River Thames at Reading Hello Great West Way Ambassador! Please introduce yourself: 
Alex Brannen. I work for Reading UK as Communications Manager – we exist to make Reading a great place to visit, work and live in. We work to introduce the wonderful defacto-city of Reading to visitors and businesses – we are actually the largest town in the UK but everyone thinks of us as a City.   

Tell us a little more about what you do on the Great West Way:
I work with hotels, museums, river boat companies, shops and other tourism businesses to make sure Reading puts on its best face for visitors. Reading is a bit of an undiscovered gem, but through the Great West Way, visitors are beginning to see the breadth of what we have to offer.

What do you love most about your job? 
I love taking people around Reading and telling them the story of this fascinating place. Many people don’t know that Oscar Wilde and Jane Austen have strong links with Reading or that England’s last undiscovered King, Henry I, was buried here. The UK’s most famous biscuit manufacturer, Huntley and Palmers, owned half the town in Victorian times and we have glorious stretches of the River Thames and Kennet flowing through the heart of the town. And there’s loads more…not least a vibrant cultural scene

How did you get started? Has it been a long journey, getting to where you are today? 
I started off my working life in tourism in London in the 1990s, which was such an exciting time for the Capital. After doing a variety of other jobs, I am really enjoying sharing my enthusiasm again for the place in which I live. Living and working in one place means you really get the measure of what makes it tick.

What achievements are you most proud of?
I trained for last year’s Reading Half Marathon, a race that attracts 14,000 people to run through the streets of the town every Spring. I had never been a runner but the whole of Reading turns out to support the runners on Marathon Day – there’s a great atmosphere - and you get the chance to run round many of Reading’s main streets closed to traffic and finish in the Madejski Stadium, home of the Royals, Reading Football Club. Sadly, freak snow led to the cancellation of the race and I had to use my training to run the 22 km elsewhere, but I managed it!

What’s a typical day like for you?
It’s very varied – I could be organising the annual awards celebration for Reading’s great arts and cultural community, working on a new tourism map for Reading town centre or talking to tourism businesses about their new offer to visitors. 

Do you work with a wider team? If so, tell us a bit about them: 
Reading UK has many roles, from managing the town centre business improvement districts to encouraging businesses to relocate here – PepsiCo, Microsoft, Bayer, Oracle, Thales and many more have their UK or European HQs in Reading so we get a lot of business visitors. 

What do you find inspiring day-to-day? What keeps the enthusiasm going?
There is a real sense of pride in Reading about our town – our heritage - both the buildings and the people, our cultural scene, dynamic business environment and neighbourliness. We are a welcoming place that wants to share what we have with people more widely. We think visitors will agree. 
Oakford Social ClubAny interesting or funny anecdotes related to your role or your experiences with visitors that you can share?
Not funny but maybe useful when you get here. The pronunciation of Reading is like the colour Red in ‘Redding’ not like ‘reading’ a book.  Locals sometimes refer to the town as ‘the Ding’ and if you are looking for Reading on twitter, search #rdguk. 

What does slow travel mean to you? 
I cycle to work in Reading town centre every day – Reading is a good scale for cycling. We also have lovely footpaths along the Thames and Kennet, river boat companies, the UK’s best bus company and a £900 million train station in the heart of the town. For me, slow travel is any journey where you don’t have to take the car. Any of those would be THE BEST way to visit Reading

What do you think makes the Great West Way special?
I know when I travel on holiday that a trail/itinerary that brings together a diverse experience / range of places really helps me explore under my own steam. I think the Great West Way will provide great ideas for exploring a special part of England and allow visitors to see a number of different sides of our country, from charming countryside and villages to gritty multicultural urban landscapes – all within really easy travelling distance of each other.

Do you have any insider tips or advice for travellers who want to experience the touring route ‘like a local’? 
Chat to people when you are visiting/travelling. Diffident British people probably won’t make the first move to talk to you but if you ask their opinion or start the ball rolling they’ll be delighted to share their knowledge and experience with you. My best holiday memories have always involved local people so treat every pub, train journey or shopping trip as a chance to make a new friend. 

Describe your perfect adventure on the Great West Way: 
I think it is the diversity of any one day on the Great West Way that makes it special. If you were in Reading, that could involve a guided tour of the Abbey Ruins, open air swimming at the restored Edwardian Thames Lido, watching Reading FC in action at the ‘Mad Stad’, afternoon tea at The Roseate or a great live band at one of Reading’s many live music venues. 

What’s your favourite thing to eat or drink along the touring route (can be a meal, a local delicacy or a favourite tipple)? Any cafes, restaurants or pubs you can recommend?
Many first time visitors to the UK are surprised by how multicultural our country is. 150 languages are spoken in Reading schools, for example. For food and drink fans, one of the benefits of our multicultural society is the amazing choice of food on offer. In Reading, you could try the Spanish/North African influence at Thames Lido, the new Ethiopean café in Palmer Park, Modern Indian at Clays Hyderabadi or the non-licensed Lebanese Bakery House or take your pick on the Wednesday/Friday street food markets. Fans of ‘bitter’ (British ale/beer) should head for one of the best pubs in the south of England, the Nags Head. 
Reading Abbey Are you a city, town or country person? 
Definitely a city person. Having said that, as a family we walk in the nearby lovely Chiltern Hills just north of Reading whenever we can, and we enjoy a ramble round the walls of the abandoned Roman city of Silchester, south of Reading. But I never tire of the buzz of people so it’s a city life for me. 

Pick a place along the Great West Way that best represents you and what you do, with a short explanation: 
I have lived and worked in London, Wiltshire and Reading along the Great West Way so I know the territory well. I’ve travelled much further afield too but London remains for me the greatest city I have ever explored. If the scale of London might be a bit overwhelming, Reading offers many of the advantages of big city life without the drawbacks. If I were to choose a weekend away on the trail, I’d head to Bristol.  A great maritime history, University city and urban grit, Bristol wears its green credentials proudly and is a great cultural destination as well. 

Are there any English stereotypes or traditions you’d like to set straight? 
I think visitors sometime have an outdated concept of what England and the English are like. Like every country, our history and culture has evolved in recent decades, but we have done a good job in protecting the best of our countryside and built heritage. On the Great West Way, you’ll be able to find a traditional view of England often depicted in films, but you will also find a vibrant, cosmopolitan place that celebrates the best of the world in a harmonious co-existence. 

If you could choose one must-visit attraction along the Great West Way, what would it be and why?
Perhaps not strictly an attraction, but the River Thames from London to Reading is a majestic waterway and its many twists and turns tell the story of this part of the world. Take some time to walk, cycle, take a cruise, hire a boat, row or even swim!  

What do you think will surprise first-time visitors about the Great West Way? Any secret, lesser-visited spots you’d like to recommend?
The Great West Way is dense with things to do and places to visit. You might think you are going to ‘skate’ through it in no time, but you could easily spend several weeks!  The route is particularly rich in great specialist museums.  In Reading, try the museum of food and the countryside - the Museum of English Rural Life, or seek out the Huntley Palmer biscuit tin collection at the Reading Museum.  

What’s your preferred mode of transport: train, car, bus or boat? Why?
I would choose bike – you can set your own pace, stop where you like, get off the beaten track and you just see so much more than you do through a window. Oh, and it’s good for you! 

Any exciting plans for the future you’d like to share?
Reading’s disused Victorian prison could become an arts and cultural centre.  A fine building - its central cruciform building was designed by George Gilbert Scott, it was the unhappy ‘home’ to Oscar Wilde in the late 19th century. The UK Government are soon to announce plans for its future use. Local people are excited by its potential uses and there are ambitions proposals to turn it into a cultural centre alongside Reading Abbey. Watch this space!  
Thames LidoTo discover more about Reading and the surrounding areas in Berkshire plus what to get up to, visit our Plan your Way and See & Do pages.

Share this with friends

Related

ReadingReading

Be amazed by modern Reading – from remarkable medieval heritage and beautiful Thames countryside to award-winning shopping centres, there’s a surprise around every corner.

Reading Abbey Quarter
Heritage / Visitor Centre
Reading Abbey Quarter

You can also see the mill arch over the Holy Brook. This is the only remaining part of what was once the mill for Reading Abbey. The mill was in use until the twentieth century!

Thames Lido
Leisure / Swimming Pool
Thames Lido Inside

The Thames Lido is an urban retreat open all year round offering spa days and swimming memberships along with a strong Spanish and Mediterranean feel restaurant and tapas bar.

The Roseate
Boutique Hotel
The Roseate, Reading

The Roseate Reading was originally a share hall for the Berkshire County Council. The building along with its wide hallways, vaulted ceilings, cornice mouldings and the original lift shaft have all been restored to their original glory.

Bristol
City
Clifton Suspension Bridge (Credit Gary Newman)

Welcome to the city of bridges, balloons, boats, bikes, Brunel and Banksy.

Museum of English Rural Life
Museum
Museum of English Rural Life

The Museum of English Rural Life (The MERL) is England’s most extensive museum dedicated to farming, food, craft, rural life and countryside issues.

Reading Museum
Museum
Reading Museum

Twelve hands-on galleries including Roman Silchester, changing art gallery, Box Room, Britain's Bayeux Tapestry and the world's only biscuit gallery, Huntley & Palmers.