Messing about on the River
“There is nothing–absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”
Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows
Well of course not, especially if the boat is on the Thames, on one of the prettiest parts of the River within a reasonable distance of London.
Starting at Windsor and travelling down to Bray takes a couple of hours. You see the Castle from a fabulous vantage point and you might feel slightly regal as your boat is followed by white swans (they are, after all, Royal birds).
Pottering along as we did, in October, you might find that you run into a spot of English weather. But somehow what would be bleak and miserable on the road seems poetically appropriate on the river.
You’ll probably get to see statuesque herons along the bank. Blink twice and look back, they are real birds and they do move, sometimes. If you are lucky you’ll see kingfishers too, though we didn’t spot any on our trip.
You’ll go past Eton Dorney – home to the Olympic rowing lake. And, you’ll pass through a couple of locks (I have a childish fascination with the Lock system where essentially boats sit in a ‘bathtub’ while the lock gates are opened or closed like taps to raise or lower the water level so that the boat can continue!). They are wonderful historic constructions. The Lock at Bovney was built in 1838 and cost £2,877 to build!
The little church that you see by Eton Dorney is the twelfth-century chapel of St Mary Magdalene, which is mentioned in the Domesday Book. A grade I listed building, buiilt of chalk rubble and flint, this little now-disused chapel was built for the bargemen and bargees that plied their trades on the Thames. It was derelict until recently but public lobbying and the work of ‘friends of the friendless churches’ together with funds raised from amongst other sources, Eton College and English Heritage have seen it restored in 2012.
Further along the river you’ll find a number of well known hotels and restaurants – if, like me, you rather like good food, you can dream of the day you are invited to the Waterside Inn.
And you can imagine a special event at Monkey Island Hotel, a name which, despite the painted monkeys, originated the Old English Monks Eyot, i.e., Monks’ Island, after those monks residing at Amerden Bank, a moated site near Bray Lock.
A trip on one of the private hire boats that run along the river is fascinating and relaxing. If you are looking for a special trip for an anniversary or birthday, Fringilla and her sister boats can be hired for a couple of hours and the cost for a ‘full’ boat (that’s 12 people for Fringilla) works out at around £25 a head. You can bring your own food and drink and picnic on the boat, or be dropped off somewhere to sit and eat on the river banks.
And, it is perhaps one of the most quintessentially English experiences.
Many thanks to the people at Beautiful Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire for the trip along the river.
If you’d like more information, then please check the Fringilla Website