Boating in Henley
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I have a bit of a Muddy crush on Henley at the moment, having been there several times over the last month for various bits and bobs. It’s just so damned pretty, and seems to have the knack for drawing a crowd – I’m thinking the Henley Festival, the Royal Regatta, Maison Artisan deli fairs, River & Rowing Museum for kids, the upcoming Henley Literature Festival etc.
The river is of course a massive pull for Henley too, as it curls through the town and continues out amongst some seriously lovely countryside.
I was down in the area to drop my son Finn off at Longbridge Activity Centre for the day (a total, utter, brilliant find – I’ll tell you about it later this week), and had been asked by BBC Oxford to do my weekly radio feature from a boat in Henley, because let me tell you, life it tough like that.
So I took my two little Muddies with me – because they will now be attached to my ankles for the next six weeks – and hired a boat from Hobbs of Henley, the place to get yourself waterbound. You can hire anything from a little rowing boat to a large cruiser but because I was simultaneously planning to record audio, drive a boat, eat a picnic and look after two midgets in the searing sun, I went for a pilot class boat, below, that had a covered area, and indoor/outdoor seating for 10-12, so plenty of room to move about.
Let me tell you straight from the off that I have never driven a boat, a fact that you would have gleaned very quickly had you watched me set off from the quay, since I pushed the accelerator as if I was putting the car into first gear, and nearly crashed into the massive boat in front of me. There was less than a millimetre in it as I screamed and hoiked the wheel sharply to the left. Ahoy me hearties!
Once I’d explained to my children that I had, in fact, said the word ‘Shirt’ with force, as I’d, um, er, just seen a man in a very nice stripy shirt on the river, I recovered my equilibrium a bit and started to enjoy the experience. Honestly, it was so much fun, and the kids loved it as I gave them turns at steering. I’ve always felt it’s a bit of a faff and effort to get on the water but it was easy. Literally, I rocked up at the riverside, had a Little Britain moment of ‘I want that one’, hopped in the boat and off we went
We went down river, then back up passed central Henley and Temple Island (below)…
… and onto Remenham before mooring at the side of the river and eating an incredible picnic that I picked up on the way from The Quince Tree. Look at this bad boy…
I have to admit at this point we’d already scoffed some sandwiches – my usual trauma of ripping open the packets before I engage my brain and take a picture, but just so you know (!) we had four different types of finger sandwiches (smoked salmon, cucumber and cream cheese etc), a fantastic caesar salad, a multi-coloured tomato, mozzarella and pesto salad that was demolished in minutes, scotch eggs, quiches, pastries. Seriously, it was amazing – all provided fresh that morning by the massive in-house deli.
As it happens, I could have picked the picnic up from Hobbs of Henley itself, as The Quince Tree shuttle down picnics for Hobbs customers daily (oops), so that’s worth knowing if you plan to use Hobbs, but even if you have your own boat, or are using a different hire company, or just fancy a picnic without the hassle of making it yourself, I’d definitely recommend using them, it’s a total no-brainer.
So back to boating. There are no great surprises or shocks cruising up and down the river. I suspected I’d see some houses that I’d sell my mother for – and I did, and I would (OMG, the money sloshing around these river banks). We watched dragonflies, waved at about 50 boats going by, dangled hands in the water, marveled at weeping willows and the gorgeous scenery, and just drifted for a bit. It was just lovely.
One piece of advice: if you’re looking for a place to moor and the weather is still this hot, I’d suggest the side of the river going back towards Henley from Remenham, as there were more trees there, and little shelving bits of river ‘beach’ for the kids, but we had already stopped for lunch and were on our return by the time we realised that option.
Our cruise up and down the river took an hour and a half all up, and that was about enough for me alone with young kids, but of course you could go for longer. It takes about 5 hours to get to Marlow and back, or – the other way – about 3-4 hours to do the return to Shiplake or Maidenhead.
Loads to do in Henley when you’ve hopped off your boat too – a wonderful park is right next to Hobbs, with two big play areas, a serviceable cafe and a gorgeous riverside park on the way there, the River and Rowing Museum is just a few minutes further on from that, and of course Henley itself five minutes the other way. A fab day out.
Pilot launches, £55 an hour, £220 per day (4-6 people); £60 per hour, £240 per day (7-9 people); £65 per hour, £260 per day (10-12 people). www.hobbsofhenley.com