Heading to Reading? A 48-hour minute travel guide

Those of you following this blog will know that I recently became a citizen of the UK, a situation that allowed me to apply for a British passport. Now in Britain when you apply for your first passport you are legally required to attend an interview at an office of the Passport and Identity Protection Service.

My nearest Identity Service office is in Reading.

As I am trying to embrace the life of a travel writer and all, and as I knew that I would have some time to kill between trains, I thought I would use this trip as an opportunity to see the sights of Reading.

So I asked a friend who grew up in Reading, and still lives in Reading, what there is to do in Reading. “Nothing really,” she told me, then adding perfunctorily, “though, I guess the Oracle centre is good for shopping.”

Could a town of 160,000 people really have nothing of any interest beyond shopping? To find out, I jumped online and started reading about Reading (you have no idea how much I wanted to write that in a sentence).

The Reading Council’s “Visit Reading” website, in an act of confusing PR, has curiously chosen this quote to describe the town:

“Few towns are less prepossessing at first glance than Reading; but few towns better repay exploration.”

[Sir John Betjeman, 1940’s].

Simultaneously heartening and deflating, this description left me in no doubt that Reading was unmistakeably outwardly dull. But could it offer up interest on closer inspection?

I decided to find out.

I left the passport interview feeling a little like Gerard Depardieu in Green Card – Where was I born? Where were my parents born? And their  grandparents? How do I pay my gas bills? How many bedrooms are there in my house? How do I get to work? Who is my mobile provider? Why is my hair longer than in my photo? Thankfully, I remembered all the answers.

I headed out into the cold in search of the six must-see highlights listed on the Visit Reading website (note that Reading does not actually have a tourist information office, which is a telling sign in itself).

I strolled through all 0.005 square km of Forbury Gardens

Forbury Gardens Reading

I visited the (outside) of the crumbling ruins of Reading Abbey. (Note: This may have been a more interesting activity had the site actually been opened).

Reading Abbey Ruins

I wandered past Reading Gaol’s fascinating outer brick wall…

Reading Gaol

…and saw the city’s riveting memorial to Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde gates

(The fact that Oscar Wilde was imprisoned here in 1895 for Gross Indecency, and subsequently wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol about his miserable experience is, I admit, mildly interesting)

I skipped Blake’s Lock, because it was freezing cold, a bit of a hike and well, it is a lock, how exciting can it be? Here is a picture that someone else took:

Blakes Lock Reading
I don’t think I missed much.

There was now only one thing left on the list: the Oracle Centre. Shopping has its own entire section on the Reading website, and perhaps it is an exciting prospect for some. But not I. At least it was warm inside.

Reading Oracle shopping centre

After 48 minutes I was done. I had explored and discovered, as my friend had warned me, that there was “nothing really” to do in Reading.

Rather than be disappointed by this, however, I was strangely sympathetic to Reading’s predicament. You see, I too grew up in a town that had nothing particularly remarkable to see or do. A tourist-free city where people just lived and worked, shopped, did yoga, went out to dinner, drank in the pub on Fridays, and drove away to more interesting places on the weekends. Looking back, I have nothing but fond memories of living there.

I can only assume that Reading’s residents are equally happy with their living arrangements (and I take this opportunity now to apologise to any residents of Reading reading this – yes! I got in there again – for insulting your city).

I have to admit though that I am not the least disappointed that I won’t be heading to Reading again.

3 comments on this post

  1. Steve Ferguson on said:

    I have lived and around Reading for about 20 years. While I sympathise with you over your experience of visiting here I have to say it is so much better now than it was when I first arrived. It was not just dull but dangerouse too. You would go into Reading town centre at night if you wanted a fight!
    to be fair to Reading now, it is just like any town, same shops, same bars and coffee shops etc. There are very few towns that have their own identity any more which is a great shame.

  2. How did I find this website? On an Exeter College Oxford internship researching recent Oxford news, read about your (amazing) exploits in Gabon, followed the link to your blog (I like travel blogs), saw the word “Reading”, blanched, and tentatively ended up here.

    It was hilarious. And completely accurate. Though I don’t think that 48 hours can sum up how dehumanising that place is.

    Before going to University I was forced (by circusmtance and parental logic) to live in Reading for ten TERRIBLE DEPRESSING AWFUL REVOLTING years (having previously lived by the Alps and on the Gulf of Mexico it did not compare very well to my childhood experiences of the planet). I think you’ve summed up my apathy in, if not my hatred for, Reading perfectly here. This particular Easter break I managed five days there before I ran back to my student house in Oxford.

    And you have gained a reader.

    • Hi Fiona,

      So glad you enjoyed the Reading post. I’m very sorry for your arduous teenage ordeal navigating the Reading dullness. On the other hand a childhood in the Alps and Mexico sounds rather grand. Thanks so much for following the blog. Hope you enjoy future installments!


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