Thames, Reading, Berkshire
Live like a local

A local lens: hidden Berkshire

October 01, 2021

Rob Bentley’s wanderlust-inducing Instagram is one of our favourite insider accounts. Here the Berkshire-based travel influencer and photographer shares some of the hidden gems he’s discovered across the county.

Meet Rob Bentley

I spent my childhood in Singapore and began travelling from an early age. We would fly to Europe every two years. That’s where my love for travel began, but my itinerary was led by guidebook recommendations, which were often popular tourist spots. A few years ago, I came across the Instagram account of Joe Pickard, a travel editor. I loved how he’d show places in foreign countries that weren’t necessarily in the guides, and it completely changed the way I planned and organised my trips. Being grounded during the pandemic provided an unexpected opportunity to revisit my own neighbourhood, discover secret spots and revisit favourite haunts.

Portrait of Rob Bentley, in front of a bookshelf
Photograph of a picnic at Hurley Lock in England

The perfect chill-out spot: Hurley Lock

On blue-skied days, I head to the island at Hurley Lock. It’s a tranquil spot to relax and enjoy a picnic with stunning views of the Thames. I discovered the island on a bike ride one balmy day around 12 years ago. Deciding to take a short break by the riverside led to the rest of the afternoon watching life pass by on the river. It’s a magical find with boats lazily sailing past. The friends I bring here for al fresco picnics can’t quite believe I live in such a lovely part of the world. They’re even more impressed when I mention the picnic scene with James Bond and Sylvia Trench in ‘From Russia with Love’ was filmed in the very same place.

Hurley Lock, Mill Lane, Hurley, Maidenhead SL6 5ND

The idiosyncratic store: Home Barn

Home Barn is a much-visited local haunt. This is a quirky store in a 17th century barn, selling vintage, reclaimed and locally crafted home accessories and furnishings. I found this Aladdin’s Cave of vintage furniture and home accessories by accident while visiting the neighbouring farm shop. I’m something of a Francophile so I love their collection of antique French confit pots, and now own a couple. It’s also a mandatory stop when looking for unusual tree decorations to give friends at Christmas time.

Home Barn, Wilton Farm, Marlow Rd, Little Marlow SL7 3RR

inside home barn marlow
phone box library at cookham

Red phone box turned local library

A country walk during lockdown led to the discovery of a red phone box in Cookham Dean that’s been repurposed into a local library. You see these in London and other cities, but this one comes with glorious views overlooking the rolling Berkshire hills towards Marlow. Anyone who follows my Instagram account will know I love bookshops and books. I’m also drawn to classic British icons, like red phone boxes, so it was lovely to find one that had been converted into a community library. Swapping books with strangers is a wonderful idea.

Red phone box, Cookham Dean, Maidenhead SL6 9PH

A museum dedicated to Sir Stanley Spencer

Sir Stanley Spencer, whose work hangs at Tate Britain, was one of the greatest artists of the 20th Century. He grew up and lived in the charming village of Cookham. When I have visitors, I always take them to visit The Stanley Spencer Gallery, a museum dedicated to him, where you can see his unfinished ‘Christ Preaching at the Cookham Regatta’ painting. I’ve seen it several times and love how it gives a real insight into how the artist worked his canvas. Thankfully, Cookham hasn’t changed much since Spencer’s death in 1959, and views like the ones depicted in his ‘Cookham Moor’ painting still look the same today. The house he grew up in is a few doors away and the local scenes he painted can still be seen nearly unchanged around the village.

The Stanley Spencer Gallery, 16 High St, Cookham, Maidenhead SL6 9SJ

stanley spencer gallery in cookham
the crown pub in bruchetts green

The best gastropub

My list of secret Berkshire spots wouldn’t be complete without mentioning my favourite gastropub, The Crown at Burchetts Green. It’s a family-run enterprise, with dad cooking solo in the kitchen and the kids running front of house. I was often the only diner in the pub when they opened, but within three years they were awarded a Michelin star, so getting a table there is now not quite so easy! I never know what I’ll be eating when I visit The Crown as chef Simon Bonwick likes to surprise me. I highly recommend Simon’s crab starter, now a signature dish, and the popular beef cooked ‘on a string’ with an incredible sauce that takes several days to prepare. 

The Crown, Burchett’s Green, Maidenhead SL6 6QZ

Home to beautiful river walks, surprising museums and quirky stores, the countryside around Coworth Park is a quintessentially British destination to explore. Follow Rob’s travel adventures on Instagram @realrobbentley

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