The River Thames is the lifeblood of London but it also weaves its way through numerous quaint towns and villages, perfect for a summer drink.
As Jerome K Jerome brought so brilliantly to life through the escapades of his Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), published in 1889, the Thames is home to a charming way of life, as well as waterside pubs so tempting that it’s a wonder the characters in the story made it anywhere at all. Starting in London we bring you our pick of the best pubs along the river (in no particular order) as it weaves its way through Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
1. The Gun, Docklands, London
This gorgeous gastro pub is a real gem for those willing to make the journey into the Docklands area of London. Located close to West India Docks, the pub was founded in the 18th century and was a popular spot for smugglers who would land their contraband here – there’s even a concealed staircase with a spyhole through which officers of the Revenue could be observed. This was not the only act of secrecy carried out here: naval hero Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson used to meet his lover Emma Hamilton at the pub.
2. The Prospect of Whitby, Wapping, London
Laying claim to being London’s oldest riverside inn, the Prospect of Whitby in Wapping, in the East End of London, is worth a visit if only to soak up the atmosphere in a drinking house once frequented by smugglers and pirates (it was originally known as the Devil’s Tavern). More reputable regulars at the Prospect of Whitby included Dickens, Pepys and the artist Turner. Today you can still take your drinks out on to the terrace to watch river life go by.
3. The Watermans Arms, Eton, Berkshire
Built way back in 1542, this is the oldest pub in the area. It began life as a workhouse, and in 1665 it became a makeshift mortuary during the Great Plague, before later settling as a watering hole for the watermen on the river (workers who would ferry people along or across the river). It gets bonus points from us for calling itself a ‘real ale, cider and Champagne house’, which sounds just splendid.
4. The Hand & Flowers, Marlow, Buckinghamshire
Located in the beautiful Georgian town of Marlow, this gastropub is the only pub to be awarded two Michelin stars. The atmosphere is relaxed, while the menu features hearty British dishes such as venison and pork.
5. The Angel on the Bridge, Henley, Oxfordshire
Somewhat surprisingly this is the only riverside pub in Henley, so make sure you factor in a drink on your way to or from the annual regatta, where you’ll undoubtedly be joined by local swans. If you’ve decided to hire a boat you can even moor up outside – Hobbs of Henley next door has been hiring boats for over 140 years.
6. The French Horn, Sonning, Berkshire
For a peaceful drink in a lush setting, the garden at this wonderful luxury hotel is a great spot. Watch the river as it runs past or take your drink inside and settle for the evening in the cosy bar.
7. The Swan, Pangbourne, Berkshire
It’s hard to believe that this charming inn, which is set in a 17th-century listed building, has changed much since its inclusion in Three Men in a Boat. In winter guests can curl up by one of the three open fires under traditional oak beams, while in summer you can sup on a pint of ale on the lovely terrace.
8. The Barley Mow, Abingdon, Oxfordshire
This thatched pub once counted Jerome K Jerome and Charles Dickens Junior among its patrons and you’d be hard pushed to find a more homely and traditional British pub.
9. The Old Anchor, Abingdon, Oxfordshire
The Old Anchor, which dates back to 1819, looks out onto the river in St Helen’s and boasts no fewer than three log fires and plenty of outside seating. It also prides itself on using locally sourced, seasonal produce in its hearty meals.
10. The Thames Head, Cirencester, Gloucestershire
Situated between the Cotswolds towns of Cirencester and Tetbury, this pub falls just outside the confines of the Thames but it’s worth a mention if only for the spot that it is named after about half a mile away, where the river it said to begin its 154-mile journey to London Bridge. Some dispute that this is where the river starts, but the owners of the pub obviously don’t – they even have a statue of Old Father Thames himself on show to prove their allegiance. The pub also offers bed and breakfast in a lovely converted barn.
For our full feature on the River Thames see the July/August issue of BRITAIN magazine, on sale in the UK on 6 June and in the US on 11 July.
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