Berkshire is a beautiful county in the South of England, most famous for its Royal connections (looking at you Windsor and Ascot). To get a good idea of how the county looks, try to imagine rolling hills, fields, oak woodlands, leafy lanes, quaint villages, old houses (any Americans reading this will LOVE those if the Royalty bit didn’t get you yet), winding rivers, and sedate canals.
Then, mix those things with some cool cities, boasting some highly multicultural populations, and you have a good picture of the county. Quaint houses and countryside are not the be all and end all of Berkshire. There is more to Berkshire than you might think. Putting Royalty to one side (a little), keep reading to find out the top 5 interesting things about Berkshire:
#1 – The Curse of Reading
Now, you may have heard of Reading Rock Festival? This festival has become a rite of passage for local fans of Rock music. As well as for those people who travel from all over the world to enjoy the festival.
Festivities usually involve music, mayhem and some kind of inebriated mud fight. From the days of the Hippies to the Harley Davidson riding metal fans, to punk, to grunge, to alternative rock, to emo, Reading has seen them all. The festival has a rocky history (pun intended) with bands regularly getting pelted with flying objects until they retreat from the stage. Locals remember back in the day when the Harley Davidson riders were in town, you had to watch out for your bottle of milk in the morning.
However, the festival is not the most interesting thing about Reading! If you get to know any locals they might tell you about the town’s curse. Rumor has it, the curse will let you leave, but you always end up returning. Visit Reading for a day, a week, a month but never live there because afterwards you will never escape.
#2 – Ooo Err The Races
If you aren’t the rocky muddy festival type, you might prefer to read about the Royal side of Berkshire. One element of which is the five days of Ascot Races. Ascot is a highlight of the year for many people who live in Berkshire.
It also means buying some kind of ridiculously expensive, fancy and overly ornate hat. This is a one time opportunity for otherwise non-hat wearing elements of the local population. If you can’t get to the races then hanging out at Reading station café on Race day is a blast. You can play spot the Ascot goers while you enjoy a nice cup of tea, and an English breakfast.
The races are famous for being a tough course, and the participants compete for more than $4,000,000 million in prize money. The races first began in 1711 when Queen Anne, on a ride from Windsor Castle, stated the area was the best place for her horses to run at full stretch.
#3 – Let’s Keep It Royal
As well as royal events like Ascot Races, there is the ever-present royal Windsor Castle. Windsor Castle is the oldest, largest castle in the world still used as a residence. And yes, the resident is the Queen of England. If you enjoy pomp and splendor then you can easily spend a couple of days in Windsor to explore the castle and surrounding area.
Don’t forget, prestigious Eton boy’s college is over on the other side of the river and you can easily visit Eton from Windsor. If you ever wondered what it is like to go to an English boarding school then have a look at the college website for some insights. Then, potter around the town for a glimpse of the boys in their unique uniforms. Now, if you don’t know your prep from your tuck or your wacky area from your beak you might want to have a read up on the slang used at British boarding schools. Generally, terms vary from boarding school to boarding school but there are some terms used in all of them.
#4 – Aldermaston Is A Pretty Village With A Big Secret
In the countryside surrounding Reading, a small typically attractive village called Aldermaston is home to AWE (Aldermaston Weapons Establishment). This is where they manufacture atomic warheads. While it is not an official secret, not many people are aware of what goes on there. Don’t let that put you off visiting the village though. I am sure they have everything under control.
Aldermaston is one of the villages which the beautiful Kennet and Avon canal passes through. Exploring England, particularly Berkshire, by boat is a great way to gain an insight into local life. You will find on the waterways people are more friendly than is typically British. There is always a strong sense of community on the canals/ rivers. One way to really get under the skin of the British countryside is to try a houseboat holiday on the canal. From Aldermaston, you can use your boat to get all the way to Reading.
#5 – Not as True Blue as you Might Think
While Berkshire is known as Royal Berkshire, don’t let this give you the wrong idea. Berkshire is a very diverse area and you will find established West Indian and various South and East Asian communities all over. You will also see evidence of more recent influxes of East Europeans. As a traveler, you will discover the best thing about the multiculturalism will be the opportunity to eat out at restaurants representing a huge variety of cuisines. All without leaving the UK can’t get better than that if you ask me.
In Reading, you can find some rip-roaring curry houses, as well as my favorite restaurant Perry’s which sells hearty West Indian food and is very popular with the locals. The Oxford road in Reading is a great place to find small Indian run grocery stores which sell big 1 kg and 1/2 kg bags of spices, with a dizzying array of choice. If you have not been able to cook the curry you have been eying up in your Indian cookbook because your local supermarket doesn’t stock the spice you need. Then the Oxford road will sort you out once and for all. Slough and Basingstoke are also very multicultural towns and they are worth a quick visit for the local restaurants alone.
Well, now you know there is more to Berkshire than Queens and Castles, do you think you will pay the county a visit? Let us know in the comments!