The county is one of the oldest in England, possibly dating as far back as the 840s, the probable period of the unification of East Berkshire and the Berkshire Downs. Berkshire has a rather violent history, seeing many battles during Alfred the Great’s campaign against the Danes. Newbury was the site of two Civil War battles and the nearby Donnington Castle was reduced to a ruin in the aftermath of the second battle. The 14th-century gatehouse of this castle remains, sitting among impressive earthworks (who doesn’t love a good earthwork?)
For a unique day out in this area, the Kennet Horse Boat Company offers tours on motorised or hoarse-drawn barges along the Kennet and Avon Canal. The boats have on board refreshment facilities and don’t worry – the horse walks along the towpath and does not have to swim.
The main city within Berkshire is Reading. In the 1940s, Sir John Betjeman wrote: "Few towns are less prepossessing at first glance than Reading, but few towns better repay exploration." We can’t help but agree. Reading has a bustling town centre with some great shopping on the go, but there are also a number of historical attractions on the go as well. The Museum of Reading, housed within the town hall, contains exhibitions about the city’s history, from its Saxon beginnings to the business centre it is today. The Riverside Museum at Blake’s Lock, meanwhile, tells the history of Reading’s two main rivers, the Kennet and the Thames.
Literature fans will enjoy walking along Chestnut Walk, which runs adjacent to Reading Gaol where Oscar Wilde was incarcerated between 1895 and 1897. The path has been turned into a memorial to the Irish poet and playwright, with pieces of sculpture incorporating some of his most famous quotes along the way.
No visit to Berkshire would be complete without seeing Windsor, a town within the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead. The town of Windsor is picturesque and full of cute cafés and restaurants, however the highlight is definitely Windsor Castle. Almost 1,000 years old, the castle is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world and the official residence of the Queen of England. When the Queen is not residence, visitors can tour the state apartments and the extensive art and armoury collections within.
For a more general look at the town of Windsor, visitors can go on one of the Windsor Heritage Talks and Tours available throughout the town. The tour provider offers tours of Windsor, trips to the castle and coach trips around the area. Alternatively, you can view Windsor from the comfort of a horse-drawn carriage. Ascot Carriages offer tours around Windsor Great Park, while Orchard Poyle will take you around the city itself (a great chance to perfect that ‘Queen wave’).
For a contrast to the upper-crust finery of Windsor Castle, visit the town’s main attraction for children, Legoland. This adventure theme park has rides, mini trains, workshops where you can build with Legos and much more.
Windsor is also of course the home of the famous Ascot racecourse. The highlight of the year is Royal Ascot in June, however racing takes place throughout the year. Each race day offers a unique theme, including a summer cocktail party in July, a beer festival in October and fireworks in November.
You can learn more about the surrounding area at the Maidenhead Heritage Centre, which hosts permanent and rotating exhibitions throughout the year. Within a series of six galleries, visitors can learn about the area’s Roman past, the Victorian era and even the Hammer Horror films that were made in Maidenhead during the 1960s and 70s (fun fact: the Oakley Court Hotel in Maidenhead, formerly a stately home, was used as Doctor Frank N Furter’s castle in the Rocky Horror Picture Show).
Moving into Wokingham, lovers of the great outdoors will enjoy a visit to Dinton Pastures Country Park. This open space is full of local wildlife (including granddads who come to feed the ducks) and extensive walks. The Hurst Golf Course is also part of the park, offering nine holes and games for as little as £5.30.
Nearby, Bracknell Forest is home to the John Nike Bracknell Ski Centre, an all-weather outdoor ski slope. Adults and children can take group or private lessons and snowboarding is available for adults. You can also book recreational open practice on the slopes. An Olympic size ice rink is housed within the same complex.
Bracknell is also home to Coral Reef, a waterpark with giant water slides, wild water rapids, a pirate ship with ‘shooting’ cannons and an erupting water volcano. If you’re over 18 and want a bit of peace, chill out in one of two saunas or the adults-only spa pool (aah, that’s better, isn’t it?)
As you can see, official county or not, Berkshire has a lot to offer.