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Come trot with me around Royal Ascot

Sorry, couldn’t resist that. As you know, Ascot has probably the most famous racecourse in the world, owned by the Crown. Today’s walk around the village of Ascot is ten kilometres long, so I will be taking it at a steady pace, definitely no cantering. I know this place quite well, as I lived here for a while, but I haven’t visited lately. So come and rediscover it with me.

Ascot High Street today.

My walk starts just off the high street, which is quite underwhelming for such a world famous location. When I moved here I was surprised to find that Ascot is literally one street, with the usual couple of pubs (the Stag is my favourite), a few cafes, chain shops, mother-of-the-bride style boutiques, and then a huge monster of a grandstand hulking at one end. It’s quite incongruous really.

Ascot on a raceday.

You’ll also notice that the houses all have royalty and racing themed names. It’s all about that regal racetrack. On a race day, the place is thronged, particularly during Royal Ascot in June, when the Queen and co turn up each day in a procession of horse-drawn coaches. There’s no racing today, so it’s nice and quiet. Let’s go and explore.

Sovereign Mews – there’s not much originality in the house names here.

To start my walk, I’m heading along the original straight mile course at the eastern end of the high street. Ascot racecourse was founded in 1711 by Queen Anne, who was a keen rider. Apparently she was out riding from nearby Windsor Castle when she spotted a good location for a track, and the rest is history.

The old straight mile.

At the end of the old straight mile are the Golden Gates which were the original entrance to the racetrack. This stretch of track was abandoned long ago as it’s not visible from the grandstand. The current entrance is at the western end of the high street. Just memories here, and a whole lot of bling!

The old Golden Gates and entry lodge.

I leave the racecourse behind and head towards the Sunninghill Park estate, past the cute East Lodge at the entry and along the driveway into the woods.

East Lodge at the entry to Sunninghill Park.

The royal connection persists here, as this is where Prince Andrew and Fergie had their marital home, dubbed ‘Southyork’ after the ranch in the TV show Dallas. The press had a field day when the house was built, comparing it to a Tesco superstore. It wasn’t exactly beautiful, but it was big and expensive.

Southyork in its heyday. Can you see the Tesco resemblance?

When the Yorks split up the house was sold and left deserted. It eventually had to be demolished after only 30 years. Another unfortunate Prince Andrew story… I have to say that after watching the Netflix documentary on Jeffrey Epstein, I wouldn’t be too keen on hanging around the Duke’s house if he still lived here.

In the woods at Sunninghill Park.

As it is, I can’t get close to the site of the house, it’s fenced off, but the surrounding grounds are lovely. I’m the only person here, just scuffling squirrels, birdsong…and overhead jets going to and from Heathrow. A bit of aircraft noise is inevitable in this neck of the woods, even during lockdown.

The Great Pond at Sunninghill Park.

I wonder why Andrew and Sarah didn’t like it here. I’m loving my walk through their old and huge ‘garden’. The royals hey? So hard to please!

The grounds of Sunninghill Park.

Eventually leaving the estate behind me, I walk along shady laneways towards the tiny village of Woodside. With some beautiful residences, two pubs and even a vineyard, this is the husband’s kind of village. Small but perfectly formed.

The village of Woodside.

Woodside Park Vineyard is actually brand new, they planted the first 1800 vines early this year, so no wine just yet. I’ll be keeping my eye on the website though – a bit of local wine tasting would go down a treat.

Vines – a welcome sight.

You won’t be surprised to hear that there are lots of horses around here. Several stud farms and trainers are based in and around Ascot – makes sense doesn’t it? My walk takes me through several paddocks and one thoroughbred prances uncomfortably close to me. I may have screamed a bit! Well, these animals are notoriously temperamental you know.

Don’t get too close, they’re excitable.

I turn into the driveway of Mill Ride Golf Club, known as the Coach Road as it was originally part of the driveway to the 18th century mansion known as Ascot Place. The Heinz family used to own the estate, which proves there’s money in baked beans!

The old Coach Road.

Turning left at the entrance to yet another stud farm, I walk through the centre of North Ascot. The pub here, the Royal Hunt, is boarded up, but for once this doesn’t make me feel bad, as we had a very uncomfortable evening inside. Think An American Werewolf in London kind of vibe where you’re just not welcome.

Kennel Avenue.

I walk along Kennel Avenue, where Queen Anne used to keep her hounds back in the day. Nowadays it’s full of very large, pricey homes. At the end of the street you go through a gate and hey, presto, you’re actually on the racetrack.

In our great democratic tradition, the heath at the centre of the track is open to locals 365 days of the year. If a race is on there may be a few minutes’ wait to cross the grass. It’s popular with dog walkers, ramblers, sunbathers and even cricketers. All overlooked by that absolutely huge stand. It was opened by the Queen (who else?) in 2006.

Ascot Heath at the centre of the track.

The last section of my walk takes me across the new straight mile of the course, this one clearly visible from the grandstand – as a psying punter you expect to be sble to see the horses after all. We’ve had no rain to speak of for months, but the grass is obviously lovingly tended here, ready for the next camera close-up.

The new straight mile.

As racing has now resumed, albeit without spectators, Royal Ascot will be taking place as usual this month. The monster grandstand will be empty. The Queen won’t be attending. Pimms and champagne sales will suffer. It won’t be the same, but the locals may well enjoy a rest from the mayhem.

I’ve had some good times here at Ascot, although I’m not particularly a fan of racing. I’ve seen the Queen and I’ve also sung along to some quality retro post-racing concerts starring the likes of Rick Astley, Go West, 5ive and Ronan Keating. I’ve drunk a few pints of Pimms here in my time. Hopefully I’ll be getting frocked up to come again soon, but for now it’s back to the car.

Enjoying a pre-coronavirus visit.
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Published by stephpeech

So much world, so little time...

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