Days out in Berkshire & the Chilterns
PUBLISHED: 13:52 16 July 2008 | UPDATED: 15:19 20 February 2013
Why not play tourist for two weeks in your own part of the world and discover the wonders on offer close to home? Here we bring you great ideas for a fortnight's worth of fascinating excursions...
Day 1 - Basildon Park, Pangbourne and Beale Park
Morning: Basildon Park (NT), Upper Basildon, Reading RG8 9NR. Best known recently as the setting for Pride and Prejudice, this beautifully restored 18th century house is full of pictures, furniture and textiles. There are 400 acres of parkland to explore with several trails, including a new children's trail. Gift shop and restaurant, offering special children's portions. Tel: 0118 984 3040. Closed Mon & Tues, and also August 4, 15-17.
Lunch: There's an excellent café at Basildon Park itself but you could also carry on into nearby Pangbourne and eat at The Cross Keys, by the church. Enjoy a good lunch in their riverside garden.
Afternoon: Pangbourne was once home to Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows author. It's got plenty of character, so enjoy a stroll and a browse round the quaint shops. For something more energetic, try Beale Wildlife Park and Gardens, just a few minutes away. There's a deer park, plenty of other animals and birds, as well as a steam train, boats and children's entertainment. Tel: 0870 777 7160.
Day 2 - West Wycombe
Morning: Hell-Fire Caves, West Wycombe HP14 3AH. These ancient caves converted in the 18th century by Sir Francis Dashwood to create the notorious Hell-Fire Club, have winding passages and chambers deep underground, including a banqueting hall and an inner temple. Various scenes from the past are depicted with special effects, and today it's also popular for location shooting (Inspector Lewis, Most Haunted, Little Dorrit). Right through to September children can 'enjoy' Wicked Wednesdays and Freaky Fridays, with games, face painting, and witches workshops. Tel: 01494 533739.
Lunch: At the Caves in the Courtyard Café, or at Hughenden Manor, High Wycombe, Wed-Sun, from 11am.
Afternoon: West Wycombe Park, West Wycombe, HP14 3AJ. This was the setting for the BBC's Cranford and the house, a beautiful Italianate mansion, is still in private ownership, so visiting is limited. Admission is by guided tour on weekdays. The house and grounds are open from June 1 to August 31, 2pm-6pm, but closed on Friday and Saturday. Tel: 01494 755571 (Infoline).
Day 3 - Eton and Dorney
Morning: Eton College, SL4 6DW. The college was founded in 1440 and it has schooled many great men, such as poets, writers, Prime Ministers and royalty, and quite a handful of fictional ones as well, including James Bond! Visit the School Yard, College Chapel, Cloisters and the Museum of Eton Life, and find out about the customs, games, punishments and pupils. Tel: 01753 671177.
Lunch: The Palmers Arms, Dorney, winner of the Best Dining Pub in Buckinghamshire Award 2007, tel: 01628 666612, or the Walled Garden Centre, Dorney Court, which serves home-cooked lunches, snacks and afternoon teas. Tel: 01628 669999.
Afternoon: Dorney Court, Dorney, near Windsor, SL4 6QP. One of the finest Tudor manor houses in the country, it has been in the same family, the Palmers, for 13 generations. The interior is fascinating, with panelled rooms, a galleried hall, beautiful furniture and artefacts, as well as its own ghost. Its Walled Garden Centre, which is open all day, is a source of horticultural inspiration, gifts, and local honey. Tel: 01628 604638. (House opens in August, 1.30pm, daily, closed Saturday.)
Day 4 - Newbury and Highclere Castle
Morning: West Berkshire Museum, Newbury Wharf, RG14 5AS, is a family-friendly centre housed in two splendid listed 17th century buildings, full of local collections, including social history, art, archaeology, jewellery and crafts, even hot air ballooning displays. It offers trails and activities for children but parts have been closed recently for upgrading, so check in advance on 01635 3051.
Lunch: For a touch of Parisian chic, the Michelin Guide recommends Le Petit Square in the Market Place. It has a super children's menu and desserts to die for!
Tel: 01635 550770.
Afternoon: Highclere Castle, RG20 9RN, is said to be the finest inhabited Victorian castle in the country and is best known as the home of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, the discoverer of the Tomb of Tutankhamum. There's still time to catch the special Egyptian Exhibition, which will close on August 31. Apart from the opulent rooms and vast collections throughout the castle, visitors can also enjoy the gardens, parkland, tearoom and a gift shop. Tel: 01635 253204. Closed Fridays and Saturdays.
Day 5 - Hungerford and Kennet and Avon Canal
Morning: Hungerford is the place for antiques, from furniture to silverware, jewellery to books. As well as Hungerford Arcade in the High Street, which has around 70 dealers and a coffee shop, and Below Stairs, which is set around a courtyard with five themed rooms, there are specialist shops such as Roger King, Youlls, Panache, Styles Silver, Bow House, and the Old Malthouse.
Lunch: The Bear Hotel, in Charnham Street, is a must. An historic hotel dating back to the 13th century, later owned by Henry VIII, and visited by Elizabeth 1. Today it is definitely 21st century, with a bar, brasserie and a patio, serving excellent fare. Tel: 01488 682512.
Afternoon: Take a boat trip from Canal Bridge on the Rose of Hungerford, no need to book, tel: 01488 683389, or on a horse drawn barge (Kennet Horse Boat Company), tel: 01488 658866, from nearby Kintbury.
Day 6 - Bekonscot Model Village and Hughenden Manor
Morning: Bekonscot, Beaconsfield, HP9 2PL, is the world's oldest model village and portrays rural England in the '30s. It's set in one-and-a-half acres, with six villages, farms, fields, castles and churches, and features the inhabitants enjoying fairs, zoos and even a wedding.
Lunch: Indulge in a seafood lunch at Loch Fyne in London End.
Afternoon: Hughenden Manor, High Wycombe, HP14 4LA. Home of Queen Victoria's favourite Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, and full of memorabilia. Enjoy stunning views, garden and park, as well as woodland trails, including two new World War 2 related trails - German Forest and Top Secret. Open 1.pm, Wednesday to Sunday. Tel: 01494 755565.
Day 7 - Cookham and Cliveden
Morning: The Stanley Spencer Gallery, Cookham, SL6 9SJ. Re-opened after a major refurbishment last year, this is a delightful gallery in a converted Methodist Chapel. Spencer was one of the most original artists of the 20th century, who lived and worked in Cookham, and you can go on a walk that takes in all the places associated with, and painted by, Spencer. The tour, which takes about an hour, starts on the corner of Cookham High Street opposite the gallery. Tel: 01628 471885.
Lunch: You're spoilt for choice in Cookham. The King's Arms, which has also had a recent makeover, is a short stroll down the High Street, or just opposite is the ever-popular Bel and the Dragon. Just before the bridge, you'll come to The Ferry.
Afternoon: While away the afternoon in the beautiful gardens at Cliveden. Here you'll find a stunning series of formal gardens, each with its own style and character and amazing views of the Thames. The gardens are open every day, but the house is now a private hotel and only part of it is open to the public on Thursday and Sunday afternoons. Tel: 01494 755562 (Infoline).
Day 8 - Marlow
Morning: Park your car in the large Higginson Park car park on Pound Lane. This makes a good base from which to enjoy your day, then head for the Tourist Information office in the High Street. Here you can pick up a free mini guide to the town which details two popular walks, one down-river to Bourne End and the other up-river towards Hurley. Alternatively, explore the many up-market boutiques and art galleries in the town.
Lunch: Caffé Fego in the High Street is one of the town's most popular venues for a light lunch, serving excellent contemporary food. Caffé Uno, Pizza Hut and Zizzi's are also to be found. Burger's is a very traditional tea room and its cakes and chocolates are legendary.
Afternoon: Take a pleasure boat trip on the River Thames courtesy of Salter's Steamers, tel: 01865 243421, and go to Henley and return, departing at 1.30pm from Higginson Park, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from May until September and to Windsor and return via Cookham and Maidenhead, departing at 9.30am from Higginson Park, on Mondays and Fridays from May until September. Short 40-minute out-and-back trips run from Higginson Park from 11am on Saturdays and Sundays and daily in high season subject to weather and boat availability. Alcoholic and soft drinks, tea, coffee and light snacks are served on board.
Day 9 - Henley and Stonor Park
Morning: The River & Rowing Museum, Mill Meadows, Henley, RG9 1BF, is a must for all those who visit the town. It's currently celebrating its 10th anniversary and in August, there's a packed programme of events aimed at children. There's an excellent café here and free parking for visitors. What's more, paid-for tickets give unlimited entry to the museum for 12 months. Tel: 01491 415600.
Lunch: We can really recommend the museum's café, but you could also venture into town. Try the Old Tea Rooms by the river, or venture further into the town itself to any number of eateries, such as Café Rouge.
Afternoon: Stonor Park, Henley, RG9 6HF, is one of England's oldest manor houses, situated in one of the most beautiful settings and owned by the same family of the same faith for 850 years. The house contains a remarkable collection of family portraits, beautiful stained glass and old Master Drawings. During July and August the house is open on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons. The gardens and chapel open at 1pm and the house, tea room and gift shop open at 2pm. Tel: 01491 638587.
Days 10 & 11 - Windsor
First day in windsor
Morning: Windsor Castle, Windsor, SL4 1NJ, needs little introduction. The Castle covers an area of about five hectares (13 acres) and contains magnificent State Apartments, furnished with treasures from the Royal Collection, St George's Chapel (one of the most beautiful ecclesiastical buildings in England and the burial place of 10 monarchs), and Queen Mary's Dolls House, a masterpiece in miniature. The Changing of the Guard takes place on alternate days at 11am. In August it's on even days.
Lunch: Cross the road, turn left and you'll come to The Green Olive, a great Greek restaurant that's perfect for a relaxed light lunch. Or go into Windsor Royal Shopping and choose from any one of the major cafés, such as Costa, Nero or Café Rouge.
Afternoon: After wandering round the Castle, you may well feel like a rest, so why not hop onto the City Sightseeing bus for a trip around Windsor and Eton? If it's nice weather, sit on the open top deck. Catch it outside the Castle by Queen Victoria's statue. The circular tour route lasts for 45 minutes, although tickets are valid for 24 hours allowing visitors to take advantage of the 11 hop-on-hop-off stops that are of interest along the route.
Evening; If you're staying overnight, visit The Theatre Royal. There's always a West-End standard play or show on.
Second day in windsor
Morning: You could take a walking tour of the town in the company of the Blue Badge Guides. Sir Christopher Wren's Guildhall, where Sir Elton and Charles and Camilla tied the knot, is also worth a look. It's open to the public on Mondays from 10am-2pm and entry is free. Windsor's Tourist Information Centre is always worth a visit, too. Tel: 01753 743900.
Lunch: If you're down by Eton Bridge, pop into The Chocolate Theatre in Thames Street. Their sandwiches are excellent value from £4.50, not to mention their scrumptious chocolate confections.
Afternoon: Take a trip on the Windsor Wheel in Alexandra Gardens, climb aboard a horse-drawn carriage for a trip into Windsor Great Park, or take a passenger boat from the quay for a 40-minute river cruise to Boveney Lock.
Day 12 - The Savill Garden and Runnymede Memorials
Morning: Start your visit at The Savill Building, a visitor centre where you'll find a superb gift shop and a good café. The garden itself is one of Britain's greatest ornamental gardens and covers 35 acres of contemporary and classically designed gardens and exotic woodland. If you're feeling energetic you can also venture into Valley Gardens and the surrounding Windsor Great Park free of charge.
Lunch: Enjoy lunch at the Prue Leith café. Or, drive about two miles down the road to the Magna Carta Tea rooms, where you'll find gorgeous home-made soups and cakes. Tel: 01784 477110.
Afternoon: Go and see where King John put his seal of approval on the most famous legal document in history. It's a bit of a walk through Runnymede Meadow to the actual sight that is commemorated with a memorial structure, but it's worth it. Further up the hill is the impressive Air Forces Memorial, completed in 1953, which is a sobering, yet beautiful, memorial to the men and women of the Allied Air Forces who died during World War II. The John F. Kennedy Memorial stands halfway up Cooper's Hill and overlooks Runnymede, on ground previously belonging to the Crown and now the property of the United States of America. It was unveiled by HM Queen Elizabeth II in 1965 in the presence of President Kennedy's widow and children. Visitors reach the memorial by treading a steep path of irregular granite steps, one for each year of Kennedy's life.
Day 13 - Reading
Morning: Visit The Museum of Reading. It's a fascinating hidden gem, with ever-changing major exhibitions. Until October you can view "The Sea, The Sea," which features works by artists as varied as Johannes Lingelbach, Eric Ravilious and Joan Eardley and there are things for all the family to do as well as see. Follow your culture fix with a turn around the recently-restored Forbury Gardens.
Lunch: Head for nearby Forbury Square and choose from Cerise at The Forbury Hotel, or Forbury's Restaurant & Wine Bar. You'll find a Carluccio's here, too.
Afternoon: A spot of retail therapy will probably be in order. Go to The Oracle and Broad Street Mall for all the big chains. Catch a film at The Vue cinema over the bridge.
Day 14 - Chilterns Open Air Museum and Milton's Cottage
Morning: Chalfont St Giles & Chiltern Open Air Museum, Newland Park, Gorelands Lane, Chalfont St. Giles, HP8 4AB. Explore more than 30 rescued buildings in this highly unusual and fascinating museum that's open to the elements. Step back in time and get a feel of the '40s in a fully furnished prefab or experience 50 AD at the Iron Age House or walk into the rural past in the reconstructed farm. There are also special events most weekends throughout the summer. Tel: 01494 871117.
Lunch: The intriguingly named Merlin's Cave is on the green at Chalfont St Giles and serves good, traditional fare.
Afternoon: Visit John Milton's Cottage in Chalfont St Giles in the poet's 400th centenary year. This pretty little grade 1 listed XVIth century cottage, described by Thomas Ellwood as "that pretty box in St. Giles, Chalfont", is where Milton completed Paradise Lost, and the idea of Paradise Regained was put to him. The cottage is open daily except on Monday (although open on bank Holiday Monday) until October 31, 10am-1pm and 2pm- 6pm. Tel: 01494 872313.