The Royal County of Berkshire receives its honorific title because one of the Queen’s three official residences, Windsor Castle, lies within its boundaries. The most important landmark in the east of the county, the 900-year-old castle is the county’s major tourist attraction.
Berkshire extends over some 485 square miles in the valley of the middle Thames and is divided into six main districts. The western area of the county is important for racing and the training of racehorses, with a top-class course at Newbury, and the training centres of Lambourn and East Ilsley.
Another feature of West Berkshire is the number of communication routes that flow across the region linking London with the West Country, dominated today by the M4 motorway. The ancient Ridgeway Path, England’s oldest road, follows the county border with Oxfordshire, and the Kennet and Avon Canal, completed in 1810, crosses southern England from Bristol to join the River Thames at Reading. Entering the county at Hungerford, this major waterway passes through a charming rural landscape as it winds through villages and market towns. The canal prospered until the arrival of the Great Western Railway in 1841, after which it inevitably declined; by the 1950s it was largely unnavigable. After a full clearing and restoration programme, the canal can now once again be travelled its full length, providing a wide variety of leisure activities for thousands of visitors each year.
The central region of Berkshire is dominated by Reading, a thriving commuter town with excellent links to both London and the West Country. Though seeming to be very much a product of the past two centuries, it has 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 and horseracing meet at the highest level at the Royal Ascot meeting.
Lying up on the Berkshire Downs, in the extreme west of the county, this village, which has the feel of a small town, is best known as a major centre for the training of racehorses. More than 1200 horses are trained here and there are more than 100 miles of gallops. The Lambourn Trainers’ Association brings together racehorse trainers and individuals and organisations involved in the training of racehorses in the Lambourn area. It organises guided tours of the stables and trips to the gallops to view the horses going through their paces. Lambourn has been home to some of the greatest trainers in the history of the racing game, including Fred Winter and Fulke Walwyn over the jumps, Peter Walwyn on the flat and current incumbents Barry Hills, Clive Coc, Marcus Tregoning and Nicky Henderson.
Lambourn’s medieval Church of St Michael is one of the finest parish churches in Berkshire. Originally Norman and constructed on the cruciform plan, it has been greatly altered and extended, though the west end still has its Norman doorway, complete with zigzag ornamentation. The lychgate was dedicated to the memory of William Jousiffe, who brought horses from Newmarket to Lambourn in the 1870s and thus established a still-flourishing industry.
To the north of the village are Lambourn Seven Barrows, one of the most impressive Bronze Age burial sites in the country and actually comprising no fewer than 32 barrows.