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Reading – Summertime Music in the Beautiful Thames Valley
Reading, the historic county town of Berkshire, is perhaps best known as the home of Reading University and the annual Reading Festival. Many people also visit the town to work in the IT and insurance sectors and to enjoy the excellent shopping scene and good quality hotels located here. Cultural highlights include the ruin of Reading Abbey, one of medieval England’s most important buildings, and Reading Museum, which features a full-size replica of the Bayeux Tapestry. Reading also offers beautiful surrounding countryside thanks to its location in the heart of the Thames Valley.
Shopping in Reading Town Centre
Reading town centre offers a great selection of shops and restaurants as well as cheap hotels and independent hoteliers to suit most tastes and budgets. The focal point of Reading’s shopping experience is the Oracle, named after a workhouse that occupied part of the site in the 17th-century. It features around 90 stores and eateries and the attractive River Kennet, a tributary of the Thames, flows through the centre, flanked by numerous bars and restaurants. There’s also a multi-screen cinema showing a wide range of movies. Just a short walk away, Broad Street is the town’s main pedestrianised shopping area with more high street chains. At the far end of that thoroughfare, Broad Street Mall is another option and, to the north in Friar Street, Harris Arcade offers a selection of independent shops and boutiques. The main railway station is very near here on Station Hill and provides direct links to London and Oxford.
The Museum and Abbey
At the end of Friar Street is Reading Town Hall, a beautiful Italianate-style building that served as the local council’s headquarters until 1976. Nowadays, its concert hall, complete with a magnificent Father Willis Organ, is a popular music and comedy venue. The Town Hall also houses a café and the popular Reading Museum that’s packed with a wealth of local artefacts such as memorabilia from Huntley and Palmers, once Britain’s largest biscuit producer. The museum also displays the UK’s only full-size replica of the Bayeux Tapestry and a collection of sculptures by the likes of Rodin and Epstein. Next to the Town Hall is Reading Abbey which, now a ruin, was once one of Europe’s most important religious centres. It was founded by Henry I in 1121 but was significantly destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538. Nearby, The Forbury Hotel on Abbot’s Walk, dubbed the UK’s sexiest townhouse hotel, offers high-end boutique accommodation.
Of course, Reading Festival, one of Britain’s biggest summertime music festivals, draws many tens of thousands to Reading each year. It is held at Little John’s Farm, near the banks of the River Thames, about a mile or so from the centre of Reading with Reading West the closest railway station, around half a mile away. It is regarded as the world’s oldest remaining popular music festival and over the years has played host to the likes of the Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath and Oasis to name a few of the bands. It is held on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the August bank holiday weekend with a simultaneous concert held in Leeds which shares billing. Unsurprisingly, Reading can be quite busy during the festival so it’s advisable to book hotels in advance to avoid disappointment. Alternatively, camping is always an option for those happy to forgo a little sleep!
The Kennet and Avon Canal
There are plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy in the Reading area. In particular, the close proximity of the Thames and Kennet rivers offers the perfect opportunity to enjoy a relaxing water cruise. As a whole, the waterway which stretches from Bristol all the way to Reading is known as the Kennet and Avon Canal and several companies offer a range of cruise experiences which last from 30 minutes to several hours. Some packages also include drinks and musical entertainment in the ticket price. For those preferring terra firma, locals recommend just walking along the towpath and enjoying the scenery. Dotted along the waterway there are lovely pubs and eateries which offer the chance to relax with a drink while the boats go by. It’s also possible to book accommodation in some of the traditional hotels and inns which are located along the canal, perfect for a relaxing weekend break away from the rat race.
Reading University and Other Attractions
The University of Reading has two main campuses in the town: a couple of miles south of the centre, the main campus, Whiteknights, is set in over 150 hectares of parkland and features two small museums, the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology and the Cole Museum of Zoology. Nearer the town centre, the London Road campus is home to the Museum of English Rural Life which showcases a selection of farming memorabilia. For those seeking theatrical entertainment, The Hexagon on Queens Walk, next to Broad Street Mall, is the perfect place to catch a show. Outside Reading, Basildon Park on the edge of the North Wessex Downs is a magnificent country house which offers stunning views over the Thames Valley. There are also boutique hotels in the area. A 30-minute drive south of Reading, English Heritage’s Silchester Roman Town Walls and Amphitheatre provides the opportunity to see some of the best preserved Roman ruins in the country.