Better known for its top hats, fascinators and visits from Royals, Ascot - Berkshire's most famous racecourse - has taken an intriguing turn in recent years.
Three hundred years after Queen Anne identified the area as a prime racing location, Ascot has begun to shrug off its society image, throwing open its doors to partner with companies crafting everything from foie gras to fireworks.
The team at Ascot has slowly and subtly been reinventing itself over the past decade, embracing a welcoming, all-encompassing attitude that has something for everyone.
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Just a 50 minute train ride from London, Ascot is nestled in acres of green, forested countryside, whose peace and quiet is punctured only by the frenzied sounds of families and friends cheering on horses as they vault hurdles or blaze full speed down the final stretch.
In October, the racecourse held the Ascot Beer Festival, organised in association with The Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), which offers “everything from beer cocktails, Afternoon Tea and a traditional Bier Haus” to accompany two days of flat racing. This year's event marks 11 years since the partnership was forged, with dedicated volunteer bar staff serving the finest ales this side of the Channel.
With more than 240 different beers to choose from, hailing from all corners of the UK - including a specially brewed batch of local Berkshire beers - the festival is a bustling, busy meeting of worlds, as hundreds of thousands of racing enthusiasts and beer lovers descend on the course to experience the thrill of high-quality racing washed down by a stein of German lager and classic 80s hits played by a Bavarian oompah band.
This weekend, Ascot switches from flat racing to jump season, running until March, kicking off with a Fireworks Spectacular Family Raceday, featuring the £100,000 Sodexo Gold Cup.
Racing begins on Saturday in the early afternoon and carries on until 4pm. At 6.30pm the lights are dimmed and the terraces packed for one of the “region's largest fireworks displays”. In the meantime, the Plaza Lawns will fill with free fairground rides for the kids, with all rides just £1, and all proceeds heading to local charities.
Entry is free for under-18s, with adult tickets to the Queen Anne Enclosure ranging from just £24 to £34.
Looking slightly further ahead, The Prince's Countryside Fund Racing Weekend & Christmas Fair sets up shop at Ascot on the final weekend of November, with more than 40 stalls selling “festive crafts, gifts and delicacies”, while 22 and 23 December sees Ascot host its final jumps meet of the calendar year, at its Christmas Racing Weekend.
Fairground rides, a visit from Father Christmas and carol singing will be part of this year's festivities, while on the course, racegoers will be treated to jumps, including the Grade One JLT Long Walk Hurdle and the £150,000 Wessex Youth Trust Handicap Hurdle.
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