6 beautiful Berkshire villages
Situated in the south east of England, Berkshire is a glorious tapestry of rolling fields, historic hamlets, and all manner of English eccentricities. Dotted throughout the pastoral landscape is a collection of charming villages, each whimsically picturesque and wonderfully unique, that display England in all her beauty.
Penned as a ‘village in heaven’ by resident artist Stanley Spencer, Cookham has long been a favourite destination for travellers to the Royal County. Its streets are lined with Shakespearian timber-framed homes, each with delightful bay windows and hanging baskets brimming with petunias. In pride of place are Cookham’s historic coaching inns, the most famous of which dates back over half a millennium. To the north, the river Thames flows gently through countrified stone embankments. The peaceful eddies inspired many a scene in The Wind and the Willows and are an unforgettable sight in the amber sunset glow. Of special note are the Norman church of the Holy Trinity and the Stanley Spencer Gallery, which houses over 100 of the artist’s most revered works.
Sonning-on-Thames epitomises England’s rural riverscape. Grass-lined banks are punctuated by cascading willows and stalwart oaks, while, on the water, fanciful canal boats chug calmly along the quiet waterways. The Thameside Walk, on the opposite bank of the river, provides unparalleled panoramas of the brick arch Sonning Bridge and the quaint village beyond.
In town, St Andrew’s Church is an exemplar of rustic English churches, combining Anglo-Saxon features with a Victorian-era restoration par excellence. The Mill at Sonning is an intimate, in the semi-round theatre set in a listed 18th century flour mill, that delights guest with both theatrical sensations and fabulous English fare.
Bucklebury was catapulted to fame after the royal wedding in 2011. Yet Kate Middleton’s hometown has long been an under-travelled gem and even today remains blissfully remote. The village is home to splendid country manors, well steeped in history – Bucklebury has an intimate acquaintance with British royals dating well beyond the Middletons – and is surrounded by the protected wilderness of the North Wessex Downs. It’s no wonder the charming setting was inspiration for Tolkien’s Shire. Families should look no further than Bucklebury Farm Park, which enthrals kids with the thrills of county farming.
Halfway between London and Oxford, the serene village of Hurley is a glorious combination of Thames-side nature trails and traditional cottage-lined lanes. Yet for a quiet setting, the town is deceptively filled with all manner of attractions. The Church of St Mary the Virgin dates to 1086, and is one of the earliest examples of Norman architecture in the country. Meanwhile, the Thames Path, Ashley Hill Forest, and Marlow Trenches feature wonderful forays into the poetic English wilderness. No trip to Hurley is complete without a trip to one of the oldest inns in the country, the fairytale Olde Bell, which this year celebrates its 885th birthday.
Pangbourne has been the muse to many an English author, inspiring hundreds of stanzas with its Elizabethan manors, Medieval abbeys, and abundant greenery. The village itself is awash with all the cherished hallmarks of a country town: boutique shops, centuries-old pubs, and charming tea terraces. Its majesty extends to bordering water meadows, home to several endangered waterfowl which can regularly be seen swimming in the misty morning radiance. Wild swimmers will also find plenty of dipping spots. Five minutes from town lies the National Trust Basildon Park estate, a glowing Palladian palace showcasing the finest in English Georgian aesthetics.
Few scenes capture Berkshire’s country spirit as idyllically as Littlewick Green. Here, cricketers clad in gleaming white put willow to leather against the wisteria-clad Village Hall (complete with vintage cricket scoreboard). The scene is best enjoyed from The Cricketers pub, whose craft ales are perfectly paired with a view over the cricket green. Littlewick Green is also well known as the residence of famed composer Ivor Novello. His home, ‘Redroofs’, witnessed the composition of his most famous works and is now a renowned theatre.
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