• Reading
  • Isle of Wight
  • UK Travel tips and news

Welcome to Britain Update, Today we'll look at Reading, Berkshire, which is excellently located for enjoying some of England's finest stately homes, and as well, there's a nice selection of travel news and notes which should prove useful in your travel planning. Enjoy!

David Ross, Publisher



Berkshire, England

The town of Reading, halfway between London and Oxford, grew up at the confluence of the rivers Thames and Kennet, and the history of the town is closely linked to its position as a navigation hub for the Thames Valley area.

The Kennet and Avon Canal has been reopened to passenger traffic, and once again connects Reading to the sea at Bristol. Visitors can hire narrowboats at Reading to travel the canal or the River Thames, and towpaths along both waterways provide pleasant walking.

Reading is a popular gathering place for swans, which congregate at Thameside Prom near Caversham Bridge. (And just to point out what may not be obvious to visitors from abroad, the town's name is pronounced "redding" and not "reeding").

Selected attractions near Reading
Basildon Park
Near Pangbourne
Run by the National Trust.
A classical Georgian house built for Sir Francis Sykes, standing in beautiful parkland above the Thames Valley.

Mapledurham House and Watermill
Mapledurham, Nr. Reading.
A beautiful Elizabethan house on the Thames, with one of the last working watermills in the country. Delightful gardens, gift shop and tea rooms.

Stratfield Saye House
off the A33 near Reading.
Home of the Dukes of Wellington since 1817, the house exhibits mementoes of the Iron Duke and an exhibition on his life and times.

The Museum of Reading
The Town Hall, Blagrave St., Reading
Explores the history and development of Reading from early Saxon times. The museum contains a full-size replica of the Bayeux Tapestry and a display of Roman artefacts from nearby Calleva Atrebatum.

The Museum of English Rural Life
Whiteknights (Shinfield Rd) Reading.
The National Collection of the countryside and farming crafts. On the university campus.

Museum of Berkshire Aviation
Mohawk Way (off The Bader Way)
Woodley, Nr. Reading
Located at the historic Woodley Airfield airbase near Reading, the museum showcases Berkshire's contributions to the history of aviation through rebuilt aircraft (featuring locally built Miles and Handley Page planes), displays of archival photographs, and hands-on chances to experience the development of aviation techniques. School groups welcome.

The Isle of Wight

Located just four miles off the Hampshire coast, the Isle of Wight has been drawing visitors from the English mainland for centuries, but interest really picked up since Queen Victoria made it her "home away from home". Indeed, the major tourist draw is Victoria's own Osborne House, the fanciful Italianate mansion designed between 1845-1850 by Prince Albert as a retreat for the royal couple. A grieving Victoria had the house preserved exactly as it was when Albert died in 1861.

While Osborne House can be quite crowded, especially on summer weekends, most areas of the island still maintain an air of calm, and provide ample opportunities for outdoor pursuits such as walking and cycling. A cycle path circles the entire island, and a network of walking trails combine to offer excellent recreational strolls. One popular path is Tennyson's Trail, which runs along a ridge that the poet himself walked regularly, on its way to the striking chalk towers of The Needles.

Near The Needles is Alum Bay, famed for its unusual patterns of multi-coloured sand. Alum is now a popular seaside resort, but even more popular are the east coast towns of Ryde, Shanklin, and Ventnor. Outside Ryde is Quarr Abbey, a 12th-century ruin, and at nearby Brading are the remains of a Roman villa.

Newport is the capital and largest town on the Isle of Wight, and just outside Newport is Carisbrook, with its striking Norman castle. Though the castle itself is fascinating - and the views superb - it is the history of the fortress that provides much of its interest. For it was here that Charles I was imprisoned in 1647 before his final journey to London and death. Charles attempted to escape from the castle, and visitors today can see the narrow window where the unfortunate king became stuck.

If you come to the Isle of Wight for peace and quiet, don't come during Cowes Week! Every year in early August the attractive port of Cowes is filled with yachts from every corner of the globe. Cowes Week bills itself as the "World's Greatest Sailing Event", and there are probably more millionaires per square foot in Cowes than anywhere else on the planet; certainly the series of races attracts worldwide attention and the finest boats and sailors make it an essential part of their schedule.

Getting to and from the Isle of Wight is simplicity itself; regular ferry services provide passage for cars and pedestrians to and from the island, arriving at Ryde, Cowes, Fishbourne, and Yarmouth.

Travel Resources:
Isle of Wight Guide

Travel Tips and News

Llangollen canal cruises
H & H Narrowboat Hotels are running four special cruises in 2003 featuring perhaps the most spectacular scenery on Britain’s Inland Waterways, the Llangollen Canal, a branch of the Shropshire Union network. Each journey into the past winds through the delightfully unspoilt countryside of Shropshire, crossing the border into Wales, and features the historic hill town of Llangollen.

Mazes and Puzzles at Hampton Court Palace
The evergreen labyrinths of Hampton Court Palace’s historic and famous maze have attracted visitors determined to conquer the confusing paths lined with thick hedges for years. Now visitors can fathom their way through yet more fun mazes and historically-themed games with Hampton Court Palace’s month-long "Puzzle Palace" event, to be held from March 22 to April 27, 2003.

Over fifteen puzzles, themed around the palace’s fascinating 500-year history, will be scattered throughout the building and its beautiful gardens. Puzzles to pit your wits against include: the Archery Maze which will introduce visitors to Henry VIII’s passion for outdoor pursuits, the reason why his huge country retreat on the river at Hampton Court was ideal; the Knights Jumping Maze which reflects on the regular jousting games that were held in the tiltyard as well as King Henry’s love of hunting; and Prince and Princesses, a maze that should keep toddlers entertained.

UK's Longest Coastal Trail marks 25 years
Britain’s longest national walking trail, which follows some of England’s most rugged and spectacular coastline, will mark its 25th anniversary this year. The 630-mile South West Coast Path embraces steep, ‘hog’s back’ cliffs rising to 800 feet, fishing harbours, pretty villages and unspoilt countryside. The path stretches around the ‘arm’ of South West England, from Minehead in Somerset to South Haven Point near Poole in Dorset. A wide variety of events between April and October, including guided walks, talks and displays of works by local artists, writers, musicians and other performers who have been inspired by the path.

William Morris House to Open
Red House, former home of the influential Victorian designer William Morris, founder of the Arts and Crafts movement, has been taken into the care of conservation charity the National Trust, which plans to open it to the public early this summer. The house, set in a four-acre garden at Bexleyheath, south-east London, was completed in 1859.

Battle of Shrewsbury Anniversary Events
Shrewsbury, in Shropshire, has unveiled a calendar of events commemorating the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Shrewsbury, one of the most important battles to have ever taken place on English soil. Events run from the end of February to the middle of October, and full details are contained in a new, free leaflet. For further details, visit

Chatsworth Celebrates Paxton Anniversary
Chatsworth House, near Matlock, Derbyshire, is planning special events to celebrate the life of Sir Joseph Paxton, creator of the Crystal Palace and one of the most original and influential gardeners, architects and designers of the 19th century. For further details about the Paxton bicentenary and Chatsworth House, visit

That's all for now. Until next issue, let me remind you that laughter is contagious. Be a carrier.

David Ross, Publisher, Britain Express

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