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This article continues from our Part I of our adventure on the Thames with Le Boat. Click here to read Part One
The Beautiful Sights Along the Thames Rive
One thing that you will quickly come to realize while you are on the river is that you probably won’t use the boat’s television nor will you ever get bored. There is always something to see while on the Thames. The views are ever-changing from the skylines of the big cities like Reading, the castles such as the Cliveden House, Danesfield House, and the grandest of all, Windsor Castle.
Boating on the Thames provides up close and personal views of swanky multi-million-pound riverside homes, some of the most expensive real estate in the world, with their swaying willow trees and manicured lawns.You will also see the obligatory spiffy yacht of their own moored along the riverbank, if not parked in their personal boat garage – itself the size of a regular home. Beside the river are the locals taking a morning stroll with their pram in front, out for a riverside jog, or biking to work. Other times you’ll see the old timers fishing from the riverbank with their long poles that extend 10 feet over the river.
Along the way, boaters will love the bucolic scenery of pasture lands with sheep, cows, horses, and even alpacas who are clearly indifferent to you as you motor along, more focused on their grazing. The untouched nature is what most will remember, as the river bends and turns, with birch, elm, and willow trees that line either side, leaning over as if about to fall. As autumn begins, their leaves turn a kaleidoscope of colors from green to gold, red, and brown. Your constant companion along the river is a menagerie of waterfowl that would make Dr. Doolittle proud. Canadian geese, mallard ducks, grey herons, great cormorants, and the occasional bird of prey, the red kite. The river’s most regal and graceful avian tenant is the white swans, so accustomed to people that they are quick to approach looking for a left-over piece of today’s bread.
Visiting the charming riverside villages and towns along the Thames
Along the way, you’ll also share the river with other boaters, all of them friendly with a customary wave and hello as they pass by. There are also kayakers, crews of rowing teams dashing along in their sleek shells, and the occasional Victorian paddle steamer. You’ll also see the beautifully restored cigar-shaped canal boats, many of which double as a home for their owners.
Chertsey – Runnymede
Chertsey is your starting point and is also a great place to stock up on supplies after the hour’s ride from London. After checking in and being briefed, your journey begins. From there you are on your own, out the in the river. It is then that the sense of freedom, anticipation, and excitement is most palatable. As you get accustomed to the boat and pass through your first lock, you’ll feel that you are completely in the moment; free to explore all that the river has to offer, the protagonist in your very own epic river adventure.
Soon the urban areas begin to shift from city centers to the countryside and at that point, you’ll be in Runnymede. The town is a great place to tie up and spend a few hours or dock for the night at the Runnymede Hotel. Your party may want to have lunch there at their outdoor deck, or enjoy drinks inside at their posh bar and lounge. For history buffs, Runnymede is where one of the cornerstones of western law was created, the Magna Carta. King John signed the historic document stating that no man can be imprisoned should they not be deemed guilty by a judge for a crime that had been previously written. A short walk from the hotel is a monument erected to commemorate its significance and the location where it was signed in 1215.
Old Windsor -Windsor – Eton
One of the main highlights of the trip is the visit to the residence of the most powerful monarchy in the world, Windsor. Even before you arrive in the city, you’ll pass through Old Windsor and begin to sense its presence as you see the sprawling and perfectly manicured lawns, caretakers’ quarters, the rustic stone arched bridges bearing the royal crest, and finally the castle’s crenelated rooftops peaking over the tree line. The majestic white swans make their first appearance as well, almost to signify that you are entering the presence of royalty.
As you arrive in Windsor, the gravitas of being at the home of the English monarchy begins to take over. You’ve arrived when you see the Windsor Town Bridge, an iron and granite arch bridge reserved for pedestrians and one of the many icons of the city. Windsor is an ideal place to stay a night or two. Mooring the boat is relatively inexpensive and usually, less than 10 pounds for 24 hours, made easy to pay through a boat parking app that covers most of the river.
Once you’ve sorted your mooring, it’s time to explore the town and, oh my, there is so much to see. Best to start by walking across the bridge which leads to the storied town of Eton, home to Eton College where you’ll see the Harry Potters walking around in their formal school attire with long tails. This is one of the most prestigious prep schools in the world, attended by all manner of royals, heads of state, and tycoons of business, and one of the main feeder schools to Oxford and Cambridge. On the way to admire the school’s impressive architecture and lore, there are lovely English pubs and some upmarket galleries and shops that you can tuck in for a peek around or to bend the elbow with the locals.
Pardon the pun, but Windsor is clearly the crown jewel of the river adventure. Although the highlight of a visit to Windsor is to take a tour of the castle, there is so much to do there beyond visiting the kingly abode. There are cobblestone streets filled with cozy shops, eateries, and those iconic English pubs, all of them housed in buildings over 500 years old. Elsewhere the old railway station has been turned into a chic shopping plaza with famous international brands, luxury watches, jewelry, and fashion brands that cater to the well-to-do in town to visit the palace.
The Royal Palace of Windsor Castle is the largest occupied castle in the world and home of the monarch. A castle tour is a must, taking you through the imposing gothic arches of St. George’s Chapel with its gorgeous paintings, sculptures, and relics that rival the Sistine Chapel. You’ll also see the monuments where many of the royals and prominent figures in history are entombed.
The Royal Palace offers more than 1000 years of history and the tour allows guests to visit the State Apartments which are grand and opulent beyond words, with priceless collections of jewelry, coats of armor, and historical treasures to observe. The opulence of the chambers takes the breath away, one more majestic than the next. The grounds around the castle are as stunning as they are vast covering 4,800 acres in Windsor Great Park which includes the grand parade to the castle, three miles long and lined with chestnut trees. The royal guard is always in sight as well, with their bright red coats and tall black fur hats. You’ll want to hang around to see the changing of the guard, a fascinating site as well.
Afternoon Tea at Brown’s Pub in Windsor
Throughout the town, there are countless places for lunch or dinner from Michelin star to pub grub. One treat, especially for visitors from across the pond, is to have a proper afternoon tea. A few steps from the center of town is an outpost for one of the UK’s most popular gastropubs, Brown’s Pub. The Afternoon Tea does not disappoint with all the pomp and circumstance of a proper tea in the shadow of the Royal Castle.
Although Windsor is Windsor, there are plenty of other amazing towns to explore along the journey. Marlow is simply beautiful and the quintessential Victorian-era town with perfectly restored white and red brick row houses and colorful flower baskets boasting the green thumb of the proprietor. You’ll know you’ve arrived once you pass the white suspension bridge and see the city’s icon, the All Saint Church, with a steeple that appears to touch the clouds.
With Le Boat, you can arrange for bicycles to be included in your rental. Riding the bikes along the river paths or across the emerald green park in places like Marlow provides moments to cherish.
While in Marlow, you’ll want to take an Uber for a visit to Danesfield House for lunch or afternoon tea. The country house is more like a castle with immense white towers, wood-paneled walls, and grand halls with massive hearth fireplaces. This is also an ideal place to indulge in a bit of pampering in their full-service spa. The views around the 65-acre property are nothing less than stunning as it sits on a bluff 300 feet above the Thames where you can see it wind its way through the valley.
Chef Tom Kerridge Hand and Flowers – 2 Michelin Stars
For dinner, surely a highlight of your culinary experience on the Thames will be The Hand and Flowers. Helmed by one of the UK’s most renowned celebrity chefs, Thomas Kerridge, Hand and Flowers is a proper country tavern that has the distinction of being awarded two well-deserved Michelin Stars. From the outside, it appears as a typical white brick with a red roof cottage — nothing out of the ordinary. But once inside, it’s truly feels like home with its warm fireplace and comfy booths to settle in. They describe it as pub food to the extent that it does focus on gimmicks and overly fancy presentations. It is unpretentious modern British food, done well, and a must-visit for any gourmand navigating past Marlow, assuming you can get a reservation.
Henley on the Thames
Next to Windsor, one of the most renowned towns on the river is Henley on the Thames. Henley is a gorgeous riverside town and is worthy of a visit for any traveler. However, its claim to fame is singular, and that claim is the Royal Henley Regatta. The event began in 1839 and has today become one of the most prestigious rowing events in the world. Under royal patronage, it is a regal event well attended by England’s high society, where you’ll see the men festooned in their peacock-colored blazers and straw-brimmed hats.
Henley is so much more than a one-trick pony. At the town’s center is the picturesque church with a tower that looms over the skyline. The town is lined with shops, eateries, and an open-air farmers market serving fresh produce from the surrounding area. Along the river are fancy viewing galleries for the regattas, which double as private clubs and event spaces for the other eleven months of the year.
The Relais Hotel Henley
The Relais Hotel is located at an ideal position at the corner of the Henley Bridge, the river, and the main road in town. The hotel is as storied as the race itself, first built in 1530. Henley makes an ideal place to dock for the night to have cocktails or a well-prepared meal at The Relais after exploring the town.
As the journey heads west toward the city, the countryside gives way to the riverside estates and the urban areas with skyscrapers appearing above the tree line. At that point, you’ll find yourself in the largest city on the trip, Reading, a cosmopolitan city center and business hub. Reading is a thriving and busy city and for those with an itch for some shopping, there are plenty of shopping streets with well-known brands as well as boutiques with fashions by local designers.
Thames Lido – Reading
For those looking for either a workout or to simply chill out by the pool, the Thames Lido is a must-have experience. The swimming club dates back to 1902 as a women’s swimming club and has been reimagined and restored into a sublime open-air place for a swimming workout. A few hours for a swim is highly recommended, although dining with a menu of well-prepared Mediterranean cuisine also makes for a perfect afternoon.
The Roseate Reading
One of Reading’s most glamorous hotels is The Roseate, a true masterpiece of hospitality. This posh playground was once a shire hall and is today a stunning townhouse hotel, flawlessly resorted with elaborate cornice molding, vaulted ceilings, and enormous hearth fireplaces, all of which are perfectly balanced with fine contemporary design touches.
Afternoon Tea at the Roseate Reading following a day of shopping is an sublime experience with those yummy finger sandwiches, decadent sweets, and a flute of champagne for good measure. Dinner is a very good idea as well in their aptly named Reading Room Restaurant, with a fine dining seasonal menu of European fare sourced from local producers.
There are countless itineraries that one can create for the trip along the Thames. The journey may include time in Oxford or more time in London spent visiting Hampton Court. But that’s the point of the Le Boat experience; you get to make your own decisions about what you want to see and do most. And if you miss something, well, that’s all the more reason to book the trip again.
The Sad Sound of All Ashore
So, with this adventure, as with others, all good things must come to an end. The Le Boat River cruise, no matter what river you choose, is full of unforgettable adventures and experiences to cherish for a lifetime. Throughout the journey on the Thames, you are surrounded by the natural beauty of the English countryside with its mesmerizing flora and fauna, especially the spectacular birdlife. Other times, on a whim, you’ll stop at a riverside pub or restaurant for a leisurely lunch, just because you felt like it, before puttering along your way. As the rules of the river demand, this is slow travel at a meandering pace, unrushed and unhurried by someone else’s agenda. Ah, how sweet it is. Not all holidays are made the same. A self-drive yachting cruise with Le Boat is one vacation that you will definitely always treasure.