A pictorial tour of the River Thames in Buckinghamshire
PUBLISHED: 09:54 17 August 2015 | UPDATED: 09:54 17 August 2015
Sue Bromley takes a pictorial tour of the mighty river from Bourne End to Marlow and on to Henley… stopping for picnics along the way
As the Thames loops through South Buckinghamshire between the neighbouring counties of Berkshire and Oxfordshire, it passes some spectacular scenery, skirting ‘picture postcard’ sights and historic buildings.
The towns and villages here grew up alongside what was to be the lifeblood of their development over hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years.
Today few of those lucky enough to live there are dependent on agriculture. The once busy paper and corn mills, particularly on the Wye tributary between Bourne End and High Wycombe, are now all gone, and the work of moving goods along the Thames has been replaced with boat hire operations serving day trippers and those with the sense to stay a little longer.
This pretty little town is one of the places where you can look across the Thames to the Berkshire side and remain delighted to be part of Buckinghamshire. Not that there’s anything wrong with our neighbours of course (lovely Cookham is ‘just down the road’), and there’s a handy branch line train service from Maidenhead.
It’s far less ‘touristy’ than Marlow and Henley but has restaurants and pubs to suit all tastes plus The Parade and its mix of stores guaranteed to pull you in from mere ‘window shopping’. These include No 25 and Pizazz, designer fashion stores with some spectacular ranges.
Take the Thames Path from Cookham and you walk through pretty meadows on the south side of the river. The views are excellent and you can also admire Georgian and Edwardian riverside properties along the way. By late Victorian times Bourne End was attracting tourists who enjoyed rowing and punting there. Heading towards Marlow, The Thames Path switches to the north bank at Bourne End when you cross the railway bridge, and then passes through open fields.
But we can’t leave Bourne End without returning to the Wye as that’s the reason for the town’s name. Two centuries ago it was no more than a hamlet, taking its name from the Old English term ‘bourne’ for a river. It is here that the mouth of the then much busier Wye joins the Thames.
Over the preceding centuries The Wye supported nearly 40 mills along its nine miles to Wycombe, some dating back to the 12th century. Quite a few of Bourne End and Wooburn’s older residents will have worked at Jackson’s Mill, which finally closed in 1980, or Soho or Glory Mills (the last to close in 2000, having been first recorded in 1235).
The Jackson family took over the mill bearing their name through marriage in 1870. Until then it had been in the Pegg family and had been used to made gunpowder and paper. The Jacksons developed millboard and fibreboard products used for everything from car gaskets to footwear, and in early radios and televisions.
It’s a shame that the rail line from Bourne End to Wycombe was closed in 1970, but the route remains as a pathway to Wooburn Green. However, we are now heading in the opposite direction.
Head along the Thames Path from Bourne End and your first sign could well be a donkey. But not any donkey, this is The Marlow Donkey, the train that runs close to the path via Bourne End to Marlow.
No one is quite sure why locals call it that. It could be because donkeys and packhorses were once used to carry goods to the riverside, that a particular locomotive was named that, or simply because it was, for some reason, chosen as the name of the short line.
As you get close to the town along the path it’s well worth taking a quick detour to Marlow Lock for some superb views. However, Marlow town centre is a treat in itself. Actually, we’d head off the path, take the car and prepare for some serious shopping and dining. It’s easy enough to walk from the train station, but you are going to need somewhere to park those bags.
Marlow has its own refined version of glitz, with designer wear boutiques and fascinating homeware stores, alongside some notable pubs and restaurants (including the best of the chains).
Book in advance for Tom Kerridge’s amazing The Hand and Flowers, but if you can’t get in on your chosen day, there are plenty of other choices to suit all pockets, including French-influenced Vanilla Pod. Take a look too at The Chequers, which dates back to the 16th century and has recently been sensitively refurbished. You’ll get a very decent steak here! Or take afternoon tea at The Compleat Angler, which has the most beautiful setting beside the Thames.
Of course Marlow’s not just about the more modern delights of the town centre, it nestles at the foot of the Chilterns and has some notable Victorian and Georgian architecture.
Visit Marlow or Henley on Sunday, 9 August to see a lot of heads bobbing in the water when the Bridge to Bridge sets off from 8am at Henley’s Leander Club. With most of the swimmers taking four hours plus (and more) to reach Marlow Rowing Club, you could be having a lunchtime picnic on the bank at Marlow as these hard souls look hopefully for that last bridge.
From Marlow The Thames Path passes along a truly picturesque route through Bisham, Temple Lock and Weir, Hurley, Hambleden and Remenham before Henley comes into view. Here we are where Oxfordshire meets both Berkshire and Buckinghamshire – you can be in three counties in a matter of minutes.
This is a great place to hire a boat for the day, perhaps from Hobbs of Henley, and if it gives you a taste for more then pop down to Val Wyatt Marine at nearby Wargrave to find out about owning one of your own.
On land, admire the view from Grade 1 listed Henley Bridge. It’s on the site of a Thames crossing point which has been used since ancient times, even before the Romans chased fleeing Britons across it nearly 2,000 years ago. The current bridge will be 230 years old in 2016. The centre of its five arches features sculptures of Tamesis looking downstream towards Marlow, while Isis looks upstream.
It’s hard to find a more enjoyable riverside town in summer and now that both the Regatta and Henley Festival are over you should find travel by car a lot easier, although Henley is always bustling and busy at this time of year. Perhaps let the train take the strain by travelling on First Great Western (the Paddington line) to Twyford where trains go to Henley via Wargrave and Shiplake in just 10 minutes.
Well worth a visit is The River and Rowing Museum at Mill Meadows. Summer exhibitions include Epic Egypt, fun for all the family as you travel down ‘the Nile’.
But back to the Thames… and this town noted for its rowers and the famous Leander Club. You might well see some of our 2016 Olympic hopefuls practising here and perhaps some celebrities out enjoying the sunshine.
Like you, they’ll also want to take advantage of Henley’s excellent dining facilities, from bars and restaurants overlooking the river to pretty tearooms and ice cream parlours. For a traditional, truly British experience with several spoonfuls of nostalgia, visit The Upstairs & Downstairs Tearooms in Duke Street, or to push the boat out with a splendid feast head for Shaun Dickens at The Boathouse in Station Road.
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