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What to See and Do in West Berkshire

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Changing with the Times: Exploring the Past and the Present of West Berkshire

donnington castle

Prehistoric and Roman History

Numerous archaeological finds evidence that West Berkshire’s history began in prehistoric times. The Ridgeway, an ancient trackway running across the Berkshire Downs, is one of the oldest roads in Britain, used since at least 3000 BC. This region also has numerous Bronze Age barrows and Iron Age hill forts, such as the one at Beacon Hill.

During the Roman period, West Berkshire was part of the Roman province of Britannia. The area saw significant development, with several Roman roads crisscrossing the landscape. One of the notable Roman sites is the town of Calleva Atrebatum, now known as Silchester, located just south of West Berkshire. It was an important administrative and trading centre, with well-preserved ruins that offer a glimpse into Roman urban life.

Anglo-Saxon and Norman Period

donnington castle 1

Following the fall of the Roman Empire, the area that is now West Berkshire became part of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex. Newbury, one of the principal settlements, was established during this time. The name “Newbury” is thought to derive from the Anglo-Saxon “Neuburg,” meaning “new fortified town.”

The Domesday Book of 1086 provides a detailed account of West Berkshire during the Norman period, revealing a landscape of agricultural villages and manorial estates. Donnington Castle, built in the late 14th century, is a significant medieval structure that still stands today, reflecting the area’s strategic importance.

Early Modern Period and Industrial Revolution

The early modern period saw West Berkshire becoming an important centre for the cloth trade, particularly in Newbury. The town flourished economically, with many merchants and craftsmen calling it home. The 17th century brought turmoil, as West Berkshire played a significant role in the English Civil War. The First and Second Battles of Newbury, fought in 1643 and 1644, respectively, were pivotal conflicts. Donnington Castle was heavily damaged during these battles, and its ruins remain a testament to this turbulent period.

The Industrial Revolution brought further change to West Berkshire. While it did not become heavily industrialised, the area benefited from improved transportation infrastructure, including the Kennet and Avon Canal and the Great Western Railway. These developments enhanced trade and mobility, contributing to the growth of local markets and industries.

20th Century and Modern Developments

greenham common

In the 20th century, West Berkshire evolved significantly. The establishment of military bases, such as RAF Greenham Common, had a profound impact, particularly during and after World War II. Greenham Common later became famous for the women’s peace camp, protesting against nuclear weapons in the 1980s.

The local government reorganisation in 1974 and subsequent changes in 1998 resulted in the formation of the unitary authority of West Berkshire, encompassing towns like Newbury, Thatcham, and Hungerford.

What to See and Do

Historical Landmarks

highclere castle

Donnington Castle isn’t the only well-known landmark. Famously known as the setting for Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle is a stunning example of Victorian architecture, just five miles south of Newbury. Visitors can explore the lavish interiors, learn about the history of the Carnarvon family, and stroll through the meticulously maintained gardens.

A beautiful Elizabethan mansion near Newbury, Shaw House is open to the public as a museum and event venue. The house has been carefully restored and offers insights into its historical significance and architectural beauty.

shaw house

The Kennet and Avon Canal, stretching from Bristol to Reading, passes through the heart of West Berkshire. Visitors can enjoy leisurely walks, cycling, or boat trips along the canal. The historic locks and scenic towpaths make for a peaceful and picturesque experience.

kennet and avon canal

Natural Attractions

Covering a significant part of West Berkshire, the North Wessex Downs AONB is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts. The rolling chalk hills, woodlands, and open farmland offer excellent opportunities for hiking, cycling, and horse riding. The Ridgeway National Trail, one of Britain’s oldest paths, runs through this area and provides breathtaking views.

Located near Newbury, the 96-hectare Snelsmore Common Country Park features a variety of habitats, including heathland, woodland, and grassland. It’s an excellent spot for walking, birdwatching, and picnicking. The park is also home to Exmoor ponies, adding to its unique charm.

Once a military airbase, Greenham Common is now a vast open space with heathland and grassland habitats. It’s ideal for walking and wildlife spotting. The area also has historical significance due to its use during World War II and the Cold War, with remnants of its military past still visible.

west berkshire

Museums and Educational Experiences

Located in Newbury, West Berkshire Museum offers a comprehensive look at the local history and heritage. The exhibits cover a wide range of topics, from prehistoric times to the present day, and include artefacts, photographs, and interactive displays.

The Living Rainforest situated near Hampstead Norreys, is a unique attraction featuring tropical plants, animals, and insects in a controlled indoor environment. It provides an educational experience about rainforest ecosystems and conservation efforts, making it a great visit for families.

Gardens and Parks

Famous for its stunning displays of snowdrops in late winter and early spring, Welford Park is a beautiful estate with landscaped gardens and woodland walks. The house itself, though not always open to the public, adds to the charm of the surroundings.

Basildon Park, an 18th-century Georgian mansion, is set in 400 acres of parkland and gardens. Managed by the National Trust, visitors can explore the elegant interiors, stroll through the gardens, and enjoy the surrounding woodlands.

Where to Eat and Drink


Located in Newbury, The Woodspeen is a Michelin-starred restaurant renowned for its exquisite modern British cuisine. The restaurant prides itself on using locally sourced ingredients, many of which come from its own kitchen garden. The menu changes seasonally, ensuring fresh and innovative dishes. The sleek, contemporary interior and beautiful countryside views make it a perfect spot for a special meal.

Nestled in the picturesque village of Frilsham, The Pot Kiln is a quintessential English pub with a reputation for excellent food. It specialises in game dishes, reflecting the local hunting traditions. With a cosy atmosphere, complete with wooden beams and a roaring fireplace, it’s an ideal spot for enjoying hearty meals like venison pie or wild boar sausages. It re-opened in May after an impressive refurbishment.

Located in Yattendon, The Royal Oak is a charming 18th-century inn that offers a delightful blend of traditional and contemporary cuisine. The seasonal menu features locally sourced produce, and the pub’s inviting ambiance, complete with a beautiful garden, makes it perfect for both casual lunches and evening meals.

The Boxford, a family-run pub near Newbury, is well-regarded for its warm hospitality and excellent food. The menu includes a range of classic British dishes, as well as some international options. It’s a great place to enjoy a relaxed meal with friends or family.

The Vineyard, a luxurious hotel and restaurant in Stockcross near Newbury, is renowned for its extensive wine list, featuring over 3,000 wines from around the world. The Vineyard also offers wine tasting experiences and has a fine dining restaurant that pairs gourmet dishes with exceptional wines.

Located in Yattendon, West Berkshire Brewery is a must-visit for beer enthusiasts. The brewery produces a range of award-winning ales and lagers, which can be enjoyed in their taproom. They also offer tours, allowing visitors to see the brewing process and sample different beers.

Finally, The Newbury, a stylish bar in Newbury town centre, offers an impressive selection of cocktails, craft beers, and wines. The vibrant atmosphere and modern décor make it a popular spot for evening drinks. They also serve a variety of small plates and sharing platters, perfect for a casual night out.

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Mark Kebble

Mark's career in journalism started in 2001 when he landed a role on a small lifestyle magazine in Angel, North London. Soon enough, the magazine was purchased by a larger organisation and Mark found himself promoted to editor at the tender age of 23. He later became group editor, working on magazines for Angel, Crouch End, Muswell Hill and Highgate. He was also involved in a launch in Hadley Wood and a major new group website, later becoming Group Hub Editor. In 2021, Mark joined Zest Media Group and oversaw the launch of many Absolutely titles across the UK. To date, Mark has launched in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Sussex, Essex, Yorkshire and Cheshire. When he does have some free time, Mark is also the Chairman of an amateur football club in Surrey and is also a fully qualified FA football coach.
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