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A county fit for a Queen? Touring Kate Middleton's Berkshire

By Mairi Mackay, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Right next to London, rural Berkshire feels a world away
  • West Berkshire is a very affluent, upper-middle-class part of England
  • Middletons live in large house down a private road in Chapel Row, West Berkshire
  • Queen's residence Windsor Castle and Prince William's school Eton College nearby

Bucklebury, England (CNN) -- A mere 45 minutes drive from London, the quiet country lanes and thatched roofs of rural Berkshire could be a world away.

Neat villages dot farmland filled with grazing horses and ancient hedgerows and the only traffic apart from tractors is the odd Porsche or Land Rover.

This is Kate Middleton country -- a green and pleasant land full of oak trees and public schools -- where the princess-in-waiting has lived most of her life.

Kate was born on January 9 1982 at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading and christened shortly after at the parish church of St Andrews in Bradfield, an unspoilt village of red-brick houses that typifies this well-heeled, well-mannered part of the UK.

In Bradfield, there's no litter on the streets, no graffiti on the walls and the faces are almost exclusively white. Rosy-cheeked children from Bradfield College, the private school that dominates the village, carry hockey sticks on their way to the playing fields and men in tweed jackets walk dogs.

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This is an England from a bygone time: a chocolate-box version that bears a closer resemblance to the upper-middle-class land conjured up by Richard Curtis in films like "Four Weddings and a Funeral" than the complex, multi-cultural reality of urban Britain today.

And that's what makes it such prime London commuter belt country. It's full of affluent people who want to escape the social problems and high prices of the UK's capital for a slower pace but remain within reach of the benefits of city living.

It's perhaps what Kate's parents Michael and Carole Middleton were thinking when they bought a house in the Berkshire hamlet of Bradfield Southend in 1979. They were both working for British Airways and it's a short drive from Berkshire to Heathrow Airport.

"West View," the four-bedroom red-brick house where Kate spent her formative years is currently for sale (the ultimate royal wedding souvenir for an affluent collector?) with a guide price of £495,000 ($800,000).

"It's a nice little community," says Brook Singleton of Dudley Singleton and Daughter, the real estate broker selling the house. "Everyone's very proud of the fact Kate Middleton came from there."

Kate began her schooling in Bradfield Southend, at the Bradfield Church of England primary school. It was here that her mother, Carole, founded Party Pieces, the family's successful party accessories website, which she ran in a converted shed in the garden for a time.

A few minutes away in the hamlet of Stanford Dingley is the 18th-century Old Boot Inn, the Middleton family's local pub, where they have taken Prince William. Under the pub's crooked wooden ceiling beams there are open fires, real ales on tap and gastropub favorites like baked goat's cheese and sea bass on the menu.

It's a nice little community.
--Brook Singleton of Dudley Singleton and Daughter on Bradfield
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John Haley has owned the pub for 14 years and has been invited to Kate and William's wedding on April 29. He says that the Middleton family is very much part of the local community and describes local people as "very protective" of their privacy.

Today, the Middleton family home is a large house in Chapel Row in West Berkshire, in the parish of Bucklebury -- prime real estate, according to one local realtor. Discreetly hidden from view by trees, the house can only be accessed via a private road, where a police car is sometimes stationed.

The Middletons had enough success with the family business to move by 1995, when Kate was 13.

Kate, who entered the private school system aged seven (she had attended nearby St Andrews School for several years) moved schools at the same time, attending Downe House for a period before moving to £29,000-a-year ($47,000) Marlborough College in Wiltshire.

These days, Party Pieces HQ is based in converted farm buildings not far from Pangbourne, a large Berkshire village that contains a Bentley car dealership. The Party pieces website says the company's call center is in a "200-year-old barn" and the huge warehouse stacked with balloons and toys was once a hay shed.

It would seem, despite Kate being the first "commoner" to marry into the royal family since the 17th century, that the place she grew up in is not very common at all.

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