Take a hot summer weekend, a spacious river boat and a few friends and family, and you've got all the ingredients for an idyllic weekend messing about on the river Thames
It is said that there is nothing quite like messing about on the river, and in my case that is very true. This was a first for me, and I was joined by my husband, daughter, daughter’s partner and our labrador, Bella. Our three-night mini cruise took place during a hot weekend in flaming June and that certainly helped to make the break a memorable one.
Our trip was organised by specialist operator Blake’s Holiday Boating. Not wanting to feel cramped, we had purposely booked a spacious craft fitted out for six people and up to two dogs, with all mod cons. We picked it up from Benson Riverfront, a few miles south of Oxford, where the staff give you detailed instruction to guide you through every eventuality, and instil a bit of confidence. While you are waiting to take charge of your craft, you can enjoy a snack and drink in the café, which looks out over the river.
As this is a self-catering break, make sure you come armed with all your favourite goodies, as you don’t want to waste too much time shopping. But if you have forgotten something, or you run out of essentials, there are plenty of towns along the river with shops that are easily accessible.
From then on it was relaxation all the way; chilling out on the sun deck with a glass of wine and watching the countryside roll by. You can chose which direction to go in, and how far, but be prepared to navigate the many locks along the way. At first we felt a bit nervous but there is always someone on hand to help you through, and after a while our confidence grew.
We set off for Oxford, stopping at Abingdon en route. We experienced quiet stretches of water, where we drifted along watching the wildlife, as well as busier areas approaching the towns. Oxford was heaving with tourists and traffic and we felt quite smug as we were able to stroll into the city without worrying about parking. We all felt relieved to leave the hustle and bustle behind and return to the peace of the river.
This was a new experience for all of us and we had tried to cover all eventualities, the most worrying being that Bella would constantly jump ship mid-river. As it turned out, this never happened, as our boat was big enough to keep her comfortably contained. When the sun shone, she was in her element tied to a convenient hook on the sun deck, intent on watching the abundant wildlife that was all around. When we reached locks and were all fully employed negotiating them, we put her in the cabin, where she controlled operations by sitting close to the driver.
Every now and then, we would moor up and take Bella for a walk along the Thames path and give her the chance to have a swim, and then it was back on board to dry out in the sun. After four days, we had an exhausted but very happy dog who had definitely found her sea legs.