Say the words ‘English’ and ‘river’ in the same sentence and most people will automatically think of the river Thames. Thanks to its role as a defining landmark in the nation’s capital, the Thames will forever be known as the quintessential British river.
As wonderful as the stretch of the Thames that runs through London is however, there is a lot more to this iconic waterway than simply what can be seen from walking over Tower Bridge. At 215 miles (346km) long the Thames is the second longest river in England, and therefore there is a lot of river to be enjoyed besides the most famous stretch in the heart of London.
For those who enjoy spending time ‘messing about on the river’ the Thames is the perfect playground to explore. Here we’re going to look at the top 8 visitor moorings along the Thames, and some of the main points of interest to look out for. Whether you’re local to the Thames, or visiting from afar, one thing is for sure, there is plenty to see and do as you navigate its waters.
The visitor Moorings along the length of the Thames are managed by Thames Visitor Moorings, and you’ll need to register your stay at a mooring as soon as you arrive. Most visits are free, provided you don’t stay for longer than 24 hours. There are exceptions however, particularly in the larger towns and cities along the route, so always check what the terms and conditions are in advance of your arrival at a mooring.
Henley-On-Thames (Henley Town Moorings)
If there was ever a town that perfectly embodied the spirit of the sport of rowing then Henley-On-Thames would surely be it. Situated 9 miles to the north of Reading, this historic town sits at the foot of a remarkably straight stretch of river, which has long attracted the rowing community to its waters and river banks.
Rowing events are a regular feature on the calendar in Henley, and no event is perhaps more famous than the most prestigious of all ‘The Royal Henley Regatta’, an annual rowing competition, and a celebration of all things refined, sophisticated, and distinctly ‘British’!
Travelling to Henley by boat is of course a non starter during a regatta, however that’s not to say you can’t enjoy the town’s rowing heritage at other times of year.
You’ll find the town’s visitor moorings at Mill Meadows on the southern bank of the river in the heart of the town. Note that unlike some of the other moorings on this list, an overnight stay isn’t free, and you’ll need to pay £10 on arrival.
The must do attraction in the town ‘The River and Rowing Museum’ is just a short walk from the mooring and a great way to spend a few hours if you’re interested in the history of rowing, and indeed the Thames in general.
Why not also take a stroll along the river and over the town’s famous bridge, which is over 230 years old. There’s a good chance you’ll be able to observe members of one of the town’s several rowing clubs out honing their talents on this famous portion of the river.
Being berthed next to Mill Meadows also means you’ll be perfectly positioned to enjoy one the many musical acts who perform on the bandstand there throughout the summer months. Check out the town council website for further information.
Dorney Windsor (Boveney Lock Mooring)
Just outside the town of Maidenhead is the village of Dorney, famous for its rowing lake and grade two listed manor house ‘Dorney Court’; the latter noteworthy for being the first place in the UK that a pineapple was successfully grown, and then presented to Charles II in the seventeenth century.
Moor up at Boveney Lock Mooring to the east of the aforementioned lake and you’ll be able to soak up all of this history and more as you explore this quaint little village and all it has to offer.
After coming ashore, why not work up an appetite by taking a stroll around the lake, which at 1.4 miles long will certainly keep you occupied for a good hour when taking the perimeter in a leisurely fashion.
Purpose built for rowing by the prestigious and world famous Eton College, the lake became famous for playing host to rowing events during the 2012 London Olympic games. If you do wish to take a walk and have a closer look, be sure to check in advance of your arrival as the site isn’t always open to the public if there is a race event on.
Heading into Dorney village itself, the must do stop is of course Dorney Court. Pioneering pineapple growing aside, this mansion is one of the finest examples of a Tudor stately home in southern England.
Unusually for a building of its age, Dorney Court still remains in the hands of the same family (the Palmers) that it has done for over 500 years, unlike many similar homes that have in recent decades been sold off to the National Trust or English Heritage.
None the less the family open their home so the public can enjoy its immaculately maintained slice of history in all its glory. You can both marvel at its architectural and decorative features, or kick back with a cup of tea in the cafe.
If you’re after something more substantial to eat and drink, then one of Dorney’s two traditional pubs come highly recommended. On the village highstreet you’ll find the Palmer arms, and a 10 minute walk to the north takes you to the befittingly named ‘The Pineapple’, a firm favourite among locals and visitors that dates back to the 15th century.
Runnymede (Egham Towpath Moorings)
Famous for being the site of the signing of the Magna Carta some 800 years ago, Runnymede water meadow to the south east of London is an essential visit for anyone interested in the origins of the democratic freedoms we enjoy in the western world today.
By boat you can arrive at Runnymede by mooring up at Egham Towpath Moorings, just a short walk from a monument commemorating the alleged site of the signing of the famous charter at Magna Carta Island. In the same area you’ll also find various other memorials and art installations, including, interestingly enough, a commemorative monument to US president John F. Kennedy.
The whole area can be enjoyed over the course of a few hours, as long as you’re prepared for a bit of walking. When it’s time for a rest, grab a coffee at Runnymede cafe, which is just a short walk from your mooring, and for those with families there is a pleasure ground with children’s rides and other amusements in the same area.
As for the mooring itself, you can stay for free for 24 hours, with no return for a further 24 hours, so if you can arrive at this historic location in style (by boat), then why not take advantage of it? Just bear in mind that the mooring is rather short and does tend to get rather full early on in the day, especially during the summer months, so try to arrive early to avoid disappointment.
Kingston Upon Thames (Kingston Wharf Moorings)
Kingston Upon Thames has several choices when it comes to mooring, however the best bet if you’re visiting for the day is Kingston Wharf Moorings. This mooring is free and has good links to local amenities and attractions.
If you do wish to stay longer than 24 hours, then heading a few hundred meters upstream to Kingston Riverside Visitor Moorings is more suitable, as you are able to stay for up to 7 days. You will however need to pay £5 per day from the second day onward.
Like the rest of London, Kingston Upon Thames is an area steeped in history. Historically a market town, the origins of Kingston can be traced as far back as AD 838, and much of the area’s historic heritage is clearly evident by many buildings that date back several hundred years or more. To experience this first hand, there are a number of pubs and restaurants located in such buildings to the north of the town in a district called Canbury.
I can particularly recommend Park Tavern if you want a good old fashioned pub experience, and a venue with a whole lot of character. This is about a 20 minute walk east from your mooring, but there are any number of other good eating and drinking establishments nearby.
Eating and drinking aside, by far the greatest historical experience to be had locally is a trip to the world famous Hampton Court Palace. If you wish to walk from your mooring, it’s a half hour walk, but there are regular bus services that take about 5 minutes. Indeed if you’ve cruised to Kingston from upstream, you’ll have taken in a view of the palace from the river shortly before arriving.
Hampton Court is an exquisite example of a Tudor palace, and along with St James’ Palace in Westminster, one of only two surviving residences of one of King Henry VIII. Various other monarchs have added sections to the palace over the centuries, and today the splendour of the architecture and arts & craft of the last 500 years can be experienced by all who visit the palace.
Of particular note are the ornate ceiling carvings in the great hall, the palace kitchen (which remains ‘working’ for demonstration, and the palace gardens complete with its world famous maze.
Tower Bridge, Central London (St. Katharine Docks Marina)
Cruising downstream into the very heart of London, where could be a better place to stop than next to one of the capital city’s most iconic landmarks; Tower Bridge? Located just upstream of the bridge on the north bank of the river, St Katherine Docks Marina is far and away the most spacious and well equipped of all the moorings on our list.
It won’t come as any surprise to learn that mooring up for a night in the centre of London comes at a price significantly greater than anywhere else along the river. As an absolute minimum you’re looking at £7.65 per metre per night, but depending on the size of your vessel this is still far more cost effective than staying in any of the hotels nearby.
This marina comes replete with facilities including; shore supply at each berth, water, free wifi, and access to washrooms and laundry 24 hours a day.
From this location you have of course got access to everything central London has to offer, everything from Tower Bridge itself, and the Tower of London, both of which are just next door to the Marina, all the way through to the UK Parliament buildings and Buckingham palace just a little further up the river.
Perhaps the best thing about mooring up somewhere as famous as central London is being able to retire to your own bunk at night, having bought your own slice of home with you.
Oxford (East Street Oxford Moorings)
Thanks to its prestigious university, Oxford is a city synonymous with academic excellence, and can boast many of the world’s greatest minds both past and present as former and current residents.
The city also has a strong historical association with the river Thames, not least because of the efforts of the University rowing team battling it out against arch rivals Cambridge in the annual boat race, which has been a fixture in the rowing calendar for over 150 years.
Casual boaters like you and I can also make their acquaintance with Oxford by mooring up at Osney to the west of the city centre. From the mooring at East Street Moorings, it’s really only a short walk to the heart of the city and many of its most famous sights, including the many colleges and libraries, as well as other attractions such as the Natural History Museum and Oxford castle.
If you’re staying for a single night (mooring is once again free for 24 hours) then I can thoroughly recommend starting things off with one of the city’s walking tours. These run regularly, starting from Broad Street in the heart of the city.
From this starting point your guide is able to show you a number of key locations such as the famous Bridge of Sighs, and will also take you inside a number of college grounds and buildings, offering historical insights in the process. The tour is well worth it for the hour or so it takes, and is also well worth a generous donation at the end.
Oxford is without doubt a city with a lot to offer, and if you can arrive there in style by boat, then all the better!
Lechlade-on-Thames ( Lechlade Moorings)
A far cry from the bright lights of London or Oxford, but with a unique charm all of its own, Lechlade-on-Thames sits on the edge of the Cotswolds in Gloucestershire, an area of outstanding natural beauty known for its rolling hills and unique sand colored limestone- the primary building block of many of the region’s towns and villages.
Lechlade is usually regarded as the furthest point upstream of the Thames where craft larger than small rowing boats and kayaks are able to operate. Consequently it is a popular starting point for many people who wish to cruise down the Thames.
Whether you intend to commence your journey from Lechlade, or you’re venturing there from the opposite direction there is a visitor mooring on the banks of the river outside of The Riverside pub next to the famous Halfpenny Bridge. This is pretty handy if you’re staying overnight in need something to do in the evening!
Incidentally, Lechlade is also a great place to visit if you fancy getting a taste of life on the Thames but you don’t have your own boat. Slightly further downstream from the riverside mooring you’ll find the town’s other bridge, St John’s Bridge, immediately downstream of which is the home of Cotswolds Boat Hire. This company offer rental of a variety of boats of between 2 and 6 berths, both for short breaks and day trips. As I say, well worth making an enquiry if you’re not a seasoned boater.
Incidentally, if you’re interested in learning the basics of commanding a powerboat, whether for cruising or at speed, check out our article on the RYA powerboat level two course.
Marlow (Marlow Lock Moorings)
Close enough to London to invite prestige, yet far enough away to still retain a quaint, small town feel, Marlow in Buckinghamshire is a great place to visit as part of your trip along the river.
The mooring at Pergola field is a particularly pleasant one, with a view over the river and surrounding countryside that is largely untainted. Walk a few steps to the north away from the river however and you’ll soon find yourself in the town, ready to enjoy everything it has to offer.
Marlow has developed a reputation for being something of a hotspot for haute cuisine, with restaurants belonging to celebrity/michelin star chefs Atul Kochhar and Tom Kerridge leading the fine dining experience in the town. There are many venues to choose from however, and I’d strongly advise looking through what’s available (not to mention booking) in advance of your arrival.
Also of note in Marlow is the suspension bridge that straddles the river, an impressive structure that looks somewhat out of place in this small town, and curiously enough the inspiration for a much larger bridge in Budapest, Hungary of all places!
The town also boasts a free museum just a short walk from the main high street, featuring both permanent and temporary displays relating to the history of the town and local area.