G u i d e t o R u r a l E n g l a n d
B E R K S HI R E
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The Royal County of Berkshirereceives its honorific titlebecause one of the Queen’sthree official residences, Windsor Castle, lies within itsboundaries. The mostimportant landmark in the eastof the county, the 900-year-oldcastle is the county’s majortourist attraction.Berkshire extends over some485 square miles in the valley of the middle Thames and isdivided into six main districts. The western area of the county is important for racing and the training of racehorses, with a top-class course atNewbury, and the training centres of Lambourn and East Ilsley. Another feature of West Berkshire is thenumber of communication routes that flow across the region linking London with the WestCountry, dominated today by the M4 motorway. The ancient Ridgeway Path, England’s oldestroad, follows the county border withOxfordshire, and the Kennet and Avon Canal,completed in 1810, crosses southern Englandfrom Bristol to join the River Thames atReading. Entering the county at Hungerford,this major waterway passes through a charming rural landscape as it winds through villages andmarket towns. The canal prospered until thearrival of the Great Western Railway in 1841,after which it inevitably declined; by the 1950s it was largely unnavigable. After a full clearing andrestoration programme, the canal can now once
again be travelled its full length, providing a wide variety of leisure activities for thousandsof visitors each year. The central region of Berkshire isdominated by Reading, a thriving commutertown with excellent links to both London andthe West Country. Though seeming to be very much a product of the past two centuries, ithas a long and interesting history. The Thames, forming the northern county border with Oxfordshire, has, especially along its southern banks, many delightful villages, which became fashionable thanks to the Victorian and Edwardian passion for boating,and they remain fashionable to this day. Across Windsor Great Park, the remains of a royal hunting forest, lies Ascot racecourse,founded in 1711 by Queen Anne. Five days in June see the worlds of fashion andhorseracing meet at the highest level at theRoyal Ascot meeting.
Dun Mill Lock, Kennet & Avon Canal