A village guide to Pangbourne
PUBLISHED: 11:33 18 August 2020 | UPDATED: 11:32 20 August 2020
It’s little wonder Pangbourne is popular with locals and tourists alike. From supercars to waterside pubs to independent shops and gorgeous meadows, this village has it all | Words: Sarah Rodi and Thomas Newport
This summer, take a walk into Pangbourne across the toll bridge, one of the few fee paying ones left on The Thames. Stop for a rest at The Swan, a lovely old pub established around the time of the English Civil War and watch the boats pass by.
It was at The Swan that the Three Men in a Boat (by Jerome K. Jerome) decided to abandon their homeward trip back from Oxford to Kingston.
Famous Pangbourne residents have included The Wind in The Willows author Kenneth Grahame, the book written when he lived further downstream at Cookham (head to The George hotel in Pangbourne and you’ll find the rooms are inspired by The Wind in the Willows); Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and engineer Sir Benjamin Baker, who lived just outside the village.
Amongst other things, Baker built the Forth Railway Bridge, the Aswan Dam in Egypt and the Central Line on London’s Underground.
He also designed the cylindrical vessel used to transport Cleopatra’s Needle from Egypt to the Thames Embankment. The writer Lytton Strachey also spent some time living in the village.
Sitting just to the south west of the village is Pangbourne Naval College. The college gets its name from its founder Thomas Devitt, who established it in 1917 as The Nautical College.
The Falkland Islands Memorial Chapel was opened here in March 2000 by The Queen and the shape of the chapel resembles a ship.
Head to the meadows that have a magnetic attraction for canoeists and motorboats. If you fancy spending the afternoon messing about on the river you can usually hire these from the Dolphin Centre (it’s not open right now due to the pandemic, but hopes to be soon).
And you might as well be yomping across the tamed wilderness of Patagonia rather than the meadows of Southern England, for the fields around here are home to more than 800 alpacas of Bozedown Farm.
Pangbourne has recently become a centre for high-end sports cars – make your way to the dealerships on Station Road if you want to be wowed.
There is certainly a buzz about prestigious Pangbourne, with its independent shops and many pubs and restaurants, beautiful property to peruse and, of course, the National Trust’s Basildon Park just down the road, as well as Beale Park, which has everything from meerkats to monkeys.
Situated just off the M4, Pangbourne is also brilliantly located, with easy access by rail or road, with half-hourly trains to Oxford, Reading and London.
A bite to eat
You’ll be spoilt for choice of where to eat in Pangbourne. Want to dine al fresco? You can enjoy views of the beautiful River Thames at The Swan, or try some tapas or Lebanese or a nice slice of something from Café St Louis.
The Herd Restaurant at The Elephant Hotel serves cocktails and promises the “ultimate steak experience”.
And if the kids are after some pizza or pasta, Nino’s is the place for you. As we went to press they were working on opening as soon as possible, so check their website for details.
Bread Angel Lucie Steel runs Birch Bakery in Pangbourne, where you can treat yourselves to delicious breads, cakes, croissants and savouries such as quiches.
The bakery is now back up and running after being closed during lockdown. “We are now back to work on a reduced-day opening, Thursday to Saturday, but we are looking to open four days a week, hopefully from August.We have put measures in place to ensure that everyone takes the best possible steps to safeguard themselves, their colleagues and the public,” says Lucie.
“We have been given the opportunity to stand back and take a breath and re-evaluate how we operate as a bakery. On a four-day opening week we’ll be able to produce a wider range of stock, such as our own homemade jams, biscuits, cracker breads, granola and more.”
Lucie is an ambassador for the Real Bread Campaign and is doing all she can to promote real bread and the fact that they don’t use any additives or preservatives in their products.
She adds: “People seem so pleased to have us back and open and we have been blown away by the support from our local community. The team here have been truly awesome in their support for the bakery and working to a changed routine.”
The National Trust are re-opening the gardens, parkland, kiosk, shop and some toilets at Basildon Park for the summer.
Francis Sykes bought this grand estate in 1771 and it has enjoyed a fascinating past under the ownership of notable families, culminating in 1950s glamour with Lord and Lady Iliffe.
At the moment, you’ll need to book your visit in advance.
Drive of your life
A sign of the demographics and affluence of the area, perhaps, is the luxury Aston Martin, Bentley and Lamborghini showrooms and the attractive line-up of supercars that turn your head on Station Road. Looking to treat yourself to a new sporty number? Pangbourne is the place to go shopping!
Fun at the Royal Berkshire
Set amongst 100 acres of Berkshire countryside, the Royal Berkshire Shooting School is a sight to behold. Jonathan Irby, Managing Director, says: “These last few months have been challenging for all of us. The Royal Berkshire team have worked incredibly hard to make sure the Shooting School looks the best it ever has and to adapt what we do so as to create a safe and enjoyable environment for our clients to come and shoot.
“Both our Country Store and Gun Room are now open as well as our online store. We are currently able to look after experienced shots at our grounds for guided rounds, lessons and gun fits and, in the coming months, working within all guidelines, we will be offering simulated days, private lessons and a series of competitions.
“A perfect and original way to enjoy some time in the outdoors whilst having great fun.”
Jen and Ali Grimstone-Jones have run the Cheese Etc shop on Reading Road in Pangbourne for four years, and in that time they’ve been named the Cheese Counter of the Year at the World Cheese Awards and shortlisted as Shop of the Year.
Here you’ll find all your favourites, including Barkham Blue from Arborfield; Waterloo, Wigmore, Spenwood and Maida Vale from just outside Wokingham; Bix from Nettlebed; and Sinodun Hill, a Shillingford goat’s cheese.
Go wild at Beale Park
Beale WIldlife Park has something for all the family, from beautiful gardens to incredible wildlife.
The play areas are currently closed, but there’s a new Toddler Trail designed to encourage visitors to look out for cut-out plastic Ring-tailed Lemurs, which have been placed in different locations across the park.
“The Ring-tailed Lemurs are one of our most popular species in the park,” said Christine Doyle, Marketing Manager. “You can see the real thing when you arrive at the Lemur enclosure.”
Silversmith Nicola Bannister runs her jewellery business from her workshop in Pangbourne.
“I am a great outdoors lover, food enthusiast and one of Pangbourne’s biggest fans,” she says.
“It has absolutely everything you could want! It’s got the most beautiful countryside but is close to Reading and London. The High Street is full of small, top-quality independent shops, which, as an independent myself, I look to support.”
Nicola’s current jewellery collection is called ‘The Collection of Cells’. “I am trying to raise money and awareness for two charities close to my heart, Blood Cancer UK and Myeloma UK,” she says. With every sale, £1 is donated. Nicola adds: “None of the ‘cells’ are ever quite the same, meaning each hand-crafted piece is unique.
Established in March 2009, Ruby & Grace have a beautiful shop selling fresh flowers, unusual plants as well as candles, skincare, vases, and one-off vintage finds.
Founder Hannah Bignell says: “It’s great to be open again and to see our lovely customers getting their flower fix after such a long break. We’re all really happy to be making bouquets and delivering flowers again but, like so many businesses, we’ve been hit very hard by the impact of Covid-19.
“The main change for us is that all of our weddings, which are a big part of our business, have been moved to next year or cancelled. Our aim going forward is to get the shop back to being as busy as possible and then focus on 2021 with what will hopefully be a bumper year!”