Places to stay along the River Thames (and fine dining, too)

If you were inspired by our feature on The Rural River Thames and would like to explore this beautiful part of the world for yourself, why not plan a holiday staying at several places along the river, or use one hotel as a base?

The Thames flows through some of the country’s most charming countryside on its way from its source in the Cotswolds through to Greater London. At 210 miles, it’s the second-longest river in the UK (the River Severn beats it at 220 miles) but the best known. Mention the Thames and images of central London usually spring to mind. However, by the time the river reaches Teddington Lock at the edge of London, it has travelled 147 miles through the heart of England and three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (the Cotswolds, Chilterns and Surrey Hills). It passes meadows and riverside inns, historic properties such as Windsor Castle and Cliveden, the site of the signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede, the River and Rowing Museum, award-winning restaurants and river locks. And flows by one of the world’s most venerable universities (where punting is the favourite mode of river transport), at Oxford. For further ideas on how to get the most out of exploring the river, go to www.visitthames.co.uk.

The Trout at Tadpole Bridge
 The Trout at Tadpole Bridge

First on our journey from source to capital is a 17th-century Cotswold inn right on the banks of the Thames, not far from the village of Bampton (home of the Bampton Classical Opera). The Trout at Tadpole Bridge (4-star) has just been named AA pub of the Year 2009/10. It’s a freehouse with six, well-equipped bedrooms, and river berths for up to six boats. The bar, with its log fires and stuffed trout on the wall, offers local real ales and a good list of wines by the glass and the restaurant is candlelit in the evenings. For a daytime treat, you can go out in a punt or hire a boat and take along a picnic hamper. Local sausages are a theme here: enjoy them at breakfast while watching boats glide by or try different flavours at the Thursday Sausage Club. The Trout at Tadpole Bridge, tel: (01367) 870382.

The Swan at Streatley
The Swan at Streatley

Head east of Oxford now, to the Swan at Streatley, made famous as the spot where Jerome K Jerome’s exhausted Three Men in a Boat finished their journey. This four-star hotel alongside the river has 45 bedrooms, many enjoying the stunning river views, and the Venus Spa with mineral pool, gym and a range of beauty treatments. You can also make the most of the views in the two-rosette restaurant under the care of head chef Andrew West-Letford, or sitting out on the Riverside Terrace. During the summer months, the Thames is the scene  of many regattas, including the famous Henley Regatta each June. The Swan is a great base for regatta fans and the Goring and Streatley Regatta, each July, is just a stroll away. The Swan at Streatley, tel: (01491) 878800.

Danesfield House
Danesfield House

Heading downstream, past the town of Henley to the outskirts of Marlow, just into Buckinghamshire, and you’ll find the picturesque country house hotel, Danesfield House (4-star), set in a 65-acre estate beside the Thames. Danesfield also has a spa where you can pamper yourself or work out in the gym to justify indulging yourself at the Oak Room restaurant – which boasts four AA rosettes – or in the brasserie-style Orangery. In summer months you can also eat outside on the terrace. Danesfield House, tel: (01628) 891010.

Macdonald Compleat Angler
Macdonald Compleat Angler

Along into Marlow, facing the suspension bridge is The Compleat Angler, a Macdonald hotel. This four-star hotel is named after angling author Izaak Walton’s greatest work, and the 64 stylish bedrooms (40 of them with river views) are all named after fly-fishing terms. Already home to a two-rosette restaurant, the Compleat Angler has just welcomed the arrival (this October) of its own Aubergine restaurant, where Michelin-starred chef William Drabble is bringing all the quality French cuisine of his restaurant in Chelsea out to the Marlow riverside. It’s another dining gem for this already rather spoilt-for-choice part of the country (in the town you’ll also find the Hand & Flowers restaurant with rooms (5-star), with Michelin-starred Tom Kerridge at the helm). The Compleat Angler, tel: 0844 879 9128.

Riverbank Cottage
Riverbank Cottage

Just around the bend in the river is Cookham, home of the Riverbank Cottage (4-star). This Grade II listed building, designed in 191 by architect George Walton, is a riverside Bed and Breakfast (4-star) with just two double guest rooms with panoramic views of the Thames valley. Bedroom have French doors opening onto Juliette balconies so guests can make the most of the location. Riverbank Cottage is a great base for enjoying the excellent walks on the Thames Path – www.visitthames.co.uk has information on several walks, including one from Marlow to Cookham which takes you past the wooded slopes of Winter Hill, after which one of the B&B’s bedrooms is named. Make time to visit the Stanley Spencer gallery in the village to learn more about the famous British artist (1891-1959). Riverbank Cottage, tel: (01628) 530662.

Sir Christopher Wren's House
Sir Christopher Wren’s House

Continue downriver, past Bray – another fine dining destination with Restaurant of the Year 2009, The Fat Duck, and Michel Roux’s famous Waterside Inn – and on to Windsor, with its royal castle towering over the Thames. Here at Eton Bridge, sheltering beneath the castle ramparts is the Sir Christopher Wren’s House Hotel and Spa (4-star). The main house was once the home of the famous architect – his father was the Dean of Windsor which probably led him to build a family home here. It opened as a hotel in the 1920s. Nowadays bedrooms vary from historic rooms that date back to the 17th-century through to contemporary suites with the latest high tech indulgences. Sixteen have river views and three of these have private balconies, where you can enjoy breakfast by the water. Strok’s Restaurant, also with views, has been awarded two AA rosettes. Sir Christopher Wren’s House, tel: (01753) 861354.

Onward to Runnymede, the famous meadow by the Thames, now cared for by the National Trust, where King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215, whereby the monarch became bound by law. Nearby is the Runnymede-on-thames hotel, which brings you bang up to date, a large modern four-star hotel, with excellent facilities, a spa and lovely riverside views for bar and restaurants. New developments will add another restaurant, an open-air swimming pool and tennis courts in the orchard for next summer. In the meantime, why not hire the hotel’s electric riverboat, the Runnymede, for up to six passengers, to pootle around on the river, perhaps heading down towards Shepperton to eat at a riverside pub, or back upstream to take in the views of Windsor Castle. Runnymede-on-thames hotel, tel: (01784) 220980.

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