Berkshire Downs
The Berkshire Downs are a range of chalk
Chalk is a soft, white, porous sedimentary rock, a form of limestone composed of the mineral calcite. Calcite is calcium carbonate or CaCO3. It forms under reasonably deep marine conditions from the gradual accumulation of minute calcite plates shed from micro-organisms called coccolithophores....

A downland is an area of open chalk hills. This term is especially used to describe the chalk countryside in southern England. Areas of downland are often referred to as Downs....

 hills in southern England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

, part of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is an area of countryside considered to have significant landscape value in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, that has been specially designated by the Countryside Agency on behalf of the United Kingdom government; the Countryside Council for Wales on...

. The Berkshire Downs were wholly within Berkshire
Berkshire is a historic county in the South of England. It is also often referred to as the Royal County of Berkshire because of the presence of the royal residence of Windsor Castle in the county; this usage, which dates to the 19th century at least, was recognised by the Queen in 1957, and...

 until the 1974 reorganisation of local government boundaries
Local Government Act 1972
The Local Government Act 1972 is an Act of Parliament in the United Kingdom that reformed local government in England and Wales on 1 April 1974....

 divided them between the counties of Berkshire and Oxfordshire
Oxfordshire is a county in the South East region of England, bordering on Warwickshire and Northamptonshire , Buckinghamshire , Berkshire , Wiltshire and Gloucestershire ....


The western parts of the downs are also known as the Lambourn Downs. The name White Horse Downs was proposed following the 1974 change in county boundaries, but has not been widely adopted.


The Berkshire Downs lie east-west, with their scarp
An escarpment is a steep slope or long cliff that occurs from erosion or faulting and separates two relatively level areas of differing elevations.-Description and variants:...

 slope facing north into the Vale of White Horse
Vale of White Horse
The Vale of White Horse is a local government district of Oxfordshire in England. The main town is Abingdon, other places include Faringdon and Wantage. There are 68 parishes within the district...

 and their dip
An escarpment is a steep slope or long cliff that occurs from erosion or faulting and separates two relatively level areas of differing elevations.-Description and variants:...

 slope bounded by the course of the River Kennet
River Kennet
The Kennet is a river in the south of England, and a tributary of the River Thames. The lower reaches of the river are navigable to river craft and are known as the Kennet Navigation, which, together with the Avon Navigation, the Kennet and Avon Canal and the Thames, links the cities of Bristol...

. Geologically
Geology is the science comprising the study of solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which it evolves. Geology gives insight into the history of the Earth, as it provides the primary evidence for plate tectonics, the evolutionary history of life, and past climates...

 they are continuous with the Marlborough Downs to the west and the Chilterns to the east. In the east they are divided from the Chilterns by Goring Gap
Goring Gap
The Goring Gap is a British geological feature located on the River Thames approximately 8 miles upstream from Reading.Half a million years ago the River Thames flowed on its existing course through Oxfordshire, but then turned northeast to flow through Hertfordshire before eventually reaching the...

 on the River Thames
River Thames
The River Thames flows through southern England. It is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. While it is best known because its lower reaches flow through central London, the river flows alongside several other towns and cities, including Oxford,...

. In the west their boundary is generally taken to be the border between Berkshire and Wiltshire
Wiltshire is a ceremonial county in South West England. It is landlocked and borders the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. It contains the unitary authority of Swindon and covers...

, although the downs in Wiltshire between the Berkshire border and the valley of the River Og
River Og
The River Og is a short river in Wiltshire, England.It rises near the hamlet of Draycot Foliat, and flows south through Ogbourne St George, Ogbourne St Andrew and Ogbourne Maizey to Marlborough, where it joins the River Kennet....

 are sometimes considered to be part of the Berkshire Downs.


English downland has attracted human habitation since prehistoric times. The ancient track known as the Ridgeway
The Ridgeway
thumb|right|thumb|The ancient tree-lined path winds over the downs countrysideThe Ridgeway is a ridgeway or ancient trackway described as Britain's oldest road...

 runs along the Berkshire Downs. Prehistoric sites in the Downs include Wayland's Smithy
Wayland's Smithy
Wayland's Smithy is a Neolithic long barrow and chamber tomb site located near the Uffington White Horse and Uffington Castle, at Ashbury in the English county of Oxfordshire ....

 (Neolithic), numerous tumuli (Neolithic or Bronze Age
Bronze Age Britain
Bronze Age Britain refers to the period of British history that spanned from c. 2,500 until c. 800 BC. Lasting for approximately 1700 years, it was preceded by the era of Neolithic Britain and was in turn followed by the era of Iron Age Britain...

), Uffington White Horse
Uffington White Horse
The Uffington White Horse is a highly stylised prehistoric hill figure, 110 m long , formed from deep trenches filled with crushed white chalk...

 (Bronze Age), Liddington Castle
Liddington Castle
Liddington Castle, locally called Liddington Camp, is a late Bronze Age and early Iron Age hill fort in the English county of Wiltshire....

 and Uffington Castle
Uffington Castle
Uffington Castle is all that remains of an early Iron Age hill fort in Oxfordshire, England. It covers about 32,000 square metres and is surrounded by two earth banks separated by a ditch with an entrance in the eastern end...

 (Bronze Age and Iron Age
British Iron Age
The British Iron Age is a conventional name used in the archaeology of Great Britain, referring to the prehistoric and protohistoric phases of the Iron-Age culture of the main island and the smaller islands, typically excluding prehistoric Ireland, and which had an independent Iron Age culture of...

), and Segsbury Camp
Segsbury Camp
Segsbury Camp or Segsbury Castle is an Iron Age hill fort on the crest of the Berkshire Downs, near the Ridgeway above Wantage, in the Vale of White Horse district of Oxfordshire, England. It is in Letcombe Regis civil parish and is also called Letcombe Castle.The fort has extensive ditch and...

 and Grim's Ditch (Iron Age).

It is generally thought that in Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon may refer to:* Anglo-Saxons, a group that invaded Britain** Old English, their language** Anglo-Saxon England, their history, one of various ships* White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, an ethnicity* Anglo-Saxon economy, modern macroeconomic term...

 times the downs were known as Æscesdūn or Ashdown, and that it was here that the Battle of Ashdown
Battle of Ashdown
The Battle of Ashdown, in Berkshire , took place on 8 January 871. Alfred the Great, then a prince of only twenty-one, led the West Saxon army of his brother, King Ethelred, in a victorious battle against the invading Danes.Accounts of the battle are based to a large extent on Asser's "Life of...

 was fought in 871.


Downland pasture is firm and well-drained, suited to grazing sheep and grazing and training horses. Horse racing
Horse racing
Horse racing is an equestrian sport that has a long history. Archaeological records indicate that horse racing occurred in ancient Babylon, Syria, and Egypt. Both chariot and mounted horse racing were events in the ancient Greek Olympics by 648 BC...

 is a major business in the area, with much of the downs covered with training areas, and stables centred on the village of Lambourn
Lambourn is a large village and civil parish in the northwestern part of the ceremonial county of Berkshire in England. Its metropolitan district has a population of 4,017, and is most noted for its associations with British National Hunt racehorse training....

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