- County: Berkshire
- Area: Snelsmore Common Country Park, Bagnor and Winterbourne (just north of Newbury)
- Distance: 7.5 miles
- Time: 4hrs
- Refreshments: Little refreshment hut at the parking of Snelsmore (not reliable), pub in Bagnor.
This is a lovely walk to do in Berkshire when it’s not too hot as most of the walk is out in the open. Passing through varied heathland, lovely fields, villages with their own streams, and even a medieval castle – what more could you ask for!
I walked in trousers as for me it was a typical English summer day of drizzle and not that warm! However, shorts would be fine, and in the summer, you could get away with walking trainers. It would be a great route for a dog, as there was lots of open space away from roads. The majority of the stiles also had a gap for a dog.
Snelsmore Common Country Park
The walk starts from the car park at Snelsmore Common Country Park, Berkshire. Be aware that the postcode of RG14 3BQ is unlikely to get you directly to the entrance. Depending on which direction you’re coming from it may take you to the opposite side of the Mary Hare School – therefore I strongly advise you to look at google maps before you leave. To make sure you take the correct path in Snelsmore, I would also suggest you park in the first parking area right by the entrance or take the car park to the left. Be aware that I arrived at 8.30 in the morning and there were lots of parking spaces, however, by the end of the walk, the car parks were full, and that was on a rainy day!
Snelsmore Common is a beautiful 96-hectare country park. If you are looking for a very short, no navigation walk, then there is plenty to choose from. It has several waymarked routes, from as short as 0.75 miles to 1.25 miles. To keep the kids entertained and to allow them to understand more about the heathland nature there is a crayon-rubbing trail – https://bit.ly/2B3Sv7g.
I walked through the left-hand car park, noting an ideal picnic area on the right for lunch later! Joining the path out of the car park, I passed numerous fire beaters and a lookout tower. It is easily imaginable how the heathland would be a tinderbox in dry weather. In fact, only last year walkers used these fire beaters when they encountered a fire in the park (https://www.newburytoday.co.uk/news/news/30631/fire-breaks-out-at-west-berkshire-beauty-spot-snelsmore-common.html). After walking along numerous heathland and woodland paths of Snelsmore you eventually come to the edge of the country park. Passing a house where you can buy eggs, although maybe not advisable at the start of the walk, you will join a tarmac path.
Third Battle of Newbury
With a golf course to your right, and the view opening up ahead, you reach the scene of the Third Battle of Newbury! This battle was actually between January and April 1996 – no I’m not joking! But it’s probably not what you are imagining as a battle. The Third Battle of Newbury was actually an anti-road protest over the building of the Newbury bypass.
About 360 acres of land, including 120 acres of woodland was cleared for the bypass. This caused the largest anti-road protests in European history with 7000 people demonstrating and over 800 arrests. On the 15th February 1996 about 5000 people showed their objection by marching from Snelsmore Common to Bagnor (a town you will visit during the walk). So, as you pass over the bypass on a high bridge, think of the controversy this bypassed caused, and I will leave you to decide if it was worth it!
Shortly after the bypass you will reach Donnington Castle. The medieval castle is free to enter, and you will see a gate on your right to enter the castle precincts. You can still see some of the gargoyles that decorated the castle in 1386. Once again, the Battles of Newbury influenced this area. During the civil wars the Royalists seized the castle and built fortifications around it. However, the Royalists lost in both wars, and Parliament decided to demolish all but the gatehouse of the castle.
Nevertheless it is still a wonderful site to see. It is easy to imagine the impressive building that it would have been, and it is also a wonderful place to admire the views of the surrounding countryside and Newbury in the distance. It is as you are looking at this view of Newbury to the south that you take a right-hand path downhill into the appropriately named Castle Wood. This is a lovely wood, although the ‘boardwalks’ are not what I would describe as proper boardwalks. Nevertheless, it was nice to be amongst the trees for a section of the walk.
Turning left out of the wood, you will see another bridge over the bypass. This takes you into the quintessential hamlet of Bagnor. The villagers are clearly very proud of their village, and it appears to have a very strong community spirit. The history of Bagnor goes back past the Domesday Book, and the actor Sir Michael Hordern is one of the notable previous residents. In Bagnor you will find a very well-respected pub, called The Blackbird Inn. It is opposite this pub that there is a village green, and the Winterbourne Stream. This is a lovely place to stop and have a snack – the water is crystal clear, and the ducks clearly love it! There is also a beautifully carved image of a kingfisher on a makeshift seat by the river.
Continuing through Bagnor with the stream on your left, there is a fork in the road. Although the route goes right, I decided to have a little explore of the left-hand fork. There is a tiny footbridge that takes you over the stream and then over the River Lambourne, which takes you into a Site of Special Scientific Interest. However, I didn’t get any further than the first footbridge as the water was incredibly high and the exit off the bridge was rather waterlogged and I didn’t want to get muddy! I was surprised to see the water so high after a long period of dry weather – it did make me wonder how often it floods in winter. At the end of the road you can also see the watermill. The watermill now an internationally renowned theatre with many famous actors having started their careers there.
Going back to take the right-hand fork, you will then enter a field. If you are wanting to make something with elderflower, then I suggest taking a bag with you, as there was plenty growing wild in this field. Walking through the fields will lead you up Mount Hill and through the woods, and then into Boxford Common. The fields were full of lovely wild plants, and thousands (or at least it seemed like it!) of meadow grasshoppers. Now, grasshoppers and crickets are an insect I’m not keen on – you just never know where they are going to jump to – however, not wanting to be squashed they happily got out of my way as I walked. If you don’t see them, which I think is highly unlikely, then you will easily hear them chirping away.
After going through a hayfield, you will then enter another quiet piece of woodland. It was here that I found some King Alfred’s cakes. Click here to read about them and so you know what you are looking for! They are a fascinating piece of nature, with legends behind their numerous names, and lots of good uses.
Leaving the woods by the 100th gate installed by the West Berkshire Ramblers, you will emerge onto a lane. Although this is quite a busy lane, you are not on it long until you turn left onto a track leading through some more meadows. The swallows were having an amazing time in this field, swooping down low and showing off their excellent flight manoeuvrability. However, I can tell you now, that trying to take a photo of one, unless you are an expert photographer, is incredibly difficult! With it starting to rain, I gave up trying to get a good photo, and decided that I am sure one of you will (no pressure!).
Going through further fields, this time full of crops blowing nicely in the wind, you will reach Lower Farm. Following this cinder track will take you to a large, newly refurbished barn, which contrasts with the small house opposite. It is here you turn left into the grounds of St James The Less Church, and then passing through dense hedgerows, you descend some steps and as if by magic you have entered Winterbourne. Turning to look back, you would not know that path was there if you hadn’t come down it. Winterbourne, although meaning a stream that dries out during the summer, actually benefits from a stream all year round. Taking a path opposite the Winterbourne Arms (it is clear this pub is being renovated to reopen in the future), you will pass over the lovely rippling Winterbourne Stream.
Going through Mapleash Copse, you will eventually reach a T-junction after the tall, wired fence. You want to turn right here onto the bridleway, which is an ancient byway called Pebble Lane. Passing through some radiant woodland you will reach a tarmac lane, and an entrance back into Snelsmore Common.
Following a slightly less trodden undulating path through birch and heather, you will see what I’m going to call a love seat. This is a bench that is really too big for one person, but a little small for two – hence my name for it! This would be a lovely spot to rest, admire the heather and look out for the ponies and birds that are on the common. However, with it now raining, I decided to press on, and arrived back at the car park. I quickly went back to the undercover picnic area I saw at the start, for a well-earned lunch.
This is a beautiful walk and really shows off the wonderful varied Berkshire countryside. So, if you are looking for a walk in Berkshire that goes through heathland, woodland and meadows, passes castles and goes over streams, then this is the walk for you. I also have lots of other walks which you might like to check out. If you liked the sound of this Berkshire walk, then you will also enjoy the Ashampstead Yattendon walk.