Forget the boat race – family holidays on the river are all about taking things slowly, finds Lee Hayhurst.
As we arrived at the west London marina, the kids’ attention was drawn, briefly, in the other direction – to the entrance for Thorpe Park, just across the road from where our boating break was about to begin.
The theme park has its obvious attractions, particularly for our three, all between the ages of 10 and 13. Yet we were in for a very different kind of family holiday, with life set to proceed at a much more sedate pace.
Pushing the boat out
We had arrived at Penton Hook Marina in Chertsey to board our home for the next four nights, a surprisingly large Le Boat Horizon 3 self-drive river boat, starting off with a full briefing and a quick test run with a member of Le Boat staff.
The boat was clean and well equipped and, while compact, it had more than ample living space for a party of our size. The Horizon 3 can sleep up to seven people in three en suite cabins and a convertible seating area in the main cabin, but this would be quite a squeeze, so it’s advisable only for groups who enjoy each other’s company.
It’s less of an issue in good weather, when guests can take full advantage of the spacious outdoor deck above the kitchen/living area and a large sun deck at the front. Not only does the captain get a fantastic all-round view from a lofty driving position here, but there’s also a dining table, seating area and gas‑powered outdoor cooker, so it’s a fantastic place for entertaining when you’ve found your mooring for the night.
We headed east from Chertsey towards Teddington Lock, the farthest point downriver we could go with the boat, which took us through outer west London and past our old home town of Kingston upon Thames.
We know the area well, but it was a revelation to see how pleasant and picturesque many of these familiar places looked from the perspective of the water. Riverside homes ranging from weekend shacks to mansions with rolling lawns and boathouses are a nosey parker’s delight.
And, despite being so close to London, there are long stretches of wild riverbank as the Thames meanders its way through the countryside, punctuated by towns where the river’s locks and crossing points are located.
The locks are fantastic places: tidy, well-maintained by the lock keepers and usually with a cafe or pub nearby – perfect for the weary sailor after a day cruising on the river.
The Thames offers free moorings but also some eye-wateringly expensive ones (notably the one by Hampton Court), so it’s advisable not to leave it too late to find a spot, particularly on a warm summer’s evening when lots of people are out enjoying the river.
During our short break, we used free moorings in Walton-on-Thames, Hampton, Kingston upon Thames and Shepperton. The only time we struggled to find one was the first night, as we got used to reading the map, controlling the boat and navigating locks. It was nearly dark by the time we had tethered our boat to the riverbank and wandered to The Anglers pub for a well-earned gin and tonic.
On joining the boating fraternity, you quickly realise there’s an entire culture invisible to anyone not on the river. As people buzz around in the real world, river living is a haven of calm and there’s a true feeling of life in the slow lane.
In three days on the boat, we travelled no farther from home than we would on a day trip by car, but we were experiencing life at a pace that modern living rarely affords. And that, after all, is what holidays are about.
Book it: A three-night Little Thames Short Break on a Horizon 3 costs from £644 in October. The price includes towels and bedding, boat-handling demo, technical support and lock fees. Bike hire is available at £6 per day for adults and £4 per day for children.
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