Newbury is somewhere you don’t really visit on purpose, just as you don’t, say, call a utility company on purpose: you call because you have to, and the same would appear true of Newbury. My experiences of Newbury mostly involve circumnavigating it on the controversial bypass, looking out of the car window at Watership Down, which is nearby, and some implanted grain of knowledge that Vodafone is based there: it’s probably an office town. However, as I find far too often, my uninformed pre-suppositions are entirely wrong: Newbury is actually pretty charming.
We ended up in Newbury quite by accident: after a holiday in Cornwall, the increasingly-less-reliable car broke down at Chieveley services, and we ended up staying in the Travelodge there. The car had been towed to a garage in Newbury, so we were left with a day to wander the city streets while some expensive tinkering was going on in the fuel tank. It turned out to be a happy accident. The day was sunny and an October kind of warm, and the smartened-up wharfsides of the Kennet & Avon canal provide a very pleasant meander into the town centre, emerging by a large Costa onto Bridge Street. There’s pubs and restaurants (and yes, a charity shop) backing onto the canal on the other side. The bridge itself, like a miniature Bridge of Sighs, is the central point of the semi-pedestrianised town centre. North is Northbrook Street, home to a very nice, long Oxfam which yielded a bumper set of tapes for the car, and smaller Scope and YMCA shops – still all very well presented and kitted out.
Heading South from the bridge is Bartholemew Street. St Nicholas’ church towers over the shops and the passers-by – directly opposite that is the wonderfully-named (and generally wonderful) Kitchen Monger, from which we started Christmas preparations in the shape of a pudding basin, and were tempted by various see-through toasters, silicone jelly moulds, and coffee machines. As per usual for a cookshop then – just wait until I write up Worcester, the spiritual home of the cookshop. More importantly though is possibly my favourite charity shop chain, the Helen & Douglas House Hospice. As found in Abingdon, Beaconsfield, Chesham and elsewhere, this is always the best-looking shop in town, and possibly the only charity shop to feature a coffee shop upstairs: a slight stretch of the imagination, given that it’s a coffee machine nestled amongst the bookshelves, but we’re forgiving types here at CST Towers.
Also on the street is a Blue Cross, slightly scruffier perhaps, but home to the bargain of the day: juicer, £3.95, wham bam thankyou mam. Go East from the bridge and you’re in the market place (Thursdays and Saturdays), with its looming Corn Exchange Arts Centre and pavement cafes. It really wouldn’t look out of place in a provincial French town. You’ll find a typically poorly laid-out British Heart Foundation (the one whose rear can be seen from the canalside), a large Cancer Research and a smaller Save The Children here, bringing the total we found on the day to a healthy eight: not bad for an accident. I’d definitely commend making a day of it and coming back again, on purpose perhaps, hence a very generous score.
Find: Newbury @ Google Maps
Consume with: plenty of pubs and restaurants along the canal – the Costa is vast as well, and a pleasant enough place to wile away time waiting for the car to be fixed.
Visit: the downland to the South of Newbury is very lovely – I’ll point you towards the hill-fort at Beacon Hill and the talking rabbits of Watership Down.
Overall rating: five Billy Ocean cassettes