Some of the best things to see and do in Newbury
PUBLISHED: 15:14 17 December 2018
© Maureen McLean. All Rights Reserved
Vibrant Newbury has it all – a bustling market, racecourse, shops and pubs galore, plus plenty of activities to suit all ages
Head to the heart of West Berkshire and you’ll find the historic market town of Newbury. An hour by train from London Paddington, and also within easy reach of Bristol and Oxford, this dynamic gem is both the home of high-tech businesses, such as Vodafone UK, but also surrounded on three sides by the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Newbury’s roots date back to the 11th century, so there’s plenty of history to discover, yet it has recently been given a makeover: the £250 million Parkway retail complex opened a few years back, and with the community working towards a ‘Newbury 2025 Vision’, this riverside town is now a must-visit destination. Think classy town square, a pedestrianised high street with a buzzing market twice a week, a pretty bridge over the River Kennet and Avon Canal, a mix of independent and high-street stores, a new cinema, a canal quarter, revamped pubs, restaurants and coffee shops.
There’s even a good choice of state and independent schools, so it’s hardly surprising Newbury has seen an increase in house prices over the past couple of years as it becomes a hot spot for homebuyers.
Newbury isn’t short of attractions either. The glamorous Newbury Racecourse draws in the tourists, and families flock to the town in the summer to take a dip in Berkshire’s largest outdoor pool, a 72m heated lido set in the grounds of Northcroft Leisure Centre.
There’s plenty of open spaces to enjoy, such as Victoria Park in the town centre, or explore Watership Down; Newbury was home to Richard Adams, who wrote the novel of the same name.
Locals and day-trippers alike enjoy performances at the Corn Exchange or The Watermill theatre, and Newbury Comedy Festival has become a not-to-be-missed event each year. We’re already checking out the house prices on Rightmove, aren’t you?
Fun for all the family
Winter has arrived, so what do you do on a cold day to keep the kids occupied? We have the perfect solution – head on down to the Ugly Duckling Pottery Painting Coffee House.
Owner Emma Hooper studied fashion design at Leeds University, but her Saturday job in Bracknell gave her the idea to open up a coffee shop where folks young and old can come to unleash their creative talents by painting pottery that’s then fired on site and picked up by customers a week later.
“Newbury was just the place to open up my business a year ago,” says Emma. “It’s a lovely quaint town with so much character. It’s small but there’s always lots going on and plenty of independent businesses here. We all help each other out.”
Emma also takes her pottery painting to local schools and care homes. “It’s really therapeutic no matter what age you are,” she says.
When we visited, Emma was really welcoming and her café was buzzing with excited children creating their masterpieces. Plates, mugs and cups (ready to paint) range from £7.99 to £16.99. For something individual as a Christmas present, why not paint your own reindeer figurine (£15.99) or star lantern (£19.99)?
If you become an annual member of the Ugly Duckling, you can save 25% on all pottery. It’s £30 for a family of up to four painters.
Keeping it local, Emma recommends a visit to Rainbows craft and gift shop, and Newbury’s Independent Health Food Store, Natures Corner.
Harry Potter (pardon the pun) fans Eva, Isla and Debbie Burgess named their newly painted pottery owl Hedwig. Mum Debbie says: “We’ve been to the Ugly Duckling before for parties but this is the first time just the three of us have been here.”
The Burgess family are from Thatcham but love the variety of Newbury. “We can get all our basics covered in one shopping trip and include some activities for the girls along the way,” Debbie says. “We love the Parkway for shopping as well as the independent stores. We like to visit Weavers Walk, and the girls love running around in Victoria Park and feeding the ducks there.”
Isla told us she particularly loves the big slide in the splash park during the summer months. Summer… we remember it well!
A friendly local lunch
Newbury is packed with local businesses and it’s good to support fellow Berkshire residents, so we popped into Boswells Café in the Kennet Centre for a spot of lunch. We opted for the yummy brie and bacon panini at £4.95. Boswells is a family-run business and was launched in 1972. It’s a great meeting and eating place with reasonably priced quality food and drink that offers something tempting for all the family. We met three generations of the lovely Rice family whilst we were there. Grandparents Pat and David regularly pop into Boswells for lunch and can also recommend a trip to Newbury’s department store Camp Hopson.
Daughter Lisa says: “We love Newbury as there’s so much to do in the area. The boys love going for walks in Northcroft and Victoria Park. They like visiting the museum and library in Newbury too. Mum likes to take the boys to Shaw House. It’s a beautiful old building that used to be a school – they have some great activity days on during school holidays. We also like Donnington Castle – it has brilliant views across Newbury. Another favourite is Snelsmore Common.”
G&T heaven at The Newbury
It was great to pop back to The Newbury again! This independently run and owned gastro pub is a really funky place for a drink, lunch or dinner.
If you love a gin and tonic, the good news is that in early 2019, The Newbury will be unveiling its own gin-making micro distillery. You’ll be able to enjoy tasting, distilling and creating your very own bespoke gin. The Newbury is also going to have its very own private dining room called The Distillery. It will hold up to 16 people and will be perfect for special occasions or corporate dining. Meanwhile, there’s plenty of Christmas dining choices on the menus at The Newbury. The Christmas Buffet Menu is £31 per person including the delights of The Newbury Scotch Eggs or Bubble and Squeak Mini Pasties. For something a bit more formal, there’s the three-course Christmas menu for £45 per person (including a veggie option), or you could push the boat out and order the five-course Christmas Party Menu at £55 per person with a main such as Oven Roasted Coley Supreme, Brown Shrimp Butter and Samphire (served gluten free on request).
Shop till you drop
You can’t go to Newbury without shopping at the sparkling Parkway retail centre. You’ll find everything you need here.
If you’re looking for something elegant to wear this Christmas, head to department store Camp Hopson, which has been around for over 90 years. Their personal styling service is free with no minimum spend.
If you’re after an outfit that’s more understated, check out independent store B the lifestyle shop on Wharf Street. In the essence of keeping things simple, their high-quality, design-led items are ultra-modern and effortlessly chic. Fifi & Moose on Weavers Walk is also worth a look. Happy shopping!
If craft beers, wines and spirits are your thing, then it’s definitely worth popping into the Inn At Home shop on Bartholomew Street. They have a great range of local bottled beers including Good Old Boy from Yattendon, Two Cocks Brewery in Enborne and beers from the Hermitage Brewery in Thatcham. Their wine selection is equally impressive and their very popular wine-tasting evenings sell out fast. The staff here are super-knowledgeable and very friendly.
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