Monday, 8 December 2014

Enjoy Late Night Christmas Shopping in Newbury

It’s that time of year again when many people are trying to fit Christmas shopping into an already busy schedule. But never fear – Newbury has the solution, with late night shopping on Thursdays in December from 5 to 8pm.

Do pop in on for the late night openings – a great opportunity to browse the shops at leisure (and avoid the weekend crush), get advice from the assistants if you don’t know what to choose for ‘the person who has everything’ ... and, of course, get ideas to add to your own Christmas list!

This year each of the late night openings are themed and, as well as many shops stay open until 8pm, will offer something a little bit special. The next two nights are:

Thursday 11 December – Choir of 1,000 Voices
As well as late night shopping, tonight’s the night when Newbury comes alive to the beautiful sound of a Choir of 1,000 Voices. Many local choirs will keep shoppers entertained by singing carols around the town, then gather around the Christmas tree in the Market Place at 7.30pm for the finale. Make sure yours is one of the voices joining in, and really get in the Christmas spirit! 

Newbury Building Society will be running some competition too ... so pop in and find out how to enter.

Thursday 18 December – Frozen
Tonight, whatever the weather, Newbury will be ‘frozen’ as ice sculptors demonstrate their spectacular art around the town. There is even going to be an Ice Queen, so why not make this the night you give your children a pre-Christmas treat with a trip into Newbury? And with just one week to go until the big day, this is your final chance for late night shopping this Christmas, so make the most of the wonderful selection of shops in Newbury ... and perhaps find that last-minute gift for someone special.

Free parking
Late night shoppers can enjoy free parking in the multi-storey car parks at Parkway, The Kennet Centre and Northbrook from 5–8pm on 4, 11 and 18 December.

Traffic-free areas

To keep everyone safe, Northbrook Street, Market Place and other pedestrianised areas stay closed to traffic during this year’s late-night shopping events. 

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Biddy checks out the Best Dressed Christmas Shop Windows

I enjoyed it last year ... and I enjoyed it even more this year! Meandering through Newbury, checking out who’s done what with their shop windows to make them magical for Christmas is becoming something of a tradition for me. And there is still time if you want to do it too, and if you vote for your favourite you could be in with a chance of winning a fabulous prize: a £50 voucher to open a Newbury Building Society savings account plus an extra £100 courtesy of Newbury BID. But hurry, entries need to be in by 5pm on Wednesday 3 December.

This year my two-year-old grandson, DD, joined me, and what fun we had – it’s a great way to start getting in the Christmas spirit. We collected a form from Newbury Building Society to find out which shops and businesses are participating and set off on our trail around the town – we love a good walk; well I do ... he sits back in the pushchair most of the time and points and claps and shouts out ‘Christmas!’ quite a lot!

So, we wondered, would there be sparkles and spangles or sherry and mince pies? Who would go for a Father Christmas and fairies theme? Who would choose baubles and balloons? And what about red-nosed reindeers? And would anyone keep it traditional and have a nativity scene? 

We examined the list while enjoying refreshments at Pret a Manger (with ‘Manger’ spelt like ‘manger’, as in the nativity, it seemed appropriate). Coffee and a Danish for me, water and compulsory chocolate cake for DD ... ssssh, don’t tell his parents!

There are loads of shops taking part this year and making Newbury look absolutely fantastically festive, and many who are not entering the competition have also gone to town which is brilliant: for example, FiFi & Moose in Weavers Walk look suitably silvery and glamorous; and Newbury Building Society has their cuddly mascot Barry Bear dashing through the snow on a sleigh. The competition itself falls into several categories: best independent retailer; best charity/not for profit; best chain or group; best overall; and, of course, the public’s favourite (don’t forget to choose yours, fill in the form and be in with a chance of winning the prize).

So ... which were our favourites? There were so many, it is quite hard to say but to mention a few ... I thought Temptation Gifts’ window fun and it gave me a warm glow as I gazed in; I also enjoyed JoJo Maman Bébé’s huge clear baubles containing cute cuddly toys; Just Add Grapes in Weavers Walk has lots of Christmas goodies looking very festive too – perfect ready-wrapped gifts for foodies; Hotel Chocolat with its stylish ‘gift-wrapped’ window is beautiful and elegant in its simplicity; and I can’t help but love those fairy wings at Marks & Spencer (wonder if I can borrow them?). DD was very taken with the elves and Christmas present sacks in Trutex (we had to go back twice to see it so it must be good!); and those penguins are getting everywhere this year, including at Rainbows in Inches Yard where they are wearing waistcoats and cosy scarves. 

I must add that last year’s overall winner and the public’s favourite, florist Willow & Blooms in Bartholomew Street, has excelled once more. Despite a relatively small shop front, they really make the most of it with a gorgeous theme in red. Will owner Helen Vickers ‘do the double’ and take top prize again? It’s going to be up to YOU, so do go and get your entry form from Newbury Building Society soon! It’s fun and it’s free (and a walk around town is great exercise!). But remember – 3 December is the deadline!

Biddy x 

Friday, 14 November 2014

Dine Michelin Style in Bartholomew Street

When it comes to superb places for eating out Newbury has a fantastic choice, and two of its finest independents have recently been awarded Michelin status; coincidentally, you can find both in Bartholomew Street.

Brebis is a French-style restaurant run by the brothers Mansfield: Samuel, who is head chef responsible for all the fabulous food they serve, and James, who manages front of house, creating a warm, friendly atmosphere and running a tight ship when it comes to great customer service.

A few steps over the road from Brebis, and next to the entrance to The Kennet Centre, is gastropub The Newbury, run by friends and co-directors Peter Lumber and Clarke Oldfield.

Both eateries are fairly new to the town: The Newbury opened in 2012 and Brebis in 2013. Brebis’ menu is modern-French in style, based on the passion of head chef Samuel who adores French cooking and did part of his training in Provence. The menu changes with the seasons, and even weekly, depending on what is fresh and good at any particular time of year. Their wine list consists of all French wines, which serve to complement the wonderful dishes prepared by Samuel.

Stylish and sophisticated pub The Newbury is the place to enjoy a drink from the well-stocked bar and carefully selected wine list, with the option to enjoy something really tasty from their menu. Open for brunch, lunch and dinner – and also serving delicious and unusual bar snacks – here too the menu changes with the season, with head chef Clarke aiming to source many of the ingredients for his contemporary menu locally. The bar and restaurant are relaxed and comfortable, and the roof-top terrace is a great place to enjoy a drink – and with heaters and a newly installed retractable roof, customers can now enjoy the terrace all year round.

The owners of Brebis and The Newbury are delighted to be in the Great Britain & Ireland Michelin Guide 2015, on the recommendation of the Michelin inspector who arrives and dines unannounced.  The Newbury has also received an entry in Michelin’s new Eating Out in Pubs Guide 2015, featuring just 580 pubs.  Adding to The Newbury’s recent accolades are their inclusion in Sawday’s Special Places 2014, and being named Berkshire’s Dining Pub of the Year 2015 in The Good Pub Guide.

Brebis and The Newbury: well worth a visit!

Brebis is open Wednesday–Saturday for lunch and dinner (12.30–3pm and 6.30–11pm); see their website for special opening times over Christmas and New Year
16 Bartholomew Street, Newbury RG14 5LL
01635 40527

The Newbury is open Sunday 10am–11pm; Monday–Friday 12noon–1am; Saturday 10am–1am, with brunch/lunch and dinner served Sunday 10am–4pm and 6–10pm; Monday–Friday 12noon–3pm and 5.30–11pm; Saturday 10am–4pm and 6–11pm. 
137 Bartholomew Street, Newbury RG14 5HB
01635 49000

Friday, 7 November 2014

Welcome Advice Available at Newbury College

Newbury College welcomes Adam England to the College as the new Career’s Guidance Officer, providing independent advice and guidance. The position will see Adam supporting students and the local community regarding their career progression.  

The College helps people of all ages get ready for University or employment by providing a one to one personal service, group sessions and drop in slots for students and the local community. For College students, this compliments the work done in tutorials, independent learning and employability sessions that all students participate in as well as events such as the Higher Education Fair recently held at the College.

Talking of his new role Adam England said, “I’m delighted to have started working at Newbury College. With 26 years experience working in the further education sector with a focus on careers, recruitment and progression, I feel confident in providing support for individuals and look forward to seeing the routes that they take!”

A key element of the careers advice given is the Higher education plan for each student. All Level 3 students are encouraged to consider higher education as a possible path. As part of their higher education plan, first year students are invited to talks regarding what to expect at University level study and how to write a personal statement, followed by one to one advice. Adam works closely with a number of Universities who offer interactive sessions for the students who are encouraged to attend University Open Days. The College is able to provide students with continued support with their education and employment throughout their time at College and after, should it be required. For those interested in studying at Newbury College, Adam offers after school tours to those who wish to see classes in action.

Adam will be available at the College’s Open Evening on Tuesday 11 November from 4pm – 8pm. Whether individuals wish to further their education with a vocational course, begin A Levels or develop their career with a part time course, there is help and support for people to make the right decisions for the future.

Visitors to the Open Evening will be able to meet course leaders and current students, experience a range of exhibitions, displays and activities. The College has invested £3.2 million in new facilities over the last few years and visitors will have the opportunity to have a tour of the College to view these fantastic areas.

Newbury College will be offering a number of new courses from next September including, Events Management, Fashion, Landscaping and Horticulture, Performing Arts and Production, Music Technology and many more.

For those in Year 11 and their parents, the evening will be a chance to discover options after their GSCEs, with Apprenticeships, A Levels, and vocational courses; Newbury College really does cater for all interests. Should you be unsure of what path to take, subject specialists will be available on the evening to guide you and help you make the right decisions for you.

For adults, the Open Evening will be an ideal opportunity to find out more about courses of interest and to discuss aspirations with subject specialists. Whether looking for career development or to start a new hobbie; there are 100s of adult courses on offer.

The College Open Evening is held at their Monks Lane campus on Tuesday 11 November, 4pm-8pm. For more information on the open evening or for any other queries please do not hesitate to contact Newbury College on 01635 845000 or visit their website

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Biddy Says ‘The Corn Exchange Has Got Talent’!

I’ve been lucky enough to go to one of my favourite places in Newbury twice in the last few weeks – the Corn Exchange. In September it was to a performance of ‘Romeo and Juliet’; I do enjoy a bit of Shakespeare now and then, and this particular performance remained loyal to the Bard’s script but added extra spice with contemporary dance.

My most recent trip to the Corn Exchange was to the finals of Star Search Newbury – and if you were to ask the question ‘Has Newbury got talent?’ the answer has to be a resounding ‘YES!’

There was 10-year-old aerialist Leah who performed with great skill on a suspended hoop (no safety net either!); talented 9-year-old violinist Samuel (favourite composer: Beethoven) who surely had the whole audience rooting for him; and a fantastic all-girl dance crew, Unleashed, whose energy and perfect timing saw them win second prize. All the other finalists were singers and bands – many of whom had written their own material – and I certainly did not envy the judges their role. I’m a bit of a rock chick (sadly aging!) at heart, and the fast and furious Imprisoned were particular favourites of mine. Winners of the third prize were Basecamp – a really together four-piece band, and their female lead singer has an amazingly strong voice for one so young.

The solo singers were impressive and the choice of song from two of them (Izzy with The Beatles ‘Let It Be’ and Poppy with Bob Dylan’s ‘Knocking On Heaven’s Door’) were a surprise; old songs but absolute classics that everyone loves, and beautifully performed. Then there was Courtnie with her velvety smooth voice ... she is sure to go far. But hats off to the worthy winner who walked off with the first prize: singer/songwriter Jenny Bracey. At 18 she was slightly more mature than the other contestants, and that experience and confidence shone through in her terrific guitar playing and amazing voice.

Congratulations also to The Breeze radio station who, supported by Newbury Building Society, Newbury BID, Newbury College and the Corn Exchange, brought the event to town and put on such great family entertainment. I wonder if Jenny will spend her prize money donated by sponsors Newbury Building Society on more fabulous shoes? (You had to see them to believe them!) And if you haven’t seen Jenny yet, look out for this rising star performing when Newbury’s Christmas lights get switched on in November.

There is such a lot up and coming at the Corn Exchange – truly a venue with something to suit everyone. October may be drawing to a close far too quickly for my liking, but there is still lots worth seeing so check out their website to find out what’s on. Looking ahead, in November there is much diverse entertainment to be had: ‘The Trench’ comes to Newbury on 6 November – Les Enfants Terribles and their award-winning Edinburgh Fringe show brings music, puppetry and physical performance together to tell the tale of a miner entombed in a tunnel during the First World War; famous chef Albert Roux comes to town on 17 November – and there is the option to enjoy pre or post show cheese and wine (yum yum!). Or how about starting to get in the Christmas spirit with an evening of Carols with the Central Southern Area Fellowship Band on 22 November? 

There are dozens of other things too – comedians, fun for children, creative events – so there is no excuse; pop in to pick up a programme or go to, get booking and support your local theatre and arts centre!

Biddy x 

Friday, 31 October 2014

Newbury Food Festival

What better way to spend an autumn weekend than at the Food Festival in the centre of Newbury? The next one is on Saturday 1 and Sunday 2 November and if the last one, held in June, is anything to go by we are all in for a treat.

The town as a whole benefits from the extra people who come to Newbury to sample the delights on offer at the Food Festival. In June, several shops made the most of the extra footfall– for example, Oldburys Deli on the Bridge were tempting people in with delicious free samples. 

The Food Festival is pretty special: well organised and creating a lively, friendly atmosphere.  There will be all sorts of different food and drink to sample, from local home-grown goods to global gourmet goodies. Lunch on the hoof is always difficult to resist, especially with such mouth-watering offerings as free-range pulled pork rolls, tender beef brisket wraps, bison burgers, German sausages, pies and pasties, hot dogs, gourmet burgers, jerk chicken, paella, Vietnamese noodles, and sweet and savoury crepes to name but a few.

To wash it all down there is sure to be local beers and ciders which are always a winner. Look out for Tutts Clump Cider, who keep it really local – nearly all their apples come from West Berkshire.

There are always plenty of opportunities to purchase goodies to take home, too. Keep a look out for Sweeney and Todds from Reading who do a roaring trade with their homemade pies (rump steak and Stilton being a particularly huge hit). For pastry fans, why not try Jane from Kintbury, whose pork pies with a variety of exciting fillings are a big temptation (for example, pork and black pudding).  Then there are sure to be cheeses, cakes … you name it!

If The Wiltshire Chilli Farm are there selling their wares, see if they are going to put on their chilli-eating contest and put your name down. Not for the faint hearted but great fun with cries of encouragement from the crowd: ‘Eat that chilli!’

There will be something to please every taste bud at the November Food Festival, so the best advice is to skip breakfast and enjoy the feast on offer between 10am and 4pm.

To find out about having a stall at the this or a future Newbury Food Festival or to get involved with sponsorship, contact Jack Mcleod on 07413 662838 or email

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Biddy Prepares For Bonfire Night

Whatever would we do at this time of year if the misguided Guido Fawkes hadn’t done his worst all those years ago? In celebration, a firework party is a wonderful way to bring a bit of sparkle and cheer to a cold November evening as we rush headlong towards Christmas.

But it’s a good few years since I held a firework party and I have no intention of doing so this year. All that organising, all that cooking, all that bonfire building (though I could make a brilliant guy with the husband’s gardening gear which has definitely seen better days). No, this year once again I am taking the bigger, better and far, far easier option: I’m off to Newbury Racecourse to the firework display hosted by the Lions Club – they always put on a really spectacular show while raising funds for charity. This year it’s on Saturday 1 November, gates open at 5.30pm with fireworks starting at 7.30pm.

The husband will be getting our tickets from Newbury Building Society (they are selling them at their branches in Newbury and Thatcham), or they are also available from the Corn Exchange, or from Tesco stores in Newbury and Thatcham. You can also buy them from the Lions Club mascot, Roary, who is selling them in Northbrook Street on Saturdays in October. Advance tickets bought before 25 October are £4 for adults, £3.50 for children aged 5 and over (under 5s go free). Or if you can’t get them ahead of time tickets are £5 on the night.

What can you expect from Newbury Lions at Newbury Racecourse besides an amazing firework display set to music? I hear Roary the Lion will be making an appearance, Heart FM radio will keep everyone entertained and there will be face painting too. There will of course be a barbecue, and compulsory (for me anyway!) hot doughnuts; plus there will be hot drinks and a bar to keep us warm from the inside out, and fun for all at the funfair to keep the party going even after we’ve ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ at the final rocket.

Anyone want a spin on the waltzer with me?

Biddy x 

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Halloween Half Term Holiday Fun

What does a vampire like on his ice-cream sundae? Whipped scream! 

It’s no joke – West Berkshire is THE place to be for Halloween this half term, with a host (or should that be ghost?) of spooky treats taking place in and around Newbury.

From Friday 24 October until Tuesday 4 November there is pumpkin hunting at Bucklebury Farm Park, leading you through a creepy woodland maze. As well as all the normal exciting activities at Bucklebury you can play games in the haunted house and try the Halloween craft workshop. Further details at

Also from Friday 24 October until Tuesday 4 November there is fun to be had at Basildon Park with their self-led Halloween Trail, with a sweet treat at the end in either the wonderful 18th-century mansion or the fabulous grounds. Further details at

On the evening of Monday 27 October go to The Hub, Thatcham to enjoy a Freaky Fright Halloween Crafts workshop, creating fright-night masks and boggle-eyed monsters. Also at The Hub, Thatcham on the evening of Thursday 30 October there is a chance to create a mini secret spooky garden using up-cycled materials and foliage ... and there will be gruesome creepy gloves to send shivers down your spine! Reserve your space by calling 01635 845213 or emailing

From Monday 27 to Friday 31 October you can sail down the Kennet and Avon Canal on a Creepy Cruise, where Halloween horrors await on their Jubilee narrowboat! Children are encouraged to dress up in their most scary costumes and trick or treat the boat crew, who will be telling some ghostly tales. Be warned that these cruises are selling very fast (27 October is already sold out), so get your tickets from Newbury Visitor Information Centre asap. (Call 01635 30267 or email

From Monday 27 October until Saturday 1 November you can join in Newbury’s Halloween Haunt Hunt, run by Newbury BID in partnership with Parkway, Newbury Building Society, Rainbows and McDonalds. A Halloween Workshop takes place near Costas in Parkway, where children can participate in a range of activities to keep them busy. Collect a special form at the workshop and follow a spooky trail around the town collecting clues; those who find all the clues will be in with a chance of winning a great prize at the prize draw happening on Saturday 1 November.

On Wednesday 29 October there is a Halloween Family Activity Day at Shaw House. Be prepared for a ‘spooktacular’ time while making Halloween crafts!  Also at Shaw House on Friday 31 October there will be trick or treating, apple bobbing, a spooky trail and story time – fancy dress is encouraged and you need to take a torch! Advance booking is required. Further details at

On Thursday 30 October there will be Halloween Children’s Crafts at Saddleback Farm Shop, California Farm, Brightwalton. This is your chance to make a scary spider or a pumpkin face. (Booking essential). Their maze is open until the end of October and there are ride on tractors and sandpit to play in too. Further details at

On Halloween itself, Friday 31 October, the Monster Halloween Show (with Rebecca Keatley, presenter of CBeebies ‘Let's Play’ and ‘Quasimodo’) will be at the Kennet Shopping Centre. Enter the fancy dress competition and you might win a fantastic prize! Further details at

Also on Friday 31 October you can go along to Halloween Happenings at Cobbs Farmshop & Kitchen, Hungerford. Pick your own pumpkins and join in traditional Halloween fun of apple bobbing, pumpkin carving ... and even pumpkin hurling! There will be fancy dress and face painting too, plus a ‘Grab a Ghoul' lunchtime BBQ (weather permitting). Further details from

Last but certainly not least on Friday 31 October there is Wild Halloween at Thatcham Nature Discovery Centre. This is Halloween with a difference, with lots of wildlife-inspired crafts and activities to have a go at, such as mini-beast hunts and looking at animal poo!  Further details at

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Biddy at The Newbury

Sunday lunch at The Newbury – the gastropub in Bartholomew Street – comes high on my list of recommendations.

The husband and I took the younger members of our family, including our grandson DD (Diddle Dumpling – not actually on his birth certificate you understand!) there last weekend. The husband has been several times before for a light lunch or post-work drink but this was our first venture to sample the delights of the ‘full works’.

We had booked well in advance as we had been told how popular their Sunday lunches are, and were very pleased we did as there was a regular flow of people coming in to dine. A high chair for DD had been pre-booked and was ready and waiting for us, and we were able to sit and browse the regularly changing menu at our leisure over a drink – there was no pressure here to get us in and out for another sitting, just how we like it. The menfolk enjoyed sampling local beers and ciders; me, I wanted to keep a clear head, with DD to be kept amused (and I had volunteered to drive).

The interior of The Newbury is contemporary and comfortable. This is not your traditional High Street drinking pub; they have created an air of style, something that little bit special. This follows through on the menu. I always prefer just half a dozen or so choices for each course, knowing then that ingredients are likely to be seasonal and fresh – and much easier to choose between when not overwhelmed with far too many options.

I quickly settled on what was listed as a bar snack as a starter: Portland crab served on toast – and it was probably the nicest crab I’ve ever tasted. The husband went for the mussel chowder, a must-have if he ever spots it on a menu. It being Sunday, and The Newbury being famed for its beef roasted slowly for 12 hours, it was a no-brainer that we both chose that. Beautifully flavoured and melt-in-the-mouth – you’ve got to try it to believe how good it is. This was served with a lovely selection of fresh veggies and the most gorgeous, crispy roast potatoes ever – spot on!

Despite all of us being more than full, and us all taking it in turns to keep DD amused – it’s hard to sit still for two hours or so when you are not even two years old – we decided we could just about manage a pud.  I needed something fairly light by now so was torn between the Italian affogato (a particular favourite of mine) but decided to try something different: elderflower jelly with yoghurt sorbet, passion fruit mallow and fresh fruits. It was a great choice: a truly lovely combination with lots of interesting things going on. The husband could not resist the very sinful chocolate chip and honeycomb Eton mess – a very rich take on the traditional Eton mess! Younger members of the family went for the homemade ice cream (including salted caramel and popcorn flavour) and voted it ‘scrummy’.

Being a bit nosey, I popped upstairs to have a quick peep at the cocktail bar and roof terrace – all very smart and I am looking forward to a return visit to lounge on the wonderfully comfortable looking furniture out on the sun terrace before summer’s through. Maybe see you there!

Biddy x 

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Biddy at Gelato Joe's

Fancy a sweet treat? Then I have just the place for you – go go go to Gelato Joe’s in Parkway!

I have been meaning to go for a while and found the time to treat myself to, er, lunch there last week. Yes, very naughty ... but very, very nice! There is a youthful buzz about the place, with a lovely young team ready and waiting to serve.  

But what to choose? A warm waffle? A chocolate covered cone? A sundae? No. As soon as I saw crepes on the menu, I was sold. And very delicious it was too. When it comes to crepes, I am very much a sugar and lemon sort of girl, so the Classic Crepe (which comes with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a good squirt of whipped cream) suited me just fine – and at £3.50 I thought it very reasonable.  But I could have gone for something more exotic like Maple Me Up or Chocolate Heaven. The waffles also sounded delicious: there was the basic Canadian (again I was very tempted), Nice N’Nutty and Strawberry Sensation to name but three. Then there’s a long list of ice-cream sundaes: Eton Mess (with strawberry cheesecake, fresh strawberries and all the trimmings); Mint Choc Chunk, Nutty Buddy, Oreo Cooke Creation ... the list goes on!! Or you could go traditional with a banana split or good ol’ knickerbocker glory. There is even a Gelato burger – scoops of ice cream in a brioche bun ... sounds good to me!

Despite me always picturing, in my mind’s eye, ice-cream parlours as a place where teenagers hung out in the 1950s (and no, I didn’t do it myself – I’m not that old!) this is a place for all ages. While I was there a whole range of ages came through the door – grandparents with their little pride and joy; a mother and young daughter (I couldn’t help but admire how restrained mum was, choosing a black coffee while daughter indulged in something cool and chocolaty); a group of 30-somethings having a catch up over an ice cream; and three teenagers who asked for one sundae and three spoons between them – and I am pleased to say the staff didn’t raise any eyebrow and were more than happy to oblige. Fantastic.

With seating inside and out (under cover so whatever the weather you will be fine), if you like proper Italian ice cream (with no preservatives) get yourself down to Gelato Joe’s. Bet you’ll have a job deciding what to choose!

Biddy x 

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Biddy at Sandham Memorial Chapel

If you don’t have any other plans to mark the centenary year of WWI, I would urge you to go and spend a quiet hour or so at Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere, just on the outskirts of Newbury. It’s a pretty special place.

I had been meaning to go for ... well, years actually; but having heard that it reopened in August after some preservation work was carried out, I decided to take myself off there. 

It is a National Trust property and because it is quite tiny you need to pre-book a timed ticket. (If you Google the National Trust website and plug in Sandham it is easy enough to do. Gift-aided entry is £10 if you aren’t an NT member.)

So... what’s special about this place? First of all is the utter sense of peace when you step through the gateway into the grounds of the chapel, which is dedicated to a man who died in 1920, probably from a disease he contracted while serving in the war. The man in question was Lieutenant Henry (Hal) Willoughby Sandham, and the chapel was built by his sister and her husband in his memory. But the particularly special thing about it, and the main reason for visiting, is the paintings housed in the chapel, which are the work of artist Stanley Spencer, who was commissioned by Hal Sandham’s family. I won’t tell you too much about them as you really need to go and see them for yourself to appreciate them. But what I will tell you is that Spencer – who was a medical orderly during the war – captured both the carnage of war and the human, everyday side of things in a spectacular way. 

Before you enter the chapel itself there is an interactive display and a 3 minute film to set the scene, plus displays of drawings and letters. The paintings themselves, though, are extraordinary – you could spend an hour there, if, like me, that is all the time you have to spare. Or you could spend several hours pondering the detail in the paintings. 

There is a small garden here, too, a quiet place to sit and reflect. They have plants for sale that they grow here, and a small area with postcards and the like. 

If you want to go this autumn, make it before the end of October as the paintings will be off on tour then. Sandham Memorial Chapel is open to visitors Wednesday through to Sunday. Be warned, there is no parking on site (unless you get a spot in the small lay-by opposite) so unless you go by public transport you will need to park a little way up the road and walk – but it is a pleasant walk.

Do go. It’s a piece of local history. 

Biddy x 

Friday, 19 September 2014

Biddy at the museum

Did you know that 350 million years ago a forest covered the land from Oxfordshire to north of Newbury and coal is still buried beneath West Berkshire? Well, now you do. 

I rather missed the museum in Newbury while it was closed for revamping. It seemed a long time while those hoardings were up with all sorts of mysteries going on behind them. But it’s been worth the wait. The new West Berkshire Museum is educational, informative, interesting – and just BRILLIANT.

First up – it’s free!  This is a real slice of life in Newbury and West Berkshire through the ages, part of our heritage and something every local should be proud of. Situated in the old Cloth Hall and Corn Store, this is one of the prettiest buildings in the town. The revamp has made the insides fresh and contemporary, with wide, clear spaces, and a series of open-plan ‘rooms’ over two floors. 

I got a warm welcome when I arrived and a brief explanation of the route to take. There are children’s activity sheets in reception for them to do on the way round – great idea. In some of the different ‘rooms’ there are things to entertain youngsters too, such as great big jigsaws and dressing up clothes.

You’ll find a huge range of artefacts on display, and big, bright boards with info that makes for fascinating reading. The items are incredibly varied – I saw everything from a 20,000-year-old axe to a Per Una outfit from Marks & Spencer!  You can’t get much more diverse than that, can you?

Exhibits change often, so it is the sort of place you can go regularly and see something new (or should that be old?).  Some objects are local (such as First World War diary notes from Captain Comley Hawkes, whose father was master of the workhouse in Newbury) and others come from all over the world: when I went I saw Egyptian jars from the days when Cleopatra was queen and terracotta heads from Greece dating from 200BC. All were equally fascinating! 

Another idea that I thought was great was a variety of displays called Volunteer’s Choice, where the dedicated team of people who make the museum happen get to choose an item that goes on display and say why they selected it. On my visit someone had chosen a Sinclair ZX Spectrum from 1982 and another person had selected a peregrine falcon, shot in 1935 at Denford Park by Sir Harrison Hughes. 

Oh yes, and there is a cafe too – good place to start or end (or both!) when you visit. 

Biddy x 

Monday, 8 September 2014

Star Search Newbury 2014

There’s still time to enter Star Search Newbury 2014 … but hurry!

Gotta sing! Gotta dance! Or gotta juggle, crack jokes, do acrobatics, play the ukulele, drums or saxophone? Or maybe it’s your dog that dances … or does your parrot sing the national anthem?

Whatever your talent, now is your chance to shine! If you’ve ever watched Britain’s Got Talent and thought ‘I could do better than that’, it’s time to prove it by showing your town what you can do by entering Star Search Newbury 2014

People of all ages are invited to apply to audition for the chance to win:
  • a recording session 
  • £250 in a Newbury Building Society account 
  • the opportunity to perform when Newbury’s Christmas lights get switched on!

There will be two age categories: under 18s and over 18s. Go to and fill in the online application form to register. 

Dates to note are:
  • auditions to be held on Wednesday 24 September and Saturday 27 September at Newbury College
  • grand final takes place at the Corn Exchange Newbury on Sunday 19 October.
So what are you waiting for? Go on ... you know you want to!

PSST! Even if you don’t want to perform, the grand final at the Corn Exchange Newbury at 3pm on Sunday 19 October promises to be a fantastic occasion! Everyone is welcome and tickets for this live show are £5 (free for children) and the proceeds will go to The Pink Ribbon Foundation Charity. (Pop in to the Corn Exchange to buy tickets, call them on 0845 5218 218 or book online at 

Star Search Newbury is brought to you by Newbury BID, The Breeze, Newbury Building Society, Newbury College and the Corn Exchange Newbury. Full terms and conditions at

Thursday, 28 August 2014

The Royal County of Berkshire Show: 20/21 September

There’s a hint of autumn in the air, which can mean only one thing – The Royal County of Berkshire Show is nearly here. The show represents a fantastic day out for all ages with lots going on to delight all members of the family.

This year’s show is being held over the weekend of 20 and 21 September at the fine Newbury Showground – easily accessible and well signposted for those arriving by car, East–West via the M4 and North–South via the A34. (You are advised to follow the AA signs rather than Sat Nav as the organisers put a special traffic management system in place to ensure you reach it by the best possible route and keep traffic flowing.) 

The Newbury and District Agricultural Society held the first Newbury Show, as it was originally known, on 28 September 1909 at Enborne Gate Farm, establishing its new home at the showground in 1984. For over a century the show has provided locals and visitors alike with a wonderful spectacle. The show has grown and became a two-day event in 1976; it is recognised as one of the UK’s leading agricultural shows and welcomes around 65,000 visitors each year.

Many people come to The Royal County of Berkshire Show to enjoy events that link to its grass roots – the livestock. As well as admiring the animals and watching judging for a variety of categories, a grand parade of prize-winning cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, llamas and alpacas takes place on both days.

Horses are always a popular feature: whether you prefer watching elegant show jumpers in the BSJA International Showjumping Series Final or the majestic heavy horses in the National Heavy Horse Driving Championships, all are great entertainment.  Or what about the farriers’ display, with farrier competitions for both apprentices and experts in horseshoe making and fitting? Equally entertaining, and often hilarious, is the on-stage sheep show where you can learn about the different sheep and be fascinated at the shearing skills of the team.

The Food Fayre is always a must, with lots of local producers selling their wares and many offering the chance to have a taste before you buy.  Lots of people are fans of TV cookery shows, and now is your chance to see it happening live in the The Cookery Theatre. Several local chefs will be entertaining the crowds with their culinary skills, so make sure you check out the timetable of all the different goodies being conjured up so that you don’t miss out on any favourites.

The Craft Marquee gets bigger and better every year and is always full of fascinating exhibits – and it’s not too early to start putting something special aside as Christmas presents. All the tradestalls around the ground are a shopper’s paradise too; there is so much to see – from hats to cars, from furniture to wellies – definitely worth a wander around! And don’t eat before you arrive because there are food and drink stands aplenty.

Something especially exciting for thrill-seekers this year will be displays from the Honda Bolddog Lings motorcycle stunt team (seen on TV’s Britain’s Got Talent) who are topping the bill and will surely have everyone on the edge of their seats as their riders leap across 75 foot gaps and fly up to 35 feet in the air.
The adventurous will love the chance to have a go in the Sports Zone, with all sorts of different sports to try out. Or what about 4x4 Land Rover training, den building, or testing your ability on the assault course in the Army Zone?
For those who prefer something gentler, the Vintage Area will have displays of tractors and other farming machinery through the years, and a chance to see different farming tasks being carried out, such as bailing, log splitting and water pumping.  And don’t miss out on the Flower Tent which always has the most wonderful displays of flowers, fruits and vegetables – it’s great fun to see who’s won what and read the judges’ comments.

A special ending to the day on both the Saturday and Sunday this year takes shape with a mass hot-air-balloon ascent – this promises to be a perfect, tranquil and beautiful finale to a full-on day!

You can save money by purchasing tickets for the show before 19 September – available on-line and from lots of different outlets in and around Newbury, including Newbury Visitor Information Centre, Newbury Building Society, Carter Jonas and Camp Hopson to name but a few in the town centre – but there lots more places too, including in the surrounding towns and villages. For details of all the outlets selling tickets, to buy them on-line or to find out more about the Royal County of Berkshire Show 2014, visit

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Biddy in the Kennet Centre

If like me you delight in bagging a bargain, there are many to be had in Newbury’s Kennet Centre. Not only is it easy to park in the spacious car park, but you can do all your shopping under one roof. 

There are lots of different retail outlets here – I always go to Timpsons for key cutting and shoe repairs (the husband collected my red high heels recently, he was worried the staff would think they were his!).

My intention when going to Poundland or the 99p Store is of only buying what’s on my list – but inevitably I am tempted by so many fantastic bargains that I come away with my shopping bag full.  Then there are books galore at The Works, and for greetings cards the Card Factory offers great deals; check out the Hallmark Outlet too!  And if you’re buying cards you might need presents: Wiggler has loads of sensibly priced toys – including great jigsaws and construction kits to keep the children busy. For bigger boys’ toys, Cex Entertainment Exchange is the place for buying or selling computer games, phones, electronics and the like.

Hair salon options include the Cutting Bar and Celly’s Hairstyle International – where everything is £9.50 which makes life easy. And you don’t need an appointment at either salon. The Beauty and Brow Bar offers threading, tinting, waxing and so forth. And if you are treating yourself or someone else, follow your nose to the Body Shop … always such gorgeous aromas wafting as you pass by (and I love their body butter, mmm!). Talking of scents, in the wide open space in the Kennet Centre is Mon Cherie Flowers.  

There are lots of lovely clothes in Roman Originals fashion shop; did you see the pretty green and white dress on display this summer? That’s been one of my favourites of the season. And just popped up (quite literally) in August is pop-up boutique Luna – funky, fresh and affordable fashions! The husband in particular is a master at finding bargains at TK Maxx (he is a bit of a designer label fiend!). Then there is Peacocks who always have fashions at great prices … and, just outside their store, who can resist the automata by artist Keith Newstead of the little man riding his bike? I cannot pass by without pressing the button. (If you don’t know what I’m on about, it’s time you went and explored …).

So, what else? Well, specialist shops include Mobility Direct – ideal for everything to help those who cannot get around so easily: wheelchairs, rise and recline chairs, bath lifts, stair lifts, household and walking aids – they’re all here. For hobbyists, the Wool Shop is packed with not only wools but embroidery silks, sewing aids and the like, and Treasure Hunting is a metal detector enthusiast’s paradise!

For nuts, dried fruits, lentils, green teas and the like, head for Grape Tree Health Foods and stock up on such essentials at low prices.  And if you have food in mind (and I normally do!) there are plenty of places to eat in the Kennet Centre, including Boswells café – ideal for a coffee, snack or something more substantial; they have a huge menu (generous portions too), very reasonable prices, plenty of seating and lovely, friendly staff. And have you tried the Cake Boutique yet? Tucked away near the entrance onto the Market Place, this is a pretty tea shop with all sorts of teas and coffees available, and a very tempting array of cakes (I was totally torn between the apricot frangipane tart and the almond and chocolate torte … decisions, decisions.) If it’s something savoury you fancy, and if you love chicken, no doubt you know about Nando’s, who are ideally placed for Vue cinema. As well as all the latest films, if you haven’t experienced the live theatre broadcasts at Vue yet, I can thoroughly recommend you do. For example, coming in September is Billy Elliot: The Musical from London’s West End (where I saw it several years ago and can’t wait to see it again). There are also productions coming up from the Royal Opera House and the National Theatre … how lucky are we? (Check out the Vue website for dates and details.)

There is so much in the Kennet Centre – this is just a flavour of what’s on offer so you really need to explore to find out what else is here. Oh yes, and they even hold special events from time to time: look out for the Monster Show on 31 October and Hello Kitty’s 40th anniversary birthday party on 30 November – fabulous family entertainment!

Biddy x 

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Visiting Berkshire's Castles

If you are looking for a great day out in or around Newbury and Berkshire, you can’t go far wrong by visiting one of our historic castles. We are richly blessed with three, all of which are completely different to each other.

Highclere Castle
On Newbury’s doorstep is Highclere Castle – which has particularly come into the public eye since it became ‘Downton Abbey’ in ITV’s award-winning period drama of the same name.

Fiction aside, it is the real-life home of the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, who open it to visitors on around 60–70 days annually (traditionally over Easter, on the May bank holidays and for two months during the summer) but special tours for groups are arranged regularly at other times and several charity events are held in the grounds each year, such as the Battle Proms.

The Victorian building might not look how one traditionally imagines a castle, but it is certainly a beautiful structure, and was built by Sir Charles Barry, the same architect who designed the Houses of Parliament at Westminster. As well as the rooms in the magnificent building, there is the Egyptian Exhibition to be enjoyed. Many people link the name Lord Carnarvon with the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun. Indeed it was the 5th Earl, the present Earl’s great-grandfather, who, along with Howard Carter, made the amazing discovery in the 1920s. Here at Highclere you can see antiquities from their excavations, as well as replicas from the Egyptian boy-pharaoh’s tomb itself.

But there is other Highclere history to be enjoyed, too: very recently, Lady Carnarvon has written two books on two of her predecessors, the 5th and 6th Countesses. Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey and Lady Catherine and the Real Downton Abbey have been carefully and lovingly researched, and make fascinating reading.

The Castle nestles in the countryside on the outskirts of Newbury in 1,000 acres of parkland. The grounds are well worth a visit, and visitors can enjoy the tearooms here for refreshments and lunches, and browse the gift shop.

You can now even stay in the grounds of Highclere Castle in London Lodge, the spectacular Georgian entrance lodge to the estate. Built in 1793, it has recently been restored by Lord and Lady Carnarvon and is available to rent for one or two nights.

Find out full details of what Highclere has to offer at

Donnington Castle
Centuries older than Highclere Castle is the one at Donnington, just a mile north of Newbury and offering fabulous views over the Lambourn Valley. It is free to visit Donnington Castle to view the exterior ruins, and the car park is open all year round during daylight hours.

Donnington Castle is now in the care of English Heritage, and although all that survives of the 14th-century building is its twin-towered two-storey gatehouse, it has a rich, and at times royal, history.

It was Richard II who granted permission to Lord of the manor of Donnington, Sir Richard Abberbury, to build a castle here, in a commanding position on major routes heading north-south and east-west. Even today, one has a sense of the luxury that Abberbury would have enjoyed in his private quarters here. In the early 15th century the Castle was purchased by Thomas Chaucer, whose father was the famous poet, Geoffrey, before becoming the property of the Crown. It is reported that Henry VIII stayed here in 1539, as did his daughter Elizabeth I almost 30 years later.

Donnington Castle came to prominence in the English Civil War, when Charles I instructed his troops to take possession from the Parliamentarians. The fortress was attacked many times during the two year period spanning 1644–46, eventually being surrendered to the Roundheads. Parliament chose to demolish the badly damaged castle in 1646, leaving only the gatehouse standing, though the Civil War defences survive around the slopes of the hill. It was to be another 300 years before the remains of the Castle came into guardianship of the state. 

There are footpaths that take in Donnington Castle, so today it is much enjoyed by walkers and cyclists.

Windsor Castle
Just 45 minutes drive from Newbury is a jewel in the county’s crown: Windsor Castle, one of the official royal homes of none other than Queen Elizabeth II, who spends many weekends here. When the Royal Standard is flying from the Round Tower, visitors know Her Majesty is in residence.

Berkshire is proud to be home to this, the world’s oldest – and indeed largest – inhabited castle, open to the public on nearly every day of the year, though some parts of it are closed on certain days for ceremonial or state events. Full details are available from the website:

The splendid ramparts of Windsor Castle dominate the town and river. The original building was founded by William the Conqueror around c.1080 and it has been used by British royalty ever since.

The Castle building itself covers an area of approximately 13 acres, set within grounds of 26 acres. There is much to see within the walls of the Castle, including the State Apartments, Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House and St George’s Chapel, one of the finest examples of late-Gothic architecture in England.

With its 4,800 acres, much of Windsor Great Park, stretching south from the Castle, is free for visitors to wander at leisure and enjoy picnics, walking and cycling. The area was once a hunting ground popular with Saxon kings and for hundreds of years stories of the ghostly Herne the Hunter have been told. The spectre, wearing antlers, is said to gallop through the park on a black stallion with hounds at its heels, before disappearing into thin air ...

And there you have Berkshire’s castles: isn’t it time you visited?