The River Thames

7nt Benson RETURN via Windsor

7 nights | 148km | 35 locks | Approx. 26 hrs of cruising

A cruise from Benson is the best choice for those who want to immerse themselves in the lush British countryside with its tranquil stretches of waterway and acres of open pastures, hills and farmland. On this 7 night itinerary you’ll travel as far as royal Windsor, with the opportunity to explore several iconic English villages and sights along the way, including Henley-on-Thames, Marlow and Cliveden House.

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Suggested itinerary

1

DAY1: Arrive Benson

0km | 0 locks | Approx. 0 hrs 0 mins of cruising

Arrive at base

2pm - 5pm

After you have arrived and checked-in, we'll show you to your boat as quickly as possible. Spend time settling in, freshen up and await your pre-departure briefing which will be given by one of our base technicians. They will familiarise you with the boat’s domestic systems and give you a hands-on demonstration of the boat controls and how to operate it. They will make sure you are comfortable and confident controlling the boat, as well as navigating the waterway, before you set off.

Explore Benson

5pm - 7pm

Before dinner, enjoy a walk into Benson village, which is very pretty. There's a small Co-op store just a 10 minute walk from the base, so you can also take the opportunity to stock up on provisions for the week. There are bigger supermarkets (Waitrose and Lidl) in nearby Wallingford if you prefer - it's a 7 minute drive if you have a car.

Dinner at Three Horseshoes, Benson

7:30pm - 9:30pm

After a complete refurbishment in 2022, the Three Horseshoes is a smart and welcoming village pub with a lovely garden and excellent food. Kick your holiday off with a delicious meal and a celebratory drink – the first of many! +44 (01491 838242 | threehorseshoesbenson.co.uk

Overnight in Benson

Breakfast on board

8am - 9am

Benson > Reading

9am - 1pm

Approx. 4hrs | 5 locks

Lunch on Whittingtons Tea Barge, Reading

1pm - 2pm

Whittington’s is a modern, light and airy wide beam canal barge, built in 2012 and moored in central Reading, just alongside Christchurch Meadows where you can also moor. It recreates the traditional feel and values of an English tea room, serving sandwiches, toasties and cream teas in relaxed surroundings on the water. Its only open on Saturdays and Sundays, and bookings are recommended. +44 (0)7778 787 308 | whittingtons-teabarge.co.uk

If Whittington's isn't open then we’d recommend Valpy Street Bar and Bistro, which is a 10 minute walk into Reading.

Explore Reading

2pm - 3pm

You might have time after lunch to hop into Reading for a bit of shopping. Or you may wish to visit Reading Museum to view the British replica of the world-famous Bayeaux Tapestry which chronicles the Norman conquest of England. It is 70 metres long and was painstakingly recreated by a group of Victorian embroiderers in 1885. Entry is free. readingmuseum.org.uk

Reading > Henley-on-Thames

3:30pm - 6pm

Approx. 2hrs 30mins | 4 locks

Dinner at The Three Tuns, Henley-on-Thames

7:30pm - 9:30pm

Housed in a 14th century building bursting with character and history, this charming, cosy, old pub has classic wood décor, exposed beams and open fires. Its food is highly-rated and made with locally-sourced, seasonal produce alongside a selection of real ales. Take a pleasant stroll into the heart of Henley and you’ll find the Three Tuns on Market Place.

Overnight in Henley-on-Thames

Breakfast on board

8am - 9am

Henley-on-Thames > Cliveden House

9am - 12:30pm

Approx. 3hrs 30mins | 5 locks

As you exit Cookham Locks, the Cliveden Estate is ahead of you... but it's obscured by trees so you won't see it. About 1km after the lock - you'll see Spring Cottage on the left-hand side - its an unassuming building with magnificant stones steps leading to the water's edge. You can moor just after the cottage on the towpath. Then follow the towpath in an upstream direction - all paths eventually lead to the house and gardens where you should proceed to the information centre to pay your entry fee.

Lunch in the Cliveden Estate

1pm - 2pm

Either pack a picnic to enjoy in one of Cliveden's many gardens or visit the Orangrey Cafe which serves a range of light bites and lunches. Or maybe a slice of cake in the Dovecote Coffee Shop?

Explore the Cliveden Estate

2pm - 5pm

Cliveden House and its surrounding estate have been home to earls, countesses, dukes, a prince of Wales and Viscounts. The house is now owned by the National Trust, and its gardens and grounds are open to the public to be enjoyed by all. The grade I listed gardens include the Rose Garden, the fantastical topiary in the Long Garden and the tranquil escape of the water gardens. And not forgetting the impressive 6 acre Parterre, with colourful displays of flowers in symmetrical designs. You might also have time to find your way to the middle of Cliveden’s deceptively difficult yew-tree maze.

Cliveden House > Maidenhead

5:15pm - 6pm

Approx. 45mins | 1 lock

Dinner at The Boathouse at Boulter's Lock

7:30pm - 9:30pm

Nestled on an island right next door to Boulter's Lock, with their own private moorings, this beautiful venue offers superb, elevated river views and top-notch grub. Enjoy fresh, seasonal and ethically-sourced food on their al-fresco terrace, accompanied by a drink from their extensive wine list and cocktail menu.  01628 621291 | boathouseboulterslock.co.uk

Overnight in Maidenhead

Breakfast on board

8am - 9am

Maidenhead > Windsor

9am - 10:45am

Approx. 1hr 45mins | 3 locks

Explore Windsor

10:45am - 1pm

This morning we suggest building up an appetite for lunch by taking a walk along the very aptly-named Long Walk. It stretches 4km (one way) and starts at the rear entrance of Windsor Castle by the golden George VI gates and takes you on a dead-straight line through scenic parkland, all the way to the copper statue of King George III and his horse, which sits at the top of a hill. You might spot deer along the way and the views from the hill by the statue are really stunning – back towards the castle and the London skyline to the east. You might even see the Shard, the UK's tallest building, on a clear day. It will take a couple of hours to walk to the statue and back, so reward yourself with a drink at the Two Brewers Pub on your return.

Lunch at The Two Brewers, Windsor

1pm - 2:30pm

Conveniently located at the entrance/exit to the Long Walk, this cosy little pub has been trading since 1792. It is full of atmosphere and serves excellent pub food - perfect for a lunch time pit-stop. There is outside seating, and only 9 tables inside, so we recommend booking ahead. As they advise - the best table is a booked table. 01753 855 426 | twobrewerswindsor.co.uk

Unfortunately, children are not allowed inside so, if you can't get a table outside, we'd recommend the Long Walk Grill. It's just a 3 minute walk, back towards the castle.

Explore Windsor

2:30pm - 6pm

If it's open, then a visit to Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world, is an absolute must. Afternoons are generally a quieter time of day to visit. Allow 2 hours and we recommend you book your tickets online in advance. rct.uk/visit/windsor-castle

If today is a Tuesday or Wednesday, then unfortunately Windsor Castle is closed to visitors. Windsor is your turnaround point, so it is difficult to plan a return itinerary from Benson any other way. But there is plenty more to see here. Wander around the Church Lane/Market Street area with its cobbled streets and quirky gift shops or go shopping in the undercover Windsor Royal Station Shopping Centre. You could also explore neighbouring Eton on the other side of the Thames. Eton High Street is a charming and quintessentially English, lined with antique stores, artisan shops and independent boutiques. It takes about 15 minutes each way from the Thames to Eton College. Although the college isn’t open to the public, its impressive buildings are worth a photograph or two.

Dinner at Brasserie at Sir Christopher Wren, Windsor

7:30pm - 9:30pm

The Brasserie at the Sir Christopher Wren Hotel offers a weekly menu that includes British classics such as steak & ale pie and traditional desserts like homemade fruit crumble and Eton mess. Booking recommended. +44 (0)1753 442400 | sirchristopherwren.co.uk/food-drink/the-brasserie

Overnight in Windsor

Breakfast on board

8am - 9am

Windsor > Cookham

9am - 12noon

Approx. 3hrs | 4 locks

Lunch at The Ferry, Cookham

12noon - 1:30pm

This characterful pub is filled with cosy corners and comfy armchairs – plus there’s loads of outdoor seating. Owned by Mitchells & Butlers and serving a fabulous menu. +44 (0)1628 525123 | theferry.co.uk

Explore Cookham

1:30pm - 4pm

There are some particularly lovely walks in and around Cookham - some of the prettiest in the whole of the Thames Valley region in fact. There's a short 2.5km walk around the village - or a longer 7.5km walk that joins up with the Thames Path National Trail. You can download details from visitthames.co.uk. Afterwards, rehydrate at the Bel and The Dragon which was built in 1417 and claims to be one of the oldest pubs in England.

Cookham is also the former home to both Kenneth Grahame, author of ‘The Wind in the Willows’ and Sir Stanley Spencer, an artist who depicted biblical scenes as if they were occurring in Cookham. The Stanley Spencer Gallery on the High Street houses more than 120 of his artworks.

Cookham > Marlow

4pm - 5pm

Approx. 1hr | 1 lock

Explore Marlow

7pm - 7:30pm

Marlow is a very pretty Georgian town that has produced many British Olympic rowers. On the way to dinner, walk through Higginson Park to see Sir Steve Redgrave’s statue and find the gold post box in the High Street, which marks Naomi Riches’ 2012 Paralympic gold in the mixed rowing.

Dinner at The Coach, Marlow

7:30pm - 9:30pm

This Michelin-starred pub is brought to you by chef Tom Kerridge. It has a relaxed and informal setting, set in the heart of Marlow and offering simple, classic and inventive food. Several bar stools face directly into the open kitchen giving front row seats to all the 'culinary theatre'. You can make same day reservations only - from 9am. 01628 401538 | thecoachmarlow.co.uk

Overnight Marlow

Breakfast on board

8am - 9am

Marlow > Henley-on-Thames

9am - 11:30am

Approx. 2hrs 30mins | 3 locks

Lunch at The Chocolate Café at River & Rowing Museum, Henley-on-Thames

11:30am - 12:30pm

Enjoy a selection of rolls, salads, paninis and other light bites in the café terrace of this superb museum. And don't forget to sample the scrummy hot chocolate. The museum has its own jetty and moorings.

Explore Henley-on-Thames

12:30pm - 2:30pm

After lunch, you should stay and visit the River & Rowing Museum's excellent exhibits. The Rowing Gallery covers the history of rowing, from its roots in ancient warfare to its current recreational use, including exhibits from recent Olympic events. The River Gallery gives a fascinating insight into many aspects of the river including environmental issues, natural history, river & water management and even swan upping! A third gallery delves into the history of Henley, while the Wind in the Willows exhibition is a delight for the little ones. rrm.co.uk

Henley-on-Thames > Pangbourne

2:30pm - 6pm

Approx. 3hrs 30mins | 6 locks

Dinner at The Swan, Pangbourne

8pm - 10pm

This beautiful 17th century listed building has been lovingly decorated with a contemporary feel. It is right by the river so you can moor right outside and dine al-fresco if the weather suits. Choose from superb seasonal dishes from pubs classics, excellent fish and enticing sharing platters. swanpangbourne.co.uk

Overnight in Pangbourne

Breakfast on board

8am - 9am

Pangbourne > Basildon Park

9am - 9:30am

Approx. 30mins | 0 locks

Moor along the tow path adjacent to Beale Park

Walk or cycle to Basildon Park

9:30am - 10am

It's a 25 minute walk or a 10 minute bike ride to Basildon Park, which takes you through the car park of Beale Park and then along a busy road. After you exit Beale Park, there is no pavement for first 200m, so take extra care.

Explore Basildon Park

10am - 1pm

This Georgian mansion was lovingly rescued by Lord and Lady Iliffe in the mid-1950s and is now a re-creation and restoration of the 18th century building. Treat yourself to a cream tea, experience the nostalgia of the 1950s kitchen or stretch your legs among the 400 acres of historic parkland. The house features in the popular period TV drama, Downton Abbey - the interiors are use as the Crawley family’s London residence, Grantham House. nationaltrust.org.uk/basildon-park

Lunch in the Tea Room, Basildon Park

1pm - 2pm

The Team Room is on the ground floor of the mansion and serves hot and cold snacks, sandwiches, cakes and drinks - or try a traditional cream tea.

Walk or cycle back to Beale Park Moorings

2pm - 2:30pm

Basildon Park > Benson

3pm - 6pm

Approx. 3hrs | 3 locks

Dinner at Waterfront Café, Benson

7:30pm - 9:30pm

Serving gourmet burgers and British classics, the Waterfront Café is right next door to our base in Benson and is the perfect way to finish your boating holiday. They’re also renowned for an impressive selection of cakes and desserts and there’s plenty of outdoor seating overlooking the river… and lots of ducks!

Overnight in Benson

Breakfast on board

7:30am - 8:30am

Enjoy your final breakfast on board before tidying and vacating your boat by 9am (unless you have booked and paid for a late-checkout)

Depart Benson