When to go
A boat trip on the Thames is most enjoyable between early April and the end of October. Warmer weather will always make the experience more pleasurable, as it allows more time to be spent outdoors, enjoying the flora and fauna on the riverbanks as well as the quaint, historic towns along the way. As captain and crew (no prior experience necessary), you can choose your own itinerary and set your own pace.
Windsor has enough attractions to pull in visitors year-round. Spring is particularly beautiful in the town and summer allows for lazy picnics by the river. Autumn is an ideal time for walkers to enjoy the changing colours in Windsor Great Park. The annual Royal Horse Show takes place each May. Henley Royal Regatta is held at the end of June, with the Henley Festival following in early July.
Where to stay
Upriver from London – beyond the Tideway at Teddington Lock – the Thames is easy to navigate and a great place for boating beginners. Le Boat (below right) offers self-drive boating holidays from two Thames locations – Chertsey in Surrey and Benson in Oxfordshire. A three-night self-catered cruise for six costs from £869 per boat, leboat.co.uk. The riverside Sir Christopher Wren hotel in Windsor has double rooms starting from £216.
Start the day
Pick up your boat at Chertsey’s Penton Hook marina. The base team will show you how to handle the controls and pass through a lock.
Runnymede is where King John sealed the Magna Carta. This patch of open countryside is now home to a collection of memorials to the struggle for liberty. As well as the monument to Magna Carta, you can visit memorials to JFK and the Allied Air Forces of the Second World War.
Take in history
Windsor Castle is the oldest inhabited castle in the world. Founded by William the Conqueror in the 11th century, it has been the home of 39 monarchs and is where the Queen spends most of her private weekends. Highlights include the State Apartments and Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House. The Changing of the Guard ceremony takes place on Thursdays and Saturdays (from £26.50, rct.uk/visit/windsor-castle).
Go for a stroll
The Long Walk is a beautiful 2.6-mile tree-lined avenue created during the reign of Charles II. It lies just outside the castle boundary and forms part of Windsor Great Park. A large sculpture of George III on horseback, known locally as the Copper Horse, stands at the opposite end of the Long Walk on a rise called Snow Hill. The view from here, looking back down the Long Walk and over the castle, is magnificent.
Time for a drink
The Two Brewers is one of Windsor’s smallest pubs. It is also one of the oldest – established in 1792 on what was the main road to London. Park Street is now a peaceful cul-de-sac, right by the gates that lead on to the Long Walk. Enjoy fine English beer on a bench outside as you watch the world go by.
Cross the river on the pedestrian bridge and you’ll find historic Eton. The Eton Walkway, a two-mile circular walk, connects 18 points of interest in the town. The heritage route takes in Eton College, the Gormley Statue, Jubilee Square and Eton Boat House.
A brief taxi ride will take you to The Loch & The Tyne in Old Windsor. Chef Adam Handling’s elegant countryside pub serves simple, classic British food with a luxury touch. Feast on BBQ mackerel, salt-aged duck breast, charred hispi and rhubarb trifle.
Start the day
Enjoy a walk around Dorney Lake, the world-famous rowing course with 400 acres of scenic parkland and arboretum. Take in Dorney Court – one of England’s most beautiful tudor manor houses – before heading back to the river.
Another short sail will bring you to Bray. This small, picturesque village is a gastronomic giant, boasting seven Michelin stars. That includes the three Michelin-starred Waterside Inn and Fat Duck. The latter is owned by Heston Blumenthal, who also runs The Hind’s Head (one star) and the relatively straightforward The Crown, where pan-fried trout, lamb rump and steaks can be enjoyed in the garden.
Time for a stroll
Cliveden sits high above the Thames with panoramic views. The house, built in 1666, is now a luxury hotel but the National Trust looks after the surrounding 376 acres of Grade I listed formal gardens and woodlands, which are ripe for exploration. A luxurious afternoon tea is available.
Moor your boat in the peaceful surroundings of Cliveden Reach for the night and enjoy dinner al fresco – either on board or on the river bank.
Start the day
Another day, another quaint riverside village. Cookham is home to one of the oldest coaching inns in England (Bel & The Dragon, dating from 1417). Former resident Kenneth Grahame wrote The Wind in the Willows here, inspired by the river scenes.
Hit the shops and have lunch
The historic streets in the Georgian town of Marlow are filled with listed buildings, independent boutiques and a vast array of places to eat and drink – including a local brewery, the Rebellion Beer Company. Tom Kerridge’s Hand and Flowers is the only pub in the UK with two Michelin stars. Finish lunch there with the chocolate and ale cake.
Have a dip
At Hurley the river splits into a number of channels between a clump of islands. One has picnic facilities, a small café and a gradual incline into shallow water, making it suitable for supervised paddling. Cross the footbridge and explore delightful Hurley village, often referred to as “Gorgeous-on-Thames”.
The town of Henley is synonymous with rowing; its annual regatta draws global attention. Sitting in water meadows, close to Henley’s town centre, the River & Rowing Museum houses a significant collection of rowing boats, cataloguing the history of the sport, the River Thames, and the town itself. Adults from £9, rrm.co.uk. There is also a popular Wind in the Willows exhibition as well as a related, downloadable riverside trail.
Quintessential pub The Angel on the Bridge in Henley is the perfect spot to watch the world going by. A large riverside terrace offers uninterrupted views of people messing about on the river. The pub serves good fish and chips and an impressive selection of gins.
Visit inews.co.uk/travel for more travel guides