A beautiful river walk and great outdoor pub in Hurley
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Well that was fun!
I bumped into a friend yesterday who recommended Hurley outside Marlow as a day trip. Today was sunny and my children seemed on the right side of sane, so we decided to go for it.
Hurley itself is a pretty village that predates the Norman Conquest. As with many of the Berkshire villages I’ve seen, it’s a strange mix of handsome historical buildings, immaculate verges and anodyne footballer-style oversized brick houses. Hurley’s major claims to fame are its position on the river and its weir that happens to produce some of the best white water rafting conditions in the South of England. Hurley Lock is part of a glorious 45-Lock meander down the Thames that starts in Cricklade in Gloucestershire as little more than a trickle and ends up surging into London.
The walk alongside the river is just lovely and of course you can take in as many locks and bridges as you have energy for. There are some whopper private cruisers moored or put-putting down the Thames, mostly manned by middle aged men wearing sailor caps. The concept seems a little bit daft to me, rather like having a Lamborghini but only driving it in first gear up and down your driveway but what do I know?!
There was a little kiosk for lollies and basic treats at the Hurley lock, and a little tearoom with outdoor seating at Temple Lock, about a 15 minute walk further up the river. There are little wooded areas, some wider grassed areas and a lovely area near the Hurley lock for a picnic if you’re organised enough to bring one with you (no, we weren’t).
We were hoping to find a boat to rent for an hour or two but if you want to do that, the glamorous lady lock master told me that you’re better off starting at Henley where they have everything from motor to rowing boats.
We decided to head back to the coaching inn at Hurley. The Olde Bell is gratifyingly ancient – built in 1135 – and pleasantly higgledy piggledy without being too much to write home about inside. Within the pub or on the terrace you can eat a la carte, but outside is where the real fun is to be had. There’s a huge, mature, gorgeous garden (below) , with a modern outdoor kitchen to cater to the summer clientele. We ate chicken and chips with wine at oversized wooden tables, and the kids went nuts climbing trees and swinging on the tyre swing and running around the paths at the back of the garden.
You can stay at the The Olde Bell, but the word is that the new rooms built across the road are superior – light, airy, modern. I haven’t seen them but it might be worth exploring the main hotel and annex options depending on your needs. There’s apparently a very good camp site in Hurley too if sleeping bags and communal showers are your thing (are you getting the idea they’re not mine?).
I’m kind of tempted to hire a narrow boat for a day and see how far it takes me, or even stay overnight somewhere. With friends it could be a great laugh, or as a family the kids would love it. I’ll look into it and let you know how I go. In the meantime, if you’re at a loose end tomorrow, you know where to go, don’t you?
The Olde Bell, High St, Hurley, Berks, SL6 5LX. Tel: 01628 825 881. theoldebell.co.uk