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22 fab and free things to do this month

Money too tight to mention this month? Here's a ton of ideas for a day out with mates, family or solo - from art and artefacts to adrenaline rush bike rides and bookish chats.

GET ARTY

Decoding-exhibition Braille The base Greenham
Decoding Braille, Decoding Me at The Base Greenham

New year, new outlook? Go and see the thought-provoking work of artist Clarke Reynolds at The Base in Greenham. Clarke – registered severely sight impaired – turns the tactile form of braille into a visual art form. Using a colour-coded system, Clarke has created a visual guide to learn braille. With a ‘decoder’, visitors can explore and translate the canvases on display through sight and touch. Under 5s free.

Before Jeremy Clarkson made farming fun, The MERL in Reading was wearing that crown. This under the radar museum is a mash up of science, art, history and humour. The latest exhibition FIELDS uses film, photography, tech and creativity to reflect on our relationship with cows, sheep, farmers and farming.

First self portrait of british artist Stanley Spencer and one of the last
Youth and experience” Self portraits of Berkshire-born Stanley Spencer

Over in Cookham the Stanley Spencer Gallery is always worth a visit. See this influential local artist’s final self portraits in the Mind & Mortality exhibition. Comprised of 26 works, the exhibition spans 50 years from 1909 until the artist’s death on the eve of the 1960s. Although more famous for his local landscapes, his portraits are world class – in fact one hangs in Tate Britain. Under 16s free.

BOOKISH DELIGHTS

Girl A book bedside table

The counties’ bookshops are a rich mine of inspiring events, talks and signings. Waterstone‘s in Windsor hosts a monthly Book Club (6pm on the second Wednesday of the month) – they’ll be chatting about Caleb Azumah Nelson’s Open Water on 16 Feb. Award winner The Little Bookshop in Cookham has regular author signing events – keep an eye on its insta. Over at the Hungerford Bookshop prize-winning author Claire Fuller is in conversation with Gill Hornby on the 8 Feb at the Croft Hall but it’s £8 a ticket.

FREE HISTORY LESSON

bayeux-Tapstry Reading Museum

Turns out you’re never too old to draw some wonder from drawers of preserved beetles and butterflies and the occasional stuffed deer. Reading Museum, with its full size Victorian copy of the Bayeux Tapestry, has more than its fair share of stuffed animals, art and biscuits. Eton College’s Natural History Museum (17,000+ exhibits) and the West Berkshire Museum with its Greenham Common Peace Camp collection and Woolly Mammoth tusks are a fascinating and free way to spend an hour (donations are welcome).

The ancient city walls of the Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum, Silchester England

The Romans are coming! Well actually they have been and gone. But head over to the village of Silchester and you’ll find one of Berkshire’s hidden gems – the Silchester Roman City Walls and Amphitheatre. After the Roman conquest of AD 43 it became the large and important town of Calleva Atrebatum. Unlike most Roman towns, it was never reoccupied or built over after it was abandoned in the 6th or 7th century. The complete circuit of the Roman walls and remains of the amphitheatre still stand.

Juror-chairs-Runnymede_1000x666

Art, History and Politics lesson rolled into one. Runnymede is home to the Magna Carta, the cornerstone of liberty, democracy and freedom. Speaking for all us right now. Head to the ancient Ankerwycke Yew (rumoured to be the spot where Henry VIII courted Anne Boleyn), Hew Locke’s art installation of 12 engraved bronze chairs, The Jurors and the JFK Memorial – set in a acre of land that is officially US soil. School’s out, without doubt it’s an interesting stroll.

Dorney Lake Olympic Rowing

Shall we throw in a bit of Sport? Stick you oar in at Dorney Lake – or stay on dry land for a walk, run, cycle or scoot. It’s a 2,200m flat rowing lake owned by Eton College. If you’re lucky you’ll see a Lycra-clad sick packer gliding on the water which was the prestigious rowing venue in the 2012 Olympic venue. The arboretum here is alway particularly lovely in the autumn.

Want more Commando crawl over the Oxfordshire border and head into Oxford. If you’re with kids and the sarcophagi and mummies in the Ancient Egyptian gallery don’t get them excited, try the animal skeleton parade at the Museum of Natural History or the shrunken heads at Pitt Rivers Museum, round the back, which are all free but invite donations on entry.

FIT & FRESH

Heath Pond Simon's Wood Finchampstead Berkshire

That lockdown puppy isn’t going to walk itself… so why not find some new terrain and get started on that new year fitness resolution while you’re at it? We’re loving the selection picked by the National Trust in Berkshire for a good old romp in the wintery countryside. Head out on the Centenary Walk – an easy 1.3 mile stroll (perfect for little legs) in the historic Simons Woods in Finchampstead. Or there’s a bookish 3-miler through Cookham Dean that passes the boyhood home of Kenneth Grahame, author of The Wind in the Willows and continues through Quarry and Fultness Woods, which were the inspiration for Badger’s ‘Wild Wood’. 

Been there, walked that? Make it your resolution to tick off these headline local walks – with the best views, landmarks or history, or if you’re walk needs to end with reward (check!) then we’ve found these walks near coffee shops and these walks within striking distance of a good pub.

ON YER BIKE

Mountain biker riding on flow single track trail in green forest, POV behind the bars view of the cyclist.

Dust the cobwebs off that old mountain bike you’ve been hiding in the shed and get out in the woods. Swinley Forest in Bracknell has a number of free trails to suit beginners and more advanced riders. Although you have to pay for parking, use of the trails will not cost you a penny. There’s also a free children’s woodland play area and several walks marked out – the Forest Walk, the Heritage Trail, The Nature Trail and Ramblers Route

HAVE A ROYAL NOSEY

CHANGING OF THE GUARDS WINDSOR

Don’t miss this very British tradition – The Changing of the Guard at Windsor Castle. The parade takes place every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 11am. The new guard set off from Victoria Barracks on Sheet Street and march through the Town Centre to the Queen’s des res. The ceremony takes place inside the castle and then the old guard head back to barracks at 11.25am. Always a fabulous site that brings this town to a standstill. If you live in the Windsor and Maidenhead Borough and in possession of an Advantage Card you can have a Through The Keyhole moment and nose around Windsor Castle for free. Everyone else needs to pay an entrance fee or you’ll be sent to the tower.

Statue of King George III on Horseback in Royal Windsor Great Park in England

That’s said, there’s plenty to see in Windsor. Check out The Crooked House (previously home to jewellers, Jersey Pearl). Windsor also has the shortest street in the world. Charlotte Street is just 16m long and conveniently takes you to a  pub and you’ll also find the UK’s only blue post box in town – erected in 1911 to mark the first UK airmail flight. Also don’t forget to make the most of the Queen’s backyard. Start at the castle gates at the end of Park Street and walk to the Copper Horse – an imperiously camp statue of (mad) King George III on horseback. 

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