's Lock, displays the story of the rivers Kennet and the Thames in Reading. Henry I founded Reading Abbey here, and its scant rubble ruins and attached Forbury garden are open for exploration. At Reading's university is the museum of English rural life, where there are exhibitions on farming crafts and the countryside way of life.
Between Reading and London lies Berkshire's Wokingham district, home to acres of forest. Try Finchampstead Ridges for woodland walks. Royal Ascot is the world’s most famous race meeting. It was founded in 1711 by Queen Anne. The first race took place on August 11th of the same year. Basildon is an 18th century Palladian mansion with treasure gardens and woodland walks. It's run by the National Trust.
Western Berkshire's main town is Newbury, a mix of ancient buildings, historic walks, and modern shopping. The museum is in the 17th century cloth hall and 18th century granary. Nearby are the ruins of 14th century Donnington castle.
Victorian Highclere castle, also near Newbury, is set in a large park. On view in the house are old master paintings and an exhibition of antiquities from Egypt collected by the 5th earl of Carnarvon on his travels.
Pangbourne was home to the author of 'Wind in the Willows', Kenneth Grahame. The Kennet and Avon canal visitor and information centre is located at Aldermaston Wharf by the canal. The Thatcham Nature Discovery Centre offers nature trails and lakeside footpaths.
An unusual attraction in Berkshire is the Living Rainforest. The Living Rainforest is home to both plants and animals of the rainforest. It’s an all-age day out and is a perfect spot to visit year round, especially when the weather curtails outdoor activities. Birds, butterflies, lizards, and crocodiles are just a few of the animals on show. Don’t stick your finger in the meat-eating pitcher plants.
Ticket Booking Line: 0870 727 1234
Web: Ascot Racecourse
Tel. 0 1793 762 209 or 0 1793 755 569 (infoline)
Lower Basildon, Reading
Tel. 0 1189 843 040
High St, Eton
Tel. 0 1753 671 177
For photos and more information see our article Eton College
High St, Windsor
Tel. 0 1628 685 686
Highclere Park near Newbury
Tel. 0 1635 253 210
Web: Highclere Castle
Kennet and Avon Canal Visitor and Information Centre
Aldermaston Wharf, Padworth, Reading
Tel. 0 118 971 2868
Hampstead Norreys, near Newbury, north of the M4, off the B4009
Tel. 0 1635 202 444
For photos and more information see our article Living Rainforest
Web: Living Rainforest
Museum of English Rural Life
Redlands Rd, University of Reading
Tel. 0 118 931 8661
Town hall, Blagravre St, Reading
Tel. 0 118 939 9800
Web: Reading Museum
Riverside Museum at Blake's Lock
Gasworks Rd, off Kenavon Dr, Reading
Tel. 0 118 939 9800
Royal Windsor Racecourse
Tel. 0 1753 865 234
Tel. 0 1628 591 209
Thatcham Nature Discovery Centre
Muddy Lane, Lower Way, Thatcham
Tel. 0 1635 874 381
West Berkshire Museum
The Wharf, Newbury
Tel. 0 1635 30511
Windsor, reached by boat, rail, road from London
Tel. 020 7321 2233
For photos and more information see our article Windsor Castle
Berkshire Tourist Information Centres
The Look Out, Discovery Centre
Nine Mile Ride, Bracknell, RG12 7QW
Tel. 0 1344 354 409
St Ives Road, Maidenhead, SL6 1QU
Tel. 0 1628 796 502
The Wharf, Newbury, RG14 5AS
Tel. 0 1635 30267
Church House, Chain Street
Reading RG1 2HX
Tel. 0 118 956 6226
Royal Windsor Shopping Centre
Royal Windsor Central Station
Windsor, SL4 1PJ
Tel. 0 1753 743 900
Web: Windsor Tourist Information
Editor recommended website: Berkshire History
Photos of Windsor Castle, Eton College, Living Rainforest and Highclere by Barbara Ballard. Other photos courtesy David Nash Ford
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