Things to do in the North Wessex Downs

PUBLISHED: 11:01 12 July 2016 | UPDATED: 11:01 12 July 2016

Idyllic countryside at Hoe Benham, four miles from Newbury, photo Peter Orr

Idyllic countryside at Hoe Benham, four miles from Newbury, photo Peter Orr

Peter Orr

Head to the North Wessex Downs for beauty spots and the pick of days out in towns and villages, says Claire Pitcher

Recognised as one of England’s finest landscapes and designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) since 1972, there is much to discover and enjoy in the rolling North Wessex Downs. The area has a rich archaeological heritage, picturesque villages and towns, sparkling chalk streams and peaceful open downland dotted with woodland.

The North Wessex Downs includes the beautiful landscape of West Berkshire, which has an extensive public rights of way network in place for enjoying the area on foot, horseback or bicycle. You can take it easy on a woodland walk or riverside ramble or why not tackle the challenge of a cross-country 
ride or a downland hike? From the top of Walbury Hill (not far from Hungerford) you’ll see clouds race across never-ending skies and experience breathtaking 
panoramic views over the surrounding countryside.

As well as plenty to discover, there is a wide range of events to try. If you’d like to do more than just appreciate the landscape you can help by volunteering, it can be great fun as well as really constructive. Plus, there are courses, walks and performances to enjoy, whatever your age or interests. 

Explore Basildon Park

Located in the heart of the Berkshire countryside, the National Trust’s Basildon Park is the perfect solution for a summer’s day out. Surrounded by acres of beautiful landscape, the 18th century Palladian mansion offers events and activities for all ages and interests.

Throughout the summer, enjoy an afternoon stroll to enjoy the relaxing atmosphere around the 400 acres of parkland, taking in the stunning views across the Thames Valley. Across the landscape, there are many wonderful types of wildlife and flowers; it’s the perfect place to learn more about the green spaces around you. While out in the gardens and parkland, try to spot a Red Kite or the many butterflies that flutter past. If you’re really lucky you may see the native English orchids that pop up in the parkland - a guarantee if you join the Friday guided walking at 11am.

There are lots of things to keep children occupied this summer too. Collect your ‘50 things to do before you’re 11 and ¾’ booklet from the Visitor Centre and start ticking off the activities this summer.

Open every day from 10am to 5pm. See

On the water

The Kennet and Avon Canal runs through the North Wessex Downs AONB. Restored by the heroic efforts of the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust’s volunteers, the canal was re-opened by HM The Queen in August 1990 and links the Thames and Bristol. A trip on the Trust’s boat, the Rose of Hungerford, provides a delightful, peaceful introduction to this beautiful waterway and its wildlife. The River Dun parallels the canal from Kintbury, through Hungerford and onwards across Freeman’s Marsh, a large open nature reserve and a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Afternoon trips start at 2.30pm and last for two-and-a-half hours. During the holiday months additional, shorter, morning trips last for one-and-a-half hours. The Rose is based at Hungerford Wharf.

Book places by phoning 01635 255367; by email at

On with the show

With any luck the sun will be shining for this year’s Royal County of Berkshire Show on the 17 and 18 September 2016 at Newbury Showground. There’s something for everyone and plenty of hands-on opportunities to enjoy a slice of country living. Over 2,000 top animals compete across an action-packed weekend offering visitors a rare opportunity to see many varieties of livestock. There is also a strong equestrian programme; from the fast-paced British National Scurry Driving Championship to the elegant side-saddle quadrille. Visit the mini petting farm or try your hand at skiing, rock climbing, an inflatable assault or thrilling simulator rides. Hundreds of stands will be offering a diversity of food, crafts and gifts that are not available on the high street, representing the best of Berkshire produce alongside some of the more exotic treats.

Buy tickets in advance at

More North Wessex Downs…

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