Messing about on the river

//Messing about on the river

africanqueen.jpgI’ve just spent two of the most relaxing days ever, sailing gently along the River Thames in a floating hotel. So little to do, so much to see!
Ducks, geese, crested grebes, even heron and red kites I would have expected on or over the river. And naturally the lush meadows of Berkshire and south Oxfordshire have their fair share of cattle and horses. Anglers line the banks day and night and camp sites abound. While dogs can jump into the water from the banks, humans don’t seem to be able to make the leap without first taking a rope swing lashed to an overhanging tree.
alpacas.jpgBut the big surprise was the flock of alpacas – a cousin of the llama – in the fields between Mapledurham and Whitchurch. These South American animals, kept for their wool and as pets, looked completely out of place in the English countryside.
But then so did the boat on which I was sailing. The African Queen is a converted Dutch barge which TV’s Hotel Inspector Alex Polizzi described as looking like a floating Portakabin.
Possibly the largest vessel on this stretch of the river, the 100-ft barge just squeezes through the locks and under some of the bridges with an occasional gentle bump along the way, prompting a muttered curse from skipper Andy Cowley.
The boat accommodates 12 passengers in cabins described as “cosy.” They are perfectly adequate, and have en suite bathrooms, but don’t expect to be able to swing a cat in there. There’s an open sundeck, bedecked with bunting, a lounge area with flat-screen TV, and a bar and restaurant where passengers eat delicious Cape Malay-influenced meals cooked by Andy’s South African wife, Bonny.
African Queen is based at Mapledurham, a 10-minute drive from Reading, and the site of a 15th-century watermill – the only one on the Thames still grinding flour – which featured in the 1976 film The Eagle Has Landed. Ozzy Osbourne fans might also recognise it from the sleeve of Black Sabbath’s 1970 debut album.
The boat plies the river down to Henley and up to Goring – providing plenty of opportunities for peering into the back gardens of some A-list celebs. Some passengers have apparently taken to posing for the CCTV cameras outside George Michael’s Mill Cottage at Goring, on their way to a posh pub lunch at the Miller of Mansfield .
But the real star of the show is the Thames itself, and the life on and around it. On one hand it is busier with pleasure boats – from canal barges to gin palaces that wouldn’t look out of place at Monte Carlo or Nice – than I would ever have expected. On the other hand it’s so peaceful and tranquil, when the the most intrusive interruption to a cocktail cruise might be a biplane buzzing overhead, or an iridescent dragonfly hovering by.
This is the land of Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, and The Wind in the Willows – Mapledurham Hall and the nearby Hardwick Hall both claim to have been the inspiration for E H Shepherd’s illustrations of Kenneth Graham’s children’s classic..
And until today, I would never have thought it was possible to have so much fun just messing about on the river.
For more details of the African Queen, take a look here. Packages are also sold through Saga Holidays.

By | 2017-06-15T16:00:23+00:00 29 July 2010|Cruise Destinations|2 Comments

About the Author:

John Honeywell is a travel writer specialising in cruise ships and cruise travel. Winner of CLIA UK's Contribution to Cruise award 2017.


  1. Henry Dee 30 July 2010 at 4:10 pm - Reply

    It’s a beautiful part of the country and the African Queen looks like it would be a fun way to spend a weekend. I watched the Hotel Inspector programme a few months ago and Bonny’s food looked really good. Andy was fun. I’d like to travel on the boat with Alex Polizzi

  2. cabinguy 10 August 2010 at 4:56 pm - Reply

    But most importantly does it have a massive stash of gin as in the Humphrey Bogart original? 🙂

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