Outdoor adventures are lots of fun, whatever the weather, and a chance to share some quality family time together. With the Summer holidays upon us, we are sharing some ideas for FREE and fun things to do outdoors, around Newbury. From woodland walks and climbing trees, to making dens and hunting for bugs, here’s a few of our tried and tested family-friendly outdoor spaces to explore.
Free outdoor spaces to explore around Newbury
Bowdown Woods, RG19 8DB Newbury
Mysterious hidden valleys, sunny glades and patches of heathland, a natural playground for you to explore all year round. Overlooking the Kennet Valley, Bowdown Woods is the Berks, Bucks, & Oxon Wildlife Trust’s biggest woodland reserve in Berkshire – and for sheer variety of wildlife throughout the year, it’s hard to beat.
The woodlands are quiet all year round with lovely ferns and beautiful views. Some footpaths can be rather steep, there are some stairs and stiles so not ideal for buggies or bikes, but perfect for a great adventure on foot. Wildlife Walk signposts are well placed to make sure you don’t get lost. We have been to Bowdown Woods so many times, and have never taken the same route twice. There is so much to explore.
There is a small free Car Park, off of Burys Bank Road. It is not signposted from the road, so be careful not to miss it. Driving along Burys Bank Road (from the A339 direction), go over the first cattle grid, and take the first left.
Snelsmore Common Country Park, RG14 3BE Newbury
Snelsmore Common contains a range of habitats including heathland, wet mires and woodland making it home to nationally rare bird species including nightjar, woodlark and tree pipit. There are a large network of paths to explore, catering for ramblers & dog walkers plus many concrete paths suitable for wheelchairs, buggies & children on bikes. Den building is certainly popular here, and the roaming ponies are always a joy to see.
Snelsmore is managed by Berks, Bucks, & Oxon Wildlife Trust’s. There is a large free car park plus picnic tables & public toilets. Portable / disposable barbeques are permitted on the concrete slabs marked BBQ in the main picnic area. There is also a new cafe, The Snugg, which serves hot and cold drinks, plus cakes, sandwiches and more.
Snelsmore is located off the B4494, Wantage Road, opposite the Mary Hare School.
Donnington Castle, RG14 2LE
The striking twin-towered gatehouse of 14th century Donnington Castle, stands on a steep hill with stunning views across Newbury, to Greenham Common, and further to Beacon Hill.
It is certainly worth reading about the history of Donnington Castle before visiting. Henry VIII and Elizabeth I are thought to have stayed there, and some believe the castle and grounds to be haunted by ghosts.
There is a small free car park at the foot of the hill. The climb to the castle is not suitable for wheelchairs, and will prove tough with a pushchair. Great for history lovers, family picnics and kite flying. The Castle offers fantastic photo opportunities (commonly used by Newlyweds for wedding photos), especially on a sunny day.
Note that only the exterior of the castle is available for viewing.
Beacon Hill Iron Age Hill Fort, RG20 9LP
Beacon Hill is one of my favourite places for an adventure with the kids. The impressive hillfort near Burghclere offers incredible extensive views over the North Wessex Downs.
One of the best known hill forts in England and the site of one of the beacons that formed a network across Hampshire. The hill fort on the top of the hill has never been excavated, but other survey techniques have revealed many huts and storage pits from the Iron Age residents of the hill. The ditch and banks are still prominent and well preserved, with curving banks defending the entrance at the southern end of the site.
Within the enclosure is the grave of the fifth Earl of Carnarvon, who played a prominent part in archaeological expeditions to Egypt, including his final trip to the Valley of the Kings. It was here where he and Howard Carter discovered and opened the fabulous tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922.
Small free parking area available. Some picnic benches available but no toilets etc. Note that this site is not suitable for buggies/wheelchairs. We walk loads as a family, and find this climb quite challenging, especially on a hot day. Therefore, be sure to take plenty of fluids with you.
Thatcham Lakes / Nature Discovery Centre, RG19 3FU
We visit Thatcham Lakes and the Nature Discovery Centre regularly, as there is plenty to do to entertain everyone. There is a network of signposted footpaths ranging from small family-friendly walks to longer paths for the more adventurous. The lakes, woodlands, grassland and reedbeds are fascinating to visit and offer fantastic wildlife all year round.
There is so much to see and do here but the lovely walk around the lake is our favourite. The boys love to visit the Discovery Centre which is packed full of interactive wildlife and natural history displays, puzzles and other activities. There are large adventure playgrounds to suit children of all ages, a lakeside cafe and gift shop.
There is plenty of free parking available (although a small parking donation is welcomed), picnic areas, toilets and plenty of benches surrounding the lakes.
Greenham and Crookham Commons, RG19 8DB
These commons cover more than 27km2 of lowland heathland, ancient woodland, reedbeds, rivers and streams. Greenham and Crookham Commons on the southern edge of Newbury forms the largest area of lowland heath in West Berkshire. Home to grazing ponies and cattle, the commons have a mix of purple and pink heathers and golden yellow gorse, wildflower-filled grasslands and expanses of bare gravels – all easily accessible to visitors. The main tracks across the common are level and accessible for those with limited walking ability. Other waymarked routes are colour coded and cross varying terrain.
The boys love to adventure through the woodland here, we can literally spend hours here just wandering at leisure. In addition to the commons, there is the newly refurbished Greenham Tower (opened in the Summer of 2018), which offers fantastic views. The Tower has a cafe, a museum, and exhibition space for visitors to enjoy.
There is a large amount of free parking (donations welcome), and toilets available in the Greenham Tower. There are plenty of benches dotted around the commons for recharging tired legs.
So, pack up a picnic and get the kids out of the house on a good old-fashioned adventure. Entertaining children doesn’t have to cost a thing, and these family favourites here in Newbury offer lots of fun for everyone. Well, what you waiting for?