Since at least the 19th century it has been known as the Royal County of Berkshire because of the presence of Windsor Castle and was recognised as such by the Queen in 1957. Berkshire is a county of historic origin and is currently both a ceremonial county and a non-metropolitan county without a county council.
Berkshire is divided into two distinct areas with the boundary lying along a north south line through the centre of the county town of Reading.
The eastern section of Berkshire lies to the south of the River Thames, with the river forming the northern county boundary. Elsewhere the land rises gently to the county boundaries with Surrey and Hampshire.
In the west and heading upstream, the River Thames veers away to the north leaving the county behind at Goring Gap. This is a narrow part of the otherwise quite broad river valley, where the Thames forces its way between the Chiltern Hills, northwards into Oxfordshire and the Berkshire Downs.
The western portion of the county is situated around the valley of the River Kennet, which joins the Thames at Reading. To the south, the land rises steeply towards Hampshire and the highest part of the county lies here at Walbury Hill.
To the north of the Kennet Valley, the land rises again to the Berkshire Downs. This is a hilly area, with smaller and well wooded valleys draining into the River Lambourn, River Pang and the open upland areas infamous for their involvement in horse racing.