Amazing Canal Boating on the Thames in England’s Countryside
Get ready for canal boating down the Thames outside London, and experience the English countryside at its best.
If you’ve been hankering for an English countryside “Wind in the Willows” type of adventure, a fall canal boat trip down the Thames is exactly what you’ve been dreaming about. Canal boat holidays are a relaxed alternate vacation reality. You’re the captain. You decide your journey. You decide what pretty place to tie up for the night. Or stop for an impromptu picnic or bike ride down the famous 184 km Thames Path.
As you meander down the Thames, the 500-year old villages you’ll pass are so adorable you might think they took charm steroids. Navigating is easy. You can decide as you go. Tie up and pop into a casual local pub for a traditional English dinner. Or take a more refined foodie approach to canal boating and indulge in its many fine dining establishments.
I went with Le Boat aboard their Magnifique for my first canal boating holiday. Viewing the English countryside from atop was utterly magical. What’s rush hour? I’ve completely forgotten. All stress melted away. I was immersed in weeping willows, the Queen’s swans, and delightfully quirky English locals as we merrily meandered through patches of Fall sunshine and under bridges.
Managed by the Conservation Agency, the Thames is the cleanest metropolitan river in the world. You can swim with over 100 species of fish and even the occasional porpoise. The river’s slightly brown tint comes from healthy algae. Which is good news, as one third of London’s drinking water is sourced from the Thames.
All aboard! We set off from the historic Georgian town Henley-on-Thames, where fit rowers famously battle it out in the Royal Regatta. Then we lunched at the 17th century Three Tuns Pub that epitomizes English-cozy. Mind your head, as ceiling beams are low and have warped over time. Our gracious waiter, even gave me a taste of what I call an “English warm-flat” (beer). An IPA girl myself, I opted for a glass of red.
From Henley-on-Thames, we cruised through the stunning English countryside and docked in quaint Marlow in front of a cathedral that reflected on the river at night. That night we dined at Sindhu, created by chef-patron Atul Hochler, who won a Michelin star for Indian cuisine. Fun fact: in England vegetarians are eagerly catered to. And rarely, are you the only one at the table.
Not a natural morning person, I made the effort as the wee hours of the day are glorious on the Thames. A brisk walk along the path. Morning mist rising off the river. Cows ambling down to the riverbank for a bit of refreshment. Not to mention all the gorgeous fall colors.
From Marlow we cruised to (nearly) 600-year-old Cookham, where the famous author Kenneth Grahame received his inspiration. I can see why. The stillness of the river flanked by weeping willows made me want to grab my journal and start writing.
From Cookham, we pulled up the stakes and continued down to Cliveden House to lunch at the famous Andre Garret and tour the whimsical gardens complete with a maze famously managed by the National Trust, dedicated to preserving England’s natural and historic treasures.
Cliveden House is one heavy dose of English romance and left me thinking (well, at at least hoping) that I spent at least one past life here. Utterly spoiled at lunch with sweeping views of the majestic garden outside, it was a traditional and inventive fine dining extravaganza where the service was as much a pleasure as the meal. A member of the Sustainable Restaurant Association, Andre Garret’s local and seasonally sourced entrees look like art on your plate.
Still reveling in the elegance of Cliveden House, back on Le Boat’s Manifique, we made our way to Maidenshead and surprisingly found ourselves low on wine. Thankfully, wonderfully quirky Englishman and local vintner John Peterson of Dropmore Vineyards makes house calls. His nearby vineyards are comparably on the same parallel as Champagne, France. Add a southfacing hill and… voila! You can make good wine.
Our last dinner was a short taxi ride into charming 15th century Bray to dine at The Hind’s Head. Is it touché to say, that 15th century villages never get old? Again, mind your head. Low beams. Customers were much shorter back then. We sampled such traditional English recipes as quaker pudding and – as my English companions told me – the very best Scotch egg. If you ever want to cheat on your health kick, their English chips are famously triple fried.
The last day on vacation is already tough enough. But exceptionally sunny weather made it even more painful. We cruised up to Marlow under azure blue skies through the morning mist rising off the river and reflections of the English countryside.
Once back at Marlow, we docked and I (unfortunately) was headed back to Heathrow airport. So, as the song goes, if life is truly “but a dream” we might as well spend it merrily on Le Boat.
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Images courtesy of Donna Sozio, Le Boat, Cliveden House, and image of Cliveden Garden England Natural Trust via Shutterstock
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