Ten good reasons to visit Newbury
PUBLISHED: 10:44 20 March 2008 | UPDATED: 15:09 20 February 2013
It's got bags of history, pretty scenery, lots of great, independent shops and some very good restaurants - so what are you waiting for? Nick Channer takes us on a tour
Whether you're visiting for a weekend or a day, you'll find plenty to see and do in this historic market town just off the M4 at the far western end of Berkshire. Once a thriving medieval centre and inland port, today it's home to some of the world's leading companies, like Vodafone, but whether your interests lie in the past, or present, the town is guaranteed to offer plenty of things to see and do
1. THE ARTS
There's a flourishing arts scene here, with several venues from which to choose.
The Watermill Theatre: This delightful venue (below) occupies an idyllic position and, in the summer, drinks can be taken in its pretty riverside grounds. Situated at Bagnor, just outside the town, it's one of the country's most prestigious and highly respected theatres. Just how popular it is has been shown by its successful appeal to save it from potential development. Actors Timothy West and David Suchet have played a major part in spearheading the fundraising campaign. Productions staged here regularly transfer to the West End and Broadway. The Corn Exchange: This Grade II-listed building became a major arts centre in Newbury in the mid-1990s. Among April's productions is a new version of The Pajama Game, performed by Newbury Operatic Society and in May the Corn Exchange will once again host various Spring Festival events. (See page 16 in Foreword.)
The Corn Exchange: This Grade II-listed building became a major arts centre in Newbury in the mid-1990s. Among April's productions is a new version of The Pajama Game, performed by Newbury Operatic Society and in May the Corn Exchange will once again host various Spring Festival events. (See page 16 in Foreword.)
Arlington Arts: This is an exciting new arts venue on the Mary Hare campus at Snelsmore, just outside Newbury. You'll find all kinds of theatre here, including live music and local groups. It's even played host to the Swansea Ballet Russe, who'll be returning soon to perform La Fille Mal Gardé.
New Greenham Arts: An increasingly popular arts venue, it's situated on the site of the former Greenham Common air base. Running until mid-April, the Greenham Museum tells the story of Greenham's former role as a holiday resort. But you'll also find live performances at the centre, too. Check out www.cornexchangenew.com
There's actually only one at the moment, but later in the year Shaw House, built by a Newbury clothier in 1581, will be opening to the public for the first time as a heritage attraction.
West Berkshire Museum: Located just a few paces from the town's newly-pedestrianised market square, the West Berkshire Museum (right) stretches for more than 100 metres along the town's historic Wharf. Inside is the opportunity to learn all about Newbury and district's wonderful heritage with various galleries focusing on natural curiosities and antiquities. There's also a good section on the area's English Civil War associations. Visit www.westberkshiremuseum.org.uk
There are several square miles of nature reserves surrounding the town.
Greenham and Crookham Common: For many years this former air base to the south-east of Newbury was synonymous with CND rallies, women's protest groups and cruise missiles. Today, it's an altogether calmer place. The lengthy runway and run-down derelict buildings have gone and in their place are landscaped paths and trails offering perfect examples of nature at its best. Thanks to a £7 million package, the common is gradually being restored to its former glory.
Snelsmore Common: With its heathland and woodland, Snelsmore Common on the B4494 is an excellent recreation area. Wooden tables and benches enable visitors to picnic in comfort and the spacious clearings offer children the chance to let off steam in maximum safety. Cattle and Exmoor ponies graze here and rare plants and wild flowers can be glimpsed from a bewildering choice of paths and tracks.
Nature Discovery Centre: Only a couple of miles from Newbury and situated close to the Kennet and Avon Canal, the Nature Discovery Centre at Thatcham provides the chance to visit a reed bed nature reserve, feed the ducks and enjoy organic snacks in the Lakeside Café. There is also a programme of events. Visit www. naturediscovery.org.uk
Newbury Racecourse: Have a flutter at what's considered one of Britain's finest racecourses (above). It's intimate while still attracting some top names in the racing world. The Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup is the biggest race in the calendar, attracting celebrities such as Rod Stewart and Jerry Hall, but there are lots of other great race days, too, like the Juddmonte Lockinge day on May 17.
Newbury and Crookham Golf Club:
Overlooking Greenham Common on the upper slopes of the Kennet valley, Newbury and Crookham Golf Club offers the perfect setting for that most popular of English pastimes - a game of golf. Manicured playing surfaces blend with natural features to offer the player an irresistible golfing challenge.
Go to www.newburygolf.co.uk
6. LOCAL WALKS
There are dozens of tours and walks, both in the countryside and around the town.
The Second World War Trail: West Berkshire Museum offers a leaflet detailing Newbury's Second World War Trail around the town centre. This fascinating walk illustrates what was going on in the town during Britain's darkest days and how it defended itself against the threat of attack. Log on to:
Town walks: Some of Berkshire's loveliest walks include ones around Newbury. Follow the Kennet and Avon Canal towpath along one of the waterway's prettiest stretches to Hungerford, take a leisurely stroll along the Lambourn Valley Way from West Mills in the heart of Newbury to the Watermill Theatre at Bagnor, or complete a section of the spectacular Wayfarer's Walk into neighbouring rural Hampshire.
Go to: www.visitwestberkshire.org.uk
You can spend hours enjoying both of these attractions and they're especially popular with children.
The Living Rainforest: At Hampstead Norreys, to the north of Newbury, this attraction was opened in 1991 on the site of one of Europe's most famous orchid nurseries.
In those days it was a privately run visitor attraction; today, it is an independent registered charity attracting thousands of visitors from all over the country. Call at the site and you can learn all about the living rainforest environment, as well as the world's endangered plants and wildlife. This year the Living Rainforest opens its state-of-the-art 'Green Greenhouse', intended to capture and store heat gained from the sun to be used for winter heating in greenhouses and public education spaces.
The Kennet Horse Boat Company:
Enjoy the atmosphere and sedate pace of a trip aboard a horse-drawn narrow boat (below) or a motorised barge on the Kennet and Avon Canal between Newbury and Hungerford. Along the way you can sit back and enjoy the canal's leafy surroundings as well as appreciate the work and effort that have gone into restoring this wonderful inland waterway over
8. SPA DAYS
There are several top-notch spas, both day and residential, in the area.
Revive is the Regency Park Hotel's spa that opened just a couple of years ago. There's a superb pool, spa-bath and fitness suite and a whole menu of treatments. You can go for the day or enjoy a special spa package. Visit: www.pedersenhotels.com
Essence Hair & Beauty is the name of Newbury's newest spa. It prides itself on its eco-friendly approach and sustainable AVEDA products and is officially zero-carbon rated. Not only that, but the salon has been constructed from 95 per cent recycled or sustainable materials and uses the latest low energy technologies and 100 per cent renewable electricity. Day retreats offer a combination of hair and beauty treatments, including lunch. Go to: www.essencechair.co.uk
The Vineyard at Stockcross Enjoy a Chill Out Day at this luxury hotel for just £75, including the complimentary use of the indoor spa bath, steam room, sauna, gymnasium and relaxation area and a light lunch. A Top-to-Toe day costs £250. Visit: www.the-vineyard.co.uk
Donnington Valley Hotel and Spa was recently in the Daily Telegraph's Top 20 recommended British spas. It has an 18m swimming pool, steam room, sauna, aromatherapy room and monsoon shower, a generous poolside lounge and relaxation area. Log on to: www.donningtonvalley.co.uk
From 'shopping' in an auction house, to the more conventional form of retail therapy, there's a wide variety of outlets around the town.
Donnington Priory: Historic, handsome Donnington Priory (above), just to the north of Newbury, is generally acknowledged as the finest fine arts and antiques saleroom in the country. In this splendid, very English setting, experts offer professional advice on all manner of paintings, furniture and objet d'art. In April, you'll be able to bid for a number of unusual items, such as medals and militaria or country sporting items.
A fascinating day out.
Kennet Centre: This is where you will find everything from designer wear to sportswear, from books to toys. Big names include Debenhams, Adams, Bay Trading, Laura Ashley and Body Shop.
Go to: www.kennetshopping.co.uk
Camp Hopson: This is Newbury's only independent department store - a byword for quality and personal service. Although dating back to 1921, the shop underwent a major revamp last year and now has one of the best cosmetic halls in the South East. Lookout, too, for its new countrywear department stocking Barbour and Craghoppers
Independent shops: There are some super boutiques, like Fifi & Moose, in Weavers Walk, and Bradley & Willows is an exclusive jeweller in Northbrook Street.
There are a few worthy of recommendation in and around
The stylish The Square, just off Newbury's Northbrook Street in Weavers Walk, offers a versatile British and European menu in addition to an attractive courtyard setting where you can relax and eat al fresco on warm, summer days. Visit: www.thesquarenewbury.co.uk
Owned by the same proprietors, Le Petit Square, is a little bit of Paris in Berkshire. It's a bistro-style eatery with an excellent menu that's especially popular at lunchtimes.
Just outside the town, you'll find The Carnarvon Arms. If you're planning
on staying the night in the area to do a spot more sight-seeing, then this intimate restaurant with rooms, in a Grade II-listed building which was once a coaching inn, is just the ticket. The stylish dining room has a high vaulted ceiling and the Carnarvon Arms enjoys an enviable reputation for fine food and a welcoming atmosphere. It's also handy for visiting nearby Highclere Castle.Log on to: www.carnarvonarms.com