Monday, 16 February 2009

The BBC's Berkshire Way: A review


We have described our experiences of walking the BBC's Berkshire Way in a number of postings (listed below). The route links Lambourn in the west with Windsor in the east and traces a meandering path across the whole county. Now that we have finished the whole walk it is time to offer some reflections on it.


Overall, it's a fantastic idea - well done to the BBC! We have very much enjoyed the individual walks and felt a great sense of achievement when we finally got to Windsor, even though it was months after we started the walk.

The 14 stages comprise a cleverly chosen route which links the best bits of Berkshire countryside and provides great variety. The route covers a number of different types of walking: downlands (the Berkshire Downs and North Hampshire Downs), rivers (the Thames, the Kennet, the Loddon), the Kennet and Avon Canal, gravel pits, fields (of course), woodland (especially Swinley Forest), even a racecourse (Ascot) and the park of a royal palace (Windsor).

You also see something of some of the county's nicer towns: Hungerford, Newbury, Wokingham and Windsor.

We wondered if there were any significant omissions. There is some nice country west of Reading in the Bucklebury-Hampstead Norreys area and the Thames in the east of the county is also very attractive. But, obviously a route like this can't cover everywhere, and one has to conclude that the compilers of the walk have done an excellent job.

Conversely, the route managed to avoid most of the areas of the county that you wouldn't want to spend much time walking in: there were very few areas of suburban sprawl to plod through.

Beyond the specific locations, the Berkshire Way provides a nice introduction to the joys of linear rather than circular walking and of long distance paths.

At a more practical level, the walk descriptions and maps are good, and there was seldom any real ambiguity about where to go. There was some variability in the precision and clarity of directions. Leg 3 for example a bit vague in places (you are told to take a turning but not given a sense of how far along the path it will be). We just got lost once - in Purley - but that is easily done. However, these are only very minor gripes.

Some of the descriptions are also a bit out of date – there are quite a lot of references to “when we walked this in 2002”. However, we did not encounter any significant problems with changes since then. And in fact West Berkshire Council at least have improved signing and way-marking since 2002.

The stages are listed below. Our favourite was probably Bury Down to Lardon Chase, along the Ridgeway.

Stages of the Berkshire Way

1 Lambourn to Hungerford (7.5 miles)

2 Hungerford to Combe Gibbet (6 miles)

3 Combe Gibbet to Hamstead Marshall (4.75 miles)

4 Hamstead Marshall to Newbury (4.75 miles)

5 Newbury to Chieveley (6.75 miles)

6 Chieveley to Bury Down (6.75 miles)

7 Bury Down to Lardon Chase (7.5 miles)

8 Lardon Chase to Pangbourne (7.5 miles)

9 Pangbourne to Reading Bridge (7 miles)

10 Reading Bridge to Ashenbury Park, Woodley (5 miles)

11 Ashenbury Park, Woodley, to Wokingham (8 miles)

12 Wokingham to the Lookout, Bracknell (7.25 miles)

13 The Lookout, Bracknell, to Ascot (4.5 miles)

14 Ascot to Windsor (7 miles)

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