Wicker basket packed?
I'm heading off to Berkshire's 17 top picnic spots to scoff some scotch eggs. Who's with me?
A beautiful wicker basket packed with fizz and crustless sandwiches or a glorified packed lunch with mountains of Tupperware and stodgy sausage rolls (guilty!) Fear not, our Muddy guide to lovely picnic spots will at least ensure the location is perfect.
Shaw House, Newbury
Fresh air with an old relic. I’m not suggesting you’re past your sell by date, Shaw House in Newbury reopens for weekend visits from Saturday 18 July, 11am – 4pm. The gardens will be open for picnics and a wander Mon-Fri 11am-4pmI. t’s one of the best examples of Elizabethan architecture, has had visits from royalty, played a role in the English Civil War and was even a school once. History lesson over, more importantly it has tons of outdoor space. Let the kids off the leash and take a breath. Parking is free, the café and loos are all open.
Dinton Pastures Country Park, Hurst
A 400-acre site, that has something for everyone – big lake, woodland, an award-winning play area and crazy golf course. Dinton Pasture’s Country Park is basically a sanctuary for frazzled parents. Have a saunter around the easy trails and find the perfect spot for lunch – there are plenty of picnic tables and benches to choose from. If you stop on the hoof sans the picnic, the café is open. There’s also plenty of parking and £1.50 for four hours isn’t too bad.
Combe Gibbet, Inkpen
Walbury Hill near Hungerford takes the top spot as the county’s highest point – it’s also the highest chalk hill in England and the highest point in south-east England at 297m. Set off from Walbury where there’s a small, free car park, then head to the summit where you’ll find an Iron Age fort before heading on to Combe Gibbet – a beauty spot with a grizzly back story. Perched on the hill is a double gallows purpose-built in the 17th century to hang the adulterous lovers Dorothy Newman and George Bromham who murdered his wife and son. This is a wild card picnic spot. It’s got the views, but you’ll need to take everything you need with you and there’s no loos on route.
Bisham Woods, Bisham
Marlow shmarlow, is its glossy neighbour, but Berkshire’s got Bisham Woods – 400 acres of ancient woodland and grassland. It was once owned by Henry VIIII, and the wood is famously Kenneth Grahame’s inspiration for the Wild Wood in Wind In The Willows. It’s an absolute gem. The Woodland Trust has put together a Wind In The Willows trail, there’s plenty of opportunities to play wildlife eye spy and you’ll find picnic perches dotted around. Parking is limited, loos non existent, but you won’t be disappointed.
Basildon Park, Lower Basildon
Lovingly restored by Lord and Lady Iliffe, Basildon Park is an architectural TV and film star (spot its appearances in Pride & Prejudice, Downton Abbey, Dorian Gray and Marie Antoinette) where kids can safely run free range in its 400 acres. The walks – ranging from 0.5 to 3 miles – showcase the estate’s beautiful location and breathtaking views. Plenty of plays to drop the picnic blanket and take in the views. It’s free to park, but the entrance fee is £8 adults, £4 kids. The tearoom is closed, so no cream teas, but the kiosk is open for drinks and snacks. Booking is essential
Pangbourne Meadows, Pangbourne
You’re in Wind In The Willlows territory again, Kenneth Grahame certainly loved the Berkshire waterways, but he loved Pangbourne and lived at Church Cottage. Take a copy of his book and you’ll see a striking resemblance to E H Shepherd’s illustrations from your picnic blanket on the Meadows. There’s a small car park nearby, kids play area, and loos. If you don’t mind lugging your picnic kit, fee-paying parking can be found nearby. Got energy to burn? There’s a decent 6km circular walk that starts at the train station, goes along the Thames Path to Pangbourne Meadow, onto Sulham Woods and back to the village on the river path. Then whip out the blanket, eat your sarnies and the ducks and swans will be happy to eat your crusts.
Caversham Court Gardens, Caversham
An oasis of calm, from the buzz of town, Caversham Court is a grade II public garden on the north bank of the River Thames. Stroll along the paths, watch the boaty people pootle up and down the river and get some gardening inspo – the lavender bank is particularly special. If you’re making an impromptu picnic stop, The Collective cafe is nearby or swing into Waitrose for a family feast. The find your spot and enjoy the calm.
Cliveden National Trust, Taplow
Plenty of space to sit and enjoy your own picnic and admire the parterre, formal gardens and woodlands that surround this Italian mansion. If you want to save money on Cliveden’s entrance fee (£10 adults, £5 children, £25 family, £15 one adult family), you can stay near the park entrance and set up camp – it does mean you’ll miss out on takeaway ice-creams and the opportunity to roll down the parterre slope. Open Mon-Sun 10-5.30pm, pre-booking for the grounds essential.
Reading Abbey Quarter, Reading
Surrounded by the urban sprawl of Reading you’ll find the formal grade II listed Forbury Gardens and its roarsome Maiwand Lion and the Abbey Ruins Reading Abbey was founded by Henry I and later destroyed by Henry VIII. Today it’s a sunny sarnie spot for workers on their lunch break and families taking five for a feeding frenzy. Whether you’re in town shopping, or you fancy a short walk (start at Reading Bridge and take a tour of the town’s prettiest spots, including King’s Meadow and Blake’s Lock, past the Abbey Ruins (above) and Forbury Gardens). Normally, you’ll find food festivals, outdoor theatre and cinema and bandstand musicians.
Lily Hill Park, Bracknell
Lily Hill Park is an under the radar hangout with the largest picnic table in England. You’ll find this 56-acre area if heritage parkland and gardens just outside Bracknell and it’s like a generation game of al fresco loveliness. You’ll find a storytelling throne, amphitheatre, orchard, summer house, playing fields and a ‘ha-ha’. It’s a popular film location too, so keep your celeb-spotting radar on high alert. Free parking.
Hurley Lock, Hurley
A daily dose of wellbeing in one walk. The riverside path from Hurley to Marlow and back is an easy peasy stroll that delivers birds, wildlife and a spectacular river view with trees hanging over the water, and boats moored along the bank. Start at Hurley Lock and head along the path to Marlow Bridge. Then turn around and head back to where you started. There are plenty of grassy spots and benches for a meal on the move. Parking is free and you can pre-book a boat trip if walking seem too much effort.
Wellington Country Park, Riseley
Welcome to the fun factory. Wellington Country Park ticks all the boxes – stunning location, dinosaurs, awesome adventure playground, and seriously good coffee and cake. Yes, you pay an entrance fee (£15pp), but it’s worth it. The kids are entertained a day, they can safely play free range and you can sit back, relax and polish your parental halo. Picnic by the lake for the best views. Pre-booking is a must.
Stonor Park, Henley
A beautiful setting with designated picnic areas, Stonor‘s lush parkland has 3 gardens – a 17th century Italianate pleasure garden with ponds and fountains, an old kitchen garden and an arboretum. The open parkland is home to an ancient herd of fallow deer that have provided venison to kings and queens for generations so watch where you place your picnic blanket. The Wonder Woods offers an extensive adventure playground with plenty of picnic tables to keep the kids entertained (£5.50, booking essential).
Ray Mill Island, Maidenhead
Play paradise for younger kids, Ray Mill Island has guinea pigs, birds, an adventure play area and a sassy river view. To get to the island, walk over the Boulters Lock pedestrian bridge and go wild on the isle. There’s plenty of picnic tables, toilets and a café. Hunt down the original millstone and the last Salmon Ladder built on the Thames at the northern end of the island. Feed your kids, just don’t fee the squirrels. They’ve been known to bite.
Maidenhead Thicket, Maidenhead
A couple of miles west of Maidenhead’s urban sprawl is Maidenhead Thicket. A regular haunt for highwaymen – so the perfect place to run wild, den-build and bug hunt. Eyes peeled for the emperor dragonfly. The Thicket offers varied walking routes, wildflowers, tree-lined avenues and plenty of picnic tables for daylight sandwich robbery. Free parking.
Wittenham Clumps, Oxon/Berks
Round Hill and Castle Hill make up the clumps which are steeped in history (Roman, Bronze and Iron Age) and an inspiration to poets and artists, such as Paul Nash who painted them many times. You can ramble up them and between them and take in the ancient trees, wild flowers and spectacular views before finding the perfect spot for your picnic. In an otherwise flat part of the Thames Valley, they’re also great for sledging in the winter.
White Horse Hill, Uffington
OK, so technically, we’ve crossed county lines into Oxfordshire, but it’s still part of the Berkshire Downs A druid hotspot at this time of the year, the ancient white chalk horse carved into the hill is a breathtaking sight. Next to it is Dragon Hill, the mythical location (one of many) of the slaying of the dragon by St George. The blood was so poisonous that the the grass on the top has never grown back. A more plausible explanation is that is was a site of pagan ceremonies involving fire and sacrifice. The only time I’ve walked up it was on a New Year’s Day with a hangover and no sleep but the views made up for it and my kids loved the stories. Boom – a magical spot for a picnic.
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