The insiders guide to Newbury
Want to visit this buzzy West Berkshire market town, but have no idea what to see, do and try? I do! I do!
It’s home to the Queen’s favourite racecourse and Downton Abbey – the most famous period dramas in the world. But it’s so much more. There’s a cool cultural scene and a gaggle of indie businesses showing some leg to the retail giants. Put away that twinset and pearls and sashay this way for the inside track on where to eat, sleep and socialise in Newbury.
There’s no shortage of places to scoff and quaff. The Newbury is a gastropub with a stellar reputation. It has phenomenal gin distillery/ private dining room, roof terrace and cocktail bar. Get your grill on at the new Smoke House restaurant Chequers Hotel – a Grade II listed coaching inn with a lovely garden to soak up some rays. Other firm favourites are The Sushi Maki and Arigato – catnip to London ex-pats desperate for a sashimi fix.
Keeping it casual? Hop over to The Globe on Bartholomew Street. It’s a brilliant dog-friendly pub with an urban vibe and food served by street food collaborators. Lusso is a super kid-friendly option, with its crowd-pleasing menu of homemade pizzas and gelato. They’ve recently opened a pasta restaurant opposite the pizzeria too. Yum.
For posh nosh, book in at Henry & Joe’s on Cheap Street. It’s a small but perfectly formed restaurant and had Michelin Inspectors salivating. Alternatively, follow the Michelin Star out of the town centre and you’ll find The Woodspeen, pretty plates are also being served at The Vineyard where Chef Tom Scade’s gastronomic gallery of dishes are wowing guests.
My top tip? Stay at The Dolphin. It’s a pub with five boutique rooms within walking distance of Newbury’s bars and shops. It also helps that it’s a short stagger to bed.
If you want to make the most of the town and country feels of Newbury, The Carnarvon Arms to the South of Newbury is a lovely country pub with boutique rooms in the shadow of Highclere Castle and The Royal Oak in Yattendon is to the north. Think Four Weddings cosy and a lovely spot to eat, drink and celebrity spot.
For five star star-fishing, The Vineyard in Stockcross will deliver quality zzzz. The boutique spa, 30,000-bottle wine cellar and fine dining restaurant are the cherries on top.
You can’t visit Newbury without following in the footsteps of royalty – Donnington Castle – a medieval castle perched on a hill overlooking the Lambourn Valley – should get even the most reluctant walkers to put one foot in front of the other. This circular stomp takes in Snelsmore Common, woodland and the castle ruins (a big player in the Civil War) and there’s no chance of getting lost, simply follow the path. It’s suitable for all but you might struggle with a pushchair. View the walk here.
Another easy walk takes your along Newbury Canal. Once the main trading route between Bristol and London, Newbury’s canal offers a great towpath walk with lots to see. Start at Newbury Wharf and head east to Widmead Lock. Bear left to enter the Thatcham Nature Discovery Centre. Budding ornithologists (that’s bird watchers to you and me), can keep your eyes peeled for common terns, house martins, swallows and swifts over the lake. View the walk here.
One thing’s for sure, you’ll never go thirsty. Newbury is definitely not short of pitstops. Two Muddy-approved coffee shops are: The Flower Pot Café (check out TripAdvisor the breakfasts here are the stuff of myth and legend) on Inches Yard. Plum & Grain, is in the old town hall alongside Living Saucha yoga studio, has a cute, sunny courtyard to refuel with a cuppa and cake.
If it’s past midday (somewhere, anywhere), The Catherine Wheel on Cheap Street has a funky Gin Yard where you can take a world tour of gins, local beers and ciders. If holidays are absent from your calendar, a round the world gin flight will certainly soften the blow.
We seek them here, we seek them there but you’ll find indies everywhere. Camp Hopson is an independent department store offering boutique brands like Whistles, Le Creuset, Jo Malone and lesser known Danish brands. Muddy Award-winning B The Lifestyle Shop on Bartholomew Street has lush collection of womenswear and home accessories, for women’s designer and lesser known labels Fifi & Moose on Weavers Walk is your go to for Essentiel Antwerp, Dea Kudibal and Nooki.
We also love Plum & Grain‘s eco luxe gifts, Willow and Blooms is a fab florist with a fab selection of indoor plants and gifts, Inn at Home is your go to for top notch tipples and Valarie Jerome is not your average opticians. If you’re looking for cool sunglasses and a bang on trend chunky frame chain, you’ll find it here.
The main shopping areas – Parkway and Northbrook Street is made up of high street staples – home to Mint Velvet, H&M, M&S, Superdry, Jack Wills, Waterstones, Paperchase and Lakeland and Next.
Newbury’s Artisan Market is well worth a visit when its rolls into town on the last Sunday of every month. Lots of local producers showcasing their goods – it’s a great opportunity to pick up a quirky souvenir or gift. Sound the klaxon the hugely popular Vegan Market will return from 8 August.
Race you to the winners’ enclosure. If you can co-ordinate your visit with one of Newbury Racecourse‘s race days, do it. Frock up for a fun day out to the soundtrack of thundering hooves and a bellowing crowds. It’s the Queen’s favourite racecourse, so eyes pealed for members of the royal family and celebs. Eddie Redmayne, Jennifer Saunders, Jeremy Clarkson and Amanda Holden have all been spotted over the years and Olly Murs and Rick Astley will be taking to the Party in the Paddock stage this summer. You definitely won’t want to miss Olly in his tight trews thrusting towards to the front row.
For period drama, Shaw House is a hidden gem on the edge of the town. It was originally built for a wealthy cloth merchant, but was later used by King Charles I has his HQ for the Second Battle of Newbury and was famously visited by Queen Elizabeth I in the 18th century. These days it’s home to the Registrar’s office but they also put on loads of events – large scale sculpture exhibitions, outdoor theatre, kids activities and antique fairs.
Newbury’s biggest star? No, Carson it’s not you or the Earl of Grantham’s labradors (they come a close second though) – Highclere Castle takes the crown. It was pretty famous before its TV and film debut, as the ancestral home of Howard Carter (5th Earl of Carnarvon) who discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922. Now the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon open their home to coach loads of tourists who come to experience a bit of real life of Downton magic. Some may even nod enthusiastically at the Capability Brown gardens.
Keeping is simple and free (I know, a rarity), Victoria Park has an impressive skate park that has a deep bowl, a pocket bowl, tombstone, flat bank, jersey barrier, quarter pipe, brick half penny, manny pad, curved ledge, gap and much more. For littlies, there’s a playgound and boating lake in the park.
Elsewhere you can head out on a Spy Mission Treasure Trail. If you fancy a mindful couple hours painting pottery, the Ugly Duckling Pottery Café is a great spot and the coffee is good too. Live the neon dream with your game obsessed kids at the High Score Arcade or drop them into their virtual world at Venue VR – a fully immersive experience with the latest headsets, motion simulators and 5D racers.
Newbury’s got your back this summer. Those six weeks can be a killer. Jollypop Entertainment have spoken to their VIP showbiz mates (think Spider-Man, Ironman, Elsa, Belle) to do meet and greets with the kids. Plus there will be children’s rides, creative workshops and activities. You might even get to do some shopping without the inevitable whinging but don’t hold me to that.
If you’re after outdoorsy, you’re also minutes from the countryside and Bucklebury Farm. Littlies will love the deer safari, animals, giant slide and chance to run free range. Drop your adrenaline junkies off at Bedlam Paint Ball where they can live their war games dream.
After a ton of Heritage Lottery Funding and hard work, the Greenham Control Tower has been turned into a visitor attraction and café, celebrating its historical and environmental importance. It’s a place with many claims to fames, but the Women’s Peace Camp – protesting against nuclear weapons between 1981-2000 – is the headline moment. Try and resist the urge to chain yourself to the fence.
For a different perspective of Newbury, explore the local waterways on a SUP tour down the canal, courtesy of Wild Paddle. Continuing the water theme, Newbury’s 78m Lido opens every summer. It’s one of the last few outdoor pools in the UK and, as you would expect, when the mercury rises the crowds swarm to Northcroft to hang poolside.
Listen up, culture vultures, cos you’re in for a treat. The Corn Exchange is the town’s theatre, attracting an eclectic mix of top comedy stars, theatre shows and celebs. It’s sits in the middle of the town and is very much the heart of the community.
Head up the road to The Base and you’ll find big name exhibitions on loan from London museums and private collectors. This year the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition (on loan from the National History Museum) made its first stop on a world tour here. Game Plan, an exhibition of board games is currently on loan from the V&A and David Hockney’s major photomontage Hollywood exhibition can be seen here later in the year.
Want more? Of course you do, and it doesn’t get more exciting than 101 Outdoor Arts. Based on the former USAF Greenham Common cruise missile base, this warehouse space is a major centre for the creation of new work for public spaces and outdoor performances in the UK. The Fire Garden (pictured below) and Lantern Trails have been spectacular, but this summer the amount of work they are putting out is incredible. We’re really excited to see Future Cargo (pictured above) in July and circus-theatre Wild in August.
To recreate the piazzas of Europe, this summer Newbury is bringing out the big guns. The Market Square will host jazz and blues bands, acoustic performers, traditional pop artists, and mainstream DJs. Rumour has it funk and soul DJ, Disco Shed, will also be spinning the wheels of steel.