Having recently returned from a spell abroad, we decided this summer that it was time to rediscover England and embrace all that our quirky, often-rainy but much-loved country has to offer.
The problem of course, with holidaying in England, is the weather. No matter how well planned your stay and how much there is to see and do, there is no denying that a wet English summer can put a severe dampener on the proceedings. Add two high-energy boys into the equation, along with their need to be constantly occupied and entertained (vital for the prevention of injury to themselves or each other), and you really do need to plan carefully. So when a friend suggested a boating holiday it seemed to tick all the right boxes. Plenty to occupy the little ones, sufficient rope handy to tie them up should the need arise, and the chance to get away from the hustle and bustle for a few days at least.
England’s most high-profile boating destination is probably the Norfolk broads, but we were surprised to discover that there is a lively boating scene on the Thames, out to the west of London, and fortunate enough to be given the use of a friend’s boat for our first ever five-day boating break.
The boat was moored at Datchett, close to Windsor and Eton, so we drove out in the afternoon and stayed in a charming hotel on the banks of the water before heading to the mooring to find our boat after a hearty breakfast the following morning.
On first sight the boat was certainly compact – a small seating area to the rear, which was covered and converted into a double bed at night, and a second internal area which also converted, leaving precious little space to stow our luggage, let alone step safely over each other in order to reach the convenience cupboard should nature call in the night. Strangely it seemed to matter little, however, and the boys were beside themselves with excitement at the prospect of navigating our way through our first lock.
I’d been dreading the locks but those on this stretch of the Thames are thankfully manned by a friendly bunch of lock keepers, apparently used to day-trippers and weekenders with no clue about locks, boats or general river safety, and gave us a few handy tips on rope skills, which we vowed to try out on the boys if they didn’t stop arguing over whose turn it was at the steering wheel.
Travel is slow on the water, but there is no need for it to be any faster. Traveling at just a few knots gave us plenty of opportunity to take in the beautiful surroundings and admire the world from a completely different perspective. From Windsor and Eton we headed up through Maidenhead and past Cliveden, the majestic stately home, to Marlow and eventually Reading, before turning round to retrace our course and deliver the boat safely back to its mooring. Evenings were spent moored at the water’s edge, cooking on the barbecue or relaxing in one of the many comfortable riverside pubs and days were spent simply chugging along the water with plenty of stops for the boys to let off energy on the riverbank.
The sun shone intermittently, but plenty enough for the boys to be enticed into the water for a swim (with a stark reminder not to put their heads under) before stretching out on the sunroof to dry off. It may not be the Caribbean, but it’s at times like this that you can safely say to yourself that there is nowhere you would rather be than England.