Berkshire very much epitomizes the classic English countryside. You can find grand houses, winding waterways, rolling hills, grassy meadows, and woodland. Perhaps the highlight for many people will be the dramatic Windsor Castle, still used by the Queen as a residence.
Yet, there is more to Berkshire than the Queen’s castle. In this article, I’m going to highlight the most well-known places to hike, as well as some places known to locals. Together the list makes up the 3 absolute best hikes in the Berkshires.
Waterway Wanderings – The Quaint Kennet and Avon Canal
The Kennet and Avon Canal footpath is best enjoyed as a liner hike. This long distance footpath takes you all the way from dynamic Reading to beautiful Bath.
Canals walks are a great way to explore England because you catch glimpses into the life of people who live in houseboats on the water. You have opportunities to see wildlife and birds along the way. Lastly, possibly the best benefit for hikers is they are always very easy to navigate. Even without local knowledge which makes the hikes themselves very accessible. They are also mostly level the whole way, so this makes walking easy. Good for families or people with bad knees who might find mountains out of reach these days!
The best section of the Kennet and Avon Canal path, within the Berkshires, is the 13 miles/ almost 21 km day walk takes you from Reading to Woolhampton. You can do this walk in either direction and potentially as a day walk from London as well. Both Reading station and Midgham station are well served by trains connected to London. Along the route, you will also find train stations at Theale and Aldermaston, so you can stop early if need be.
Highlights to be found along the route are the swing bridge at Theale, as well as a lot of locks. My favorite lock is Garston Lock which has an unusual turf edge and is a scheduled ancient monument.
Keep your eyes peeled for Kingfishers on this hike. You might catch a flash of blue, and with any luck, you have a chance of a good sighting. Birdwatchers can get an early start and factor in some time to spend at the reed beds at Woolhampton. There you have a chance to see its passerine bird populations.
Grandiose Architecture – Royal Windsor Great Park
You cannot visit Berkshire and not include a visit to Windsor Castle. The history of the castle stretches back 900 years and it is the oldest, largest occupied castle in the world. Pretty cool, right?! You should stay at least a couple of nights in Windsor. You can keep one day for the castle itself.
Then, on your second day experience the pomp and splendor of Royal life as you watch the changing of the guard. After which you can head down the Long Walk (approx 3 miles/ 4.8 km) to the Copper Horse. From the Horse statue, you can enjoy grand views back to Windsor Castle.
If you still have the energy for it you can head deeper into the Great park for a day of hiking. The landscapes of the park typify a gentle beautiful English landscape. You will find you can imagine Mr. Darcy (or a Prince) appearing from around every corner. There are areas of open grassland and some old oak woodland to explore. The park is also home to 500 red deer, so you have a good chance of seeing them. Look out for the proud stags with their impressive antlers.
If you have time you can also consider a walk at Virginia Waters. This lake is part of Windsor Great Park and was originally a pleasure ground for the Royals. Like a well landscaped private garden, on steroids for a Royal audience! These days the park is open to the public. The walk around the lake is 4.5 miles (7 km), making a nice half day hike.
Woodland Walks – Bluebell Woods at Basildon Park
Basildon Park is a grand house from the Georgian period. The house is placed within 400 acres of woods and parkland, with a number of different walks to explore, all well marked and easy to navigate.
You can easily spend a morning or afternoon wandering through the land. Keep an eye out for badger sets. In spring you will find bluebells carpeting the floor of the woods, while in autumn you can enjoy the changing colors of the leaves. In summer look out for butterflies, foxgloves and my personal favorite – wild thyme. The woodlands feature some very old trees, so take some time to spot the oldest and tip your hat in respect of these old
You can make a day-long road trip to Basildon from a number of other Berkshire towns where you might stay, such as Windsor, Reading or even London. Or you could also turn a day trip into a multiple day road trip. Then you can also visit some picturesque English villages along the way.
Nearby places of note to visit:
Mapledurham, a stately house, and grounds, with picturesque walks and a working water mill. On the edges of Reading.
Goring and Streatley are two villages on different sides of the Thames, which combine to make one community. The village has beautiful buildings, nice pubs, and opportunities for hiking in the local countryside.
Pangbourne a quaint village with evidence of a Roman history, and tales of highwaymen to tickle your fancy.
Sonning is a very beautiful village with old brick houses on the River Thames, also well-known for some famous residents. You can combine a visit to this village with a gentle walk along the River Thames.
Ratty, Mole and Toad Want to Come Too
Berkshire has a lot to offer for people who enjoy hiking. You will find many opportunities to walk along the waterways, in the rolling hills, and through woodlands.
When you think of Berkshire you have to also think of the Wind in the Willows, and the landscapes will take you back to your childhood.
If you didn’t read it yet, then take it along for your picnics. Then, go on an adventure with Ratty, Mole, and Toad at the same time as your feet lead you through gentle landscapes fit for Royals and Highwaymen alike!
Last but not least, I finish with a local joke/quote about people born in Berkshire
Berkshire born, Berkshire bred, strong in the arm, thick in the head
Have you ever been to Berkshire? Where was your favorite hike? Would you like to go? If so where will you go first?