About the Berkshire Downs

LOCATION OF THE BERKSHIRE DOWNS

The Berkshire Downs are mainly in western Berkshire with a small part in southern Oxfordshire and eastern Wiltshire and they are part of the North Wessex Downs Area of Natural Beauty. The Downs are part of a chalk formation which runs across southern England from Dorset to Kent and includes the North and South Downs and the Chiltern Hills.

To the west of the Berkshire Downs are the Marlborough Downs, also part of the North Wessex Downs Area of Natural Beauty. The Marlborough Downs are separated from the Berkshire Downs by the valley of the little River Og which flows south to meet the River Kennet at Marlborough. The valley of the River Thames separates the Downs from the Chiltern Hills in the east and the picturesque Goring Gap where the River Thames separates Streatley from Goring is where the Downs and the Chilterns are at their closest. Southwards from Streatley the boundary of the Downs follows the Thames south and east to the edge of Reading.

 

Image of Eastbury Down near Lambourn (copyright Philip Jelley)
(licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

The northern side of the Berkshire Downs, the steeper scarp slope, faces towards southern Oxfordshire and the Vale of White Horse, and the A417 west of Moulsford and the B4507 west of Wantage are the boundary of the area of outstanding natural beauty. The southern boundary of the Downs is the valley of the River Kennet between Marlborough and eastwards almost as far as Reading.

Click here for a map showing the location of the Berkshire Downs

 

RIVERS OF THE BERKSHIRE DOWNS

The most notable rivers that originate and cut through the downs are the River Pang and the River Lambourn, both of which are little more than streams. They are chalk streams and their upper reaches, together with their smaller tributaries, are winterbournes which means they are often dry in the summer when rainfall is low. The Pang's source is near the village of Compton and it flows for some for some 14 miles to join the River Thames at Pangbourne. The source of the 16-mile long River Lambourn is close to Lambourn village high in the Downs and it joins the River Kennet at Newbury.

 

 

 

 


Images of the River Lambourn (copyright Philip Jelley)
(licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

 

THE ECONOMY OF THE BERKSHIRE DOWNS

The downland pasture is firm and well drained, suited to grazing sheep and grazing and training horses. Sheep-grazing on the downs was once extensive and the village of East Ilsley once held an important weekly sheep market, the second largest in the country, and had claims on the title of sheep farming capital of England.

Berkshire once had its own breed of sheep, the Berkshire Nott Wether but the breed is now extinct and the Hampshire Down sheep is a direct descendant. Sheep grazing still continues in the Downs, but on a smaller scale and much of the land is nowadays given over to cereal production. Areas of woodland in the Downs tend to be small, unlike in the Chiltern Hills where beech woods were once important to the local economy.


Image of a flock of Hampshires
(Licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license)

Horse racing is a major business in the Downs and several of the upland villages are home to major racing stables. In and around Lambourn, the most notable of these villages, there are over 1,000 horses in training, and over 50 racing yards. Much of the higher parts of the Downs, especially the Lambourn Downs, is made over to gallops and other training areas. The Lambourn Valley is one of the main training centres in England and is known as The Valley of the Racehorse. Racing stables are not confined to the Lambourn area however and elsewhere in the Downs there are several smaller establishments.

 

 

(Image of racehorse and gallop (copyright Richard Greenwood)
Licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license)

 

ANTIQUITIES IN THE BERKSHIRE DOWNS

In the Downs there are Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Age prehistoric sites, including the Wayland's Smithy, Uffington White Horse, Uffington Castle, Liddington Castle, Segsbury Camp, Grim's Ditch and numerous tumuli. The Ridgeway, described as Britain's oldest road, is an ancient track which extends from Wiltshire along the ridge of the Berkshire Downs to the River Thames at Goring Gap. Now one of the country's National Trails, The Ridgeway trail now carries on across the Thames and follows the Chilterns to Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire.


Image of The Ridgeway, looking eastwards, towards Uffington Castle ringfort. 
(Released into the public domain by its author, Evangeline)