What is it about rivers? Why do we find gently moving water so irresistible? Well, who knows, but there’s something about drifting downstream under a warm sun that turns everyone into a poet. And it’s an adventure you can have in the heart of one of the most exciting cities on earth. Rowing down the Thames for four or five days and staying in hotels, pubs, the boat itself or camping out by the river path is an experience in urban calm that even residents of this thriving metropolis hardly realised was possible.
The prettiest stretches for boating are the south-western fringes of the city – Richmond, Kew, Putney. You can visit the deer in Richmond Park; stop by Kew Gardens to see the world’s greatest collection of exotic plants; and take in Hampton Court, the majestic red-brick palace where Henry VIII lived with whatever wife he hadn’t yet divorced or beheaded – if you’re there at the right time you can see mediaeval pageants played out or plays performed. And you can always get lost in the famous Hampton Court maze – just as Jerome K Jerome famously described in Three Men In A Boat, his charming book about a two-week rowing trip between Kingston and Oxford.
If you’re worried you will tire at the more difficult stretches, don’t – there are companies who will tow you when necessary. So, like Jerome, you aren’t restricted to London – you can easily go further afield and row up to Oxford or Cambridge to see the great university towns. It’s not just a trip along a river, it’s a trip through English history and architecture – taking in everything the royal splendour of the Renaissance to the iron ambitions of the industrial age. You just have to hop out onto the riverbank and explore.