Things to do in Ascot
This pretty Berkshire town is just five miles from its regal neighbour, Windsor, and well placed for exploring the surrounding countryside and nearby attractions.
Ascot’s own unique identity is entwined with royalty too. Its much-loved racecourse and the glittering Royal Ascot meeting give it gold-star status as a ‘must visit` destination that’s less than 10 minutes’ drive from the Berystede Hotel & Spa.
Saxons, Royalty & The Railway
The name Ascot is Anglo-Saxon, originally East-Cote, which is derived from east cottage. For years, East-Cote was nothing more than bleak, dangerous heathland frequented by highwaymen.
The appeal of hunting in Windsor Forest and the arrival of royalty (William the Conqueror began building Windsor Castle in 1070) gave the wider local area some significance and the discovery of waters in nearby Sunninghill meant that it could compete as a spa with the likes of Bath and Cheltenham for a short period.
The real turn in Ascot’s fortunes arrived with the railway in 1856, part of the wider Industrial Revolution which resulted in a hugely successful period for the British economy. Significant residential development took place in the local area including investment in churches and schools and the establishment of many sports and other leisure activities.
Ascot Races also thrived, with the railway considerably improving access for all and putting Ascot well and truly on the map.
Ascot Racecourse and Royal Ascot
Royal Ascot is widely regarded as the centrepiece of the British summer social calendar and most importantly, the ultimate stage for the best racehorses in the world. It is also the most valuable race meeting in Britain, with £7.3 million in prize money on offer.
It was Queen Anne who first saw the potential for a racecourse at East Cote. She loved to hunt in Windsor Forest, then discovered that the open heathland just five miles away was perfect for “horses to gallop at full stretch” while out riding. The first official Royal Meeting took place in 1768 and the Gold Cup, Ascot’s oldest surviving race, was first run in 1807.
Until 1939, Royal Ascot was the only race meeting held at the racecourse, but it now hosts 18 days of flat racing between April and September, including the prestigious King George V1 and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in July, with the track regarded as one of the toughest courses in jump racing.
The jewel in the crown, Royal Ascot, takes place in June. Five days of top-class flat racing, - including 8 Group 1 races - begin on a Tuesday, with the opening race fittingly named The Queen Ann Stakes.
Royal Ascot Traditions
The Gold Cup and Ladies Day
The most highly anticipated day of the Royal Meeting is Thursday, which regularly attracts more than 70,000 racegoers and features the oldest and most prestigious race - The Gold Cup.
Staged over two-and-a-half miles, it’s a stern test for even the world's most celebrated long-distance horses. This is also the day where style, creativity and millenary magic take centre stage, known affectionately as ‘Ladies Day` since the mid-19th century.
The Dos and Don’ts of Dressing for Ascot
There’s a strict dress code for those fortunate enough to enter the Royal Enclosure – by invitation only – and the long-standing sartorial tradition lends an element of glamour to the already star-studded equine entertainment.
Ladies are required to wear a hat (with a solid base of at least 4 centimetres – no fascinators, please!), and observe non-negotiable guidelines around the length of skirts, width of dress straps and so on. Men must wear full black, grey or navy morning dress, including a top hat, and avoid social death by remembering to wear black shoes and socks.
Royal Patronage and the Queen’s silks
King George 1V introduced the Royal Procession in 1825 and this still takes place at 2pm each day, when the Queen and the royal party arrive in horse-drawn carriages to parade in front of racegoers.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has always been a loyal patron of Royal Ascot and as an owner and breeder of racehorses, she takes a keen interest in racing. Jockeys have ridden in ‘silks` representing the unique colours of their horses’ owners for almost 250 years and you can recognise the Queen’s horses by her racing colours – purple body with gold braid, scarlet sleeves and a black velvet cap with gold fringe.
An Act of Parliament in 1813 ensured that Ascot would remain a public racecourse and today, Royal Ascot is as popular as ever – a highly-anticipated day out and Britain’s most popular race meeting with over 300,000 attending across five days.
The enjoyment extends from the enclosures to the car parks, where racegoers enjoy lavish picnics and a prime spot in Car Park 1 involves a waiting list that is rumoured to run into years.
In between race meetings, the racecourse is a popular venue for a wide range of concerts, conferences, banquets, exhibitions and parties throughout the year.