Town and country provide plenty of interest and entertainment in and around Berkhamsted. Saturday shoppers find an added attraction in the quality high street market; Berkhamsted Living has the dates of other popular Sunday markets: the 50-stall Artisans, Arts and Crafts Market held in the handsome Town Hall and the Farmers' Market, with such tempting items as winter warmer honeys, lobster or local Frithsden wines. Summer is the season for open air theatre and music at the castle; September is the time to catch the International Graham Greene Festival: a four-day celebration of the author with talks, exhibitions, films, meals "and esprit de corps".
What to see in Berkhamsted
Berkhamsted Castle – a towering motte and some of the bailey walls are impressive reminders of this once-mighty Norman castle. The town has a special place in our history: following the Saxon defeat at the Battle of Hastings, it was at Berkhamsted that the bishops and noblemen formally offered William the Conqueror the crown. The castle website will guide you round the historic highlights of the site.
The Rex – "possibly Britain's most beautiful cinema" (BBC), the Rex has one huge screen set in a glorious 1938 art-deco proscenium arch, with "the sharpest film projection and clearest non-booming sound anywhere in the world". The whole experience is delightfully civilized: sink into large, comfortable seats then sit back with cheese and wine to enjoy the film.
Graham Greene Trail – introduces those places in Berkhamsted which had an influence on Graham Greene's life and work.
Berkhamsted Waterways Walk – starts at the station and explores the sections of the River Bulbourne and Grand Union Canal which run through the town. The walk takes in the popular Boat pub, with its waterside terrace and cosy winter fire.
In the countryside
The National Trust Ashridge Estate comprises 5,000 magnificent acres of woodlands, commons and chalk downland, rich in wildlife and offering splendid walks and cycle rides through outstanding scenery. Bluebells and autumn colour are seasonal highlights and June is the time to spot fallow deer flitting through the woodland glades with their new-born fawns. Superb viewpoints include the panoramic hilltop of Ivinghoe Beacon, and the towering Bridgewater Monument, erected in 1832 to mark the Duke of Bridgewater's pioneering development. The Monument, Visitor Centre and café form the focal point of the estate. The Visitor Centre has everything you will need to enjoy a great day out at Ashridge. To be sure not to miss anything, check Things to See & Do on the website before setting out. This section of the website has the details of 5 cycle routes around the estate, ranging from 4-17 miles, plus trails to track wildlife and butterflies, and the Estate Boundary Trail. On arrival, you'll find easy, level walks suitable for people with impaired mobility and users of wheelchairs, mobility scooters and pushchairs signposted from the Visitor Centre.
Check the website too for details of the variety of events organised for visitors to the Estate, from things taking place in the children's drop-in activity centre to the Chilterns Festival, a celebration of local produce and country crafts.
There's more superb countryside, and splendid views, some ten miles from Berkhamsted on the grassy slopes of Dunstable Downs – the highest point in Bedfordshire. There are miles of footpaths, with several circular walks, and two Scheduled Ancient Monuments – Five Knolls and Medieval Rabbit Warrens. Plan a visit that includes the Chilterns Gateway Centre and the Whipsnade Tree Cathedral – created from trees, shrubs and plants to bring "faith, hope and reconciliation" after the First World War.
Northern Chilterns Villages by Bicycle – Starting in Berkhamsted and travelling north this itinerary passes through some breathtaking scenery including Berkhamsted Common, the Ashridge Estate and the stunning views from the top of the Chilterns escarpment at Whipsnade. Returning south the route takes you through the quintessential English village of Aldbury with its duck pond and ancient stocks, eventually passing over the Grand Union Canal back to Berkhamsted.
The Chilterns Cycleway – Berkhamsted is one of the gateway towns to the 173-mile Cycleway which takes in so many highlights of the Chiltern countryside. The route can be broken down into different loops – each is ideal for a two day ride.
What to head for further afield
Tring – 5 miles from Berkhamsted.
Chesham – 5 miles from Berkhamsted.
Warner Bros. Studio Tour – the Making of Harry Potter – 9.7 miles from Berkhamsted. This unique tour takes you behind the scenes to showcases a huge array of beautiful sets, costumes and props and to reveal the secrets of the special effects and animatronics that made these films hugely popular all over the world. The studio tour also includes the incredible, hand-sculpted 1:24 scale model of Hogwarts Castle, which has over 2,500 fibre optic lights. The lights simulated lanterns and torches to give the illusion of students passing through hallways in the films. It is perhaps not surprising that the man-hours spent on creating and reworking the model add up to 74 years.
Tring Natural History Museum – 5 miles from Berkhamsted. The wonderful galleries of this beautiful Victorian museum present everything from tiny dressed fleas to a smiling polar bear and domestic dogs. The fascinating range of animals was collected by Lionel Walter Rothschild, a remarkable character who kept an astonishing variety of live animals in the grounds around the Museum and in Tring Park. Lionel Walter was a familiar sight in Tring, riding around town in his zebra-drawn carriage. Gifted to the nation in 1937, the museum is now part of the Natural History Museum. Enjoy the experience of meeting some really impressive specimens face-to-face and don't miss the museum's many special exhibitions and events.
The Snow Centre – 5 miles from Berkhamsted. Britain's newest snow centre at Hemel Hempstead is currently the coolest place to go to enjoy skiing, snowboarding and other snow sports on indoor slopes of real snow. The main slope is 160m long and 30m wide, serviced by two POMA button lifts. The trainer slope is 100m long, with two rope tows. There are lessons for everyone new to snow, and clothing and equipment is on hand to hire.
Whipsnade Zoo – 9 miles from Berkhamsted. Set on the slopes of the Chiltern Hills, the UK's biggest zoo is home to more than 2,500 animals, many of which are endangered in the wild. Whipsnade is noted for creating interactive and inspiring exhibits and popular daily events including keeper talks, animal feeds and demonstrations. You can drive through the 'Passage through Asia' area or take the free Safari bus which stops at all the main exhibits in the 600 acre site.
College Lake Nature Reserve on the Upper Icknield Way near Tring is a former chalk quarry now transformed into a thriving wildlife centre by the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust. It is a haven for migrating wildfowl visiting the lake and notable for beautiful orchids and unusual cornfield flowers. Bring your binoculars, cameras and a picnic, or enjoy refreshments in the visitor centre café. Stroll along family-friendly easy access trails around the lake and visit the bird hides. Tramper mobility vehicles are available to use on the Wild Trail.
Pitstone Windmill – 8.8 miles from Berkhamsted. A rare and striking example of an early form of windmill, Pitstone is actually one of the oldest surviving windmills in Britain. The mill and its machinery balance on the head of a massive wooden post, with a tail pole which the miller had to wrestle with to turn the huge structure to face the wind.
Ford End Watermill – 8.8 miles from Berkhamsted. This little mill, recorded in 1616 but certainly very much older, was in use until 1963. Restored by volunteers, it is the only remaining working watermill in Buckinghamshire with original machinery. Its features include a sheepwash in the tailrace below the mill. Stoneground wholemeal flour is on sale during milling demonstrations.