This article was originally posted in 2011
Trapped between the fiery southern enclaves of Bagshot, Wokingham and Camberley, Bracknell represents the beating heart of Berkshire. Situated far enough away from the M25 to just about evade the constant din but still within earshot of monotonous local traffic, Bracknell is everything that's great about small town life in the South East.
The quintessential image of Bracknell is this ominous sight - the 1975 built railway station - the first thing you seen upon arriving in Bracknell by train.
Plastic buildings, roundabouts, company HQs with darkened windows, teenagers in school uniforms inhaling lighter fuel from butane gas aerosols – these are the sights and sounds of Bracknell; a post-Situationist melee and a perfect example of post war/post-motorway life in the M4 corridor.
Getting there and getting away
Heathrow, with its 24hr terminals buzzing to the sound of tinny piped pop music and miserable Italians mulling around the McDonald's outlet is a mere whisker away, a short cab ride will cost you £9.50. This, one of the world's busiest international airports is a gateway in and out of London and its many satellite towns; of which Bracknell is ranked 41st out of 67 on the Reader's Digest 'Satellite Town Quality of Life Index’ 2011.
What to see
To those who say Bracknell is simply a succession of roundabouts, dual carriageways, software company head offices and electronics manufacturers we say: look beneath the surface, there's plenty to explore here.
Sandhurst, a sprawling military barracks lies 6 miles south of Bracknell. Known for its traditionally brutal officer training courses, Sandhurst has played host to many homophobic hate crimes and attempted suicides. It is where the royal family send their finest sons to learn how to fire missiles into enemy villages. A wonderful day out for the family.
On a recent visit I deliberately trespassed on British Army property, to see what the fuss was about. The rush I felt upon stumbling into a war games exercise and almost beheaded by an overexcited squaddie was incomparable.
Where to stay
Bracknell’s got loads of cheap B&B’s. Pick one and go for it, they are literally all the same.
If was to recommend something off the beaten track however, it would be Liza’s Guest House which doubles as a brothel at weekends. Time your stay wisely. Many a time I've been mistakenly offered hand relief in the corridor for £30. While occasionally inconvenient, there are always plus sides to the availability of local prostitution. Especially whilst on a business trip.
Where to eat
Fish’n’Chick’n – a family business since 1971 – is perfect for a greasy lunch and even a greasy supper. Bracknell is a hub for greasy food. All the major fast food joints are represented in the buzzing town centre, but Fish’n’Chick’n is certainly a cut above the rest. The girl who served me my 3 pieces of southern fried chicken and chips did so with a charming energetic chuckle and example of the local wit. “Sorry about the wait,” she told me tenderly “these fucking Pakistanis take so long to order”.
Later I tried Dorothy’s fish and chips. It’s always a delight to eat good, organic, local produce. The cod was well battered and tasted and smelt of the local reservoir.
Olé Tapas and Bar, pictured here is an exciting new eatery that’s opened up on the ground floor of a multi-storey car park on the town centre ring road.
Argos, Waitrose, WH Smith – in fact all the classics you’d expect to find on a British high street are here waiting for you in Bracknell.
Opening hours are 8am-8pm Mondays-Fridays. 9-7pm on Saturdays and 11-5pm on Sundays. An emerging opening hours strategy seen at most successful high street retailers in recent years.
Staff in the local stores are present if not all together proactive. On a recent trip I was forced to manhandle a shop assistant in the Halfords branch; it was simply the only way he was going to assist me. Don’t let the acne and gelled back hair of the other punters distract you from your goal and look out in the local newspaper for money-off coupons.
When to go
Bracknell is a succession of roundabouts and dual carriageways which require a visitor to have a car. The notion of walking in Bracknell is a barely recognised form of transport. Therefore, it’s best to go when it’s cold. You can stay in the car for the most part and keep the radiator turned up.
Arts & Culture
Bracknell is home to some of Britain’s finest post-war architecture. A movement known as fauxHorrendous emerged in the 60s and 70s of which Atrium House is a cutting edge example (http://g.co/maps/3mktw)
Bracknell is home to many weird and wonderful fountains and water features. The 'clock fountain' in the middle of Charles Square is the focal point. There is also a well-known feature that sees water splaying over a rotating granite ball. Exactly why Bracknell is home to so many fountains is a point of local debate. The general consensus is that there is no particular reason for there to be any water features or fountains whatsoever.
The unfortunate closure of Masquerades – due to incessant and overwhelming levels of violence – has left a gaping hole in the local nightlife of central Surrey and east Berkshire. Once a monument to Home Counties binge drinking and casual sex, Masquerades’ closely-nurtured reputation was irrevocably damaged in the late 90s by an appetite for fighting, glassing, bottling and stabbing amongst local youths.
Harry Potter was filmed in nearby Martin’s Heron. (…meh)
Recently graffiti has begun to be seen on Bracknell’s streets with ominous slogans such as ‘Jane is a slag’, ‘Wogs Out’ and ‘Bracknell: Get rich or die trying.’ At first these slogans were thought to be examples of postmodern irony but after a police investigation they were found to be simply graffiti.