Tales of the riverbank: 12 places to hit the water
Calling all waterbabies! With temperatures at 30c and rising, here are the best ways to cool off waterside in Bucks and Oxon.
From paddle-boarding to punting, here are our favourite ways to spend a day at local rivers and lakes. Come on in, the water’s fine…
Hire a boat with Hobbs of Henley
Fancy trying your hand at playing skipper? Hobbs of Henley (yes, of Mr Hobbs gin fame) have every kind of boat hire you can think of, from romantic rowing boats to Pilot Class launches that seat up to 12 passengers *gulp*. If driving yourself sounds like far too much work, they also have a gin-tasting cruise lined up for September – sign us up.
Get pedalling at Willen Lake, Milton Keynes
Ah, the humble pedalo, dripping with old-school charm. And it’s something so peculiar to English day trips, isn’t it, pedalling yourself frantically into a big expanse of water just to pedal yourself back. Anyway, we’re sold on the idea. Get yourself down to Willen Lake in Milton Keynes, grab yourself a Mr Whippy and trundle into the watery wilds – £20 for 40 minutes. (Oh, and make sure you swerve the pedalo that, like a dodgy shopping trolly, constantly veers to the left. No one needs to go in that many circles.)
Have a punting picnic in Oxford
Oxford day-trippers will be pleased to hear that punting is back up and running from the Magdalen Bridge. You can give it a crack yourself for £22 per hour on weekdays and £24 per hour on weekends, but we’ll be opting for the altogether more sedate chauffeured punt for up to four passengers (£30 per 30 mins on weekdays, £32 per 30 mins on weekends). Bring your own sarnies and ginger beer or order a picnic hamper from Magdalen Boathouse.
Hop on a canal boat at Aylesbury Arm Canal
The Aylesbury Arm of the Grand Union Canal was completed in 1815 to transport coal and such like and then was promptly put out of business in the 1840s by the railways. But no matter. It now provides a scenic waterway through the town and you can experience it first-hand by jumping on The Little Trip Boat at the Aylesbury Basin and taking the one hour and 15 minute trip through two locks and back again. There’s no catering on board but you’re welcome to bring your own snacks. It’s good enough for us. £9.50 for adults, £7.50 for children.
Make a splash at Oxford Wet n Wild, Wallingford
Need to wear out the kids during those long, lonnng six weeks of summer? They’ll love Oxford’s Wet n Wild Aqua Park at Queenford Lake Watersports Centre. You’ll have to book in advance at £15 per person, and if it’s nippy then consider hiring a wetsuit for an extra £5. Enjoy a takeaway coffee and cake from The Wandering Kitchen while you watch them do their best salmon impression.
Try paddle-boarding at Westhorpe Lakes, Marlow
There are more watersports to try here than you can shake a soggy set of bikini bottoms at, but if you’re after something new then paddle-boarding is officially the sport of the summer. You can hire boards from Marlow Open Water Swim for £20 per hour, or if you have your own lying about (let me check the garage) it’ll cost you just £5 an hour.
Walk along the river in Port Meadow, Jericho
We’ll never stop extolling the virtues of Oxford’s best-kept secret – it’s an excellent day out for families, and never over-crowded (ideal during the summer months). It’s free to park at the North end of the meadow, and is an easy (although quite long) circular walk at 7 miles total, or 3.5 miles one way. Bring your own refreshments to enjoy along the way – make sure you clear everything away so you don’t disturb the resident ponies – or stop at nearby Jacob’s Inn for a bite on their sunny terrace.
Go paddling in Hughenden Stream, High Wycombe
Time to dip your toes! If you’re exploring the parkland around National Trust site Hughenden Manor then you might come across Hughenden Stream, which runs along the bottom of the valley. There are weirs dotted along the river that are perfect for having a paddle with littlies, but if you don’t fancy getting your feet wet then just bring a picnic and enjoy the sights and sounds from the safety of the riverbank.
Tour the lakes at Blenheim Palace, Woodstock
Buggy tours may be on hold for the moment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t explore Blenheim‘s Queen Pool and Great Lake on your own two feet. The Lake and Grand Cascade walk is about a mile and should take 45 minutes (although uneven ground means it’s not recommended for prams or wheelchairs), while The Queen Pool is a 1.5-mile circular walk that’s dog-friendly too.
Go waterskiing at Queenford Lakes, Wallingford
Calling all adrenaline junkies! Speed gracefully along the water (or, if you’re me, fall in face first) with Oxford Wakeboard and Ski Club, based out of Queenford Lakes in Wallingford. Their lessons are available to all ages and ability levels – book online to secure your spot.
Learn to kayak at Longridge, Marlow
Fancy teaching the kiddos a new skill this summer (or learning one yourself)? Push the boat out – literally – with family kayaking courses at Longridge. This outdoor activity centre in Marlow is run by the The Adventure Learning Charity, and offers a range of water-based activities on the Thames, from canoeing to paddle-boarding. Space is tight as groups are small this season, so get in touch to find out what’s available.
Spend a day sailing at Dorchester Lake, Wallingford
Brush up on your nautical skills with Dorchester Sailing Club, which offers boat hire for club members in Wallingford, and runs events throughout the year. Got mini mariners in your midst? There are two youth sailing courses available this month (10-13 Aug and 17-20 Aug) for children aged 11 to 16. All abilities welcome.
Prefer to take a dip? Take look at our best local spots for wild swimming instead.