Despite having a major motorway and a mainline service to London running through it, this part of Berkshire is absolutely rural. It’s difficult to imagine that this is a home county, butting right up against London on its eastern front, home to Slough, Staines, and the sprawling Thames Valley zone of monotonous offices and enterprise parks. Instead, Hungerford is approaching over rolling downs and areas of natural beauty, punctuated by the river Dun and the Kennet and Avon Canal on its way across the country. Coming from the south, we took a turning that wasn’t exactly the one we intended to take, and the result was an idyllic drive through the North Hampshire and West Berkshire Downs, over Walbury Hill and past the source of the River Test, descending to Hungerford Common and entering the town alongside the railway.
The day was cold. A few brief days of spring-like weather preceding this visit, we had high hopes for a pleasant cross-country run with a few town stops. Pleasant it was, but hardly balmy. The wind barrels down the high street, cutting through any layers you care to wear, and soon enough there’s some April snow. It’s a shame, because on a more clement day there’d be plenty of pleasant places to wander off the beaten track – footpaths off the street direct you to the church of St Lawrence, and following the high street to its end brings you to a very scenic river. Best of all of course is the canal, a very pretty spot underneath the high street, with bridged shops and houses on the road above, and an assortment of unusually-hued ducks. It was a bit chilly for a proper explore, but there would be ample gongoozling opportunities here.
In terms of shopping, this is an antiques town (cf. Leominster, for example). There are hoards of actual antique shops, emporia and arcades in this tiny town, and several of those ubiquitous vintage style fake-antique shops, filled with rescued wooden crates and limewashed furniture. The collector could wile away some serious time here, and would (of course) be well advised to give the charity shops a once over for bargains. For the wife and I, we have to steer ourselves away from such expensive temptations and stick to the three charity shops on the high street.
If you are looking for a bargain, however, Prospect Hospice might not be the place to start. Charity shop it is (complete with odd smell, over-familiar assistant and determined shoppers), but what looks like a bucket of bric a brac turns out to be a basket of tiny doorknobs. Nothing special, but priced at more than new retail value. The same is probably not true of some wellies in the back room. A quick Google suggests that a brand new pair of Aigle wellies will probably set you back around £100; £60 for a secondhand pair is quite a reduction then, I suppose, but yowch, that’s some expensive rubber boots.
The other charity shops are better - British Red Cross is a large shop with a good selection of all sorts; and Blue Cross is located slightly confusingly over a little bridge coming off the main bridge (not down the path as the sign seems to suggest). This is also a busy, full shop with a selection of all sorts of goodies. Best of all, it’s located conveniently for the Tutti-pole Tea Shoppe directly below. This is a tea shop of the Old School. You’ll be greeted by a waitress in a pastel green blouse and ankle length floral skirt, you’ll be brought tea and plenty of it, sturdy cakes (we had a wonderful simnel) and be surrounded by olde timey pictures of the town. An experience for certain.
If you have an antiquey inclination, Hungerford is certainly worth the stop. If you don’t, it’s worth the drive to get there – just take the smallest road you can find on the map and it’s certain to be beautiful. The charity shops don’t add up to much, to be honest, but it’s a charming little town regardless and a pleasant visit.
Find: Hungerford @ Google Maps
Get there: one of the best connected little towns you could hope for – main line to Reading or Swindon through the town, and the M4 just a couple of miles.
Consume with: definitely stop at the Tutti-pole.
Visit: it it was me, I’d hike the canal to Newbury some 9 miles hence; otherwise perhaps a drink at the Bear Inn, where William of Orange was offered the crown of England?
Overall rating: three overpriced pairs of wellies