Heritage > Counties > England
Known as 'Royal Berkshire' due to it's connections with the royal family. The home of Windsor Castle and Eton public school.
Berkshire covers an area of some 500 square miles with it's main towns being the city of Reading, Eton, Slough, Maidenhead, Ascot, Bracknell, Newbury and Windsor.
The area has become heavily linked with the computer industry and is known to many in England as 'Silicon Valley'.
Ascot is famed for the annual horse racing festival which is attended by the monarch. For Four days each year Ascot races become 'Royal Ascot'.
With the river Thames flowing right past the magnificent Windsor Castle and the acres of rolling views which comprise the Chiltern Hills Berkshire is as scenic as any other area in the country.
The county has a population of some three quarters of a million people and each year attracts thousands of tourists, both from inside and outside the British Isles.
Facts on the region
Origin of name: A wooden hill district originating from the great forest of birch trees called Bearroc, the Celtic word for hilly.
Name first recorded: 860 as Beaurrucsir.
County Town: READING
Unprepossessing, but worth exploring along the Thames and Kennet rivers.
Berkshire's local government: There are five unitary districts governing themajor part of Berkshire: Bracknell Forest, Newbury, Reading, Windsor & Maidenhead, Wokingham. The rest of the County of Berkshire is administererd by a two-tier system provided by the Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire Districts along with Oxfordshire County Council. The two detached parts of Berkshire in Oxfordshire at Langford and Shilton come under that County Council and West Oxfordshire District Council.
The local landscape
Berkshire is a keystone in the heartland of Southern England, with the River Thames as its northern border. The country goes from the sand and gravel and flat fertile fields of the Thames Valley, where sudden heights like Windsor rise above loops of the Thames, to the Chiltern Hills, mixed with heathland and expanding beyond Reading to chalk uplands, the Berkshire Downs and high grasslands around Lambourn.
A range of chalk hills just south of the Thames form the northern boundary to the Vale of the White Horse.
If the Ridgeway is the oldest track, then the winding Thames is the watery highway of Berkshire.
The restored Kennet and Avon Canal runs from Reading through West Berkshire.
From the north you progress to chalk hills in the west, then the edge of Cotswold Country. It's ultimate English countryside, simple and pleasurable. Though it has highways rushing through it it is yet veined with country roads and tiny leafy lanes, ducking and curving, gemmed with love settlements (notable are Boxford, Cookham, East Garston, Hurley and Sonning). In fact pretty villages are scattered throughout this still-essentially rural county providing a sight for sore eyes.
Local Towns and Villages
ABINGDON Attractive and historic, a Thameside gem. Monday market under the old County Hall arches.
DIDCOT Good for GWR steam enthusiasts. The power station dominates and it has open days in summer.
HARWELL Also dominated by the Atomic Energy Research stack but retaining an olde-worlde charm with 14th- to 18th- century buildings.
HUNGERFORD By the river, with its clustering boats and ducks, is pleasant with a clutter of antique shops.
LAMBOURN Fine Georgian cottages and almshouses.
MAIDENHEAD Riverside town with pub-lined towpath.
NEWBURY Notorious by-pass. Fine almhouses, a cloth museum and horse-drawn barge trips.
WANTAGE Has a set of almshouses and paving stones made of sheep bones. King Alfred, he of the burnt cakes, was born here.
WINDSOR Glorious gardens - particularly in spring. Savill and Valley Gardens are both open to the public.
Places to Visit
Basildon Park, Lower Basildon, Reading, Berkshire
Englefield House, Englefield, Theale, Reading, Berkshire
St. Georges Chapel, Windsor, Berkshire
The Savill Garden, windsor Great Park, Berkshire
Swallowfield Park, Reading, Berkshire
Taplow Court, Berry Hillm Taplow, Nr. Maidenhead, Berkshire
Windsor Castle, Berkshire
Mid-July: Swan Upping, the annual recording of the sovereign's swans on the Thames, at Windsor.
Mid-August: Regatta at Hurley.
Mid-September: Regatta at Cookham.
Mid-June: Royal Ascot horseracing - renowned as much for its ladies' hats as its high racing standards.