The Thames Valley is blessed with hundreds of fabulous locations to visit for a fun day out. From areas of natural beauty such as National Trust park and woodlands to English Heritage stately homes, castles and forts. For families, we have leisure parks, theme parks and play centres plus some great towns, villages and cities for great retail opportunities. But, what about those lesser known landmarks of Hampshire, Berks, Bucks and Surrey? Those hidden and quirky gems that only the locals know about?
We thought we’d take this opportunity to give you some ideas for twelve unusual places to visit around the area that might take you off the beaten track and get out to discover more of what the Thames Valley has to offer.
Runnymede meadow, just outside Windsor in Englefield Green, is famous for being the spot where the Magna Carta was signed. However, did you know that the area is also home to the UK’s memorial to the life of the assassinated U.S. president, John F. Kennedy?
Yes, here in a small and rural corner of England, a single acre of land was gifted to the United States federal government in which the JFK memorial stands. Technically, American soil, the sculpture is an understated granite slab bearing the words from the much-loved president’s inaugural address:
Let every Nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend or oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty.
It’s a lovely area of the Thames Valley to visit and offers a nice walk with some other memorials, gardens and art installations.
You can find out more about how to get here and what to do by visiting the National Trust pages for Runnymede and Ankerwycke.
Frank N Furters Castle
Fans of the cult classic, The Rocky Horror Picture Show will love this next one. Yes, Oakley Court in Bray is the place where the movie was filmed. No accident, the hotel is just a stone’s throw from Bray Studios…the home of Hammer Studios until 1966. As well as being the set for Frank N Furters castle, Oakley Court has also appeared in more than 34 films and TV shows.
Now a hotel, you can’t just rock up and get a tour but the management sometimes runs events like the annual Time Warp Picnic (check website for details). If you really want to get a good look inside, it’s best to book one of the mansion suite rooms and have a weekend break. Don’t forget to check out the famous staircase and Riff Raff’s window plus the grandfather clock in the lobby.
The Maharajah’s Well
Situated just outside Henley-on-Thames in the small village of Stoke Row you can find a beautiful Victorian Well. A gift from an Indian prince to Edward Reade, a local squire who had spent some time in India, the well took a year to build and was opened on Queen Victoria’s birthday in 1864.
During his time in India, Reade had helped sink a similar water-source for one of the Maharajah’s villages. He had passed comment that his home parish also suffered from dry spells and that water had to be fetched by hand from miles away.
The structure, though no longer in operational use, is surrounded by a cherry orchard and is accompanied by a well-keeper’s cottage. It is a pretty location for a walk and Stoke Row has a lovely village pub, the Crooked Billet which is also worth a visit.
England’s Shortest Street
Just 51 feet and ten inches long, Queen Charlotte Street in Windsor is officially the shortest in England. It won’t take you very long to pass down it but this passageway leads to some of the Royal town’s quaintest independent shops and is also adjacent to our next location, the ‘Crooked House’.
The ‘Crooked House’
A slanted 17th century building, the Crooked House must surely be one of the most photographed buildings in the country. The 400-year-old property’s timber frame was made from unseasoned green oak in a hasty rebuild that has, over time, caused the structure to become ‘wonky’.
It has been home to a number of businesses in the town centre over the years including a butchers an antiques shop, jewellery store, tea shop and brewery.
And, it’s not just the outside of the building which is curious, there is also a secret passageway hidden in the basement, Rumoured to have been used by King Charles II to secretly meet with his mistress, Nell Gwynn, the tunnel could also have been for supplying Windsor Castle with produce.
The ruins of this 13th century castle is believed to have been where King John stayed the night before he signed the Magna Carta in Runnymede.
Featuring a distinct octagonal keep, this is one of only three fortresses that were built during his reign and can be found alongside the Basingstoke Canal in North Warnborough.
Known locally as ‘King John’s Castle’, the ruins form part of a lovely walk along the canal.
The ruins can be accessed from the towpath and from here you can also visit another unusual place in the area, Greywell tunnel. This disused canal portal is home to more roosting bats than anywhere else in the UK. It is therefore a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Freak Whirlwind Accident
Right in the heart of Reading, there is a small cemetery just before you enter Forbury Gardens from the Town Hall. Among the ageing gravestones and Yew trees, you can find a wooden marker dedicated to a man called ‘Henry West’.
A railway builder who was working on bringing Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Great Western Railway to Reading, West was one of many workers who lost their lives on the project. So, why the special memorial?
Well, the fatalities of the builders were usually due to the dangerous working conditions of digging out the 60’ deep cutting, West was killed in a bizarre and freakish act of God. This carpenter was working on the glazing of the station roof just days before the station was due to open when a mini-tornado struck, ripping away a four-ton section of the building and hurling West 200 feet to his death.
It’s an unusual and tragic story but this tribute pays testament to the men who brought the railway to Reading which has helped shape the surrounding areas.
Excavated during the middle of the 18th century for Sir Francis Dashwood, this network of chambers and tunnels directly beneath a church are situated in West Wycombe….technically part of the Chilterns. However, they are only a 40-minute drive away from Wokingham and are well worth visiting.
The Hellfire Caves were home to regular meetings of a secret pagan society who would hold banquets, rituals and contests. A bohemian group, history records the Hellfire Club as being bawdy, licentious and hedonistic.
Opened to the public in 1951, the site now has a gift shop and café with the caves and chambers fitted with mannequins and props to demonstrate the occult happenings below ground. It’s a great location to visit around Halloween when the site hosts Fright Nights. However, the caves and the club itself are also available to book for private parties.
On platform five at Slough’s railway station, you can find a cabinet inside which is the stuffed remains of ‘Station Jim’. The stray dog was adopted by the staff at the station and became a regular Canine Collector for the Great Western Railway’s Widow and Orphan’s charity. During the late 19th century ‘Jim’ was a popular sight around the station and knew a lot of tricks to entertain the crowds and help raise money including ladder-climbing, pipe-smoking (!) and even being the perfect patient for St Johns’ Ambulance bandaging demonstrations.
Something you may already have passed on your commutes around Slough, the cabinet is a lovely tribute and tells a charming story.
Reading Museum on Blagrave Street is often overlooked as somewhere to visit locally but is well worth a visit, particularly if you have school-age children. They won’t thank you for it, we’re sure, but there are some real treasures inside, including a full-size replica of the famous Bayeux Tapestry.
Created in 1895, the exhibit was created by the Leek Embroidery Society employing the skills of 35 women. Each lady was responsible for a single section of the work which was then pieced together to form an impressive 230’ piece of art.
The tapestry depicts famous scenes from history including the Battle of Hastings and Halley’s comet but it is the fact that all of the women in the scenes have had their modesty protected that makes this a great piece to view; yes, the Victorians added knickers to the scenes!
There are some lovely exhibitions held by the museum and their permanent collection includes examples of natural history, local history and archaeology as well as art and artefacts from other parts of the world.
Silchester Roman Ruins
The Roman ruins at Silchester have been part of ongoing excavation and archaeological works since 1893 and are managed by the National Trust. The site was originally an Iron Age settlement before becoming a large Roman town which was later abandoned in the fifth century.
The grounds are used by the University of Reading to help deliver practical training to its archaeological students and their work here continues to inform us about daily life in the Roman and Iron ages.
The site is in an idyllic, rural setting and offers a great space for a walk punctuated with some great views over the city walls and the teams who are working on the excavation. This summer (until 13th July), the team will be on site to offer guided tours of the bath house.
The ‘Nuba’ Survival
And finally, a poignant and chilling sculpture that stands beside a derelict barn in rural Oxfordshire, just outside Checkendon. The Nuba Survival was created by John Buckley, a local artist whose works already include a unique sculpture of a shark sticking head-first out of the roof of a house in Headington.
The work was inspired by Buckley’s visit to Sudan in a region called Nuba during 2000/2001. During his time working with a relief agency, he witnessed the result of what has, effectively, been an ethnic genocide in the area. Surviving on the edge of extinction, Buckley was humbled by their resilience and created this artwork to draw attention to their plight.
The sculpture is a haunting depiction of two people embracing each other, their enormous skeletons stark against a remote and rural landscape. It is not signposted nor is it marked with any plaques or visitor information but is a powerful piece of art in its simplicity and impact.
Property Assistant and the Thames Valley
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To find out more about the services we can offer then call us today on 0118 912 2370.